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Go Back to School for Free

Here at The Motley Fool, we're celebrating back-to-school days with financial advice for parents, kids, and students of all ages. Check out the entire curriculum right here.

The returning student, the mature student, the nontraditional student. They all mean the same thing. You're the old geezer amid a sea of pierced and tattooed whippersnappers who can't imagine how people managed before the iPod.

Even if you're not the coolest guy in the classroom, you've got a few advantages over those young punks. You can get someone else to pay for your education. Consider these ideas:

Work and learn. Remember that employee handbook you got years ago? Dig it out and find out whether your company offers a tuition reimbursement plan. This could be your ticket to a college education or an advanced degree.

Before you go sharpening your pencils, read the fine print. Some companies will refund only a portion of your tuition. Some will put limits on the number of classes you can take. Others will require you study a subject related to your job, or that you stay at the company for a certain amount of time after completing a degree. Know the rules before enrolling.

Change jobs. If you're certain you want to hang a new diploma on your wall in the near future, hunt for a new job that will pay your way. Fortune's annual list of the best companies to work for routinely includes businesses with tuition reimbursement benefits, like General Mills (NYSE: GIS  ) , Genentech (NYSE: DNA  ) , and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) . Be warned if you go to work for Google. According to the company's employee benefits website, you must earn B grades or better. "Why a 'B' or better? Because we said so."

Supply and demand. Businesses chronically short of workers may offer special training or college programs in order to fill their own rank-and-file. Find one of these, and you may get an education and a job. You'll probably be on the hook to work for the employer for a few years after you finish your training. But there's nothing wrong with that if it means education and experience on your resume.

Loan forgiveness. If you can't find anyone to pay for your education ahead of time, find someone to pay for it after you've graduated. Some government agencies and a few private employers will pay off your school loans in exchange for your work, often in a place or a job that they've found especially hard to fill. You'll be more apt to find such programs in careers that don't pay much. You'll have a number to investigate if you're a teacher, nurse, doctor, or social worker. Consider it short-term indentured servitude with a really big payoff. And you'll have a brand-new perspective when you watch old episodes of Northern Exposure on your nights off.

Scholarships. Here's another advantage you have over your younger classmates. You might be eligible for scholarships that have smaller pools of applicants than the common awards being doled out to undergraduates. Hunt in every nook and cranny you can find for awards. Even the smallest ones will take a dent out of your tuition bills.

If you find yourself footing the bill, read up at the College Savings Center and take a look at these Foolish articles:

For more on how to get your kids off to school successfully, take a look at our personal finance newsletter, Motley Fool Green Light. You'll get tips you can use to save more and pay less on everything you need. Sign up for a free 30-day trial and start saving today.

Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple does not own stock in any company mentioned in this article, nor has she been required to work in a small Alaskan town in exchange for loan forgiveness. She welcomes your feedback. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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