College is expensive, and can be especially difficult if you’ve been out of school for awhile. Those returning to college later in life have more expenses than others did as bright-eyed freshmen straight from high school. Mortgages, family obligations, bills, and various other costs mean that your college budget isn’t what it used to be. It’s vital for non-traditional-age students to do all they can to stretch their dollars as far as possible. Here are three crucial tips to save money and get ahead when you’ve made the decision to go to college.
Get on the Fast Track
A degree has a set number of credits that you likely think you can’t get around. If some of these credits are in general requirements courses, though, you can cut those out with College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams. These standardized tests are built to gauge returning students’ abilities and determine course tracks. Passing them can mean avoiding some GenEd classes altogether, saving money and allowing returning students to dedicate their budget to the courses that matter.
Another way to speed things up and save money is to take online classes for the general courses you can’t get out of. Online courses can be taken on the student’s schedule, accelerating completion. The cost benefit is that online courses are typically less expensive and require fewer materials. Textbooks are pricey, so any time your class comes without a book is a win for your wallet.
Save Money on Textbooks
After tuition, one of the greatest college expenses is the cost of textbooks. It’s easy to go into a college bookstore, course schedule in hand, and drop well over $500. That’s money that many returning students just can’t afford. Fortunately, there are ways to cut textbook costs.
- Get to the bookstore quickly. If you can beat the other students to the store, you can grab those used copies first.
- Or wait a few days. If you attend the first class before buying the book, you may realize the instructor is thorough enough and gives enough free material that there’s no need for the book or find somebody you can share the book with.
- Comparison shop. Get the ISBN of the textbook and do some Googling. Amazon and eBay are two great online sources of new and used books and there are many other sites explicitly devoted to the sale of second-hand texts.
- Try an eBook reader. The Kindle, Nook or any iPad reader app is a great way to save on textbooks. If available, eReader book prices are far below the cost of hard copies.
- Search for older editions. How often does U.S. History change from last year to this year? Just because the professor specifies the latest version of a text doesn’t mean you can’t get by with a similar older edition. Just make sure that you find out if any chapters were moved around so you don’t read the wrong section and come to class unprepared.
Look for Alternative Funding Sources
Tuition doesn’t always have to come 100% out of pocket. A little bit of research can save thousands. It’s easy to search online and find details of the various scholarships, grants, and other sources of funds dedicated to returning students. There are military and other government scholarships available to those who qualify that could pay for a large chunk of your costs. Also, employers can be an excellent resource. Look into whether your company offers tuition reimbursement. Even if they don’t, speak with your supervisor and human resources department anyway. You may be able to negotiate something.
For students returning to college to further their education, costs can be a deal breaker. Your wallet is stressed enough with those everyday expenses you didn’t have on your first go-round. Fortunately, there are ways to save money when returning to college. Speeding things up, saving on textbooks and seeking out additional funding are just three of the many ways to go back to school without breaking the bank.
Photo credit: Credit cards by Andres Rueda/flickr
Author Thomas Hathaway is a financial consultant and content contributor.