Creative Ways to Pay for College as An Adult Student

Adult students have a different set of needs and life circumstances that bring them back into the classroom. These factors change the way they look for and identify avenues to pay for continuing education needs. Whether to maintain a professional certification, learn a new skill, or earn an additional degree to increase income or job opportunities, do not overlook unconventional ways to lower the cost of schooling.

Based on the National Center for Education, in 2009, 40% of all college and graduate students were older than 25. By 2020, estimates rise to 9.6 million adult students headed to college.

Older scholars may have families, full-time jobs, and other obligations to maintain while in school. An alternative could include attending night school, part-time or online programs, or leaving the workplace for a full-time course load.

Most students think financial aid is for full-time undergraduate students straight out of high school. However, there are many ways to pay for school, which does not require maxing out federal and private loans.

In addition to the wide range of grants and scholarships available to students of all ages and majors, consider a host of other alternatives that can reduce the out-of-pocket or borrowed funds needed for your education.

Start at the College or University

All financial assistance begins with the FASFA form. In addition to federal programs, schools may also have in-house scholarships and programs which require a separate application. Connect with the financial aid office early in the admission application process to secure the most financial assistance possible.


Fellowships, like grants, provide money for educational needs, and do not require financial repayment. Most often found in graduate programs, a fellowship can pay up to 100% of tuition along with a monthly stipend for living expenses. Fellowships often translate into jobs often like teaching undergraduates and research within the graduate program.

Potential fellowships are usually posted in the graduate departments or through websites such as ProFellow, which offers over 800 programs targeted to adult students in a variety of disciplines.

It is possible to significantly reduce or eliminate the need for loans to pay for graduate studies through fellowships. The downside is that they typically require full-time attendance to qualify.

Money Through Your Employer

Many large firms provide an educational benefit in the form of tuition reimbursement. They may pay a percentage of the tuition or 100%, up to an annual cap. Many programs require additional years of service with the employer to avoid required repayment.

Reimbursement does not demand a full-time class load, which gives you a great deal of flexibility. However, often a certain grade point average must be maintained. The downside is you must pay for the class up front and then wait for the repayment.

Tax Breaks

Tax credits and deductions can ease the pain of paying for college. While they do not cover the cost immediately, they do provide relief at tax time. Popular tax incentives include the following:

Lifetime Learning Credit offers a 20% tax credit for qualified expenses related to education, up to $10,000; Potentially offering a $2,000 credit within required income limits. A tax credit will directly reduce your bill. However, if you do not owe any taxes ,the credit will not increase your refund.

The tuition and fees deduction allows students  to subtract up to $4,000 from income, whether itemized or not. A deduction reduces taxable income rather than lowering the actual tax owed. You must be in a degree-seeking program or need to improve job skills and earn within the income thresholds.

You must choose either the Lifetime Learning Credit or the Tuition and Fees deduction, not both.

Military Benefits

The GI Bill offers significant educational benefits for current and former military members. Qualifications begin after 90 days of active duty service. For those who qualify, students can potentially have their entire tuition and fees covered, a housing stipend, and up to $1,000 annually for supplies and textbooks.

The benefits depend on military status and the number of years served. Both public and private schools qualify for the benefit, and the government caps military educational benefits based on the price of the highest in-state tuition in each state.


Crowdfunding is the new kid on the block and uses websites to raise money for worthy causes, including paying for college. Websites such as GoFundMe allow students to set up a page to raise money for just about anything. Family, friends, and even strangers can contribute to the fund, giving you the money necessary to pay for school.

When it comes to strangers helping pay the way, websites use a “Human Capital Contract,” which gives the investor the right to future earnings, in exchange for financial funding today. For the stranger, it becomes an investment, with a potentially high rate of return, if you graduate and secure a high-paying job.

Sites such as GradSave and GiveCollege specialize in raising money for educational purposes, where other sites are general fundraising websites used for multiple purposes, including educational pursuits. You can raise money to pay for the initial schooling or to pay off existing student loans.

Before signing up for new debt each year, take the time to explore alternatives that could provide the education you want without the high price of student loans.

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