In the past five years, the face of the global economy has seen drastic shifts. There have been major financial crises in what is generally considered the world’s top-performing countries ranging from housing market crashes, to increased unemployment rates, to unpredictability in the stock exchange, and heightened oil prices.  The United States has been no exception to these change. It seems that no business has been safe, and all individuals face the daunting task of fighting for their livelihood. In the past, trends have suggested that in tough economic times it is best to invest in yourself by investing in education. The thought is as follows – If you can improve your own skill set, you can improve your resume, and therefore improve your job security, or even find some upward mobility in the job market. I heeded this advice myself and enrolled in a graduate program at a local university. I earned a Master of Arts degree in Political Science, and found it to be a refreshing experience. I gained a great deal of knowledge, along with an immeasurable amount of life experience. I also gained another very, very valuable tool that is often an indirect, unpublicized result of attending graduate school: networking. contacts. shameless self-promotion. The reasons to work towards higher education are a dime a dozen, but it seems that one of the most difficult pieces each of us have with actually seeking a college degree is how to pay for it.

I won’t sugar coat it – Higher Education is EXPENSIVE. Students pour thousands of dollars each year into education, and at times it is so difficult to see what the payoff may even be. So how do you do it? What are the best ways to pay for your education without racking up insane amounts of loan debt to pay off when you graduate? Here are my top ten tips for earning a degree without breaking the bank:

  1. Do your Research: I cannot stress the importance of really taking the time to research different universities enough. You may think that the big-name state schools or the Ivy League schools are your greatest option because of the name recognition, but these schools can cost upwards of $30,000.00 per SEMESTER to study.  Realize that you need to attend a school that is within your means of affordability.  This does not suggest that any of these schools have terrible quality of education, but just that they are affordable. Take VIU as an example. Not only do we have extremely qualified professors, but the overwhelming majority of them have terminal degrees in their field of study.  Our small class sizes allow students to have huge amounts of individualized attention, and we are affordable. Because our mission states that we want to provide high quality education to anyone who wishes to study, we strive to keep our tuition rates as low as possible.
  2. Scholarships & Grants: There are, literally, thousands, maybe even millions of programs floating around out there that want to provide individuals with low-cost or free education. Apply for any and all scholarships that you qualify for, and maybe even those that you do not fully qualify for.  Though there is a time commitment involved in putting together worthy applications, the pay off is far greater than the cost. Don’t be afraid to try. Many independent foundations and businesses offer scholarships, but universities do as well.  VIU offers several levels of tuition scholarships to our students in an effort to ease the burden paying for education on those that are most deserving.
  3. Employment Programs: Universities offer several types of employment programs to both domestic and international students. Speak with your school’s HR representative to see what options are available for students to earn money while studying. VIU, as an example, offers several on-campus employment positions to students, wherein they can gain practical, hands-on experience, while also earning money to pay for their education (it’s a two-fold pay off!). Also, for international students, VIU allows students to gain hands-on experience through internships within the guidelines of the CPT program. Additionally, VIU has a full-service career center that is dedicated to assisting students in furthering their employment goals!
  4. Alternative Delivery Methods: It is no secret that online education is becoming more commonplace and is just as respectable as campus-based programs. What may be a secret is that these programs are FAR less expensive than campus-based programs. VIU’s Online Degrees are not only more affordable tuition-wise, but also cut out so many additional costs including: travel, transportation, moving costs, time, and more. You can study from any place in the world, and do not have to uproot your life to move to a new city, pay for housing, and also pay for tuition. It is a really great option for students interested in keeping the costs associated with education low.
  5. Save on the Small(er) Stuff: This is another place where doing your research can really pay off. Search for the least expensive textbooks instead of purchasing them brand new from the publisher. There is nothing wrong with having a used textbook (really, a lot of the pertinent information is already highlighted for you!) – all of the information is the same. Sometimes you might also be able to get a older edition of the textbook, but be cautious – it will not have all of the updated information.  You can also save money by carpooling to class, finding roommates for housing, and clipping coupons for grocery shopping. Additionally, many businesses surrounding college campuses offer student discounts if you show your student ID card – take advantage of these opportunities!
  6. Watch for Hidden Fees: Imagine: You find a school that have very low tuition. You apply, enroll, and when you receive your tuition bill you are flabbergasted. The total is 50% higher than you expected, due to hidden (or even not hidden) fees that you were not expecting to pay for. Study the financial policies of the school. See what fees they are charging for various things (registration fees, technology fees, etc.) and be more prepared for the total cost of the program you are enrolling in. In addition, be sure you know what type of schedule the school runs on. You may find a seemingly low-priced school that runs on a quarter system. Be aware that you will then be paying tuition 4 times each year, instead of the two times you pay on a semester system. Be sure to get the total tuition rate for the entire program, rather than just looking at the cost per semester/quarter.
  7. Payment Plans: See what options your school has in regards to payment plans. Some institutions will have pre-determined plans wherein students can split their semester’s tuition into monthly installments. An example of a school that offers these payment plans to students is VIU!
  8. Budget: Sit down and create a well thought out, detailed budget for yourself. Estimate costs accurately, and live within your means. Do not exceed your budget whenever possible! Try not to live off of credit cards. You are just racking up high-interest debt in place of student loan debt.
  9. Ask for Help: Approach the people in your life who love you and want to support you. Do not be afraid to ask for their assistance in achieving your dream It will do well to approach these individuals with a detailed business plan, and let them know that any contribution, no matter how small, is an investment in your future, and will be so appreciated. There is nothing shameful in admitting that you cannot do it alone. If people cannot contribute financially, perhaps they can contribute things (a used computer, a desk, etc.). Let them know that if they cannot contribute, than their emotional support is also valued and appreciated. If people do contribute, thank them by sending a card or small gift as a token of your appreciation. Write a short message to them to let them know that you are grateful for their support.
  10. Employer Assistance Programs: Talk to your current employer to determine what assistance programs are available for continuing education. Some employers will match your out of pocket expenses, or even cover tuition in whole if you achieve a certain minimum GPA.  Why pay for it yourself if your company is willing to help out?

I hope this list helps you achieve your dreams in the most affordable, least debt-creating manner! Do you have any other ways to save on education that you have found particularly helpful? We would love to hear them and continue to build the list!

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