Layering Certifications: Education without the Debt!

by L. Lori Irwin, MBA, CFP®, Financial Planning Association Member and Coordinator for Virginia Saves

Education equals opportunity. A degree demonstrates your commitment to your career advancement, and additional credentials may offer you more options when it comes to searching for employment. In today’s environment, it is not uncommon to see education loans soaring; and that is understandable when you consider that in the past 30 years the cost to attend a public school has increased 225%, according to the College Board. Student loans have even outpaced credit card debt with a total of more than $1.3 trillion owed.

Saving is always a great strategy to keep you out of debt, but for many young people, the inheritance of a college savings fund either isn’t available or is insufficient to meet the needs for the growing cost of an education. Getting an education doesn’t have to keep you in debt for years and years to come however.  More people are beginning to explore alternatives to keep them out of debt. One alternative strategy is to layer certifications within your career field. Layering certifications allows you to incrementally build credentials even as you are obtaining your ultimate degree.

Let’s say you are planning on attending college to become a registered nurse. You may choose to get a certification as an Emergency Medical Technician as you are completing your high school diploma, making you able to obtain employment in the medical field either in summers or part-time during the school year. Next, add an associate’s program, such as Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), to your EMT certification. With the associate’s degree, you may have access to more employment options beyond what is available with your certificate, and perhaps earn more income along the way.

Many two year technical training schools offer the ability to transfer credits to a four year program without delaying your graduation, if you choose to continue layering your credentials. To further reduce costs, you might consider living at home to save the costs of housing and food along the way. Here are other great potential benefits of layering certifications:

  • Working part-time and summers in your field allows you to experience real life in your chosen profession. If you find that you really don’t enjoy the work, you can switch your major midstream and explore a new field, saving you tons of money on a degree you won’t use. 
  • You can offset the costs of college expenses with the money you earn and keep your student debts low. 
  • Building a network of professionals in your field of study can help you as you establish yourself, and even get ahead, in your chosen field. 
  • By working in your field, you may even find that some employers offer education benefits to employees to help offset the costs of continuing education. 
  • Building your resume early will allow you to stand head-and-shoulders above the competition, who likely attended class gaining knowledge without experience. 

We live in an age where creative solutions to getting ahead can really pay off in the long run. Layering certifications may be a way to launch your career at the same time you are getting that degree.

If you would like some great creative solutions for paying for a college education, check out Financial Planning Association’s webpage http://www.plannersearch.org/life-events/Pages. Financial Planning Association is proud to partner with America Saves to help Americans make savings work for them, and is your partner in growing financial opportunity no matter what your stage of life.    

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