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!

 

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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.

 

Picking a School

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The next step in this process is to figure out what school you need to attend. This can be a daunting task but research is your best friend. Also, don’t let a school talk you into enrolling in a program. Before you walk through the door, you need to be armed with the facts. First and foremost, you need to choose a school that has the proper accreditation. Years ago I met a women at my community college who was pursuing a nursing degree. One day she mentioned to me that she had originally started attending a different school for nursing. She had started without doing research and she later found out that while her school was accredited, the nursing program was not. She had only attended 1 semester but once she began talking to other nurses/healthcare professionals, she realized that a degree from that school would only hinder her career.

What school should I attend?

This is dependent on what you want to do. Remember last week when I asked if you needed skills or a degree? Well if you just need skills, you should speak to your HR or supervisor about what those are, and where they can be obtained. Computer skills are easy to develop with so many online options out there (some even free!) you can gain these skills quite easily.

Trade/Career Schools

Some occupations require trade licenses and school, i.e HVAC techs or mechanics. If this is your career path, find out if your local school district has an adult vocational school. In my area, the city offers classes in everything from cosmetology to medical assistant. Their classes tend to be cheaper than career schools. There are sometimes extra steps involved in going this route though. For instance, cosmetology school usually have their own salon where real clients pay reduced rates for services. This provides students with hands on training that is required to sit for the state exam. This is not the case with the vo-tech here and many cosmetology students have to get an apprenticeship in order to get the hours required to take the exam. This apprenticeship they actually have to find on their own. Still, it is about 10K cheaper to go the vo-tech route.

There are career schools that specialize in a certain vocation. These schools can be pretty pricey but if that is the only option available, you need to be very careful about the school you choose. It goes back to accreditation. If they are not accredited, don’t waste your time! Also, ask them if they provide any sort of job placement. Find reviews online or try reaching out to people in that field for guidance.

Community College

Most community colleges have a combination of trade programs and academic programs. You will get an associate’s degree or career certificate here. Accreditation still needs to be verified – both the school and the program/major. Community college is also a good option if you have plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree. An associate’s is basically the equivalent of your freshman and sophomore year at a traditional four year college/university. You cam save a lot of money going this route. A 3 credit English class at my community college was about $400. A three credit class at my University is about $1400. Huge difference! Most community colleges also have guaranteed transfer programs with four year schools. I didn’t bother to apply to multiple universities when I graduated from community college because my school has a guaranteed admissions program with my university. I knew I was automatically accepted to my university’s business school based on the fact that I had completed my associates with a certain GPA.

College/University

If a bachelor’s degree or higher is needed, this is the route you will have to go. Colleges and Universities are probably the most expensive route. We can break this category down to for profit schools vs non-profit schools. I talked about the dangers of for profit schools here.  so I won’t got into that. I will say, not all for profit schools are created equal so do your research! Whichever college you choose, it should be accredited. Read more about accreditation here.  The big accreditation for colleges and universities is regional accreditation, but as mentioned above, some programs may still need to have additional based on industry standards. Again, research is your friend!

Next Week: Paying for school

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?

 

For Profit

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I recently did a presentation for my public speaking class and thought the information might be helpful to people who read this blog. The presentation was about for profit schools. I actually took a couple of classes at a for profit school a couple of years ago and began to wonder if they were worth the cost as I was attending. I certainly don’t want to tell people what schools they should or should not attend, but I am going to share some of the information I came across while researching this project.

In American society today, we are taught that in order to be successful, we need to have an education. The more education you have, the more money you make, the more upwardly mobile you become. Because of this constant emphasis on education, people are looking for ways to return to school and pursue their goals. This need has fueled the rise in for profit education but are they worth it?

For profits schools are businesses that make money for its shareholders by offering a service. Non-profits are learning environments designed to serve student interests, helping them finish their college degrees and achieve career success. For profits appeal to non-traditional students because they offer night and online classes. Their offices are open during times that are generally more convenient for people who work full time jobs. They also offer accelerated degrees and promise to use your work experience as part of your degree.

The Cost

On average, for profits schools tend to charge as much as tradition colleges and universities and tend to be more than community colleges.  Where I live, students who are interested in getting an Associates in Business Administration have the option of going to Strayer University or going to a local community college, but Strayer is double the price of the community college. A four credit course at strayer is $1420 while four credits at the local community college is $620.

Reputation

30% of for profit graduates say their education was not worth it.  Why such a high rate of dissatisfaction? First, they think that by having an education, their salaries will rise. This is not always the case. According to U.S News, average salaries of graduates of for profit schools are about the same as people who have never attended college.

Graduates of for profit schools also have a harder time of it when they are applying for positions as well. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia sent out 9,000 fictitious resumes of recent graduates. The resumes that listed for profit degrees were about 22% less likely to receive a callback from a prospective employer than applicants with similar degrees from nonselective non-profit schools.

Student Loans

Most troubling about for profit schools is the student loan default rate. Student loan default rates from for profit schools account for almost half of all defaulted student loans. As a matter of fact, the rise in the student default rate over the past 10 years is linked to the growth in for profit education that has been going on.

Now I will say that all for profits are not created equal. In my research there were definitely some schools that had a decent reputation. If you are really interested in attending a for profit school, be sure to research the school thoroughly. You don’t want to waste your time, and money if you are not going to receive any benefit from it.