When it comes to pursuing a career in health informatics or health information management, degree can help you to acquire the skills and knowledge that you need to succeed in this fast-growing field. An advanced degree is an investment not only in your career, but in your own personal development, that should be planned for accordingly to ensure that you maximize your academic experience. Once you have chosen the right program and met the admission requirements, the next step is to decide how to finance your degree.
Although taking out student loans is a common way to pay for your degree, and certainly an option to explore, there is much that you can do before that point to lower your out-of-pocket expenses. Here are five ways to mitigate the cost of pursuing your health informatics or health information management degree:
1. Talk to your employer
If you currently work within a health informatics or health information management-related industry and are considering earning an advanced degree, your first step should be to talk to your employer. According to a 2015 survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, about 83 percent of companies offer some form of educational assistance or tuition reimbursements to their employees. The companies surveyed reported that the top reasons that they offer this type of assistance to their staff is to retain employees (52.1 percent), maintain or increase loyalty and satisfaction in the workplace (42.6 percent), help employees remain current on evolving necessary skills (41.1 percent), attract future employees (26.6 percent), maintain or increase innovation (14.2 percent) and maintain or increase productivity (13.5 percent).
Employers are more likely to consider assisting you if your current role would benefit from the skills and knowledge gained through an HI or HIM program. If the purpose of earning your degree is to make a career change and find a position with a different organization, there would be very little benefit to your current employer so it is not as likely that you will receive assistance.
2. Apply for scholarships and financial aid
Your current workplace is not the only place that you may be able to receive assistance from in paying for your degree. There are numerous scholarships and other forms of financial aid available to graduate students through both public and private organizations. To be considered for federal aid, you will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly known as the FAFSA. The application, which is prepared annually, determines your eligibility for student financial aid offered by the government. It is also required for many other specific scholarships or grants, including ones offered by the college that you are enrolling in.
While you may be tempted to only apply to scholarships and grants that you are confident you can win, it is to your advantage to apply to any for which you qualify. A surprising amount of money goes unclaimed every year. For example, a survey by NerdWallet showed that more than $2.9 billion in free money for undergraduates was unused in 2013. A number of scholarships – including those for graduate students – compiled by the online college resource Fastweb! do not even require a particular grade point average.
3. Claim tax credits and deductions
Although filing taxes may not be your favorite pastime, you may be able to use your status as a student to your advantage. While you pursue your degree, you will likely qualify for a number of tax credits and deductions. Ensuring that you file these forms properly could decrease the amount you pay or increase your tax return, making your education more affordable.
According to the IRS, one example of education credit that you can take advantage of is the federal Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, which deducts $2,000 from your tax bill annually. Another you should look into is the American Opportunity Credit, which could qualify you for up to $2,500 in credit each year.
4. Create a budget
While lowering the amount that you pay for your degree is one way to make your education more affordable, cutting out other expenses so that you have more discretionary income can also mitigate the expense of your master’s. To make that goal a reality, create a budget and stick with it. Making a budget gives you the opportunity to examine your spending habits and identify areas where you may be able to cut down. You may find that there are small sacrifices that you can make while pursuing your degree that add a lot to your bottom line with minimal discomfort. Examples include:
- Making your own lunch each day instead of eating out.
- Cutting down on happy hour and other after-work activities.
- Finding a roommate or moving in with a family member for a short time.
By creating a plan to cut down on your expenses and sticking to it, you will find it easier to manage the extra costs created by pursuing your degree. If you have never made a budget before, the U.S. Department of Education recommended that students:
- Overestimate expenses and underestimate income.
- Save enough for an emergency fund.
- Differentiate between needs and wants.
- Set priorities.
- Be cautious with credit cards.
Budgeting and spending wisely will help make your degree more affordable, allowing you to focus on the investment that you are making in your education and, ultimately, your career.
5. Pursue your degree online
When it comes to completing your degree, the format that you choose to pursue your degree in can also help mitigate the cost of the degree. By choosing to learn online, you save money on gas, parking and other expenses related to commuting. You also do not need to arrange for childcare if you are a parent or deal with the expense of moving if the campus is in a different city or state.
Pursuing your degree online also makes it easier to continue working full- or part-time while you earn your degree. By continuing to work, you avoid the lost wages that you would have experienced if you had to take time off to pursue your degree at a physical location. At the same time, you are also able to gain valuable work experience for your resume if you are employed in a related field. Remote learning is not only a smart financial decision, it also makes completing your degree more logistically convenient, eliminating a number of challenges from advancing your career and setting you on the right track for success in health informatics.