Skip to main content

How To Go Back To School With No Money

WVU Online | Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Alright, so you're thinking it's time to mix things up a bit. Whether it's leveling up at work or taking a whole new career path, you've got a feeling that some extra training is on the horizon – maybe a certificate or diving into an advanced degree.

Continuing your education might hit the wallet, but guess what? You can go back to school without surplus cash. Here’s how.

Learn About Your Financial Aid Options

Federal Financial Aid

One of the most familiar ways to receive aid is through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA.

Applying for the FAFSA allows colleges to determine your federal aid eligibility and it also opens the door to federal grants, work-study options and loans. FAFSA can be used for online classes or on-campus classes at accredited universities.

Before you begin your application, have the following documents ready:

  • Your parents’ SSNs if you’re a dependent student
  • Tax Returns
  • Record of any untaxed income, child support, interest, etc.
  • Current balances of cash, savings, and checking accounts
  • Net worth of investments, businesses, and farm
  • Your SSN
  • Your driver’s license

The key to the FAFSA is applying early. Applying early ensures your best opportunity for receiving financial aid. Here are FAFSA deadlines to know:

  • The federal deadline for the 2023-2024 academic year is June 30, 2024.
  • For the 2024-2025 academic year, the federal deadline is June 30, 2025.
  • State and school deadlines should be confirmed with your school’s financial aid office.
  • The earliest deadline is the most crucial.
  • Filing the FAFSA early can potentially increase your eligibility for aid.

To be eligible for grants, work-study funds, and loans, learners must complete the FAFSA each academic year.

Pell Grants are familiar to most and are typically for undergraduates with financial need who haven't earned a higher degree. Work-study funds provide part-time employment to undergraduate, graduate and professional students who exhibit financial need.

As for loans, sometimes they are included with financial aid, but loans need to be paid back with interest. You can find out more about student loan types and requirements to apply, by visiting the student aid page.

State Grants and Scholarships

Aside from the Pell Grant, there are state-specific grant programs to explore.

For example, many states fund programs for students who need to return to college or tech schools for job-specific training. Some programs are designed to assist low-income adults or displaced workers.

Each state will have its own tools and opportunities ranging from direct education grants to tuition reimbursement programs.

Here are a few examples of grant opportunities offered in states near and including West Virginia:

Keep in mind that private companies and organizations also offer grant opportunities as well. Be sure to explore options located or headquartered in your state.

How To Find Scholarships for Adult Learners

Scholarship Search Tips

While grants focus on financial need, most scholarships focus on academic and personal accomplishments, and they are another way to receive financial aid.

A scholarship may fully cover your tuition expenses or provide a one-time award amount. Either way, applying is worthwhile and it can significantly lower your overall education expense.

Here are a few places to explore scholarship opportunities:

Once you find your fit, be sure to read all about requirements and deadlines.

Application Strategies

As you can imagine, scholarships are highly sought after. When writing your scholarship essay, remember that being unique is crucial. Personalize your essay, explore your passion for your subject, and craft a response that is distinctly yours. Your individuality is what makes you stand out and catches the judge's eye. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Plan ahead – give yourself plenty of time to write, review and edit your essay.
  • Talk about your accomplishments – Be clear and to the point.
  • scuss your educational objectives and career goals.
  • Talk about your needs – Talk about your current financial situation.
  • Talk about how your education to date has made a difference.
  • End by thanking them for allowing you the opportunity to apply

Employer Tuition Assistance Programs

As you search for financial aid, consider looking into your employer's tuition assistance. Many companies reimburse employees upon successful course completion. However, since every company policy is different, it’s important to reach out to your HR team to understand the specifics of what your company has to offer.

If your company doesn’t have a tuition reimbursement program, it may be good to inquire about the possibility of starting one. Many companies see this as an opportunity to reward employees for their drive and determination to enhance their skill set.

Low-Cost Education Alternatives

Your college choice also affects cost. Community colleges lessen the financial burden for students, with many saving nearly $6,800 over typical public university costs.

While lower tuition, lower cost of living, and an increased opportunity to earn money are enticing, community colleges also offer students opportunities for self-discovery. Typically boasting excellent faculty capable of preparing students for advanced courses.

Often, students at these colleges receive more individualized attention and assistance while deciding on what’s next. For those students who are planning to obtain a bachelor’s degree, keeping open lines of communication between both schools is key. This will avoid unsuccessful course transfers and repeat coursework.

WVU has wonderful resources available for students interested in transferring, along with staff to make the transition as smooth as possible.

While WVU Online has a variety of certificates and degrees to explore, some of our programs that seem to appeal to many working adults include the following: Regents Bachelor of Arts (RBA), Safety Management M.S., Occupational Safety and Health PH.D., Engineering Management M.S., MBA, DBA, and Executive Sport Management M.S. Interested in learning something new or starting small? Certificates and microcredentials are viable options to consider.

Budgeting for Hidden Costs

Remember there are additional expenses incurred in continuing your education. Those costs include housing, technology and electronic needs, books, transportation, food, childcare, and emergencies.

While FAFSA, grants, and scholarships may cover some of these additional costs, it’s important to explore ways to save money.

Some cost-saving tips include:

  • Create a budget, know what you have coming in vs. what is going out
  • Explore technology requirements so you can purchase accordingly
  • Seek out used books, digital books, or rentable books
  • Take advantage of student discounts
  • Limit unnecessary spending

The most important way to save money is to prepare and research.

Making the Most of Tax Credits and Deductions

While there are educational tax breaks for those who have saved for their college investment, there are also tax credits and deductions to consider for current students.

  • American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). The AOTC offers up to $2,500 annually per eligible student for the first four years of higher education. If the credit wipes out your tax, you may get a refund of 40 percent (up to $1,000) of any surplus. It covers 100 percent of the initial $2,000 in qualified education expenses and 25 percent of the next $2,000 per eligible student.
  • Lifetime Learning Tax Credit (LLC). The LLC applies to qualified tuition and related expenses for eligible students at eligible educational institutions. It covers various educational levels, including skill improvement courses, with no time limit for claiming. The credit is valued at up to $2,000 per tax return.
  • Scholarships, fellowships, or grants - These can be tax-free when pursuing a degree at an eligible educational institution, but only if the funds are used for qualified education expenses like tuition or fees, books, supplies, and equipment needed for class.
  • VA education benefits - payments to veterans for education under the Department of Veterans Affairs are tax-free. However, if you qualify for other education tax benefits along with military benefits, you may need to reduce the claimed education expenses.

Explore Opportunities at WVU Online

You can totally swing a personalized college experience, with some research and planning. Start by exploring all the scholarships, grants, and financial aid opportunities available to you to fund your education. Check to see if your employer has any tuition assistance programs. Employ the cost-saving options that make the most sense for you. Still need to talk through your financial options? Our financial aid office is always available to discuss personalized options.

Interested in learning more about what WVU Online has to offer? Connect with one of our coaches.

We're here for you.

Call us, write us, or fill out the request information form. Whichever communication style you prefer, there will be someone from WVU Online on the other end waiting to help.

(800) 253-2762 Email Us Submit a Contact Request Form

WVU Online

Be a decision maker. First, your degree. World-class academics at an exceptional value.

Occasionally a student will encounter an issue with an online course that he or she doesn’t know how to resolve. Should this occur, please visit the link below.

Internal Student Complaint Process

Contact Us

WVU Online
West Virginia University
PO Box 6800
Morgantown, WV 26506-6800

Phone: (800) 253-2762

Connect with WVU Online

Facebook Twitter Instagram LinkedIn YouTube TicToc Icon