(BPT) – The new year is widely associated with personal resolutions for self-improvement that range from physical fitness to cutting out vices. For many, the goal of returning to school to earn a college degree provides the opportunity for impactful, long-lasting change and a more fulfilling life and career.
New data shows college graduates receive benefits in addition to a higher salary potential and lower chance of unemployment. For example, in 2011, 14 percent more bachelor’s degree holders were covered by employer-provided health insurance when compared to individuals holding a high school diploma. That same year, 65 percent of bachelor’s degree holders working full time, year-round were offered retirement plans by their employers, compared to only 52 percent of high school graduates.
Career growth, job stability and employee benefits have increased the pursuit of a college education, and with it, the cost of earning a degree. This new year, many students and their families are exploring diverse financial planning options to help make college education affordable, and the aforementioned benefits a reality.
Financial aid experts like Michelle Stipp, director of student finance operations for DeVry University, suggest students explore all opportunities to decrease supplemental student loans that may be needed to cover remaining tuition costs.
“Financial aid that the student does not have to pay back should be the first priority,” says Stipp. “This category consists of scholarships and grants offered by institutions and third parties, such as the federal government, state government or private or nonprofit organizations. These opportunities should be maximized to keep student loan levels as low as possible.” The U.S. Department of Education provides an online financial aid resource at studentaid.ed.gov to help students plan accordingly. Stipp suggests also exploring the following options:
* Online scholarship search tools
The sheer volume of options can make finding the right scholarship a challenge for prospective students. Scholarship search websites help students sift through the options. For example, scholarships.com or fastweb.com can aid in finding the right scholarship for each individual. These websites allow you to sort scholarship options by institution and relevancy.
* Scholarship opportunities at your college or university
Beyond financial aid, many colleges or universities provide a variety of scholarship opportunities. Students and families often factor this in during the college search process. Scholarships can be awarded for many reasons, including academic excellence, extra-curricular participation and financial need.
DeVry University, for example, recently announced its Career Catalyst Scholarship, which is offered to qualifying new students enrolled in classes beginning in March. The scholarship is designed to aid students throughout their college journey, so it increases in value each year, up to a total of $20,000 in scholarship rewards depending on the degree program.
* Employer reimbursement programs
Many employed adults also seek financial assistance when they choose to continue their education while working. In some cases, their employers provide tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement programs, through which employers offer to pay a portion of the employee’s tuition while they are enrolled. Employer reimbursement programs are a great way to access affordable education options that can increase career potential.
College-educated adults today are experiencing lower unemployment rates and other valuable benefits. As these advantages of college degree holders become more apparent, data shows the cost to pursue a degree is rising. From graduating high school seniors to working adults looking to continue their education, advance research and evaluation of financial aid and scholarship opportunities can help any student tackle the cost of education.