Fresh-faced students aren’t the only ones returning to college campuses.
A growing number of non-traditional students are taking their places in classrooms across the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Spencer Smith is one of them.
Smith, who works full-time as a member service representative at Dupaco Community Credit Union’s Hillcrest Road branch, also is working toward his associate’s degree and, eventually, his bachelor’s degree.
“I’ve grown up having my family tell me the importance of education,” says Smith, 27.
But returning to school at an older age can require careful planning. If you’re heading back to the classroom—or at least contemplating it—consider these tips to make the most of your education experience.
Establish a budget
Creating a budget is priority no. 1. While this is important for any student, it’s especially crucial for non-traditional students, who typically have more “real world” expenses than their younger counterparts.
“Living on your own is an expense most college students don’t have,” Smith says. “Sit down and find out how much money is coming in and going out each month.”
A free Dupaco Money Makeover can help you create a realistic budget that sets you up for financial success now and after your school days are behind you.
“It can help you determine how much you need to make income-wise or be putting away to pay back those student loans,” Smith says.
To ensure budgeting success and limit student loans, continue earning income while you are back in school. Juggling both work and school requires self-discipline and good time management, but it can pay off.
“You definitely give up a lot of your free time,” Smith says. “It was a culture change my first semester, and it was hard to stick to it. But now that I’m older, I have a different respect and mindset about going to school.”
Ask about tuition reimbursement
If you’re going to school to advance your career within your company, find out whether your employer offers tuition reimbursement.
Companies that provide this benefit typically require you to remain employed there for a set period, but it’s a minor detail if that was already your intention, Smith says.
Borrow only what you need to finance your education.
“Eventually you have to pay those loans back,” Smith says. “Find out how much it’s going to cost you to go to school. Will the job you want to get support the loans you have to pay back?”
If you face a gap in funding, consider whether Dupaco’s Extra Credit Student Loan would be a good fit. And as you create and review your financial plan, use a repayment calculator to see what your options might look like after college.
Take advantage of student discounts
Before you make purchases, find out whether you can receive student discounts. From discounted movie tickets to computer software, the savings add up.
“When I first enrolled back in school, I knew I had to get a laptop,” Smith says. “I did my research, and Best Buy offered $250 off any laptop as long as you’re registered in school. Those discounts are huge.”
Find the right balance
When creating your class schedule, set realistic goals. Stick to a schedule that fits both your budget and your available time.
“Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” Smith says. “You still want to have time for things that are important to you—your job, your family. You just have to plan it out better.”
It’s never too early to begin networking.
Smith recommends using LinkedIn to let prospective employers know what you’re going to school for and what career path you’re planning to take. Consider networking in person through an organization such as Young Professionals of Dubuque.
Smith also recommends applying for internships in the field you’re going to school for. It might come with a job offer at the end or, at the very least, provide fodder for your resume.
“Get to know people,” he says. “Being personal is a huge factor that you can’t teach.”