Starting School

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Back To School

So you picked a program, picked your school, and have gotten financing? Congratulations you are well on your way to achieving your goals. I am tempted to say the hard part is done, but that wouldn’t exactly be accurate. You still have classes, advisers, traditional students, kids, family, bosses, friends, significant others, dogs, cats, and god only knows what else left to contend with! So let’s talk about ways to make your life run a little smoother while in school

First things first, school has to become a priority. I am not saying it has to be your only priority, but it needs to be on your top 5 list. People generally protect and guard the things that are a priority to them. You don’t blow off your child’s graduation to go play golf with your friends because your child is your priority, right? Well, you don’t blow off school work to go play golf with your friends either. It has to be a priority.

Establish a relationship with your adviser. Plan to meet with them at least twice each semester. The first meeting of the semester should be to discuss any issues you may be having and to find resources that are available to you.  Have them draw up a time line for the classes you have to take and check in with them at the end of the semester to ensure you are on schedule.

Parents

I don’t have children, but I find so many nontraditional students who have children struggle with returning to school the most. This is especially true if you have small children. Most important for parents is to have a support system in place who will help pick up the slack. From the beginning, you should let people in your life know what you are trying to accomplish and ask them to help. Arranging child care is going to be important. If finding child care is an issue, you might need to seek out schools that have online classes.

Organization

I began getting organized late in the game. I realized I was getting overwhelmed and began looking for ways to manage my schedule. I have a master planner that lays out my daily schedule but I also keep deadlines, test dates, and school activities in it.

I also set out to organize my study habits. I actually decided to look on youtube and found a lot of great info there. Most of the advice was from traditional students but I still was able to use some of it. One of my favorite youtubers is Gabby Aikawa. She has great videos on everything from creating study guides, to planner organization. She also has a video showing her grades so I knew I was following the advice of someone who was truly an A student. Thomas Frank from College Info Geek is also another great youtuber who makes great videos. Another is Mariana .

I would also advise having a specific study area. That area should be organized, comfortable, well lit, and most importantly, free from distractions. Here a couple more video on study strategies that should help.

Connections

If you wind up at a traditional college/university you might feel out of place. Traditional college students are young and generally don’t have the same responsibilities. You may be tempted to keep to yourself and not deal with them but that would be a mistake. I am not saying go partying with them, but it is possible to connect with them on a level that is beneficial to you. Also, these people are going to be going into the same industry so there is an opportunity to network for jobs in the future.

Introduce yourself to your instructor. Do this in the beginning. Let them know you are a nontraditional student and ask what you need to do to get the grade you want in this class. I am not saying be a teacher’s pet, but introducing yourself can help you stand out and shows your instructor that you are serious about their class.

Good Luck!

 

Paying for School

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Higher education is not cheap by any means and finding ways to offset the cost could make or break your school plans. The first thing you need to do is apply for financial aid. In order to do this, you will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. You should probably complete this now as many schools have deadlines for FAFSA applications.

Are you unemployed?

If you are unemployed, the first place to look for funding would be through your state employment commission. There are some programs run through the state and federal government that help provide training for the unemployed. Usually, the programs they fund are trades, but there are some opportunities for community colleges as well. Generally, you have to prove that your chosen career field is competitive. For this reason, getting funded for a degree in Art is probably not going to happen. I will say that because these are government programs, the funding may not always be there. Still, your state employment commission might be able to direct you to local funding sources. The department of labor and social services (if you receive certain benefits) may also provide information on returning to school.

Are you employed?

There are some companies that offer tuition reimbursement as part of their benefits package so your HR department is the first place you should go. Some employers may offer the tuition assistance up front which would mean submitting paperwork to them and they would pay your tuition before school starts. Others, you may have to pay for your classes up front and they would reimburse you after you had finished the class. There may be some restriction but overall, this is a great benefit and one that I myself am able to take advantage of.

Just remember that if you do go this route, there may be some stipulations tied to it. Usually, there is a grade requirement for the class so if you were to get a D or an F, your employer would not pay for the class. Also, some companies have stipulations about your length of service if they pay for school. Some may require that you work for the company at least 1-2 years after you have completed a course.

Even if your company does not have a formal reimbursement program, still talk to your supervisor about getting education to move up within the company. A friend of my mother’s worked as a nursing assistant at a nursing home. She expressed to her employer a desire to become a Registered Nurse and they gave her funding on the condition that once she became an RN, she would work for the facility for two years.

