6 Ways NonTrads Can Cut College Costs

6 Ways NonTrads Can Cut College CostsPaying for College When You’re a Nontraditional Student

At 42, I had reached a point in my career where I felt my lack of a degree was holding me back professionally. No matter how qualified I was for a job, I was competing against people with less experience but a college degree. I really love learning and so the decision to go back to college was an easy one. However, one of my biggest concerns was how to pay for it. I was shocked to see that tuition costs had risen 1,120% since I first went to college at 17. I knew I would need to be creative to cover both my college costs and living expenses. (At 42, I wasn’t about to live in a dorm!)

Here are 6 ways nontraditional students can offset the cost of their education:

1.  Tuition Reimbursement from Your Employer

  • Although this didn’t work for me because I’ve been self employed since 1987, it might work for you.
  • Many nontrads are working a full-time job. Ask your employer if they have a tuition reimbursement program for undergraduate and graduate degrees.
  • Many companies will pay up to 100% of your tuition costs especially if it will help you in your current job and make you a more valuable employee.
  • Remember, tuitition is only part of the cost of college. You will also need to cover books, lab fees, and “other” fees the college tacks onto your bill.
  • Keep in mind that your company will reimburse you—you will have to come up with the money first.
  • Companies may not pay for a degree that’s completely unrelated to your job. For example, if you work at an insurance company and want to get a degree in Music, it will be a tough sell to convince the company that your degree will improve your performance and add value as an employee.
  • Some companies will base the reimbursement amount on your grades as well. So it pays to get good grades.
  • Other companies may require you to maintain employment with them for a specified number of years after graduation.
  • Be sure to know what your company’s policies are before enrollment so there are no surprises.

2. CLEP (College Level Examination Program)

  • Cut down on the number of classes you need to take by testing out of them.
  • Developed by the College Board, the CLEP program offers standardized tests that assess college-level knowledge in many subject areas. They are administered by thousands of schools and military organizations throughout the US.
  • The test is 90 minutes long and costs range from $100-$135 but is free for veterans.
  • CLEP Study Guides are available to help you prepare. The CLEP tests are primarily multiple-choice except for essay portions. They are administered on a computer and final results are available immediately.
  • If you pass the test, you receive 3 to 6 college credits for that course. However, you should know that passing scores are determined by your college.
  • Credits are awarded by the college and can take a semester to show up on your transcript.
  • Some colleges may not allow the transfer of credit for every test that CLEP offers. Be sure to check with your school first to see what tests they accept.
  • CLEP offers students the opportunity to demonstrate their proficiency in subject areas and bypass undergraduate coursework.
  • Resources: http://clep.collegeboard.org/ or http://getcollegecredit.com/

3. College Course Challenges

  • You can earn college credits by taking the equivalent of a course final exam.
  • Check to see if your school offers a Course Challenge and what subjects are available.
  • You may need to get permission from your Advisor to take a Course Challenge.
  • You’ll get a syllabus for the course and have up to 60 days to study before you take the final exam. You can also choose to take the exam in less than 60 days.
  • Flat fee ($200 range) and some schools may charge full cost of course (3 credits times cost per credit). While this won’t save you money, it will save you time to complete your degree.
  • When you pass the exam, you’ll get full credit for that course.
  • It can take a full semester before the credits are awarded and reflected in your transcript.

4. Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), Assessment of Prior Learning (APL), or Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)

  • A course that allows students to request credit for college-level learning gained through work, training, military or community service, online classes, and self study.
  • The course is 3 credits and students learn how to document their prior learning to create a “portfolio.” Your portfolio gets submitted to a review committee that awards credits.
  • It can take one semester until credits are transferred to your school.
  • APL programs are often found at community colleges and state schools.
  • The price is the cost of 3 credits and sometimes an assessment fee in the $300 range.
  • I applied for a non-degree grant and had this course paid for by the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (a private student loan organization). Ask the school if they know of a non-degree grant that can cover the cost of this program for you.
  • After submitting my portfolio, I received 53 credits toward my undergraduate degree (2 more than I requested!)
  • I saved $20,564 and 5 semesters of time.
  • Having been through this program, I strongly recommend ONLY taking APL and no other courses at the same time. It’s time consuming to document your learning and get letters of recommendation and the stakes are high. So you really want to focus fully on creating your portfolio and not be distracted by other academic work.
  • You want to stay focused on the APL process because it can yield such a high-payoff in terms of money and time.
  • The process of creating your portfolio begins by writing up what looks like a course syllabus outlining your specific areas of learning. Then find someone who can write a letter attesting to the fact that you know the specific learning outcomes or objectives. You can also include copies of training documents or certificates you’ve been awarded.

5. Focused Portfolio Development

  • Just like the Assessment of Prior Learning, but a scaled back version.
  • This is a 1-credit course with a portfolio that documents your prior learning in one specific academic subject.
  • You can earn up to 16 credits in one academic field (credits may vary by college).
  • Cost is one credit plus a $225 assessment fee
  • Portfolios are evaluated much faster than APL and generally take 30 days.

