How to pay for grad school as a working adult

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Stanford Graduate School of Business
Stanford Graduate School
of Business


Corey
Seeman/Flickr



A bachelor’s degree isn’t what it used to be. More and more,
employers are searching for candidates with exemplary
qualifications.

A 2014 CareerBuilder survey revealed that 20% of employers
targeted candidates with master’s degrees for jobs that
previously required a bachelor’s.

Earning an advanced degree is crucial within various
professions, but that doesn’t mean it’s affordable.

If your career is ready for a shake-up, consider these options.
They can help you pursue a graduate degree with affordability in
mind. 

1. Ask your boss

Employers rely on a skilled workforce to succeed, and many are
investing directly into their employees’ personal growth.
One-third of companies surveyed provide tuition reimbursement
according to the same CareerBuilder survey, and 81% of those
offer at least partial funding.

Asking your boss about education opportunities isn’t a bold
request, especially if it’s framed in terms that benefit the
company. Do some research to learn which course of study will
enhance your performance on the job, and create a formal
presentation to highlight the program’s strengths. Most companies
will only sanction education expenses that benefit them directly,
and this strategy is a great way to show that your perspective is
on point. 

2. Earn your degree online


Studying onlineShutterstock

Online learning is a valuable option for working adults who can’t
commit to a full-time course load, and their popularity is
gaining traction.

In 2015, online degree programs accounted for about 30% of all
higher education enrollment, according to a Babson Survey
Research Group report. 

Distance education programs are often more affordable than their
brick-and-mortar counterparts, and you won’t need to worry about
sacrificing time at work, hiring child care, or commuting to and
from campus. 

Some master’s programs may even allow you to test out of certain
requirements based on your professional experience, which would
lower your tuition bill.

Keep in mind that not all online programs are created equal, and
it’s important to earn an accredited degree that carries weight
and financial reward in the workplace. Do your homework to learn
which schools have the greatest return on investment (ROI).
Reviewing U.S. News’s
2017 national ranking report
is a great place to start.
 

3. Get a tax credit

Reducing your tax liability is an effective way to budget while
earning a degree. Unlike deductions
that lower your taxable income depending on your income bracket,
tax credits provide a dollar-for dollar reduction of your income
tax liability.For example, if you owe $1,000 when you file your
taxes in April, a $1,000 tax credit would eliminate your debt.
When it comes to education, there are a couple tax credit
options:

  • The Lifetime Learning Credit allows you to
    claim up to $2,000 of the first $10,000 in annual tuition
    and enrollment expenses.There is no required course load to
    qualify for this credit, which means that you can use it even
    if you’re only taking a single class. This tax credit is
    non-refundable, which means that it can eliminate your tax
    burden, but you won’t receive a refund for the remaining credit
    amount. 
  • The American Opportunity Credit
    (AOC)
     allows you to claim up to $2,000 a year for
    education expenses, plus 25% of the next $2,000 for a grand
    total of $2,500. The AOC
    is limited to four years of schooling, and students must attend
    classes at least part-time. Qualified expenses include
    everything from tuition and fees to books, supplies, and
    course-related equipment. Perhaps the biggest perk is the AOC’s
    refundable status, which allows you to receive 40% of unused
    tax credits (up to $1,000). For example, if you owe $1,500 in
    taxes, your AOC would cancel the debt, and you would receive
    40% of the remaining $1,000 credit, amounting to $400. 

It’s important to note that you may only claim one tax credit per
year, and it’s a good idea to consider your education-related
expenses and enrollment status to make the right decision. 


piggy bank
Flickr/Pictures
of Money


4. Use your employee stock purchase plan 

Employee stock purchase plans (ESPPs) are used by publicly traded
companies to attract and retain talent. ESPPs allow participants
to purchase stock through payroll deductions at a discounted rate
of up to 15%. For instance, if a share of your company’s stock
costs $100, you would only pay $85. In addition to savings, one
of the many perks of
an ESPP
is flexibility. According to a Fidelity study,
employees use their ESPPs for everything from paying down debt to
reinvesting in retirement funds, and education is an option as
well. If you currently own ESPP shares, consider funneling a
portion of your investment into grad school funding. This will
help you avoid dipping into emergency savings or your retirement
accounts, and the initial stock purchase discount will reduce
your own out-of-pocket expenses. 

5. Harness your professional strengths

Grad school isn’t usually a budget-friendly expense for adult
students and their families, and it’s worth it to consider saving
before pursuing your degree. The good news is, it’s
easier than ever to find flexible work. An estimated 44 million
Americans
have joined the gig economy, taking on side jobs to
supplement their income, often remotely. In fact, an Indeed.com
search for “work at home” jobs returned more than 2,800 active
listings. You might even considering applying for a work-study
program or teaching assistant (TA) position within your
university to offset the costs. For example, Purdue University’s
School of Industrial Engineering awards tuition waivers to TAs
working 10 to 20 hours a week. Create a list of your
professional skills and talk to your advisor about on-campus
opportunities. Your work experience may give you a competitive
edge. 

Education is a valuable asset, and it’s possible to finance your
degree without sacrificing your savings. Take advantage of these
opportunities and work with your academic advisor to find
additional funding options. Don’t miss the chance to cash in on
career advancement. 



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