Paying for School during a Recession

Paying for School during a Recession: Getting Ahead without Getting Behind

One of the most common obstacles that students face when going back to school is the cost. It can be hard to invest in yourself when you’re trying to start a new career—and even more so when the economy isn’t at its strongest. Is it even worth trying to go to school during a recession?

The truth is that the best time to invest in your future is often when it seems the hardest, as industries face upheaval, companies deal with shortages of skilled workers, and everyone prepares to tighten their belts a little. That can be the perfect time for people like you—people who are eager to learn new skills and to begin or advance their careers—to prove your dedication by committing to a training program.

Still, it’s not a good idea to sign up for school if you’re not sure that you can afford it. So how do you pay for school during a recession? Here are four important options to consider.

Employer Benefits

If you’re currently employed and planning to stay in the same field, consider checking with your boss! Did you know that some employers offer tuition reimbursement programs? This allows them to help you pay for the cost of continuing your education as a means of professional development. That can make all the difference in being able to not only pay for school but feel confident that your career path will continue progressing! Your employer is, after all, investing in you.

They’ll want to help you sharpen your skills, learn fresh trends and best practices, and bring all your new expertise back to them. The logistics of these benefit programs vary, but they often require you to pay your tuition bills upfront and apply for reimbursement after. And to help protect their investment, they may have a requirement that you stay put for a certain amount of time before seeking other job opportunities—failing to do so can mean needing to refund those funds.


Loans—both public and private—are often a necessity for closing the gap between any savings, scholarships, employer benefits, or other funds and the full cost of school. The good news is that education loans often have lower interest rates and longer repayment periods to help you manage paying them back after graduation.

Be sure to have a very clear idea of exactly how much money you’ll need to afford tuition, books, other supplies, and fees, as well as all your basic costs of living while in school. You want to have enough funding to live comfortably, but you don’t want to borrow more than you need and end up with extra debt after graduation. And always make sure you understand all of the loan terms, including repayment schedules, interest rates, and deferment and default policies before signing on the dotted line to avoid problems in the future.

Distance Learning

In addition to looking for ways to pay for school, there are also things you can do to reduce the total cost in the first place. As we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic—and the lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and other restrictions to public spaces that followed—there is a LOT that can be accomplished right from home.

While there’s still no replacing actually getting your hands on the industry-relevant equipment and tools, a lot that can be learned through prerecorded lectures, webinars and videos, online texts and discussion forums, and other remote learning strategies. That’s where distance learning programs come in! Attending school from home can help you save on those room and board fees, the costs of commuting (and parking), and the need to give up hours at work, hire a babysitter, or other drastically alter your schedule to incorporate school.


One of the most coveted ways to fund your education, of course, is through scholarships. Unlike loans (which need to be repaid) or employer benefit programs (which usually have at least a couple strings attached), scholarships offer you direct funding that does not have to be paid back. That makes them one of the quickest and easiest ways to reduce the costs of going to school and to pay for your education more easily.

Another great thing about scholarships is that they come from a wide variety of places: They can be industry-based, need-based, performance-based, or school-based. They can be designed for students with specific talents, hobbies, or backgrounds. They even come from the Imagine America Foundation! Our scholarship and award programs have supported thousands of students with a discount on their tuition when attending one of our member institutions. If you’re a high school student, an active duty or veteran servicemember, or an adult student, apply today to reduce the cost of your education.

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