how to pay for school

Education is one of the greatest investments you will make in your lifetime and provides value personally, professionally, and financially. However, figuring out how to pay for school shouldn’t be something that keeps you up at night.

Whether you’re pursuing an accelerated undergraduate program, a master’s degree, or a doctorate, you have options beyond your savings account to pay for school. 


Just because you’re an adult or non-traditional learner doesn’t mean you don’t have the opportunity to obtain scholarships. Scholarships are one of the best ways to pay for school because you never have to pay back the money you receive. Often, the only stipulation to receiving a scholarship is that you maintain the requirements outlined in the application like a certain GPA, for example. 

Sometimes universities will offer scholarships specifically for adult learners, like our uncommon scholarships, so be sure to check with your school to see if they provide anything similar. You should also check with your church to see if they have any scholarships available for which you could qualify. Otherwise, you can use our scholarship search tool to search through the scholarships we keep on file or use the Sallie Mae search tool to find ones specifically for graduate school. 

Tuition Reimbursement 

One great bonus of pursuing education as an adult is that many employers offer some kind of reimbursement to help pay for it. Some businesses even have partnerships with universities that allow their employees to pursue a degree there for a discounted price. This is something we offer through our business and community partnerships

Even if your company doesn’t have a partnership with a school, they might still have some kind of educational advancement initiative that could help you pay for at least a percentage. Always make sure to check with your human resources department to see if your employer offers anything like this. 


Loans are borrowed money that must be repaid with interest and can be either federal or private. A common myth is that adult learners don’t qualify for federal aid, but there are several different options that are available for you to consider: 

  • Subsidized loans—Loans given to undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need. If you’re an adult pursuing an accelerated undergraduate degree, you could qualify for this. The additional benefit is that these loans don’t start earning interest until you’re out of school. 
  • Unsubsidized loans—Loans available to all students are eligible and qualify for Title IV funding. These loans are different than subsidized ones in that they start earning interest as soon as they are disbursed. 
  • Graduate plus loans—Loans available to graduate students who are eligible. These can have a higher interest rate than subsidized and unsubsidized loans.  

Beyond federal loans, you can also get alternative loans (i.e. private loans) typically offered by a lender such as a bank or credit union. These often have a much higher interest rate than federal loans and don’t qualify for student debt forgiveness should you ever find yourself eligible. 

If you decide to pursue loans as a way to pay for school, always make sure you maximize your federal eligibility before you opt for private ones.  

Budget Payment Plans 

If you aren’t able to secure as much aid as you’d like, a payment plan can be a great way to take care of your outstanding bill. This helps you avoid facing that one giant bill typically due before your first class. For example, a payment plan might split up your remaining bill with a set amount of monthly payments for the remainder of the semester or year. Work with the financial aid office at your school to figure out what payment plans are available and choose the one that works best for you. 

What’s next?

Are you already back in school and struggling to balance all of the work with your job, life, and other responsibilities? We get it—it’s hard. But it is possible to balance it all without losing your mind. Check out our practical school tips for ideas on studying smarter, removing distractions, tapping into your support system for help, and more.   

This blog was originally published on February 10, 2020. It has been updated to reflect current information.