First Person: Financial Planning Tips for Going Back to School

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Going back to school to broaden your skills is on the minds of many with good intentions for the new year. As a financial adviser and as someone who has done it while working, I've been involved in a few conversations about the decision to forgo work to pursue further education.

Just like getting back into shape doesn't get easier as we age, it can be more of a challenge to successfully return to school later in life. You may be at a stage where you need to work or raise a family, but if you are committed enough it can be done!

Before jumping into the first program that sounds promising, you'll want to have a plan in place. Below are a few tips to have a successful return to school:

Write down your goals.

Be very clear about how long your degree will take to obtain, how often classes are offered, what the total costs will be, and how well the degree is received by employers. Confirm these items with multiple sources.

In many fields it's not only about the degree, but also the school. I found that while going back to school to receive my economics degree my school of choice fit my particular needs as a manager of portfolios, and while the school has a great reputation, the program wasn't exactly appropriate for those seeking to continue down a path to an economics PhD or many other traditional economics jobs.

Likewise, having an MBA or JD always sounds impressive, but in the end may not be worthwhile to pursue in your field.

Price it out.

If you already attended school as an undergrad, price was probably one of the last things on your mind; it is often as much about the college experience at that point in life. And while many degrees will return above and beyond their costs, like any good consumer you should know both the benefits and costs, and shop around.

While scholarships are not as common for those going back for a graduate degree, make sure not to rule out the possibility that one may exist. Review all options with your potential school's financial aid offer and by doing your own searches on the schools website and online.

Can you continue to work?

Working while attending school is hard for many programs, but with the expansion and acceptance of online courses and degrees, it may benefit you most to continue to gain valuable work experience while working on your next career move.

If you plan on using workplace benefits to pay for part of school, make yourself very familiar with what the terms are, especially if you believe your new degree will make you more marketable to other firms.

Live like a student.

This doesn't have to mean Ramen noodles and finding a roommate, but if you aren't working, you may be in a similar income situation to those just starting school. Planning meals and other cost cutting measures may be the best financial move you can make to not have to play catch-up.

In summary, make sure you know going forward what the costs will be, and have a plan for monitoring and minimizing them. We all hope further education will lead to a dream job, and for many it will, but by planning ahead you can be prepared for any outcome.

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