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No Paycheck? How to Deal With College Tuition

Nov 23, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 2 Comments

If you’re an adult student, you’re probably working while you attend college—and your paycheck may be all that stands between you and a huge load of expensive private loans. But what happens if you lose your job while you’re in the middle of earning your degree? Here are a few options to consider—before you take out a high-interest, variable rate loan for your tuition.

Talk to your college’s financial aid office

If your employment situation changes, you should go to your college’s financial aid office right away. Admissions counselors may be able to give you a new financial aid package based on your changed circumstances. Be wary of taking out more private loans, however; these are typically high-interest, variable-rate, impossible to consolidate, and the most difficult of all education loans to pay back. If possible, discuss your other options with a financial aid officer.

Talk to your former employer

Girl Holding Help Sign

Paying for college while you’re out of work isn’t easy. But it is possible—and it’s also possible to avoid costly private loans, if you’re careful.

If you were laid off recently or know layoffs are coming, talk to your employer about providing retraining compensation as part of your severance package. Some companies do provide tuition assistance, usually on the grounds that you’ll need to pick up new skills for a new job.

Look into a work-study program

Work-study programs allow you to work for the college and put your wages toward your tuition. For some work-study programs you have to be financially qualified; you can apply through your school. You can work in a wide range of jobs, from library assistance and tutoring to lifeguarding or computer help desk operations—there’s a range of positions to fit your abilities and schedule. You can either put your wages directly towards your tuition or collect a paycheck. A work-study job may not be enough to support you all the way through school, but it could be a good stopgap job while you look for new employment.

Transfer to a community college

Some community colleges are offering a helping hand to laid-off workers—including free or significantly reduced tuition. Kentucky Community and Technical College and the Oregon Institute of Technology are both examples of community colleges offering free or reduced-cost tuition for certain programs for the unemployed. There may be a community college near you that’s doing the same thing.

Check with your government

If you’ve been laid off, you may already be receiving unemployment benefits—and you know that you have to be looking for work full-time to qualify. Some states, however, allow you to collect benefits while you’re attending school—so you won’t have to choose between your degree and your unemployment benefits.

Check with the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program

If lost your job when your company outsourced your position to another country due to a trade agreement, you may be able to get some training and tuition assistance through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program. Under this program, workers who lost their jobs or even had their hours or wages reduced as a result of international trade agreements can get money for tuition and training, relocation costs, and even income support.

To apply, you’ll need to file a petition along with two or more of your coworkers—or a union representative can file on your behalf. It’ll be on you to prove your eligibility, but the effort could pay off.

Fill out the FAFSA

If your employment situation will have changed for the next semester, it may be worth it to fill out the FAFSA again. This form will allow the government to judge your eligibility for federal grants and low-interest loans. The form uses your income from the previous year to judge your eligibility, but you can ask for a “professional judgment adjustment” if you want it to take into account your current financial situation.

Paying for college
while you’re out of work isn’t easy. But it is possible—and it’s also possible to avoid costly private loans, if you’re careful.  Discuss your financial situation with your college tuition aid advisors as quickly as possible; fill out the FAFSA; and do your best to get as much as you can from your employer before you go—and you may be able to stay in school without incurring a mountain of debt. - FASFA Five - Financial Aide


chozen072 Over a year ago

This article is very helpful for students pursuing an undergardate degree. I am very interested in what to do if you want to work on your Masters while working a full time job. It is true that money is scarce and you have to save your resources, so more tips for Masters level and beyond would be excellent.

BridgetHall Over a year ago

Maybe there's some financial aid providers that aren't that expensive. I hear that smart tuition reviews provide reasonable rates, but I haven't confirmed it yet.

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