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6 ways to afford degrees and industry certifications

At a glance

  • One way to prepare for career growth and stability is by obtaining relevant education and, where applicable, industry certifications.
  • Though costly, degrees and industry certifications are attainable, especially if you have a strategy.
  • Military benefits, transfer credits, scholarships and tuition assistance from an employer are all ways to ease the financial burden of education.
  • Discover how University of Phoenix removes barriers to education with more than 100 degree and certificate options aligned to more than 300 real-world careers!

Financing your future

In my experience, power in the professional sphere is like success: It’s up to you to ensure you progress at the right pace. Often, that involves a blend of education, certifications and experience.

Here, we’ll look at the nuts and bolts of how you can afford degrees and certifications and how they can impact your career. 

More than 100 degrees and certificate options — 90% of which are in growing fields.

The great debate: Do you even need a degree?

There is a growing trend of questioning whether a degree is worth the investment of time and money, with some advocating for getting into a trade instead. While learning a trade can be a smart move for certain people, many others benefit from earning a relevant degree and certifications.

Do your passions and interests align to a career that can bring you fulfillment and an income you can live with? If they don’t, do your talents align to one?

You see, choosing the right degree or certification starts with knowing which career you’d like to pursue. Ask questions and research salary outcomes and career progression. Get a solid understanding of what a given career entails and, if it still sounds good, work backward from there to assess what education is necessary to get started.

Not everyone has the luxury of pursuing a passion career. Most of us pursue a degree to increase our earning potential and set ourselves up for better opportunities down the road

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Consider a bachelor’s degree in information technology or cybersecurity, for example. These programs generally lead to careers with higher-than-average salaries and strong job growth and can appeal to individuals who are willing to work hard and continuously learn. Plus, technology offers upward mobility and financial opportunity with a good quality of life.   

The point is a degree and industry certifications are often worthwhile for most people, but you need a strategy for making them affordable and for determining which degree and certifications are the right ones for your goals.

You need to ask yourself: What is the most optimal situation to be in with regard to potential earnings

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Ways to make degrees and industry certifications affordable

If you decide a degree and certifications will help you pursue your career goals, here are some ways to make that education more financially attainable.

1. The Post-9/11 GI Bill®

My first recommendation is for those who, like me, joined the military and can use the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

It includes up to 36 months of educational benefits to attend an approved training institution of your choice and could cover your tuition and fees as well a monthly housing stipend and books.

Military service members may also be eligible for tuition assistance (distinct from the Post-9/11 GI Bill), which can help reduce the overall cost of education.

While the military isn’t for everyone, it does reward those who are suited to it. You serve for a period of time, and you get veteran status, possibly 36 months of education benefits and job expertise. I can’t stress enough how good a deal this is. And it should be! If you offer your life in service to your country, the very least your country can do in return is provide you with an education. 

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2. Employer tuition assistance

Many organizations will fund your degree and certifications because investing in employees offers a direct benefit to employers.

Known as tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement, certain employers will contribute toward the cost of higher education for eligible employees.

Programs vary with the fine print. Some reimburse employees up to a certain amount. Other programs are contingent upon grades. But if you can take advantage of it, it’s a good deal. I’d happily take a free education in exchange for working.

3. Corporate scholarships

Each year at my organization, we offer scholarships to the children of two or three employees. The recipients can either be entering college or already attending college, but they win a financial award for writing an essay.

I’ve seen these scholarships be worth anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000 annually, which can make a big impact on academic expenses.

You don’t necessarily have to be in high school to earn corporate scholarships either. A range of options is available to an equally diverse range of students; you just have to tap your network and do a little research. 

4. Transfer credits from community college

In this day and age, you don’t need an Ivy League degree to meet your professional goals. You do, however, often need an education from an accredited and reputable school. One way to gain that college degree is to start small: Attending a community college is an affordable way to earn college credits or an associate degree that you can then transfer to a university and apply toward a bachelor’s degree.

University of Phoenix (UOPX) works closely with community colleges through its 3+1 transfer pathway. This program empowers students to complete their associate degrees at a community college and then transfer to UOPX and complete a bachelor’s degree in as little as a year.

If you’re not utilizing a program like that, it’s important to note that credits aren’t always guaranteed to transfer. Be sure to have that discussion with your enrollment representative or academic counselor before you sign up for class at a community college.

If your credits do transfer as planned, then you can save significantly on your bachelor’s degree. That is an excellent return on investment.

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5. Grants, scholarships and student loans

Are there other grants, financial aid or minority/identity-specific programs you can apply for? Be creative with your search to find college and certification funding! And I mean really creative: If there are any left-handed readers, there are even special scholarships just for you!

Are there local or national foundations, community groups or private companies that offer grants and scholarships to students like you? 

After you source as much aid in scholarships and grants as possible, you can consider student loans. It’s important to practice responsible borrowing, though, so that you reap the benefits of higher education while minimizing return payments later.

6. Online degree programs

Online degree programs may be a more affordable option than traditional brick-and-mortar schools. But even when the costs are comparable, online universities allow nontraditional students to save in other meaningful ways. Specifically:

These were just a few tips on how to reduce or eliminate the cost of degrees and industry certifications. With a little research, you can find a way to make it work for you. Trust me when I say that it’s well worth it in the end.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by the VA is available at the official U.S. government website at https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Patrick C. Horton, MBA, DM/IST, is the vice president of program management for Tampa Microwave, a college professor and a veteran U.S. Army sergeant. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Information Technology, Master of Business Administration and Doctor of Management with a specialization in Information Systems at University of Phoenix. He launched his business, Professional Career Transformations, in 2021 as a way to guide and encourage others to identify and pursue their career goals. He is a former member of Vistage Executive Coaching Group and a recipient of the Purple Heart in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and he lives in sunny Florida. Learn more about Dr. Horton and his commitment to helping others achieve their highest level of success by visiting his website and be sure to watch this video on career diversification on his YouTube channel.

 

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