Carrie Schwab Pomerantz
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Do you ever think about going back to college? If so, you're not alone. Faced with today's economic challenges and the need for new and different job skills, many adults are considering some type of continuing education.

In community colleges, universities and graduate schools across the country, the age diversity on campuses is growing. A 2006 report from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities found that between 1993 and 2003 (the latest year of data available) one of the greatest increases in college enrollment was among those over the age of 50.

Going back to school can be exciting but expensive. Not only do you need to consider tuition, fees and books, but also ancillary costs such as child care and transportation. If you plan to take time off from work while you study, the decrease in income should be factored into your overall cost as well.

The numbers can add up pretty quickly, but don't be discouraged. With a little creative thinking and some research, you can find ways to help pay for education at any point in life.

WHERE TO GET INFORMATION

What's the first thing you'd tell a young person looking for financial aid? Get the information. The same advice applies to you. There are many places to look.

Start with your school. Many universities now offer financial aid specifically geared to re-entry or nontraditional students. Next, talk to your employer. If you're going back to school to enhance your work skills, your company may have tuition assistance available for employees.

If you are interested in a particular field, be sure to look into industry-specific scholarships. And don't forget your local community. There may be grants available through community associations or the chamber of commerce.

HELP FROM UNCLE SAM

While private loans and scholarships are definitely worth researching, there are several federal loans that offer lower interest rates and better repayment terms, depending on your financial situation. Some loans that may apply to nontraditional students include:

-- Stafford loans: The most common type of college loan funds, for both undergraduate and graduate students, has two varieties: subsidized loans (based on need) that defer interest on the loan for specified periods, and unsubsidized loans where need is not a factor. For both kinds of loans, you must be enrolled at least as a part-time student.

-- Federal Perkins Loans: A Federal Perkins Loan is low-interest for both undergraduate and graduate students with "exceptional" financial need. Aside from need, you must also be enrolled halftime to qualify.

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Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

Carrie Schwab Pomerantz is a Motley Fool contributor.

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