In a nutshell: Daunted by the cost of continuing your education? Look for help from financial aid programs, employer reimbursement and military benefits.
After gaining experience in the workforce, you may start thinking about going back to school to help advance your career possibilities. Or maybe you’ve decided you’d like to switch career paths.
Figuring out how to afford an advanced business education may be a challenge – harder than the coursework itself. There are several options for you to pay for an associate or bachelor’s degree, or a Master of Business Administration (MBA), so don’t be discouraged by the price tag.
First, the cost will differ based on degree – associate, bachelor’s or master’s. And the school you choose will also have an impact on how much you’ll have to pay. Things like location, reputation, private or public institution and online or on-campus experience all affect cost.
According to the National Center of Education Statistics, the average undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board for four years ranges from $65,000 to $150,000 depending on the institution. Investopedia reports an MBA can cost upwards of $100,000 to $200,000 for some private schools, while earning an MBA online at the Florida Institute of Technology, for example, runs less than $33,000. The only way to know how much to budget is to contact the schools you’re interested in attending and request a cost estimate.
Also, think about expenses beyond tuition, like administrative charges (e.g., application fee and parking pass), textbooks, course materials, transportation and room and board.
Apply for Financial Aid
Start by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will determine your eligibility for several types of federal aid, including grants, loans and work-study programs. Students apply annually for financial aid, and the results will show you how much assistance you may receive.
Some colleges may require you to fill out the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, which determines your eligibility for non-government financial aid, such as the university’s own grants, loans and scholarships. Find out if the schools you are interested in attending use the CSS Profile as part of their financial aid process. You may have to pay a fee to send the CSS Profile.
Explore Employer Tuition Benefits
Offering tuition reimbursement or tuition assistance programs is gaining popularity with employers as candidates are looking for perks beyond compensation. Benefits USA 2012/2013 survey results found that 56.6% of employers offer tuition benefits to all employees, which was up from 34.9% in 2009. So be sure to ask your manager or human resources department if your company will help you pay for a degree.
If your employer offers tuition benefits, inquire about how they work. Some companies require at least a C grade for each class in order to reimburse you for it, while others offer a percentage of reimbursement depending on the grade (e.g., 90% for an A, 80% for a B and 70% for a C). There may be a cap on how much money the company will offer each semester or annually, so going part-time may be the only option if you’re hoping for your company to foot the entire bill.
Use your Military Benefits if You’re Eligible
If you’re a servicemember or veteran, a member of the National Guard or Reserves or a spouse or dependent of a military servicemember, start by looking at the different types of Veterans Administration education benefits you may qualify for. If you’ve considered military education benefits in the past, take another glance at the eligibility requirements because provisions recently changed. One of the most striking changes, according to Military.com’s “The New Forever GI Bill – What It Means for You,” is that recent legislation eliminates the 15-year time limit to use the benefit, depending on the date of discharge.
Also, some schools offer discounts for servicemembers and veterans. For example, New England College offers special military tuition rates for active duty servicemembers and veterans. It doesn’t hurt to inquire what special rates or programs are offered at the school of your choice.