Mature students who return to education have much more complex financial lives, financial educators say, and determining how to pay thousands of dollars in tuition, books and other expenses can be tricky. But with proper planning, a university degree can offer a good return on investment.
Vancouver-based money coach Melanie Buffel, who returned to complete her MBA as a single mom more than 20 years after finishing her last degree, says adults must plan carefully before returning to school as a mature student.
"There's a lot of homework," says Buffel, who works with Money Coaches Canada.
She suggests prospective students should first add up all the costs of school, including easily overlooked items such as additional childcare and transportation.
With a clear picture of how much money is needed, the next step is to determine whether to work full-time, part-time or not at all during their studies.
Continuing to work can be good for more than just a paycheque, she says.
Some employers will help fund continuing studies — usually so long as the worker remains with the company for a set period of time after graduation — and may continue to provide various health and life insurance benefits.
After estimating how much they'll earn while in school, she says, students can determine other sources that can be tapped to make up for any shortfall.
When Kear Porttris decided to pursue a university degree in 2010, he had to contend with responsibilities that don't cross the minds of many freshman straight out of high school, including paying his mortgage and feeding his daughter.
Porttris, now a 32-year-old master's student at the University of Victoria, says he applied for student loans and took a reduced course load at first so he could still work part time.
He has since learned it's key to apply for scholarships and grants, including some specifically designated for older students.
Adding a couple thousand dollars that way during an academic year can mean spending fewer hours at a job, he says.
"You can work less and focus on the more important things," he says, such as studying or spending time with family.
Once a mature student is enrolled, they can take advantage of tuition tax credits to reduce their tax burden, says Buffel. Depending on their situation, they can transfer some of that credit to a spouse or save it for future years when they may be earning more money.
One of the most important considerations for prospective students is determining whether their new degree will boost their future earning potential enough to overcome the up-front cost of heading back to school, says Buffel.
Henry Coll, 42, worked as a delivery truck driver when his wife encouraged him to return to school.
He now has an undergraduate degree under his belt and is pursuing his master's in applied sciences at the University of Victoria.
He says he doesn't expect to get a job as soon as he is done his graduate studies that will "magically pay for everything," but believes he'll still be better off than when he was driving trucks.
"It'll take time, but I will be on top."
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