A Guide on How to Go Back to College: Part Four

The College Mix: Cost and Options for Open Enrollment, Associate Degrees, and Bachelors Degrees

By Beth Dumbauld

This is the fourth installment in a multi-part series about how to go back to college. The earlier parts focused on creating a personal and career inventory as well as looking at fast growing occupations and assessing any current academic gaps. We also explored online college options and how the flexibility of these programs can fit in the college choice mix. This time, in Part 4, we will be exploring the overall college degree mix. This will be done by taking a look at costs as well as open enrollment, associate, and bachelors degree programs including online, traditional on-campus institutions and community colleges. Next time, in Part 5, we will look at the college credit transfer process.

We learn from our mistakes. One of the best ways to learn how to do something is to first learn how not to do something. It’s true of a lot of things, from falling off a bike and then getting back on to over-cooking a cake but baking it just right the next go around. Unfortunately, this just-winging-it mentality does not hold true when choosing a college. With financial and educational stakes so high, making a mistake can be costly if you choose the wrong college for your situation.

So how do you choose the right college? Where do you begin? First, look at the cost of going to college among your various college options. Then, dig a little deeper. It’s important to understand the difference in the admission polices of various college programs from open enrollment institutions at online universities or community colleges, to the more rigorous admission policies at some state colleges and private 4-year on-campus schools. Be honest with yourself about where you fit in along the college spectrum. College costs real money. Studying expends real energy and time. You want to be successful the first time around.

The Cost of Going Back to College

Unless you have a full-ride scholarship for some unique talent or skill, have received some sort of grant to cover the cost of your tuition and housing, or have a tuition assistance program at work that offers full tuition reimbursement, you’ll be paying to go to college. How much you will pay, however, depends on the type of institution you choose. Likewise, how much debt you will owe upon graduation, assuming you do graduate, depends on the overall cost of the school, your college savings, family help, non-loan financial aid for college, and the number of loans you take out to cover the difference that remains. Adult students may also qualify for Adult Education Grants and adult scholarships.

For those who attend college and drop out, you will still be held responsible for any loans you may have taken out, but you won’t have the benefit of the career trajectory a college degree can provide. In other words, if you start college, you had better plan on graduating.