How to go about paying for a college education?
June 5, 2008 9:38 PM   Subscribe

How to go about paying for a college education?

Here's the situation. I went to college right out of high school and pursued a degree only to find out a year away from getting that degree that it's not really what I wanted to do.

The problem is that my credit is just about maxed out after taking on a pretty substantial student loan in order to pay for the unfinished degree. I'm ready to go back to school now, but am having difficulty trying to finance it. My mom's credit isn't great after enduring some pretty hefty medical bills, and I'm not entirely sure that federal money will get me by while making payments on the earlier student loan. Between my rent and my student loan payments, I'm at about $1000 per month in bills (plus internet, phone, etc.). If I go back to school my income is likely to drop so that I'll not be making enough to cover those bills. I could defer the previous student loan, but I'd rather not if possible, to keep knocking down my debt.

I've looked at some sites like Fynanz and GreenNote. Anyone have experience with these? I hate asking family and friends for money honestly, but am more afraid that if something were to happen to me they'd be out the money.

In talking with some friends, apparently some companies have programs to help you pay for school where you work for them at a reduced salary while going to school and they help pay for it, and in return you agree to continue working for them for X years after you graduate in order to "pay them back." Haven't had much luck in that department with the companies that I've expressed an interest in.

Any other creative ideas for paying for a college education?
posted by shangomoons to Education (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So to be clear, are you trying to start from scratch on a new bachelor's, or just finish up your last year in the old degree?
posted by crinklebat at 10:07 PM on June 5, 2008

It is true that in some highly-valued industries, or more likely those suffering a shortage of workers, there are incentives to go to school. Nursing and science teachers come to mind in my neck of the woods.

I was in your situation in the late 1990s, except without the student loan debt part. When I decided to go back to school, I went to a cheap state university, and worked a full-time evening job to save up the money each semester to pay for the next. It was tough -- once I had to get a temp job giving mall shoppers pedicab rides to their cars in a Santa hat to make up a funding shortfall, and I had to limit myself to paid internships in my field only -- but it can be done.

I also had rent and car payments, along with everything else about the same monthly payments as you.

Be creative. One thing I did do to save money was xerox books page-by-page while working the overnight shift, and then return them to the bookstore during the full refund period. I also took a few dim-witted risks to cut expenses, including not having any car insurance for three and a half years and living in less-than-ideal apartments and roommate situations.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:07 PM on June 5, 2008

Oh, and you probably should not consider taking on any more debt.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:08 PM on June 5, 2008

I'm at about $1000 per month in bills

There is probably a lot there that you can get rid of, no?

Consider going back to school as an entire lifestyle change. It may involve moving (closer to a cheap state school?) or getting rid of your car (if you have one) or ditching your cable tv. Stuff like that isn't always obvious, but when you sit down and really think about what you need to live with and what you can do without and then you realize that the things you can do without are also the things standing in the way of your education... well... you get the idea.

Further - if you don't have a school in mind, that's the place to start. Financing comes later. Get some applications out there and see who bites. Then show up at admissions and say, "Ok, I want to go here. How can I pay for it?" You'd be surprised the help colleges can provide.

As for taking on more loans? Well, you certainly need to size up your current debt and see what type of options you have there. If you can defer some of that and go back to school then that's a no brainer to me. Otherwise, ditch everything in your life that is costing you money, pay down your debt as much as you can in six or twelve months and then go back to school...

Good luck!
posted by wfrgms at 10:31 PM on June 5, 2008

Part-time jobs are your friends. When I was doing freelance work I knew there'd be periods where not much money was coming in, and I managed to land an ongoing gig doing data entry for a university, basically just whenever I had a couple hours to spare and could sit there copy/pasting into forms while watching TV. It wasn't a lot of money, but every little bit helps.

As for financing the schooling itself, you'd be surprised just how many random scholarships and grants there are out there; people tend to focus on the big stuff, but there are lots of smaller pools of money available and, again, every little bit helps (turns out, for example, that a trustee of the out-of-state college I went to grew up in the same area as me, and endowed a small, but helpful, scholarship for people from that area going to that school). These things take a little hunting, but they're out there.
posted by ubernostrum at 10:32 PM on June 5, 2008

A fair number of people from the college I went to ended up in your position (getting a degree they didn't really want). The common strategy was to get the degree anyway, get a job for a few years to build your credit/bank account up, then go back to school for something you actually care about.

OTOH, my Dad put himself through college by relentlessly applying for every scholarship he could find. I mean _every_ scholarship. One year he got an NAACP scholarship because he was the only one who applied. My father is very white. Anyway, the point is, you can do it.