Grants

Grants are probably the ideal source of funding. They are based on the needs of the individual and don’t have to be paid back. They are available for going to traditional colleges or trade/career schools as well. There are state and federal grants that you may be eligible for. Your school should be able to provide information on state grants and how to qualify for them. The Pell grant is a federal grant program that is probably the most well-known. In addition there is the FSEOG. You can read more about federal grants here. Eligibility for these grant are determined through your FAFSA.

Scholarships

Scholarships are also free and don’t need to be paid back but the process for attaining one can be complicated. Because these are not government funds, there are thousands of scholarships with a multitude of criteria for eligibility. Scholarships can be merit based or need based. There are some that will pick a random winner, and some are based on a membership in a specific group, i.e. ethnicity, religion, gender, etc. There may be added steps to attaining a scholarship like writing an essay or completing an application. Just know that the bigger the amount, the more competition there will be for it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply but there are smaller scholarship that are probably offered in your local area that will have less competition. A $500-$1000 scholarship from your local women’s league may not be as appealing as a $10K national scholarship but every little bit helps!

Research your local area organizations first. Women’s clubs, volunteer organizations, even your employer. There are several web sites available as well. Scholarships.com is one that I have heard good things about. Check here for additional details.  You should reach out to your school’s financial aid office as well. Many schools have scholarship programs geared specifically towards their own students.

Self-Pay

If you cannot find any of the above sources for funding, you may have to pay out of pocket for classes. Many schools do have payment plan options available so ask your school before registering for class.

Student Loans

If money keeps you from going back to school, I think a student loan should be your last resort. There are private loans that you can take out, and there are federal loans. Make sure to do your research to determine what will work for you. Here you can find out about federal student loans. Student loan debt is like no other debt. It doesn’t get forgiven or discharged so be careful here. You will have this debt until you pay it off or you die. If you go this route, take only what you need for school. There may be an opportunity to get more than what you need, but since loans have to be repaid, it isn’t a good idea to take it. Talk to your school about getting a loan.

 

What is your goal?

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With the emphasis that is placed on higher education these days, it makes sense that people would want to go back to school. However, going back to school is a sacrifice of your time, energy, creativity, and money. Before jumping in you need to make sure it is right for you. That starts with asking yourself what you hope to get out of it. Do you want to change careers? Make more money? Move up within your current industry/company? Is a degree a lifetime goal? Before you begin shopping for schools, these questions need to be answered or you may find yourself in a program that won’t help you achieve your goals.

For The Money or Career Change

Statistically, college graduates make more than high school graduates, but if you have dreams of making it into the 1% you might want to avoid certain Art degrees. According to Forbes list of the 10 worst majors, some art majors have a starting salaries of 30K. You really have to ask yourself how much money do you want to make, and if the degree you are seeking will provide it. The ultimate goal would be that your passion can provide the lifestyle you imagine but what if it doesn’t? Are you more interested in pursuing your passion or a hefty paycheck? Before committing to any program or school, you need to make sure you answer this question.

I would also point out that there are some careers that don’t even require bachelor degrees.  If pursuing a four year degree is just not feasible, take a look at this list of jobs that may not require a college degree.

The promotion

You are in your dream industry or company and there is a position or title that you want to achieve but something is holding you back from that position. Is a degree required or are there certain skills that you lack? Some skills can be attained without a degree so it is important to find this out. If you lack skills, find out what those skills are and how they can be obtained. Do you lack computer skills? Can you shadow someone in that position? You already have a foot in the door so start by talking to your supervisor, HR, or someone who already holds that position. If a degree is still needed, talk to HR about any sort of tuition reimbursement that might be available to you. As always, consider the debt that you may incur as a result of attaining that degree.

It’s a lifelong dream

For some people it’s not just about money or position. They value education and have always wanted to achieve a degree. There’s nothing wrong with that but you still need to consider what you will get out of the degree.

Why am I stressing examining your reasons for going back to school? Well the fact is that examining your reasons will help you focus on choosing the best school or major. It might even help with finding financial assistance. I have had several pitfall along the way and most of them stem from not having a plan of action.  Figure out what you want and follow that up with research!

Next step: Which school do I choose?