For many Americans, the pandemic has sparked an interest in career growth—particularly ways they might improve future job stability. Money reports there has been a huge uptick in enrollment for online learning platforms like Coursera since March, and many are looking to boost their skills through certificate programs.
According to a recent survey from Strada Education Network, one in five Americans say they will pursue more education within the next six months—with a preference for certificates or skills-training programs.
While these programs may be less expensive than traditional degrees, you may still owe thousands of dollars. These programs may not qualify for federal financial aid, but fortunately there are other funding options.
Start with your employer
While many companies offer tuition or education reimbursement, fewer than 10% of employees take advantage of the benefit, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. Your company could offer up to $5,250 of tax-free education assistance, so you ask if they are willing to chip in before borrowing money.
Apply for a scholarship
Invest some time into researching scholarship options. You may qualify for more opportunities than you expect, and you won’t know for sure until you apply. Start with Fastweb and Scholarships.com. You may also explore funding options through Coursera or Springboard programs.
You should also look for industry-specific or diversity scholarships through professional or trade organizations. For example, there are several scholarships for folks pursuing the Certified Financial Planner designation, which requires a costly eight-course certificate program. Another example: Flatiron School, a popular online coding boot camp, offers scholarships for women.
Ask for a payment plan or discounts
Depending on the program, you may have access to a quarterly or monthly payment plan. You should also see if you qualify for any discounts. Some programs may offer a break for veterans, members of the military, or current college students.
Explore private student loans
After exhausting the other options, you may consider applying for private student loans. Although not all lenders will offer private loans for non-degree programs, there are some options, like Sallie Mae. But you should shop around for the best interest rates.
Before applying, though, make note of when you would have to start making payments. Some lenders will allow you to defer payments while you are finishing school, along with a six-month grace period after the program ends.
Look for a personal loan
You may also consider applying for a personal loan, which may offer interest rates from 5% to 36%, according to Bankrate. The most competitive options—with lower interest and no fees—are looking for folks with a strong credit profile. This includes good to excellent credit, a low debt-to-income ratio, and steady income. Depending on your credit profile, a personal loan may be cheaper than paying with your credit card.