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Adult students often say that going back to school is like taking a second job, but without the salary. There’s no doubt it takes a significant commitment of time, money and effort to earn your degree. But there are ways you can get that diploma more quickly — and cheaply. Consider these five tips I share with all the prospective students I advise. Which options can work for you?

Check with your employer.

Many employers will pay a portion of your tuition or reimburse you after you’ve passed the class. Often, your major or degree must relate to your job to receive financial support — check with your company’s Human Resources department for more on its policy. Also talk to your supervisor about how you might advance in your company as you work toward your degree. If you can, set aside raises or bonuses to help with tuition.

Talk to your contacts.

Are you involved in professional or community organizations? Many of these organizations offer scholarships, discounts to conferences, fellowships or other opportunities for students. Check the websites of the groups you are part of and ask around at upcoming meetings. Not only can this help you earn scholarships toward tuition, it also can expand your professional network and provide benefits after you graduate.

Leverage transfer credits.

If you’re working on a bachelor’s degree, consider taking prerequisites and general education courses at a community college, where tuition is less expensive. Then transfer to a four-year university to finish your degree. Another option is to take classes at a community college and a four-year university concurrently. Talk to your academic advisor about which options will work for your degree plan.

Get credit by exam.

See if the universities you are considering accept credit through exams like DSST or CLEP. Ask if they have a credit-by-exam guide that outlines what results they accept and what credits you can earn. Then, look for an independent testing center in your area and sign up for exams that match your skills. Exams are graded on a pass/fail basis, and you will get your results immediately. Also make sure you indicate which universities you want to receive your results.

Take advantage of your professional experiences.

Some universities offer credit through a portfolio process. You enroll in a portfolio workshop that teaches you how to document what you’ve learned on the job or in the community and match that learning to a specific course. A trained assessor reviews your portfolio, and if it is accepted, you earn credit. The best part? Many universities allow you to earn portfolio credit for as many classes as you want. With just a small fee for each portfolio you turn in, you save money on tuition and time for every credit you receive.

New College at St. Edward’s University offers adult students a full range of majors that allow them to fulfill their dream of completing a bachelor’s degree.

Lori Eggleston Thorp is director of New College Support Services at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. She has taught and advised adult students for more than seven years and has an M.Ed. from Texas State University. Lori has also presented at the Association for Continuing Higher Education International Conference, the Region 7 National Academic Advisors Conference and the Texas Academic Advising Network.

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