Should I quit my job of seven years and go to college full time? If so, how can I afford college, mortgage, and bills?
April 25, 2007 10:27 PM   Subscribe

Should I quit my job of seven years and go to college full time? If so, how can I afford college, mortgage, and bills?

I have worked my way up to working as a systems administrator for a high school district. Every year I'm contracted for 10 months and there has always been work from the district for the other two months. However, this year the summer work wasn't available leading me to think of taking a different road. I don't have money saved for the summer nor for college, but I'm looking at two options. First, find summer work and then return to work at the district. Second, quit my job of seven years and find a way to pay for full-time college (computer science or business degree), mortgage, and bills for the next three to four years. Additional information that might help, my girlfriend and I have a house together. She is working on her masters and pays half the bills.
posted by h2 to Education (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps you could go back to school part-time. Take some compressed courses during the summer, then go back to your job and study on a part-time basis until you've got your finances in order. That way, you can see what courses interest you without committing to the entire package or running up huge bills.

If you decide that full-time schooling looks appealing, set aside the bulk of your income for the next year. Live like you're a college student and you'll see if you can handle the financial challenges of schooling.
posted by acoutu at 10:35 PM on April 25, 2007

If returning to school is what interests you, could you not afford to go part time while you work? I did this for four years (taking 3 classes per quarter, year round) to finish my degree while working as a sysadmin. It was much much cheaper than going full time at the same school, in the same program, with the same professors even. It might be worth a look.
posted by autojack at 10:38 PM on April 25, 2007

One of the big benefits of working while going to college, even part time, is tuition re-imbursement. Given that a bachelors degree at even the most inexpensive public institutions is easily a $40,000 expense, doing the most you can to find employer support for this is just financial sense, particularly as it is generally easier for adults to find jobs with this benefit than it is for them to find scholarships and Pell grants. Considering the tax effected earnings you would have to make to repay even $40,000 in student loans, and the interest on such loans, tuition re-imbursement benefits could be worth $50,000 to $60,000 in post graduation taxable income (depending on your tax situation and loan terms), even if you only find employer support for half or 75% of your tuition expenses.

And, if you can find work in areas related to your degree, you can potentially arrange valuable work experience that dovetails with your degree program. The hard part of all this is planning your work life and school life to intersect and support each other, but hundreds of thousands of ordinary people do it all the time. You can, too!

Another strategy element you should plan to use is CLEP testing. CLEP exams can go a long way at many accredited institutions, perhaps even amounting to 20 to 30 semester hours of credit towards your degree, depending on the particular policies of your school, and degree program. That's a lot of time and money you save towards your degree completion, presuming you have the educational background, or the independent study skills needed to pass CLEP exams. But, there is no trickery to CLEP, and my experience with it was very positive, as I used CLEP scores to demonstrate qualification for 16 hours of pre-requisites in my bachelor's program (about 1 full semester).

Getting your degree is empowering. Having other people pay for it, and graduating without overhanging student loan debt is even better.
posted by paulsc at 11:58 PM on April 25, 2007

A lady in my office just got her BA while working full-time. It took about 6 years of night classes, but she finally did it. She's in her 50s. She's already applied to the evening-course Masters program. You don't have to quit your day job.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:31 AM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I did it (Or will have done it, I graduate in December).

I'm a single parent, who, after years of doing sysadmin and IT stuff decided to get that degree he always promised himself he would get.

I highly recommend getting into a larger state uni. I started at a community college and then transfered. The difference in the resources available to help students is astounding. That is to say, I got far more financial aid from the larger institution. Speaking with other returning adult students, this is typical.

I would also recommend going full time. I managed to get an BSEE in 4 years (from a big ten school) - but I know several part-time returning adults who have been working on the same degree for 6 or 7. This may depend on the department, but the rules for graduating shift from time to time, meaning some portion of your earlier work is useless. The faster you are in and out the less trouble that is. Also, you'll sooner be in a position to resume working full time, and thats better IMHO.

One other thing I would recommend - go for the CS degree. First, if you are interested in internships the CS ones tend to pay better than the business ones. Second, you can add a business degree later or do business stuff as an elective/minor/certificate - but I tend to think that the CS degree will make you more competitive.

Hope this helps and good luck,
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:37 AM on April 26, 2007

Second the CLEP. I went from sophomore to senior in one summer thanks to CLEP.
posted by yesster at 5:42 AM on April 26, 2007

At risk of sounding like a broken record, what is it you want to do after the degree?
posted by mendel at 6:21 AM on April 26, 2007

FWIW, student loans aren't wonderful things to have, but they're probably not going to lead you into financial ruin either. The interest rates are reasonable, the payment plans are quite flexible, and the loans are intended cover living expenses as well as tuition & books.
posted by treepour at 8:49 AM on April 26, 2007

Sometimes you can get interest-free loans in the form of grants... I currently am paying one off from school that I was able to qualify for by being the offspring of an active-duty military member (and writing an essay and some application hoop-jumping)- there are all SORTS of grants like this- there are books devoted to listing grants and scholarship opps (but it's been a while since I looked into them, so forgive me for not providing a link).

I bet there are tons of grants and stuff for working adults going back to college.
posted by thejrae at 1:59 PM on April 26, 2007

I returned to graduate school full time in 2002 to do my MBA. I had savings in the bank, an excellent income - and overnight I became a graduate student (after passing the GMAT)

It was a terrifying thing to plan, but remarkably easy to do. I canceled all my discretionary expenses (newspapers, magazines) stopped shopping, began buying food in very large supermarkets, didn't make any significant purchases of clothing, expensive dinners etc during my degree.

It was remarkably easy to do, because I was in a small class of other similarly situated individuals who had also quit well-paying jobs to return to school. I remember one conversation with a classmate, mid-degree, about how we hoped that we would keep our frugal habits even when we returned to full time employment after completing our degrees.

Now, onto the practical: I obtained a line of credit from my bank while still employed, and cashed in some (but not all) of my savings. In addition, I took on some small contracts during each trimester, and these contracts would pay enough to cover my basic bills (rent, gas money, utilities, food)

I learned that I need far less than I initially thought. And now that I have graduated and returned to the world of the professionally employed and well paid, I still live more frugally than I did before starting the degree, but certainly not as frugally (alas) as when I finished it.
posted by seawallrunner at 6:52 PM on April 26, 2007

I'm in the final phase of my second part-time Masters in a row. After five years of doing this, I can honestly say I wish I'd gone full-time, sucked up the debts, and been done by now. I just never felt I had time to produce my best work. I wouldn't have not done it at all, though: my life and career path have changed completely and for the better.

I worked full-time for most of the time, and my job is/has been pretty stressful; if you can get decent paying, low impact work you may find it interferes far less. That I probably could have handled. Perhaps your other half can give you advice on what she does? Best of luck whatever you decide.
posted by danteGideon at 2:42 AM on April 27, 2007

Thank you all for commenting. I have decided to find short work for the summer , then return to my day job. It pays well enough for me to get my finances in order during next year. The following year I will attend college at least half-time toward a Computer Systems Engineering BS at my local university while working full-time.
posted by h2 at 1:12 PM on May 1, 2007

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