When the Institute of Medicine recommended that 80 percent of nurses have a BSN by 2020, lots of nurses didn’t know what to think. While many in the field like the idea of having a higher degree, the logistics of going back to school can be challenging.

If you want to go back to school to earn your BSN or a higher degree, figuring out where you will get the time to attend and the money to pay for college are the biggest challenges. And while the next blog will tackle the time issue, this one will focus on paying for college.

Consider these six tips when you are wondering how you will pay for this next big step in your education.

Check With Your Employer

Before you look into anything, check to see if your employer has any kind of tuition assistance available. They might pay for some of your classes, all of them, or only specific ones that will enhance your job. But any benefit is better than none at all, so be sure to find out all the details.

Consider a 529 Plan

You might have set up a 529 plan for your own kids or might have used one when your own parents set up a plan to fund your education. But adults can benefit from the tax advantages of a 529 plan, too. As long as the money is used for your education, you can sock away funds to help pay for things like tuition and supplies. If you already have 529 plans for your kids, you can still open one for yourself.

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Set Up an Automatic Plan

Maybe your employer offers an automatic withdrawal for your retirement and you have found that a great method of savings. You hardly miss what you don’t have in the first place. You don’t want to divert any retirement funds to pay for your education, but setting up an additional withdrawal is a fantastic way to save. If you can divert some of your paycheck through your automatic deposit plan or even on your own through your bank, you can start putting aside some money.

Create a Specific Fund

If you can’t manage to do an automatic withdrawal, you can still set up a specific fund (some kind of money market fund is better than a savings account). Determine how much you want to accrue each year and figure out how much you need to contribute each week to meet that goal. The type of fund you choose depends on how soon you will need the money. For example, if you are going to start school in two years, you need something you can have fast access to. If your plan includes starting classes five years from now, you have more time to let your money grow and less immediate need for it.

Find Money Sources

There’s no doubt your schedule is packed and you are wondering how you will find the time, let alone the money, when it comes time to start your degree program. But if you plan right, you can take some time now and try to raise funds you will only use for your education. Teach community classes, make a specialized craft, fix computer equipment, take per diem work when you can, build websites – whatever fits your skills and your time. Use the money only for your education.

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Make Friends With the Financial Aid Office

Always make sure you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be put into consideration for financial aid to help you pay for college. Although some schools cannot or will not budge on their allocated aid, it never hurts to ask to see if they have any wiggle room. If a little extra money means you can earn your degree that much faster, it only makes sense to appeal your amounts.

Going back to school is a huge life transition, but it shouldn’t be one that puts you into enormous debt. There are lots of places where you can get assistance or you can establish ways to save steadily and successfully on your own.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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