6. Scholarships

  • While it may seem that scholarships are targeted toward high school students, there are numerous scholarships available for nontrads.
  • Use scholarship search sites to track down scholarships. (You can get a free copy of our Guide to Scholarship Search Sites when you subscribe to our blog.)
  • Use the keywords: “nontraditional,” “nontrad,” and “delayed entry” “+ Scholarship” to set up individual Google Alerts.
  • Use other keywords that apply to you (e.g., first generation, woman, minority, disabled, low-income, STEM major, Psychology major, veteran, etc.)

Do you know of other ways nontraditional students can cut college costs? It would be great if you could post a comment to share with other nontrads.

Problems & Solutions for Nontraditional Students

NonTrad StudentWhat is a Non-Traditional Student?

You can find many definitions for nontraditional or delayed-entry students. Most agree that these are students who:

  • Did not enroll in college straight out of high school
  • Are usually 24 or older
  • Generally attend part-time for at least part of the academic year
  • Work full-time (35+ hours a week)
  • Are considered financially independent for financial aid purposes
  • Have dependents other than a spouse (children or are caregivers to sick or elderly family members)
  • Single parents
  • Military veterans

Recent data reveals that as few as 16% of college students today fit the so-called “traditional” mold: 18-22 year-olds, financially dependent on parents, in college full time, and living on campus. Kinda makes me wonder if I’m the new “traditional” student.

Problems & Solutions

I went back to college at 43 and found college was very different from what I experienced at 17. I was different too. I discovered challenges as an adult student that I never encountered as a traditional college-age student. While there were distinct advantages returning as an adult, there were also problems. Here are some of them and how I solved them.

1.  Doubts and fears about your ability to do academic work at the college level.

SOLUTION: Express your concerns to your Academic Advisor and ask about support services. Many colleges have resources such as free tutoring, help with writing, and classes on how to study effectively.

SOLUTION: Talk with your professors to clarify their expectations.

2.  You are a first-generation student (one or both parents does not have a college degree) and are unfamiliar with college procedures and processes.

SOLUTION: Look into the TRIO Program and get a TRIO Advisor. You’ll receive services specifically for first-generation students and information about scholarships.

SOLUTION: Ask your Academic Advisor for support and a referral to the TRIO offices on your campus (or the nearest campus even if it’s at another school).

SOLUTION: Ask your Academic Advisor and/or the Office for Adult Education/External Degree Program for a Degree Audit. This document is a roadmap that tells you exactly what courses you need, how long it will take you to finish your degree, and how much it’s going to cost. If you don’t get a copy of your Degree Audit, be persistent and request it in writing! Ask for an updated Degree Audit at the end of each semester.

3.  Difficulty with Monday-Friday, 9-5 office hours of professors, career and counseling centers, financial aid office, etc.

SOLUTION: Ask your Advisor or the head of the Adult Education Office/External Degree Program how you can connect with campus resources and visit the college website for a list of available resources.

SOLUTION: Make contact early with your professors. Express your concerns and ask them to schedule meetings with you by phone, Skype, Google Chat, FaceTime, or after hours.

SOLUTION: Use email to communicate. Putting things in writing is ALWAYS a good idea.

SOLUTION: Colleges expect you to advocate for yourself and you can expect to do a lot of this!

4.  When a required course is only offered during work hours on campus, it can be challenging to get time off from work to attend class.

SOLUTION: Take online classes or hybrid courses (blend of on-ground and online class delivery). Some courses are also offered as weekend intensives or in the evening. If your college does not provide alternatives, inquire as to whether you can take the class at another school and have the credits transfer. Many schools have arrangements in place with other local colleges.

SOLUTION: Look to Adult Degree Program offerings. Many times classes are held on weekends and in the evenings, online, or as hybrid courses. I chose my college specifically because it had an Adult Degree Program.

5.  Responsibilities outside of educational activities including family and job.

SOLUTION: Change your schedule to carve out specific time to study and let your family know that this is necessary for you to be successful. Set boundaries about interruptions and distractions.

SOLUTION: Set up a quiet space in your home where you can study. Preferably, a room with a door you can close. I put up a sign on my door staying “Unless it’s an emergency, DON’T OPEN THIS DOOR! I’m studying. Is YOUR homework done?”

SOLUTION: Ask for more help from your spouse/partner and children with household chores. If you have the financial ability, you might consider hiring someone to help.

SOLUTION: Make time for self-care! Do whatever refreshes and energizes you. For me, that’s drumming, skiing, or swimming at a local waterfall.

Advantages to Being a NonTrad

What? There are advantages? Yes, indeed there are. I found I had a passion for school and learning that I didn’t have when I went to college at 17.

