​How Expensive Is Going Back to School?

As the world begins to emerge from the pandemic, many employees have begun re-evaluating their current career path, quitting their jobs, and changing professions. The number of workers seeking a change has even led to economists dubbing this era as “The Great Resignation.”

Changing your profession often requires updating your education or exploring a new field of study. Going back to school in adulthood is a great way to broaden and enhance your skills, advance your knowledge, and potentially set both your career and life on a new, better course. It’s an investment in you and your future, one that routinely pays dividends.

Of course, education isn’t cheap, and the financial stresses of paying for school can be just as challenging for older students as they are for traditionally cash-strapped younger ones. Parents with children, mortgages, car loans, and other ‘grown up’ expenses will likely find their finances stretched by the cost of tuition, which can range from $4,000 to $7,000 per year for many undergraduate and graduate programs at Canadian universities. For certain professional graduate programs, such as MBAs, the price is even higher, rising to as much as $30,000 to $40,000 annually.

While they might not have the option of asking their own parents to help pay for tuition, mature students otherwise have many of the same options as their more youthful classmates when it comes to covering the cost of education. However, there are a couple of different funding avenues just for older learners, too.

Here’s a closer look at some of the things worth thinking about, and some of the choices worth pursuing, if you’re heading back to school in adulthood.

Re-work your budget, adapt your spending

Going back to school may mean reducing your work hours to half-time or pausing work completely. If either of those paths is the one you end up on, you’re going to be looking at a period where your income is drastically reduced. This may mean re-working your entire budget to compensate for the new financial reality, scaling back on some costs and delaying or cancelling other non-essential purchases and expenditures, such as home renovations or travel. If you need to purchase special equipment or textbooks as part of your courses, consider buying them used to save some money.

Loans

You don’t have to be young to qualify for a student loan. Federal government loan programs exist to help students of all ages cover the cost of an education, with repayment typically deferred until after the program is complete. Private lenders, such as banks and credit unions, also offer loans tailored to the needs of learners young and old. Talk to your financial institution or contact the student financial aid office at your school, to find out more about student loan programs that may suit your needs.

Scholarships

Scholarships, awards, and bursaries are basically loans that never have to be paid back. Some are even designated for mature students. If you’re thinking about going back to school, research the available scholarships and, most importantly, don’t be discouraged by the application process. Every academic year, countless scholarships and bursaries don’t get awarded because of a lack of applicants. A scholarship could make a significant dent in your tuition bill, so start digging around for opportunities and send in those applications.

Lifelong Learning Plan, and other savings options

The Lifelong Learning Plan allows individuals to withdraw up to $10,000 from a registered savings plan (RRSP) to finance training or education. If you’re married or have a common-law partner, they can withdraw an additional $10,000 in the same year to contribute to your costs. There’s no penalty on the withdrawal, but the amount must be paid back into the plan over the following 10 years.

Alternatively, you can withdraw money from non-registered savings plans, including a tax-free savings account (TFSA), to help cover the cost of education. While it’s not required, withdrawals from a TFSA can be returned to the account in the subsequent calendar year.

Employer support

If you’re fortunate enough to work for someone who is willing to help, you may be able to get some, or all of the cost of training and education paid for by your employer. Whether it’s chipping in for a chunk of your tuition, a company scholarship opportunity, or an assistance program to help cover the cost of paying back a student loan, it’s worth asking your employer whether they have any programs or incentives to fund training, education, and professional development opportunities.

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