Formal Education: Can you afford to go to school?

You certainly can’t afford not to. Nearly every study I’ve ever looked at shows that it is more likely that you will have a higher salary if you get more education. So do it. The more eduaction you get, the more money you can potentially make. If you’re already into your career you can still take classes to keep your skills sharp.

A lot of people don’t go to school, or go back to school, because they don’t think they can afford it. Getting a college education is now more affordable than ever before, even with growing tuition costs.

How can I afford to go to college?

Opportunities for financial aid abound. Here’s my story… When I first left for college I had no idea that there were so many options for me to recieve “free money.” Because I didn’t have the most stellar academic career in high school I had not been awarded any scholarships upon starting my college career. That didn’t last very long. After only one semester (and I wasn’t even attending full-time) I was able to apply for an academic scholarship from the University and recieved a full-tuition scholarship for my next academic year because I had done well during my first semester.

The money didn’t stop there. Somebody told me about Pell Grants and I looked into it. Because I made so little (I was working part-time on campus) I qualified for a federal or Pell grant that paid for nearly all my tuition. Because I was on scholarship this was money that I was able to use for housing, books, fees, etc. Not only that but I was able to apply for reimbursement for the previous year (when I hadn’t know about Pell Grants) and was awarded some more money

So even though I started college at a prestigious private university not knowing how I would pay for anything I was actually “paid” to attend for my first couple years (then my grades slipped a little and I broke even my next two years with half-tuition scholarships).

So what about Graduate School?

I started working full-time but decided to get a Master’s degree by taking night classes. I enrolled in a smaller public school that had relatively low tuition (about $1000 a class). I needed ten courses to graduate so I figured the total cost of enrollment would set me back about 10k. I was wrong. Again I found that it pays to go to school. Because I worked hard and took multiple classes each semester as well as attending summer school I had spent a lot of money on tuition during the year. The result was a generous tax return using the Education Hope credit. I calculated that over $2000 were returned to me in taxes. In addition to that I recieved tuition re-imbursement totaling another $2000 from my job. Had I been on the ball and applied when I first started working I could have recieved another $2000 in reimbursement. So how much does a Master’s degree cost? Mine was less than $5000. I’ll be able to pay that off in my first year working because of the pay increase.

But it get’s better. I decided that school was going so well that I may as well continue and get a PhD. Because I finished my Master’s degree so quickly I was ahead of schedule (or behind, depending on how you look at it) for graduate school applications. I decided to go ahead and apply anyway for the school I was most interested in. It was a long shot being one of the best public universities in the country, but I was accepted. Not only that but the University offered my a graduate assistantship that requires me to work part-time. In exchange they pay the bulk of my tuition, fees, insurance, etc. So I’m basically getting paid to get my doctorate. Not a bad deal.

It can work for you too. There are a few things that you need to be willing to do/sacrifice if you want to go to school without incurring too much debt.

  1. Go to a public school. Public schools, especially those in your own state, cost a fraction of what private schools do and for most occupations the difference have having a state school education vs. private makes no real difference.
  2. Live within your means. You can survive simply by using your head and buying things you need but not necessarily all the things you want. Look for bargains on the essentials.
Tyler Christensen
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Tyler Christensen

Tyler is a husband and dad, professor, writer, web designer, and DIYer.
Tyler Christensen
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