Banking

Financial aid can help you make the leap to a new career

Several types of financial aid are available for consultants who want to make a career change or find funding to broaden their skills. Here's a quick look at a few information resources.


Terryn Barill is an IT consultant in Princeton, NJ.

Question
The recent TechRepublic article "Take what you can in this job market" makes the following statement: "There might even be financial assistance available if it becomes apparent that you need to return to school to receive additional training."

How about an article expounding on this? I’ve searched (in vain) for something in this area starting with government programs. I’m not finding anything but dead ends. Your help would be greatly appreciated by many; I’m sure I’m not the only one.
—Kathy

Answer
Financial aid varies considerably with the type of education and training you’re looking for. Several methods of additional training and education are available, some with more financial aid than others. They include:
  • Two-year and four-year college degrees, which have a multitude of financial aid options. Continuing education at accredited colleges may qualify for the same financial aid programs as education toward a degree.
  • Online and distance-learning programs, which may have some financial aid available, depending on the organization providing the program.
  • Vendor-specific courses and certifications.
  • Conferences and seminars sponsored by industry and education associations.
  • Self-directed learning, which can be as easy as checking out a book from your local library or taking a self-paced course online.

Employee reimbursement
While federal and state aid is available only to qualified individuals attending accredited schools, other types of financial aid are available. The first one you should ask about is your employer’s tuition reimbursement program or employer-paid training. Many employers, especially larger ones, will help pay for courses leading to a degree.

Most employers will pay for certification courses and tests. Employers may also be willing to spring for that course on tape or “Learn Linux in an Hour” CD that wouldn’t qualify for any other kind of financial aid.

Professional organizations
Industry and professional organizations, such as PMI, CompTIA, and the Association of Information Technology Professionals, and other consortiums, such as the SANS (SysAdmin, Audit, Network, Security) Institute and Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), are dedicated to continuing education. Some financial aid or less expensive courses may be available through these types of organizations. Just make sure that what you’re getting is training and not brainwashing—some organizations have a very distinct viewpoint.

If you’re in the United States, you should know that many states have created their own consortiums and associations dedicated to bringing the tech business to their states. They offer many education opportunities; the types vary by state and organization focus. Two that I have worked with are New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and the Oklahoma Technology Commercialization Center. Search your state government’s Web site to find the organization in your state.

Vendors
Vendors love to train you, and they often create certifications that may (or may not) have value in the marketplace. Of course, the certifications with real market value won’t come cheap: Microsoft, Cisco, and Lotus have put a lot of time, money, and effort into making their certifications recognizable in the marketplace. As a general rule, Microsoft isn’t going to subsidize your MCSE training, but since all the big guys have outsourced their training to “partners” and independent training centers, you might be in luck. Having a flexible schedule—accepting last-minute enrollment or helping to fill an empty class—could get you up to a 20 percent discount. Ask what discounts are available; you might be pleasantly surprised.

Higher education
If you absolutely have to go back to school to get a degree, you should definitely see whether you qualify for financial aid. TheU.S. Department of Education’s Web site provides detailed information on grants, contracts, and financial aid for educational assistance.

Federal student aid includes grants, work study, and loans. You don't have to pay back grants. Work study allows you to earn money for your education, and loans allow you to borrow money for school.

See the sections on Pell Grants, campus-based programs, FFEL and Direct Loans, PLUS Loans, and the questions for more detailed information on the federal student aid programs.

You can learn about state programs by contacting your state department of education, and you can learn about other programs by checking with the college or career school you plan to attend.

You also might want to do an Internet search with a key phrase such as "financial aid," "student aid," or "scholarships." Or check the reference section of your local library under those same phrases.

Links
Other resources for finding potential student aid include the following:
  • FinAid offers a variety of options from financial aid to scholarships.
  • International Education Financial Aid (IEFA) scholarship search is the premier resource for financial aid, college scholarship, and grant information for international students wishing to study abroad. At this site, you’ll find the most comprehensive college scholarship search and grant listings plus international student loan programs and other information to promote study abroad.
  • Student Aid Alliance is a coalition of organizations representing students, colleges, universities, and others who believe that all qualified students should be able to go to college regardless of their financial resources. The federal government has taken the lead in ensuring accessible postsecondary education opportunities. Currently, the federal government provides 73 percent of all student aid. Without it, millions of students could not attend college.
  • Estudentloan helps you learn about financial aid, search for the lowest student loan rates, compare lenders, and apply online.

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