  • You are returning to school with real-world experience that benefits you in class discussions.
  • You can utilize this real-world experience to enrich your academic work including research and writing.
  • Working full time makes studying feel like a refreshing break.
  • Returning students are more focused, disciplined, motivated, and goal-oriented than students who are only attending because their parents want them to.
  • You’re fully invested in the process and outcome (financially and in your time commitment).

What to Look for in a School

Nontraditional students have very different needs that not every school addresses. When you’re looking at colleges and programs, be sure to consider:

  • Specific services for adult students including extended office hours, evening classes, childcare facilities, financial advising, and a learning environment that supports all styles of learning.
  • Online or hybrid/blended course delivery.
  • Accelerated or compressed terms.
  • Adult-friendly policies.
  • Supportive credit transfers.
  • Assessment of Prior Learning credit.
  • CLEP test credit.
  • A culture that values and supports nontraditional students.

We’d love to hear from other nontraditional students about your experiences, problems, and work-around solutions. Drop us a note in the comments and share your wisdom with other nontrads! If you’ve got a question instead, let me know and I’ll do my best to give you an answer.

Next week I’ll be writing about ways nontraditional students can pay for college.

Harriet Fitzgerald Scholarship

Sunflower Initiative Harriet Fitzgerald Scholarship

The Sunflower Initiative’s Harriet Fitzgerald Scholarship

http://www.thesunflowerinitiative.com/scholarship/ or http://www.thesunflowerinitiative.com/ (“Scholarship” tab)

Contact Info: The Harriet Fitzgerald Scholarship, The Sunflower Initiative, c/o Lee Calizo, UMBC, 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, MD 21250; email: [email protected]

Deadline: March 1

Award Amount: $10,000 (Renewable)

Eligibility: Female graduating high school seniors, women who have matriculated at college, but left prior to the completion of the first semester, and early college applicants. Women who have completed one semester of college or more are NOT eligible. Women planning to attend a woman’s college.

Requirements: Online Application, Essay, Official Test Scores, Official Transcript, 3 Letters of Recommendation, and Resume (optional)

Application Link: http://www.thesunflowerinitiative.com/scholarship/

ANTSHE Scholarships for NonTrads

ANTSHE Scholarships for NonTradsANTSHE Scholarships for NonTrads (Nontraditional Students)

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1BzKRaKxJLpTh0Wg-9E7sYhU6QdqaT4lMDQBaPZVnF8M/viewform or http://www.myantshe.org/ (“Annual Scholarships” Link in left sidebar)

Contact Info:  Adult Learner Programs, Kennesaw State University, 1000 Chastain Road, MD 0502-ST-Bldg.5, Room 264-B, Kennesaw, GA 30144

Deadline: Not stated

Award Amount: $1,000 (several awarded)

Eligibility: Graduate Students: Nontraditional students with a GPA of 3.5, who have been accepted into an accredited graduate program for a minimum of 6 hours, and who have completed a Bachelor’s Degree. Undergraduate 4 Years: Nontraditional students who are enrolled in degree or certificate program at time of scholarship award for 6 credit hours, who have completed at least 30 credit hours, and have a GPA of 3.25 based on the last 30 credit hours earned. Undergraduate 2 Years: Nontraditional students enrolled in a degree or certificate program at time of scholarship award for 6 credit hours, who have complete at least 15 credit hours, and have a cumulative GPA of 3.25 based on the last 15 credit hours.

Requirements: Online Application with Personal Statement, Official Transcript, 2 Letters of Recommendation

Application Link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1BzKRaKxJLpTh0Wg-9E7sYhU6QdqaT4lMDQBaPZVnF8M/viewform


AARP Foundation Scholarship Program for Women

AARP Foundation Scholarship Program for WomenAARP Foundation Scholarship Program for Women

http://www.aarp.org/aarp-foundation/our-work/income/womens-scholarship-program/how-to-apply.html or http://www.aarp.org (Click the “AARP Foundation” Link and use Search Bar to type “Women’s Scholarship Program”)

Contact Info: AARP Foundation; phone: 888.687.2277; email: [email protected]

Deadline: March 30

Award Amount: $500–$5,000 (350 Awarded; Renewable)

Eligibility: Women; age 50+; low income; Undergraduate pursuing a technical or vocational education, an Associate’s degree, or a Bachelor’s degree. Priority is given to women in these categories: (a) those who have been unemployed for more than one year, (b) those in low-paying jobs with no career opportunities, (c) those who are raising the children of another family member, and (d) those who are women veterans. In addition, the following factors are considered for each applicant: (a) financial need, (b) personal circumstances and achievements, (c) educational and career goals, (d) challenges faced in life, and (e) impact of scholarship.

Requirements: Online Application; proof of education, income, and verification of age; and College Transcripts.

Application Link: http://www.aarp.org/aarp-foundation/our-work/income/womens-scholarship-program/how-to-apply.html