Going back to school? Here are 10 ways to pay for your education

Are you a mature student considering going back to school? If so, you know how daunting it can be to find ways to pay your tuition and education costs. Between the increased costs of a post-secondary education plus a likely decrease in income, many people stop before they really even start. However, you might have more options than you realize.

If you’re wondering how to save money for your own education, here are ten ways to make it happen.

1. Build education savings into your budget

While returning to school as a mature student could offer a valuable education and improve your professional prospects, chances are you don’t want to graduate with a mountain of debt. One of the first saving money tips to try is also the most basic.

Redo your budget to cut costs and build education savings. Review your current household spending to trim costs, starting with your food and entertainment budget.

Next, look for options to bundle and/or renegotiate internet and phone services, as well as your utility bills. Then direct the money you save towards a new budget category - education savings. Finally, test-drive your student budget to help avoid going deep into debt with a return to school.

2. Upgrade for free

If your preferred post-secondary program requires specific prerequisites, do some research before paying for an upgrade class at the college or university. Start with your school district and look for free night classes at the local high school.

Another option could be adult education classes available through online colleges or universities. Depending on your program requirements and the public institution’s offerings, you might find upgrading classes available at a lower tuition.

3. Use your income tax refund to fund school

In addition to your regular money saving activities, give your education savings account a boost with your income tax refund.

If you claim qualified tuition and educational expenses, your income tax refund could be larger than you might expect. And if you are a mature student who is also a parent of an eligible child, you might also find your Child Tax Benefits increase if your earned income is reduced or gone.

Apply all income tax refunds and additional child tax benefits to save money for your own education.

4. Make use of work education benefits

One often-overlooked tips for saving money on education is checking your work benefits. Some employers offer financial assistance to workers who enroll in additional education or work-related training. Each program can be different, so read the fine print carefully. For example, some benefits programs only support certain training for employees to acquire job-specific designations or accreditations.

Other programs might offer partial or full tuition-reimbursement on the successful completion of the course.

It’s important to note that if your employer pays for your tuition you can’t claim the federal or provincial tuition tax credit.

5. The Skills Boost and Canada Student Grant Programs

Going back to school as an adult often comes with additional challenges and financial responsibilities. Luckily, programs such as Skills Boost and Canada Student Grant Programs for full and part-time students offer options for mature students wondering how to save money on education costs. Check with your school’s financial aid office to learn more.

6. Ask to pay tuition in installments

One way to help manage your money and give you extra time to save for your own education while you’re also a student is by spreading out your tuition payments. Review the payment plans for your college or university. Can you pay a portion of your tuition on enrollment, and the remainder partway through the semester?

If you don’t see any payment plan options listed online, call or email the student aid office to ask. The student aid office staff can be a great source of additional help and tips. Get to know the office staff and financial aid programs available to students.

Make sure to mention that you’re a mature student as they may offer “unadvertised” special arrangements such as installment payments.

7. Look for scholarships & bursaries

Also ask at your student aid office for additional information on scholarships and bursaries available to students. Some colleges and universities offer these specifically for mature students, graduate students, students who have families, or who are from specific areas in Canada, in addition to those offered for individual programs.

8. Check out government or private student loans

Canadians borrowing money to cover the costs of going back to school have a variety of loan options including federal, provincial, and private loans. Usually these loans are repayable, and although interest might accrue while you’re in school, payments often get deferred until after you graduate.

Learn more at the government of Canada’s Student Aid portal, ask your bank, or talk to your student financial aid office for the most up-to-date details on the various loan programs.

9. Use your registered & non-registered savings

If you’ve been able to build up your non-registered high-interest savings account or registered savings accounts, consider using the funds in one or more of these accounts to help cover the costs of going back to school.

Withdraw funds from your RRSP tax-free under the Lifelong Learning Plan to help with costs for a full-time education program for you or your spouse.

You could also withdraw money from your Tax-Free Savings Account now to help pay for your education costs. Then, you can re-deposit that money back into your TFSA after the first day of the following calendar year.

10. Collect EI while in school

Did you know you could be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) while attending school as a full-time student? Although EI recipients have traditionally had to be available to start work at any time, that has recently changed.

As of August 5, 2018, EI recipients who have lost their jobs after working for several years may be eligible to collect EI benefits while a full-time program of your choosing at an approved educational institution.

Furthering your education as an adult is rewarding yet also challenging. However, with some planning, organization, research and determination, it is indeed possible to save money and return to school as a mature student.