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Donna KiserGoing Back to School: Funding Your Dream

by Donna Kiser

First, realize you have a dream and that you desire to reach it. You would think this was the easy part... however for some, myself included, this can be the most difficult point to reach when you are 40 something years old.

You may have considered going back to school when it dawned on you that your middle management corporate career was really a dead end position, but you still trudged onward. After all, it’s what you know. You may have given school deeper thought when you began to dread getting up every morning. Unfortunately, there are millions that feel that way, and in our society, we continue on because we feel we're supposed to.

You'll make that final decision when you discover that what you’re doing with the 40+ hours of your life each week is useless. When a new day no longer excites you and you’re not eager to perform your daily functions, you’ll make the leap to change those daily functions. When your children are grown, raising families of their own, you'll suddenly experience that middle age enlightenment of how precious each moment is and how ridiculous it is to waste even one.

Once that point is reached, you’ll begin to look at what really excites you, what you love to do, and you’ll realize what your dreams have been all along. Once you realize your path, then you will have the desire to attain it, because desire is where the ability lies. If it’s truly the path you want to follow, then you will find, as I did, the challenge of how to do it as exciting as doing it. After a few semesters into the pursuit of your dream, you’ll not regret the day you walked out of the office and onto the campus.

So you know what your dream is and now you’re going for it. Good! Funding it, regardless of the field, can be both overwhelming and exhilarating. There are plenty of grants available, both federal and local, and you should definitely apply for all and any, beginning with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is accessible online. Your prior year's tax return and adjusted gross income will be required for these applications. Although the Federal FAFSA is the primary application, your state and your university may require that you submit an additional form (for example, many colleges require the CSS Profile).

Be aware that if you do not have dependents and have a history of a good income, you may be ineligible for many need-based grants. The important thing is not to get discouraged - there are many other opportunities out there for funding. Too, after a semester or two of side jobs and a re-invented lifestyle, you’ll be eligible for additional grants. Possibly a small local grant for older women returning to school and the low-interest Federal Stafford loan are enough to allow part-time status, which gets the foot in the door of the college where more financial aid opportunities exist.

One in particular that has served several purposes, and one highly recommended, is Americorps. It provides a small monthly stipend, a $1,200-$1,500 scholarship, and a sense of fulfillment.

Americorps is a national organization that serves a wide range of community areas utilizing varied talents and skills, which is something you’ve spent all
these years acquiring. Use them! Whatever area of expertise or passion, they have a volunteer position that will help you meet your goals while contributing to your community. You may choose working with seniors, and for 20 hours weekly, they may place you at an adult day care where you might lead a writing workshop and a reading group…all perfectly coinciding with your dream. You feed your passion, get paid to do it, fund your continuing education in it and enrich the lives of others. What better way to spend 20 hours of your time?

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