How to Pay for College as an Adult

If you're an adult thinking about going back to college, chances are you have questions about how to pay for it. Luckily, there are a variety of options available, from federal student loans and grants to employer assistance programs and alternative funding methods like crowdfunding. Read on to get the lowdown on paying for college as an adult learner.

Reasons to Consider Going Back to College as an Adult

Whether you're getting your first degree, upgrading your skills with a certificate, or pursuing graduate-level education, going back to school can improve job prospects and lead to increased personal growth, satisfaction, and earning potential.

Improved Job Prospects

With a degree or certification, you become more attractive to employers and increase your chances of getting hired. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, individuals with higher levels of education have lower unemployment rates than those without a degree. Additionally, many companies require employees to have certain degrees or certifications to qualify for promotions.

Personal Growth and Satisfaction

Returning to college can be a life-changing experience that offers more than just career advancement. Pursuing higher education as an adult learner can also provide opportunities for personal growth and satisfaction. Going back to school allows individuals to learn new skills, explore their interests and passions, and expand their knowledge base.

Increased Earning Potential

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, adults with a bachelor's degree earn, on average, $502 more per week than those without a degree. This translates into an additional $1 million in lifetime earnings. Having a college degree can make you stand out among other candidates in the job market and give you access to higher-paying careers. With technology advancing rapidly, many jobs require specialized skills that can only be acquired through post-secondary education.

Ways to Pay for College as an Adult Learner

Adult learners have several options to pay for college, including federal and private student loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study programs.

Scholarships for Adults Returning to College

The best way for adults to pay for college is with scholarships – financial awards that do not have to be paid back and can cover a portion or even all of the tuition costs. Many colleges and universities offer scholarships specifically for adult learners who may be returning to school after some time off. With some research, you can find plenty of different scholarship opportunities available.

Many organizations offer scholarships specifically for adults returning to college. Check eligibility requirements and application deadlines when applying for any scholarship opportunity. Remember, scholarships don't have to be repaid as loans do.

Grants for Adult Students

Grants are great options for adult students looking to reduce college expenses. This type of aid is usually provided by the government, colleges or universities, and private organizations. Grants don't need to be repaid, making them popular among those hoping to avoid student loan debt.

Completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the starting point for finding grants available for adult learners. The Pell Grant is the most commonly awarded grant for financially challenged individuals. It provides up to $6,495 each year to eligible recipients based on income levels and other eligibility requirements set forth by the federal government.

Work-Study Programs

Work-study programs offer adult students part-time jobs on campus or with select community organizations to help them pay for college. Work-study positions can range from library assistants to tutors and typically require about 10-15 hours of commitment per week.

Students who participate in work-study programs gain valuable job experience, build relationships with peers and faculty members, and earn a paycheck while studying. Plus, some employers often allow you to schedule your work hours around your class schedule so that you can still prioritize your education. To take advantage of this opportunity, complete the FAFSA early to learn if you're eligible for work-study funds at your college or university.

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans are one of the most common ways to pay for college, but they come with a catch. These loans must be repaid with interest, which means that you will end up paying back more than you borrowed. The amount of money you can borrow depends on your eligibility and the cost of attendance at your college or university.

When it comes to federal student loans, there are different types available. Some examples include Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and PLUS Loans. Each loan has different eligibility requirements and interest rates; it’s critical to understand these differences before accepting any loan offers so you know what you're getting into.

Private Student Loans

Private student loans are credit-based loans offered by private lenders to students. Unlike federal loans, the interest rates for private student loans can vary greatly based on the borrower's credit score and other factors. Private student loans may also have higher interest rates compared to federal loans.

To apply for a private student loan, borrowers usually need to have a good credit history or find a co-signer who does. Private student loan lenders may also require proof of income or employment before approving a loan. Shop around and compare offers from different lenders before taking out private student loans.

Keep in mind that while private student loans can help cover college costs not covered by grants, scholarships, and federal aid, they should be used as a last resort due to their higher interest rates and less flexible repayment options. Additionally, unlike federal loans which offer protections such as income-driven repayment plans and forgiveness programs, most private lenders do not offer these benefits.

Navigating the Federal Student Aid Process

Navigating the federal student aid process is crucial for adult students looking to pay for college; filling out the FAFSA, applying for financial aid, and understanding loan options are all part of this process.

