Going back to school? 7 things to consider

Been picturing yourself with that master’s degree—or maybe switching careers? Figure out if now is the right time to go back to school with these tips. 

Back to school tips:

Grad school: Is it worth it?

A lot of people choose to invest in grad school—40% of all federal student loans are issued to grad students. And yes, you could earn about 25% more over your career with a graduate degree—but you could also be paying off debt. Be sure to factor in:

  • The total cost of the program.
  • Any earnings you may lose from quitting your job or cutting back your hours.
  • How the program could impact your future earning potential.

Grad school could be worth it if you’re in a high-paying field and can pay off loans quickly. But if you’re switching careers or just furthering your knowledge, take some time to evaluate all your options—could a certificate program or online course be a smarter investment? 

What’s your “why” for going back?

Deciding to go back to school as an adult is a pretty big deal. It’s a change that can have a real impact on many parts of your life. But whether you’re going back so you can earn a higher income, switching careers, exploring a passion, or finally finishing that degree you started earlier, having a defined purpose will keep you motivated through those long nights of studying. Once you know your “why,” the rest comes more naturally.

25% average increase in earnings if you have a graduate degree.

Shift your mindset

Carrying debt can be stressful. But sometimes it helps to focus on the good things you’ve gained from it, like getting an education, starting a business, or buying a home. This type of mindset can help you feel more confident and at ease. And don’t feel like you have to stick to a strategy that isn’t working for you anymore—adjusting your strategy can be a good thing, as long as you’re paying down debt and using your credit responsibly.

You may qualify for need-based funding

Did you know there’s no age limit for filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)? Schools, scholarship organizations, and lenders use the FAFSA to determine how much aid you need, whether for grad school or undergrad. FAFSA filing season starts October 1 each year, but the earlier you apply, the better your chances of receiving financial aid. (You can fill out a FAFSA for free here.) 

There are scholarships for both grad students and undergrads

FAFSA aside, there’s other free money that could be on the table for you if you go back to school. There are literally millions of scholarships—based on anything from your gender or location to your hobbies—out there to help pay for school. Start your search through the financial aid office at the school you want to go to, then check here for more ways to search for scholarships.

Check your credit

In case you need student loans, check your credit way in advance of applying for the loans. A good or exceptional score will get you a better deal when it comes time to borrow. The higher your score, the more it can lower your interest rate on student loans. Here’s how your score is determined so you can know how to get it higher. 

Loans can help make school a reality

Unlike scholarships, you have to pay loans back—and they charge interest. But even when you score federal aid and scholarships, you may still need additional private loans to cover the cost of going back to school. There are federal loans (which often have lower interest rates) and private loans (like those you’d get at a bank). Tap into scholarships, grants, and nonemergency savings first—but don’t feel bad if you need to take out a loan, too. Shop around and compare interest rates to make sure you’re getting a good deal—and then estimate the cost of the loan against your future earnings potential to make sure it’s worth it. 

You might not be able to have it all—and that’s OK

The bottom line: Going back to school takes time and money—which means making sacrifices. Are you OK with deprioritizing other things—like other money goals or your social life—to get your degree? Plan ahead: If you make time for what keeps you happy and healthy, then the transition of going back to school will be easier.

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