That’s because the pandemic has made online learning less of an outlier than it used to be. For the 2020–21 academic year at least, colleges across the country are looking to lessen personal interactions (and possible infections). That’s meant moving many (if not all) classes online and encouraging (if not requiring) students — particularly those who live nearby — to commute to campuses.
That’s played havoc for many students who seek the “traditional” college experience. But it may not matter much if you’re merely looking to earn a degree, learn new skills or enhance old ones. Besides, by the time you reach your 30s, you may have other obligations, such as a mortgage and kids, so full-time study may not be financially or logistically feasible. Fortunately, you have options to help you pay for your education while balancing other financial priorities and minimizing student loan debt.
Jonathan Sager returned to college when he was in his 30s to study cybersecurity. At the time, he was working as a mainframe administrator for a bank.
“I was always into computers, and I thought I would be a programmer, but I got stuck taking C++,” he says. “When I got older and the world moved to the web, I found a place that I cared a lot about.”
Because he was already working full-time, Sager took classes online and was reimbursed through his employer’s education plan.
If you are also considering hitting the books again, here are some things to think about.
Find financial aid options
Your intended school may have scholarships or grants available to adult learners. These are preferable to loans, because, of course, they don’t need to be repaid. Talk to the financial aid office at your intended school to learn what options might be available to you, and also look for outside scholarships offered by professional associations, foundations or community groups. Fastweb.com has a list of scholarship opportunities for nontraditional, adult and returning students.
The 411 on 529s
You may have contributed to a 529 college savings plan for your own child, a grandchild or a niece or nephew, but these plans aren’t just for kids. Adult learners can use them, too, provided they are pursuing postsecondary education that would qualify for federal student aid (career-specific certifications do not qualify). The sooner you start saving in a 529, the longer you’ll have for your money to grow tax free, so start now if you plan on going back to school in the future. Depending on your state, you may qualify for a tax break on contributions.
Explore educational tax benefits
The IRS offers several tax benefits that can help adult learners defray the costs of going back to school. For one, if you’re planning to start or finish a four-year degree, you may qualify for the American opportunity credit Opens in new window , which is available for up to four years per eligible student. This entitles you to a tax credit of up to $2,500 per year. Alternatively, you may qualify for a lifetime learning credit Opens in new window of up to $2,000 for an unlimited number of years, but you can’t claim both credits in the same year.