Filling out the FAFSA

Filling out the FAFSA is a crucial step in paying for college as an adult learner. First, gather all the necessary information, including your social security number, tax information for yourself and your parents (if applicable), and any financial documents such as bank statements or investment statements. Once you have this information on hand, you can fill out the application online or by mail.

It's important to note that submitting the FAFSA doesn't guarantee that you'll receive financial aid, but it does determine your eligibility for federal grants, work-study programs, and loans with lower interest rates than private loans. 

Be sure to submit your application as early as possible to increase your chances of receiving aid before funds run out. Some schools may also require additional forms or applications beyond the FAFSA–check with your school's financial aid office for specific requirements.

Understanding Loan Options

When it comes to paying for college as an adult, taking out loans may seem like the easiest option. However, it's crucial to understand the different types of loans available and their interest rates. Federal student loans typically have lower interest rates than private ones but also have specific eligibility criteria.Private student loans can be more flexible in terms of eligibility but often have higher interest rates.

It's important to consider your repayment options before taking out any loan. There are alternative funding options available such as grants and scholarships that don't require repayment or work-study programs where students can earn money while attending school.

Employer Assistance Programs for Adult Students

Employer tuition reimbursement programs and continuing education benefits are two ways adult learners can receive financial assistance from their employers to pay for college.

Employer Tuition Reimbursement Programs

Employers understand the importance of continuing education, and some offer tuition reimbursement programs to support their employees' academic pursuits. These programs cover part or all of the cost of college courses taken by employees who want to earn a degree or improve their skills. With this option, adult learners can reduce the burden of college expenses significantly.

If you're considering returning to school as an adult learner, it's worth checking with your employer about tuition reimbursement benefits. Taking advantage of this opportunity can help you acquire new knowledge and skills while reducing your out-of-pocket expenses for college attendance. Some companies have specific requirements for these programs, such as completing a certain number of years on the job before being eligible. 

Alternative Funding Options for Adult Students

If you're looking for creative ways to pay for college, don't miss this section! From crowdfunding and side hustles to military and veteran benefits, we've got you covered. Discover how these alternative funding options can make your dream of higher education a reality.


Crowdfunding is a relatively new way to pay for college that has gained popularity among adult learners. It involves creating an online campaign or fundraising page and asking people to contribute towards your tuition fees. This can be especially useful for those who do not qualify for financial aid or employer assistance programs.

However, crowdfunding comes with its own set of challenges, including the need to market yourself effectively and compete with other funding campaigns. Additionally, it may take time to build up a large enough network of supporters willing to donate significant amounts toward your education costs. So while it is an option worth considering, it should be approached with caution and realistic expectations in mind.

Part-Time Work and Side Hustles

Another way to pay for college as an adult is by working part-time or having a side hustle. This not only helps with tuition costs but also provides valuable work experience that can be included on a resume. With the rise of the gig economy, there are many options available for individuals who want to earn extra cash while studying.

Part-time jobs in retail, food service, and hospitality are popular options for students as they offer flexible schedules that can accommodate class time. Additionally, there are plenty of freelance opportunities available in fields such as writing and graphic design that can be done remotely.
It's important to note that while earning money through these strategies is helpful when paying for college, it shouldn't interfere with academic performance. Balancing work and school requires good time management skills and an ability to prioritize tasks effectively.

Military and Veteran Benefits

For those who have served in the military, there are several benefits available to help pay for college. The Post-9/11 GI Bill can cover up to 100% of tuition and fees at a public university or up to $24,476.79 per year at a private college for veterans who have served on active duty after September 10, 2001. 

Additionally, veterans may be eligible for other education benefits such as the Montgomery GI Bill or the Reserve Educational Assistance Program.

Active-duty service members and their spouses may also receive tuition assistance through programs like Military Tuition Assistance. This program covers up to 100% of tuition costs and has no loan component, meaning that students do not need to repay this benefit.

Overall, military and veteran benefits provide an excellent way for those who have served our country to pursue higher education without having to worry about overwhelming student debt afterward.

Take the Next Step in Your Education at CCO

Paying for college as an adult may seem overwhelming, but with the right resources, planning,  and knowledge, it’s achievable.

By investing in yourself through higher education, you'll gain valuable skills that will not only benefit you but also pave the way for future success. So don't let age or finances hold you back – take the leap and contact Champlain College Online to discuss tuition options today.

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