You already know that you need a degree to get to where you want to go careerwise.
But it’s not as if you have your parents helping you pay for your college. You’re a grown adult; you have to do this on your own. You CAN do this on your own.
Yet, understandably, you’re worried about taking on more debt while simultaneously balancing the demands of work and family responsibilities with school. After all, you already have enough expenses. There’s your rent or mortgage, transportation, food, your kids’ education or childcare, just to name a few.
Maybe you have some money saved or you plan to take out a few student loans. Regardless, you want to be smart about how much you are spending and that you’re spending wisely. You want the most bang for your buck. And the less debt, the better.
Here are a few ideas that can help.
1. Take an Exam for College Credit
If you acquired any college-level knowledge through job experience, hobbies, volunteer activities and independent study, you may be able to leverage that knowledge for college credit. CLEP®, DSST® and TECEP® exams, Thomas Edison State University’s own credit-by-exam program, allows you to earn credit by taking exams instead of courses. These exams are similar to the final exams in college courses; some offer multiple-choice questions and others consist of short-answer, essay or other extended-response types of questions. They are graded on a Credit/No Credit basis. When you pass, you receive college credit. In fact, several general education requirements can be fulfilled by passing a TECEP® exam. However, always check with your advisor to make sure that the exam you are taking will fulfill the requirements of your degree program.
Costs for the 2018-2019 Academic YearLower-Level TECEP® Exams (100-200): $25 per credit registeredUpper-Level TECEP® Exams (300-400): $75 per credit registeredCLEP® Exam: $87DSST® Exam: $85
2. Investigate Your Alternative Credit Options
Alternative credit-earning methods can range anywhere in cost from free to a couple hundred dollars. Even more, these options are not beholden to any deadlines, so you can complete them on your schedule. For example, Open Educational Resources (OER) enable you to earn college credit by taking free open courses available from Saylor Academy, OERu and OER Commons, and then passing an assessment for credit. Some open courses, like Saylor Direct Credit, include ACE- or NCCRS-approved assessments that TESU will accept as transfer credit. Others may require an additional assessment such as a TECEP® or a CLEP® exam to earn credit.
Meanwhile, asynchronous online courses are a bit more structured and offer a set number of lessons, unit quizzes and final exams. Programs like Study.com, StraighterLine and Sophia.org have been evaluated and recommended for credit by ACE and require either a membership fee or per-course fee to enroll. Once you complete and pass the course, follow the program’s requirements to get your efforts transferred as college credit. As always, talk with your advisor to ensure that the credits you are planning to pursue will fit your degree program requirements.
Costs for the 2018-2019 Academic YearOERu: Free + assessment costsOER Commons: Free + assessment costsSaylor Academy: Free + ACE transcript costsStraighterLine: $99 monthly membership fee + $59 per course + ACE transcript costsStudy.com: $199 per monthSophia.org: $149-$329, depending on the course
3. Send All Your Transfer Credit
TESU accepts a wide variety of transfer credits. In fact, every course, training program or license/certification that you may have taken in the past might get you that much closer to your degree. Your advisor can help you figure out where those credits may fit into your degree program. So it’s beneficial to you if you send any and all transcripts, including:
- Up to 80 credits from a regionally accredited community college
- Up to 117 credits from a regionally accredited four-year institution
- Up to 90 credits for a bachelor’s degree and 45 credits for an associate degree for courses and examinations from a single source approved through the National College Credit Recommendation Service (National CCRS) and the American Council on Education (ACE) College Credit Recommendation Service
- Military service schools and training as recommended by the American Council on Education
- Licenses, certifications and programs of study approved by Thomas Edison State University’s Office of Professional Learning Review
Costs for the 2018-2019 Academic YearFirst ACE Transcript: $20Additional ACE Transcripts: $15College/University Transcript: $15 on average, although costs vary due to school fees, delivery fees and quantity orderedElectronic Joint Service Transcript (JST): FreeCommunity College of the Air Force Transcript: Free + postage fees if requested by mailAcademic Program Review (APR) at TESU: Free
4. Apply for Financial Aid
If you are pursuing your first associate or bachelor’s degree, there may be financial aid money for you. There is no age limit, and almost everyone is eligible for some type of federal student aid, though grants are typically need based. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) awards nearly $120 billion worth of aid each year, and funds can be used for tuition, housing, transportation, childcare, books, fees and computer expenses. Depending on how early you file your FAFSA, can impact how much funding you receive. In fact, students who file the FAFSA in the first three months of availability have historically received more than double the grant funding than those who filed late.
Meanwhile, check with your state to find out if there are any grants available to residents in the form of state financial aid through your state education agency. If you are attending a college in state, this may boost your eligibility. Also, many states have programs that allow residents to attend institutions out of state at the in-state cost through college tuition discount programs. You can find out if your state has any available tuition exchanges through the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators website here.
CostsFAFSA: Free to file at fafsa.gov. Watch out for any companies that charge a fee to complete the FAFSA for you.
5. Apply for Scholarships
Scholarships are a great way to offset some of your college costs, if you know where to look.
All currently enrolled TESU students and applicants can apply for the University's summer scholarship award cycle, which runs from June 1 - July 31 each year.
The U.S. Department of Labor offers a free scholarship search tool on its website with more than 7,500 scholarships. Meanwhile, the federal government and several nonprofit organizations offer money and resources for military families looking for college scholarships on their website here.
And if you are part of any religious, community, professional or civic organizations, they might have additional scholarships available. While these programs tend to offer amounts on the smaller side, they usually have less competition. If you find out you are eligible, it’s still worth it to apply because $1,000 here and $500 there can really add up!
CostsIt’s free to apply for a scholarship. Be wary of any services that charge a fee to conduct a scholarship search.
It is important to mention that most four-year institutions require that you earn at least 30 or more of your last credits at the institution from which you are pursuing a degree. However, at Thomas Edison State University, if you are enrolled under the Per Credit Tuition Plan and do not earn at least 16 credits via the University’s online (OL), Guided Study (GS) or e-Pack® (EP) courses before you complete your associate or bachelor’s degree, you can instead pay a one-time Residency Waiver fee. If you pay the fee, and do not apply for graduation within 12 months, you will be required to pay additional residency waiver fees. The fee does not apply if you are enrolled under the University’s Full-Time Flat-Rate Tuition Plan.
Written by Thomas Edison State University