Maximize Your Financial Aid to Kick Start Your Adult Learning

Adult learning in healthcare.jpgYou too can you use financial aid to go back to school for adult learning.

Billions of dollars are set aside by the United States federal government to help students pay for their college education.

The money is out there, available to you, and it costs absolutely nothing for students to apply.

If you’re considering adult learning as a way into a new career, why not see how financial aid can help pay for your education? You may find an option that’s a great fit for you.

Going Back to School Using Financial Aid

To get you started with your research, here are a few examples of how you could pay to go back to school as an adult learner with a helping hand.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

The first step to apply for federal financial aid is to complete the FAFSA online form, also known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The application doesn’t take long, and once it’s completed, a school financial aid representative can speak with you more about all your financial aid options

When applying to schools, you can enter more than one school code. When you enter this code, your application is automatically transmitted to the schools you’re interested in, and they’ll reach out and contact you. (For example, Bay Area Medical Academy’s school code is: 042237.)

Hot tip:  Ensure you visit the right website when you apply! FAFSA.ed.gov is a government website, and is the correct website to apply for FAFSA. Your application is free, and you may apply here.

On the other hand, FAFSA.com is a private corporation that charges money for students to use their service. Note they state at the bottom of their webpage, “this site is not affiliated with the Department of Education.” It’s not a free application.

Grants

Grants are funds for school which don’t need to be paid back, so this is literally “free money” for your adult learning. Completing the FAFSA is a good way to check if you are eligible for grants, which may be needs-based or merit-based. A good example of a grant is a pell grant, which is a needs-based grant some students are awarded through their FAFSA.

Scholarships

Your local library is a great place to start your scholarship search. Look up directory books listing scholarships you can apply for, and then use a library computer to apply for the scholarships online.

Alternatively, FastWeb is a free online directory of scholarships. There’s something for everyone, including specific scholarships for working parents, and scholarships from unions, companies, non-profits, essay contests, and even the town where you grew up. A good strategy for applying for scholarships is to cast a wide net with your applications. Apply for several smaller scholarships (say in the $100-$2,000 range), and not just the bigger scholarships offering more money.

Tax Credits

While not a grant or aid exactly, some students may be eligible for tax credits to reduce the total amount of taxes they pay while at school. Learn more about the Hope credit and Lifetime Learning Credit when preparing your taxes. You may read more about tax credits here.

Public Funding

Tuition assistance that’s made available through social service providers, community based organizations, charitable funds, or local, state and federal government agencies is often referred to as public funding. Qualifications for these funding opportunities vary greatly from place to place, so the best way to find out what type of assistance may be available to you is to contact your county’s social services agency; they’ll gladly let you know about what training programs they can provide.

Examples of public funding sources are the the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR), Chapter 30, 33 and 35 of the Montgomery and Post 9-11 G.I. Bill, Americorps Grants, Opportunity Fund Grants, and Native American Indian Tribal Grants.

Hot Tip: Many public funding providers work on a fiscal year calendar, which means the New Year begins on July 1st. Since almost all public funding opportunities have a fixed yearly budget, the best time to seek these funds is as soon as possible after July 1st, once the new fiscal year has begun.

Employer Funding

Some companies pay some or all of an employee’s college costs in the form of tuition reimbursement. Every company will have a different policy, so you’ll need to ask your company manager or human resources manager what your company’s policy is for tuition help.

This is especially true for those working in healthcare already. Even if your job title is not specific to healthcare, for example if you work in administration, food preparation, or maintenance, but work for a healthcare employer, it may be worthwhile for you to ask about tuition reimbursement.

Hot Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask your employer about this resource. Smart companies know that an individual with a great set of skills is an even greater employee. Many employers actively encourage employees to pursue adult learning, so feel free to inquire about it.

Military and Veterans Funding

Have you served in the military, or are you the spouse or child of someone who served in the military? Ensure you mention this to your financial aid representative, because you may be eligible for aid through numerous educational grants for service in the armed forces. Examples of military tuition assistance include the Montgomery GI Bill, Post-9/11 GI Bill and Iraq & Afghanistan Service Grant. You may read more about military and veterans funding here.

Loans

Taking out a loan should only be done after thoughtful research and consideration, and when all other possible funding opportunities are exhausted. Understand the different loans being offered to you, and always read before you sign, considering how much you’re thinking of borrowing and the pay back options.

Examples of student loans:

Stafford: A government-backed loan, with a lower interest rate than a private loan, offered as both a subsidized loan (meaning interest on the loan while you are in school is paid by the government), or an unsubsidized loan (meaning you pay the interest that accumulates while you’re in school).

Perkins: A needs-based loan, subsidized by the government.

Direct PLUS: A government-backed loan to the student’s parent on behalf of the student. The parent may be obligated to re-pay if the loan is in the parent’s name.

Private loans: These are loans borrowed from a private lender, such as a bank, and typically have higher rates of interest than government-backed loans. Also, expect to have good credit history or a co-signer to apply for a private loan.

Caution about loans and debt: Remember that a loan isn’t free money. Try to avoid debt as much as possible, because you’ll eventually have to pay your loan back with interest. Student loans especially need to be used only for education costs, such as for tuition, books, and equipment (not for a new car!).

Excessive debt can be a burden in the future when you’re trying to buy a car or rent an apartment. Not paying a loan back can result in a default, which has serious implications for your credit and ability to purchase on credit; it can even affect your chances of getting certain jobs, or lead to tax liens or wage garnishments. The US Department of Education lists helpful strategies on their website to reduce debt and keep on top your student loans here.