As a nontraditional older student, I have had several 'careers.' Two years ago, I returned to school for a degree in a field I would never have imagined five years ago. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Through an educational initiative funded by the federal Workforce Investment Act, I have not had to pay a dime for my degree. But that's just the beginning of what I want to communicate to younger students just entering college and older students returning for educations in new fields.
1. Younger students turning 18 are among the juiciest targets of financial institutions sponsoring credit cards. Because these students have no credit history, interest rates on new cards can be as high as 20-26 percent. Ignore them. Obtain a debit card tied to your bank account instead. If you can't pay for a purchase in cash, you can't afford to pay for it on credit. Debt - and the way you minimize it - follows you all your life. Don't start your education - and your adult life - by indebting yourself with impulse purchases. If you are an older student, pay down your credit cards ASAP, then get rid of them.
2. If you are eligible for federal loans, don't assume more loan debt than you can handle. And borrow money available through subsidized loans, whose repayment can be deferred as long as you're in school. This is not the case with unsubsidized loans. Even if you have a deferable, subsidized loan, arrange to pay a bit more than the interest every month from Day One. That way, you're paying down the principal loan amount as well over the entire period of your education. It will make a big difference in your balance due when you graduate.
3. Your grade point will determine how much money you qualify for in federal loans, scholarships, and grants. Take your education seriously - do the work and keep your grade point as close to 4.0 as you can. It makes you eligible for scholarships and grants (which you don't have to repay) and allows you to receive refunds from unused portions of your awards. In other words, you'll be getting paid to go to school! Your scholarships and grants also are not considered income you have to declare on your tax returns.
4. Research scholarships and grants for which you may qualify; there are thousands of them out there, many tied to educations in specific occupations and disciplines. Most of them go unclaimed because people simply don't apply for them.
These are just a few suggestions to make your educational experience richer, free from anxiety, and profitable. Above all, people who cherish their freedom of choice and who seek greater options in life minimize their debts, work hard to excel, and take fullest
advantage of available opportunities.