A Guide On How to Go Back To College: Part Six

Financial Aid

By Beth Dumbauld

This is the sixth installment in a multi-part series about how to go back to college. Previous installments looked at creating personal and career inventories as well as exploring fast growing occupations and assessing academic gaps. The Guide also looked at online college options, the overall college choice mix, as well as how to transfer college credits. Now, in Part Six, we will explore the costs of college as well as financial aid options. Next time, in Part Seven, we will take a look at the first semester in the life of a non-traditional student.

Choosing to go to college as an adult student is a big step. Enrolling and paying that first tuition payment is where intention meets commitment both in terms of time and money. Make sure, however, that the tuition you are paying is part of an overall college financial plan; that your financial obligations make sense in terms of your lifestyle and career goals. The day you start your adult college education, you should be able to focus your attention on your academic pursuits-- not financial concerns.

Once enrolled and attending classes, you want graduation to be not only academically achievable, but also financially possible. You don’t want to be second-guessing your decision to return to college because of financial insecurities or fears that oncoming debt will be unmanageable. This is why understanding financial aid for college before you start is essential. Take the time to learn how to obtain the tuition assistance you may need to attend college, what financial aid options are available to you as an adult student, and what to expect in terms of loan repayment, if you do require loan assistance, after you graduate.

Costs of College

  • Tuition and Fees: There is a huge variation in tuition rates for college. This variation depends on whether the college is private or public, online or traditional, 2-year or 4-year. In 2011-12, 44 percent of all full-time undergraduate college students attended a four-year college with published tuition and fee charges of less than $9,000 per year. At the other end of the spectrum, approximately 28 percent of full-time private nonprofit four-year college students are enrolled in institutions charging $36,000 or more yearly in tuition and fees.1 Comparatively, an online college course program offered by StraighterLine.com allows you to pay for your first year of college for just $999.
  • Books and Supplies: College costs include those beyond tuition -- and can add up substantially. The national average for books and supplies alone at 4-year public colleges in 2011-2012 is $1,168.2
  • Room and Board: The cost of room and board varies with the location and established rates by the college you are considering attending. You will need to research each school individually. Alternatively, you could consider an online school or community college. One of the advantages of attending an online college or commuting to a local institution is that you will be able to maintain flexibility in terms of where and how you live. Those students living at home have the opportunity to reduce the overall cost of college and/or have some degree of control over their living expenses.
  • Transportation: The average transportation costs for 4-year public college students who live on campus totaled $1,082 for 2011-2102.3 One of the advantages of an anytime, anywhere online college programs is not being forced to deal with the costs, or hassles, associated with transportation.
  • Personal Expenses: These miscellaneous, “hidden costs of college”, from cell phone use to pizza to laundry, can add up. In 2011-2012, for 4-year public college students living on campus, the national average was $2,066.4

1 The College Board, What it Costs to Go to College, 2011.

2 The College Board, Break Down the Bill: College Expenses to Consider, 2011.



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