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Practical Tips for Covering College Costs as an Adult

Revised: April 10, 2024

Do you want to go back to school but aren't sure how to pay for it? With the average cost of a bachelor's degree in the United States now hovering around $36,000 per year, you're certainly not alone. Yet there are many compelling reasons to consider returning to school, ranging from improved job prospects and higher earning potential to personal growth and satisfaction.

How can you make paying for college a little easier on your wallet as an adult learner? There are plenty of resources available – let's dive in.

Reasons to Consider Going Back to College as an Adult

Whether you have completed a few college credits or were close to graduating when you withdrew from school, there are so many reasons to re-enroll—even if you're already working or have other life obligations on your plate.

Improved Job Prospects

Having a formal degree can make it easier to find a job in your field. Even if you're already working in your desired field, a degree can make it possible for you to work your way up the career ladder into positions that you may not otherwise qualify for.

Personal Growth and Satisfaction

Returning to school can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience at any age, as it allows you to prove to yourself how capable you are while learning new skills, exploring your interests, and growing your knowledge base. This increase in confidence and skills can help you achieve a sense of personal satisfaction and pride.

Increased Earning Potential

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college degree holders have higher earning potential than those without a college degree. A person with a bachelor's degree earns an average of about $500 more per week than someone without a formal degree.

Ways to Pay for College as an Adult Learner

You want to return to school and finish your degree—but you're unsure how to pay for it. You may especially find this to be true if you have other financial obligations on your plate, such as a house payment and a family. Fortunately, there are plenty of options to make paying for college as an adult learner a bit easier.

Scholarships for Adults Returning to College

Many schools offer scholarships for adult students. These are ideal for adult learners returning to complete their degrees because this is money you don’t have to pay back. If you're planning to return to school on a part-time basis, some schools may offer special scholarships for part-time students.

Grants for Adult Students

In addition to adult scholarships, consider exploring grant opportunities, as they can provide money for school you don't have to repay. Grants are typically funded by the government or directly by schools themselves. To see if you qualify for any grants or scholarships, check directly with your school and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Work-Study Programs

If you're open to working off some of your tuition and expenses directly through your school or a participating organization, see if you're eligible for a work-study program. This type of program allows students to work 10-15 hours per week in exchange for funds applied directly to the costs of their higher education. Work-study is ideal for adult learners who aren't currently working a full-time job and have some time to dedicate to a work-study program on top of their coursework.

Federal Student Loans

Although taking out loans to pay for school may not be ideal, sometimes it is the only option when you've exhausted your scholarship and grant options. Student loans typically come with interest payments, but federal student loans are unique in that some of these are subsidized—meaning you don't accumulate or pay interest on your loans until you finish school. Unsubsidized federal student loans are also available to adult students who may need to borrow more to cover their higher education costs. 

Private Student Loans

Private student loans are another financial aid option to consider for adults returning to school. The interest rates for these loans can vary greatly depending on your credit score and other factors, but the borrowing limits for these types of loans tend to be higher. With so many private lenders on the market, students can shop around for the best rates and most favorable loan terms.

Navigating the Federal Student Aid Process

If you're interested in any form of federal aid (including grants and loans), you'll need to complete the FAFSA. As a “nontraditional” student, you may be wondering if there is a unique FAFSA for adults. Fortunately, you can complete the same FAFSA as high school students going to college for the first time, and the application process is relatively quick and easy.

Filling out the FAFSA

You can complete the entire application online, although you may need to scan and upload some important documentation if requested. Some information to have handy before you get started includes:

  • Bank statements
  • Tax statements
  • Your social security number

While submitting your FAFSA does not guarantee you'll receive aid, it lets you know what you qualify for so you can plan accordingly when returning to school.

Understanding Loan Options

If you must take out loans to help pay for your college, it's crucial to understand your options and do your research. You'll ideally want to take out subsidized loans from the federal government, allowing you to defer interest until after you graduate. If you've maxed out your subsidized loan borrowing, take your time finding unsubsidized loans with the lowest possible interest rates.

Employer Assistance Programs for Adult Students

If you're currently working a part-time or full-time job, ask your human resources team about any employer assistance programs they offer. These can be a great way to get help paying for school, especially if the degree you're pursuing is related to your current work.

Employer Tuition Reimbursement Programs

While not all schools offer tuition assistance or reimbursement, many do. If your employer does offer it, get as much information on the program and its eligibility requirements as possible. Will you need to maintain a certain grade point average to get reimbursement? What documentation will you need to submit? By knowing what to expect, you can take advantage of this program with confidence.

Champlain College Online's truED program is the ideal solution for organizations and employers seeking to provide their employees with quality education at an affordable rate. Our program offers a career-focused curriculum combined with reduced tuition rates, making it the perfect choice for those who want to advance their careers. 

Alternative Funding Options for Adult Students

Beyond financial aid, there are plenty of alternative options for paying for school as an adult.


Consider raising funds on a reputable crowdfunding site to help you pay your way through school. Keep in mind that on most of these sites, you won't keep 100 percent of the funds donated to you. Still, this can be a worthwhile way to raise some extra money.

Part-Time Work and Side Hustles

These days, there are plenty of ways to make money on the side without committing to a part- or full-time job. Consider, for example:

  • Rideshare driving
  • Grocery delivery
  • Freelance writing or editing
  • Tutoring

Military and Veteran Benefits

If you've ever served in the military, make sure you're taking advantage of any education benefits to which you may be entitled. Some examples include the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill, and the Reserve Educational Assistance Program.

Payment Plans

Many schools also offer payment plans through their financial aid offices, allowing you to break up your tuition payments into installments with little to no interest. Payment plans can be a great way to make paying for school a bit more manageable, even after you've exhausted your other financial aid options.

Take the Next Step in Your Education at CCO

Paying for school need not be an obstacle to pursuing your dreams. At Champlain College Online, we're committed to making college attainable, affordable, and accessible for people of all backgrounds. Get in touch today to learn more about our financial aid opportunities, including payment plans and more.

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