Also, I wouldn't be afraid of more debt. Being in debt sucks, but never getting what you want sucks more.
posted by systematic at 10:32 PM on June 5, 2008

Find the colleges that offer the program you want.
Go to their human resources page and apply for a full-time job with benefits.
Most colleges offer free tuition to their employees.
I have friends who financed bachelor degrees, masters degrees, law degrees this way.
However, you have to be willing to do the fulltime lowlevel job, and take your classes part-time at night, on lunch hours, and on weekends. It usually takes extra time to finish the degree. In some situations, you have to pay income taxes on the value of the tuition benefit.
But I've seen people succeed with this strategy.
posted by egret at 10:39 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

You didn't mention this in your post so I'm unclear if you know this ... while you are in school, you have the option of deferring previous school loans until something like 6 months after you get out. (So my undergrad loans are being deferred now that I am in law school.) It obviously doesn't help you have a smaller debt load at the end of all this school, but it does make paying it a less strident concern while you're acutally IN school.
posted by Happydaz at 11:04 PM on June 5, 2008

School financial aid depts are your friend.
2nding $1000 per month in bills. Sheesh!
posted by k8t at 11:21 PM on June 5, 2008

I'm not entirely sure that federal money will get me by while making payments on the earlier student loan...I could defer the previous student loan, but I'd rather not if possible, to keep knocking down my debt.

I wouldn't even consider asking friends and family for money before I'd decided to defer the student loans. It sounds like you have a straightforward easy solution, you're just looking for something even better, is that right?
posted by jacalata at 12:14 AM on June 6, 2008

Thanks for all the speedy comments.

@crinklebat Yes, I'm starting all over. My previous degree was in music and now I'm going something in the business field.

@wfrgms Not a lot I can get rid of (aside from deferring the student loan that I already have). Rent with all utilities, internet and TV (though I don't really watch it) is bundled at $550/month which is about as cheap as it gets. Student loans are $350/month.

As far as ditching the car.... can't happen. The university that I'm going to (state school, fwiw), isn't in anything resembling an urban area. My current job is a 30 minute drive each way. No car.... no job. And I make a decent amount (enough to cover the bills and have a little left over).

@Happydaz I know that I *can* defer them. I'd just prefer not to. My previous non-degree put me at about $30k in debt (I was out of state for the first two years), and the interest builds heavily. The more I think about it, the more I'm realizing that this seems like it's going to have to happen. For the reasons that @jacalata said.

@systematic One of the reasons (though not the primary one) that I decided not to finish the degree was because so many of my peers were graduating and not being able to get any jobs. Not because of a lack of talent or skill by any means. It's just not a degree that has a lot of job opportunities.

@ubernostram Any specific ways you went about finding the scholarship info? I've applied for quite a few, and searched to get as many of the small, unknown ones as I can, and haven't really gotten much in that department. I don't necessarily want/need a big scholarship, I'd actually prefer to get a good number of smaller ones instead.

Thanks again for the replies, I look forward to some more comments!
posted by shangomoons at 1:12 AM on June 6, 2008

My first thought is that it might be cheaper and more profitable in the long run to just get the fastest BA you can (ideally finishing only your fourth year, but if you are starting at a new school, or it has been a long time, that might need to be two years) and then get a business-related masters (MBA or whatever). BA's are pretty much binary -- you have one or you don't -- rather than people noticing or caring what field it is in. To go on to graduate work you will need to have the specialized classes (pre-med, say); you don't need to have a BA in that field. (There are a few exceptions to this -- engineering comes to mind, for example, as a BA that has practical relevance for working, but that's an exception to the rule.)

So I think you should just hammer out a BA, in any field and from (almost) any university, whatever will get the job done and get it done fast. If there is a choice between cheap and expensive, take cheap. The cheaper and faster you can finish that BA (in music or whatever), the sooner you can get an MBA (or other professional masters degree) which you can use for professional advancement.

About scholarships -- any decent college or university will have an office whose job it is to help students find and apply for grants and scholarships. Sometimes they are really good, sometimes they are duds, but that is your place to begin. A lot of the stories of people financing their way through on small scholarships come from the good old days when going to school cost a lot less, and a small scholarship paid the bills. It takes just as much time to apply for a one-time $500 scholarship as it does to apply for a four-year full-ride one, so don't dismiss the big ones, either.

