Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times
In January, I will be returning to college to obtain my master's degree. I always knew that getting an advanced degree was a goal of mine before I turned 30, so I got a job working at a university. This enables me to go back to school at no charge because the state will be picking up the check thanks to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).
Now, I realize my circumstances are not an option for everyone. Some of you are in a field that doesn't allow you to transition to a university job, and others don't have any sort of degree, which limits the amount of full-time positions you are qualified to hold. However, this doesn't mean that you can't find an affordable way to go back to school.
Georgia has ruled that 62 is not too old to party
Georgia is a great state to live in if you wish to attend college. Aside from the HOPE Scholarship, they also offer the 62+ Program for Georgians 62 and Older. Georgians 62 years of age and older are eligible to resume, continue, or even begin their college education without paying most of the normal fees or tuition.
The program is designed to allow applicants to register for college-level-courses for credit or audit, on a “space available” basis subject to the following requirement:
• You are able to meet all admission requirements for the college and the program of study you wish to enter.
• You must be 62 years of age or older at the time of registration and must present proof of age.
• You must be classified as a Georgia resident in accordance with the Georgia Board of Regents' outlined requirements for residential status.
Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC) became extraordinarily popular during the collapse of our economy. They are online courses that are typically offered by top-tier universities. For example, Harvard offers open courses as a part of their Open Learning Initiative through edX. You can take courses online that are completely free and though they do not give you college credit, you get an Honor Code Certificate that shows you completed the course. I think it is a great solution for someone who is on the fence about college. Take some courses free of charge, see how it fits into your schedule and above all else, if you actually like it. Think of it as a college test drive. For more information, go to www.edx.org.
Community college has a bad rep for no good reason.
College snobs . . . We've all met them. They are the people that think that community college is for dummies and turn their noses up at people who don't attend appropriately deemed “universities”. Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that it doesn't matter where you go to college. If you want to be an engineer, you will get more opportunities if you go to Georgia Tech. If you go to Princeton, you are going to have doors opened for you that people who went to Kennesaw State won't even know existed. However, in a lot of fields, it doesn't matter where you got your degree as long as you have one. That's why I think community college is a great choice. Their courses usually cost just a few hundred dollars per course or less, which means you can gain your degree by paying your own way through college instead of having to take out a loan.
Don't assume that online courses are better
Many adults who make the leap to go back to school instantly go to online colleges because they assume two things:
1. That they are cheaper.
2. That they are easier. I hate to break it to you, but both of those assumptions are incredibly wrong. For example, at the current published tuition rates, the estimated cost of a 4-year bachelor's degree at the University of Phoenix Online Campus is $61,992. So it's not cheaper. Second, online courses are extremely hard. I know, because I took some online courses as an undergraduate at Valdosta State University. It was double the reading, double the homework, and double the tests. Sure, online classes are a great option for adults who work full-time, but make sure you have a clear understanding of what you’re getting yourself into.
If you must sell your soul and borrow money . . .
For many of you, there is just no getting around taking out a student loan to attend college. If you must borrow, try to snap a Federal Direct Loan. Rates on these loans are fixed and according to Forbes, are currently low at 3.86 percent for undergrads and 5.41 percent for grad students.
Well, my very studious budgeteers, that's all I have for you this week. Don't forget to like me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BrittanyDenneyMcClure and follow me on Twitter @BudgetBrittany.