New Year's Dreams

It’s that time of year when the gym is crowded, storage bins are on sale at Target — and everyone has the best of intentions.

With a new year comes New Year’s resolutions. And while we hear a lot about the number of people vowing to shed some weight, save more for retirement or finally quit smoking, there’s another life-changing goal you might consider as we enter a new decade: investing in your education.

If you’ve put off completing a college degree or workforce credential, the new year can be a perfect time to get a plan in place for heading back to school. Here’s how to get started.

Weigh your Education Options

What are your goals for going back to school? Is it making more money at the job you have now, or starting something completely new? If you’re looking at different career options, is a college degree even required?

For many people, completing a certificate program from a state college or career/technical institution is a smart option. If your dream career does require a college degree, you’ll want to do your research. Florida Shines allows you to compare the different colleges and universities in Florida, including those with online programs. And if you’ve already earned some college credit, but did not earn your degree, the Complete Florida program can help get you enrolled and make sure your credits transfer (the state-funded program also offers scholarships for students).

Whichever route you decide to take, be sure to ask questions about how your prospective schools work with students who are returning to complete their degree as adults. On-campus childcare, online courses, accelerated degree programs or flexible class schedules could make all the difference in your experience.

Paying for It

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) should be one of your first tasks once you’ve decided to return to school. The form determines if you are eligible for grants (money you don’t have to repay), work study opportunities, federal loans and other financial aid from your school. All students can apply for money to help pay for their education, even if it’s been 10, 20, 30 years (or more!) since you’ve stepped foot in a classroom.

If you’re employed, check to see if your company offers tuition reimbursement. In some companies, the full cost of tuition is covered. Your human resources department can give you specifics about the education benefits offered to employees, like whether fees or books are included and if there are restrictions on the type of degree you can earn. Many benefits are also available to help military veterans (and qualified dependents and survivors) advance their education. To learn more about the benefits you may qualify for, visit the Veterans Administration website.

Next Steps

When you’ve narrowed your list of schools and programs, make a list of college application deadlines and gather all the required information. This could include your GED documentation, high school and college transcripts, test scores, etc. Allow plenty of time to track your documents down, especially if you’ve been out of school for many years or have attended multiple institutions in the past.

Once you have everything you need, it’s time to apply! Complete and submit applications for your top colleges/schools. Be sure to follow up to make sure your transcripts, test scores and other documents are sent to the schools.

Local Admissions Links:

Hillsborough Community College
St. Petersburg College
University of South Florida
University of South Florida – St. Petersburg
University of Tampa

Ready to Get Started? Check out our full list of resources to help you reach your 2020 goals.

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