Thinking of Going Back to College? Read This (Part 2)

An adult returning to college discusses financial aid, borrowing loans, and some tips to help steer other students through some of the bumps in the road that can invariably arise during this process.
Woman using laptop after going back to college

My wife Cathy recently went back to college, and in my recent blog post, we discussed why she decided to go back, how she chose her college, and the application process to Lesley University. In this excerpt of our conversation, we talk about her financial aid, borrowing loans, and some tips to help steer other students through some of the bumps in the road that can invariably arise during this process.

Jonathan: Okay, so as you were applying for admission to Lesley University, we were also figuring out how to pay.

Cathy: Yes, we used the Net Price Calculator on Lesley's website, which gave us an estimate of my financial aid based on our financial information. It ended up being pretty accurate.

Jonathan: What about filing financial aid forms?

Cathy: I did the entire financial aid process online on my phone while watching TV. It only took a few minutes to file the FAFSA®, which was the only form I had to file. It was so easy I don't even remember it. A few weeks later I was notified that I had received my financial aid via email, logged in, reviewed and accepted the package, and completed entrance counseling to accept the federal loans.

Jonathan: What was included in the financial aid package?

Cathy: It was mostly federal loans and a work-study award.

Jonathan: Yes, you have a work-study job. That's right. Can you tell me why you decided to take on a work-study job as someone who already works part time, is a full-time student, and a mother of a preschooler?

Cathy: I wanted to be more a part of the Lesley community, and since I wasn't living in the dorms, I thought working in a work-study job would help to give me the lay of the campus. I also thought it would help me make friends and feel more a part of the school. I didn't want to just take classes and not have any other connection to Lesley.

Jonathan: And do you feel like you've done that?

Cathy: Yes, I've met teachers and other students and learned about things that are going on around campus that I wouldn't have known about otherwise.

Jonathan: Great. Did you learn anything else about paying for school?

Cathy: Yes, make sure to waive the health insurance if you're already covered under a plan. It's automatically listed on the bill at most schools, Lesley included, and it was over $2,000. Making sure to waive that fee saved a lot of money, and it's on you to let the financial aid or student accounts office know that you want to waive it. If you don't do so by a certain deadline, you have to pay it.

Jonathan: So once we figured out your college costs, we were in a pretty common position in that you still had to borrow a private loan.

Cathy: Yes, I had a balance left over after receiving my financial aid, and we didn't have enough other resources like current income or savings to cover it, so I had to borrow a private loan for that amount. To find a private loan lender, we looked at the lender list on Lesley's financial aid website, which is just what it sounds like: a list of loans and lenders for you to choose from, typically ones that other students have used. We had to compare interest rates and loan terms, and decide whether or not we wanted to begin payment right away or defer payment until after I graduated, or just start paying the interest now. We decided to split the difference and start paying interest while I was in school.

Jonathan: What was different about applying for a loan as an adult?

Cathy: Well, you can't apply for a Federal PLUS Loan, because that's only for parents of dependent students or for graduate students. And even if you're an older student like me, you may not be able to borrow a private loan on your own (without a co-borrower), especially if you're in a situation like me where you're only working part time. You may need a co-borrower on your application. A co-borrower can also help lower the interest rate or the fees on a lot of private loans.

Jonathan: What else?

Cathy: You should watch how much you borrow. Most colleges will allow you to borrow a loan to cover not only your tuition and fees but also your rent and meal costs. If you're already covering your living expenses in other ways, don't be tempted to use loan funds to cover them. Remember, you're going to have to pay all this money back, with interest.

Jonathan: What's the timeline of when all of this needs to get done?

Cathy: The school bill needed to be paid a lot sooner than I expected. The fall semester bill is due in the summer (usually early August), and I didn't realize that. We had just applied for a loan and been approved when the bill came due. So I got hit with a late fee. I had to call the school and tell them that I had a loan in place, and that was enough for them to waive the fee. But I still had to take that step, and some schools might not be so gracious. So I really do recommend that people keep up with deadlines, and keep communicating with the financial aid office throughout the process.

There's a lot to keep track of when you're returning to school as an adult. When we return to our final portion of this conversation, we'll discuss the daily life of an adult student, and how to juggle working, education, and parenthood. Make sure to read Part 1 and Part 3 in this series! 

Read Part 3 on Returning to College