7 Ways to Further Your Education Without Paying Full Price
I have such a hunger for learning. Even after graduating college I’ve continued my education by taking classes in yoga, cooking, SEO/Blogging, Japanese, Microsoft Excel, and whatever else I can get my hands on. If I am interested enough in a subject, I will go to great lengths to pursue study in it; after all, knowledge is the most powerful and valuable tool in life.
Each Thursday night after working at my first job out of college I would rush home, change, then head 1.5 hours away to Washington D.C., park my car at my Aunt Anita’s house in Chevy Chase, MD, then walk half a mile to a subway station, change trains at Union Station, walk another half a mile, and enter a classroom that whisked me away to the foreign tongues of Japan. When I lived in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, I signed up for another class with a professional chef that had me leaving work half an hour early on Wednesdays and driving 45 minutes down to Ft. Lauderdale to a community college kitchen. Learning is a lifelong love affair of mine.
Something that makes learning an obstacle for me and for others is the oftentimes high price tag. According to the College Board, the average tuition cost for 2009-2010 for private school is $26,273, and for public schools is $7,020. Even signing up for a 12-week course in Yoga can cost you several hundred dollars. One cooking class can run you upwards of $200 all by itself.
I encourage lifelong learning despite the high price tag, and have found many ways to get around paying full price. Below is a list of several resources so that you can find a way to continually increase your knowledge without paying a small fortune.
1. Adult Community Classes
Many community colleges offer continuing education classes at nights and on the weekends, and we are not just talking about biology and algebra. If you are looking for a class in cooking, instead of searching the internet and finding overpriced, stuffy classes with Grade A chefs, look to your local community college. I was able to snag an 8-week course in cooking which included all of the ingredients and a free meal each night for $100. What a steal! You can also find classes on knitting, cooking, languages, or really anything else you are interested in.
When I was thinking about pursuing a graduate degree in psychology, I went to my local community college and signed up for a beginner’s course to test the waters and see if it was something I really wanted to do. Total cost was $250 (and that included the registration fee to become a student at the college). Not only did I get access to a great class, but as a student, I had access to their library, gym/pool and all other amenities on campus. That is less than what I would pay for a gym membership!
In addition, the new student loan forgiveness program also allocates a large chunk of money to help community colleges, which will in turn help students save money.
2. Give Your Time in Exchange for Knowledge
If you are able to donate some of your time, then you can be trained in a variety of fields. AARP has a program that does free tax returns for low-income citizens. If you want to volunteer your time, then you will be trained in basic tax and accounting. Volunteer at a local farm or farmer’s market, and you can walk away with gardening skills and cooking tips. Volunteer at the zoo and learn about an array of animals. If you’ve got the time, the sky is the limit.
3. No Loan Colleges and Free Tuition for Low Income Students
Many colleges out there offer No Loan programs, meaning that they eliminate loans from financial aid packages for low income students. Some of these colleges include Princeton, Rice University, UNC Chapel Hill, University of Virginia, and the University of Pennsylvania. Check out this resource for more information (scroll down for a chart of many different colleges that have reduced tuition offerings).
And income does not have to be all that low to get free tuition; Harvard gives out free tuition to students whose parents make below $60,000.
4. Download Free Classes from Top Universities
Universities such as MIT, Stanford, and Yale are making class lectures and notes publicly accessible. You can take a course in literature on your laptop, or download a biology lecture onto your iPod. Taking a trip to France? Why not take a free course in the French language before you go. The sky is the limit here, and you now have access to information others are paying a boatload to get.
5. Leisure Learning Classes
Check out your community centers and do a google search for leisure learning or adult learning classes. Most cities and towns offer adult classes at very good prices in an array of fields. In Houston, we have the Leisure Learning company, which has hundreds of new classes twice a year in subjects as varied as beer making, Microsoft Access, and horseback riding. These courses are taught by experts, professionals, or perhaps your neighbor who learned a great skill and wants to earn some extra money on the side.
6. Look to Businesses
Many companies and retailers offer free classes to draw in potential customers. You can take a cooking class at a grocery store or farmer’s market, brush up on some computer skills by a major firm looking to launch a new product or take a free wine tasting class at a local winery.
7. Tuition Assistance through Your Job
I was surprised to learn—after being at my job for over a year—that one of my benefits is up to $1,000 in free courses at an approved University. The course needs to be in my field (environmental), and I have to cover tuition up front until I can prove a passing grade at the end. But what a great resource! Check out your own benefits package to see if a similar deal is being offered. If you are up for a raise but your company cannot give you one due to economic hardship, suggest that instead they offer to reimburse the cost of one or two classes you are dying to take—make sure to include how your new knowledge will help the company in your proposal.
What educational resources have you found that were great deals? I’d love to hear about them!
I’ve also learned a few crafty things and Euro-board gaming from Yahoo Meetup Groups.
I also have a passion for learning and can relate a lot to your experience. While I was living in South America I decided that I wanted to learn how to draw, so I found a perfect figure drawing class for me: free,on saturdays, and taught by an awesome teacher. The only problem is that the studio was located in a very dangerous and insecure part of the city. Despite the discourage attempts from almost everyone I knew, I kept going to class every saturday morning. I am really glad I did, because that class was the foundation for a hobby that I now adore.
I’m also a fan of the Youtube Education channel… I’ve already taken almost a dozen free classes in different topics!
I would add to this list pay attention to tax breaks that are available to you. I was reviewing my 2009 tax return and discovered the American opportunity credit, which will also be available for 2010. Since my wife just started community college this semester, it looks like all of her tuition, books, and equipment will can be taken as a credit (dollar for dollar up to $2000, then 25% of the next $2000) on our 2010 tax return. Then there is the lifetime learning credit (which has different rules) that we may be able to use in subsequent years. IRS publication 970 covers the education tax benefits that are available.