A bit of student loan debt is not devastating -- you are managing to pay your bills and plan for the future and so on. But at some point it does become a real problem, that will constrain your options and prevent you from taking opportunities. I think people are much too casual about student debt, saying "oh, but it's good debt!" Well, sort of -- but you still have to make those payments every month, and if they are high enough you won't be able to pause work to do a masters, or to take the really exciting job at the startup that won't pay much for the first year, or to travel to Italy for three weeks with your fiance. I'm saying be realistic, and don't take on debt above what the degree will pay for in future income, and don't screw yourself financially for a degree which is worth about the same as any other degree.
posted by Forktine at 6:18 AM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

My degree has little to do with my current career. Having a BA has helped me get jobs, so finishing the current degree program might be a good idea.
posted by theora55 at 7:05 AM on June 6, 2008

Don't start over on a new degree! Save yourself a lot of time/money and finish your music degree. Then, as Forktine mentions, either move on towards earning an MBA or, if you feel that is too big of a step, then look into getting a much cheaper Associates Degree in business. And don't overlook the useful path of working for a temp agency that will place you in low-level office jobs. If you feel you could be successful in business but just don't have paperwork (i.e. degree) to get your foot in the door, these temp jobs can help you bypass all the prerequisites and just show the employers what you are capable of.

But yeah, a bachelor's degree can be folded, molded, bent, stretched or just overall crammed into fitting into almost any job regardless of what discipline you majored in.
posted by wabashbdw at 8:59 AM on June 6, 2008

Thanks again for all the good comments.

Regarding just finishing the music degree. It would probably take me a good three years, simply because I've forgotten a lot of the higher level stuff that I learned (this was 4+ years ago), simply because I don't use it on an everyday basis anymore. So I'd actually have to relearn a lot of it. That and the fact that I'm just not interested in it anymore. I'm full speed ahead on the business side, reading a voracious amount of books, blogs, magazine articles, etc.

I'm pretty well set on doing the pre-req coursework for the business degree (not sure if this is how it work at all schools, but there's a good 1.5-2 years of coursework to be done before you actually apply to the College of Business to take the upper level classes), and then just figuring out which degree is fastest to get. I'm fairly confident that once I get back after a semester or two my academic record will allow me to get a healthy amount of University provided scholarship money. It's just the initial startup cost that's proving to be a hurdle.
posted by shangomoons at 12:41 PM on June 6, 2008

Even if you are switching colleges and switching majors, your three years of college should allow you to start as a junior, give or take a semester. You should be given credit for all those basic intro and requirement courses you had to take; all that should be left are the substantive classes for the new major. If the university is telling you that it will take you more than 2.5 years to get the BA, go to a different school. An entire year of extra school, on top of the three you have already done and the two it should take to finish, is way too much, and starts putting your undergrad career close to the serious six figure range in cost. That's way too much for a basic BA which no one will really care all that much about anyway once you are working, or have gotten your MBA, or whatever. Like I said, even starting a new course of study, your previous work should count for something; if they are refusing to count it, look elsewhere for a more reasonable school.

Have you called up your old school, and asked them directly: "I don't want to be a music major anymore, but I do want to come back and finish my degree; what are my options? What is the fastest way to do this?" They might surprise you with how fast you could pick up a degree in something (perhaps a self-created major like "interdisciplinary studies" or whatever -- remember, the major doesn't matter, but the degree does), because it is almost always faster to stay inside of one bureaucratic system.

If you end up with no option but to pick up prereq's before starting the new advanced classes, look seriously at your local community college options. In a lot of states (assuming you are in the US; other countries may or may not have similar parallel systems), community college tuition is almost free (sometimes well under $1000 for a semester's tuition) and credits generally transfer well to large state universities.
posted by Forktine at 1:39 PM on June 6, 2008

Well the problem is that the pre-reqs don't match up. For example, in order to be a music major, you need theory, aural skills, lessons, etc. For business you need Business Computer Information Systems, 2 Accounting Classes, Business Calculus, etc.

No crossover between the two unfortunately. And this is how it would work at most universities because the music degree is so specialized. Sure, I've got the English and Sociology and History and everything covered, but at most, that covers two semesters.

Hadn't thought about calling them up, but I'll have to do that on Monday. Good call. I'm not 100%, but I don't think they do self-created majors, but I'll definitely check in to it.

The community college route had occurred to me, and I might very well do it, except that I'd only be able to go there for a semester (they don't offer many of the classes that I'd need above the sophomore level). Perhaps concurrent enrollment should be something I could look at.
posted by shangomoons at 3:11 PM on June 6, 2008

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