Student loans for certificate program?
April 9, 2014 10:45 AM   Subscribe

What options are available out there in regards to educational loans for certificate programs with a university?

Very recently decided I'd apply for a certificate program with a deadline that is drawing pretty close. It is with a private university and depending on if I choose to attend for a semester or two the tuition and fees for the program will be between $13,000 or $30,000. I'm still deciding on whether or not I want to just go with one semester or two mainly because of the issue of cost. I'm mainly looking into what my options are in regards to funding this venture since a lot of things are up in the air at the moment (obviously, whether or not I'll even get accepted, or if I qualify for a scholarship and how much, if I can keep my current job on a part-time basis, etc.) and probably my decision to actually attend or not, even if I am accepted would depend largely on how much of a financial hit or debt I'm looking to take on.

I'm currently at a crossroads in my career where I feel like I'll have to drop out of my career path entirely or actually learn some skills that can help me move forward and make me more marketable in my field. This is where the certificate program comes in. I found out about it through a listserv and it deals with interests that align with what I'd like to explore for my current career path to make me more marketable as well as teach me skills I've been looking to hone.

I've spoken with my supervisor at work about this being a possibility in my future and we're still in discussion on whether or not I can stay on part-time with my job once I am accepted or if I will be leaving my job entirely (and what we can do about my position and what I want from it if I don't get accepted so that I feel I'm in a better position to move forward in my personal development like I want to). This is creating another wrinkle in my decision making process and trying to figure out what funds I have available. I do have some savings set aside, but the amount is just a little under $30k. Meaning depending on how my job situation works out, that is the amount of money I'd possibly have to rely on for living expenses, not just paying for this program. The course load is a full-time one, but my supervisor would like for me to stay on even part-time if possible.

I'm also applying for a scholarship through the program with the university, but I won't know how much I will receive until I am accepted.

So in the meantime, I'm wondering what options are out there for student loans for someone who will not be attending school full-time. I'm been in contact with the university back and forth, so this is a question that I'll probably bring up to her as well (though I have a feeling their answer is that they are offering scholarship as a possibility and that is their official "aid").

Since it's been a while since I've had to go back to school, I'm sort of out of the loop about securing funds for studying and I fully admit that I'm not knowledgeable at all about my options. I've tried searching around, even here, specially since I'm not sure how certification programs, and not actual undergrad or grad degrees, work when it comes to these things.

Most resources on financial aid seem to focus on people actually looking to go to school for a degree as opposed to a certificate (unless I'm missing something or the magical words or understanding of the system). Do I apply with FAFSA? Will I even hear back from them in time about any possible federal loans when the deadline/announcement process will be rolling out in the next month or two? Am I stuck with having to look for private loans? How would those work? I'm guessing private loans will have substantially higher interest rates than federal loans.

I understand this question might be hard to answer without knowing the school, but I'd definitely like a general idea of what my options are since I wouldn't want to just rely on the school for information.
posted by anonymous to Education (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Does your job offer Tuition Aid (if it's in the US and it doesn't I'd be SHOCKED.) TAP usually offers $5460 per year towards continuing education. So you may want to keep your job full time and investigate this as an option.

If you found out about his on a listserv, and no one in your company has flat out said that this certification is needed for advancement, I'd be a hair suspicious.

Speak to people in positions higher than yours and ask them what their educational background is. Find out if they have a similar certification and if they have any opinions on the course you're proposing to take.

I would be VERY skeptical about taking out loans for a certification, unless placement in jobs, significantly higher up than the one I have now is 80%+ within one year of graduation.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:53 AM on April 9, 2014

Depending on your school's arrangement with the department of education, there may or may not be federal loan (FAFSA) funding for your certificate program. That's something they can tell you straight away. If you are not eligible for federal loans, you would have to go the private loan route. Any large bank you've ever heard of has private loans, there's sallie mae, your own bank/credit union may have some options as well. Before you apply for them you should speak to a loan officer to see if the loan you are applying for is eligible for certificate programs. They may have you go back to your school's financial aid office and ask them.

I would definitely think long and hard about whether a certificate is worth $30K. You could easily get a masters degree for that kind of money if you are willing to invest a little more time, but depending on your profession you know more about that than we will.
posted by Think_Long at 10:57 AM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Very recently decided I'd apply for a certificate program with a deadline that is drawing pretty close

This stood out to me. The higher ed institutions I've gone to were very upfront about the fact that they give away their scholarship money to early applicants. If your school is similar, then applying close to the deadline is a good way to get less than you otherwise would. Talk to admissions or financial aid about whether you might want to defer admission or withdraw your application and wait until the next round.

I wouldn't want to just rely on the school for information.

The financial aid officers at the schools I've gone to have always steered me right: pointing me toward scholarships, grants, and work-study options before loans, and giving me information about loan forgiveness / repayment options. If you feel like this school is sketchy enough that they might actually mislead you (and schools like that do exist), don't do the program.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:14 PM on April 9, 2014

For 30K and one year, you can get a masters. You know this, right?
posted by DarlingBri at 3:01 PM on April 9, 2014

Is this the only university that's offering this certificate program? I just compared the same certificate program between two local higher-ed institutions (one public, one private) and the difference is drastic, around $20k.

If you're really considering spending $30k, it may be a more economical idea to look into a bachelor or masters.

Your boss seems very receptive based on the information you provided. Why not see if he's able to recommend some programs that would help you at work, and even possibly have the company pay for them? My work does this--they're willing to sponsor SAS training and various certifications.

I'm not trying to discourage you, but I spent a bunch of money on my fancy B.S. from a private university, and ended up with many more loans than i would have going to a public university. It also didn't increase my chances of a job over anyone else in my field.
posted by Verdandi at 3:13 PM on April 9, 2014

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