A college diploma has become a necessity for most working Americans aiming for a comfortable lifestyle. In fact, that college degree is worth $1 million in wages over a lifetime, according to a study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The question is how to get it without getting crushed under a mountain of student debt.
Here are some ways to find grants, scholarships, and other tuition benefits that pay you, or at least repay you, to earn a degree.
Corporate Tuition Reimbursement
If your employer offers tuition reimbursement as part of a benefits package, taking advantage of this perk can be a straightforward way to get paid to go to school.
Tuition reimbursement policies vary. Some employers pay for any degree, while others pay only for education related to their lines of business. Many place annual limits on how much tuition they reimburse or require employees to maintain a certain grade point average to qualify.
If you are looking for a job but hope to go to school in the near future, check out prospective employers' education benefits as part of your job search.
Military Tuition Benefits
Higher education benefits and on-the-job training are among the appeals of service in the U.S. military.
These are some of the benefits available as of 2017:
- Military Tuition Assistance pays up $4,500 per year for eligible recipients. Different rules apply in each branch of the military.
- Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) benefits pay about $1,700 per month or up to $64,000 for 36 months of tuition for a broad range of qualifying college and vocational or technical training. You need a minimum of two years of military service in order to qualify for MGIB benefits.
- Family members of some veterans can get reimbursement for tuition through the Dependents' Educational Assistance program.
College Financial Assistance
Some colleges and universities have student financial aid programs that cover up to 100% of their costs.
Although public universities have lower tuition rates, some private and liberal arts schools with hefty endowments offer more generous financial aid packages.
To qualify for need-based grants and scholarships at such schools, you'll need to fill out the federal government's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Because colleges determine financial aid based on need, you typically won't need to apply separately for grants or scholarships at the college you choose.
Community College Education
If you're considering earning a two-year degree at a community college, you should know that you may be able to get a grant to cover all or part of their tuition simply by submitting a FAFSA application each year.
The most commonly awarded grant is the federal Pell Grant, which awards up to $6,095 to full-time students for the 2018-2019 school year. The maximum covers the cost of full-time enrollment in most community college degree programs. Qualifying students who work and attend community college part-time may be eligible to receive Pell Grant money on a prorated basis.
Merit and Minority Scholarships and Grants
Merit scholarships and grants are awarded to students with a demonstrated track record of achievement in a field. A wide variety is available, with qualifications based on demonstrating excellence in a school sport or achieving a high grade point average.
Other scholarships and grants are awarded to students who are members of minority groups that are underrepresented in college.
The best place to find out about grants and scholarships is through a high school or college counselor or the resources provided by your high school or college.
You can conduct independent research using websites such as CareerOneStop, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. The site has a wealth of information about professional apprenticeships, certifications, and internships as well as college aid programs. Your state's higher education agency sites also may be useful.