Obtaining a degree is one of the best ways to boost your earning potential, and business degrees are among the most flexible programs out there. Providing an education that’s relevant to a huge number of fields, a business degree can be just the jump start your career needs. 

With the rising cost of tuition, however, earning a degree can start to look like quite a gamble. Student debt is no joke, and while a degree will allow you to earn more money in the long term, it’s tough to reassure yourself that it’s worth the investment in the short term.

Fortunately, there are a number of options that can help to mitigate these fears by bringing these costs down to a more manageable level. By combining the strategies below that work for you, you might find that earning a degree is a far more attainable goal than you’d ever considered.

1. Work Your Way Through School

While you’ve certainly heard of this idea before, it’s a tried and true strategy that’s never been easier to accomplish. If you’re already a working professional, there’s no need to give up your existing career to become a student. Business degree programs tend to be very open to this concept in general, since they understand that many of their students have already entered the workforce.

Online courses are one option that’s really taken off in recent years. Many online courses use an “asynchronous” approach, meaning that they can be taken at any time, rather than having a set meeting time like an in-person class. Night and weekend courses take place outside of normal business hours, and nicely complement the nine-to-five lifestyle. 

If you’re still early in your working life, it’s always worth considering a part time job that’s willing to be flexible around your class schedule. Some universities will even offer work on campus that’s specially designed to be compatible with attending class. 

Between flexible course offerings that fit any work schedule and part-time work that accommodates taking classes, there are a lot of options that can make college and career more compatible.

2. Begin Saving Before Applying

If you’ve already decided to set your sights on a degree, the best thing you can do is start putting money away for it immediately. Take a look at your budget and consider carefully how much you can afford to save each paycheck. Cut back on regular but unnecessary expenses, like fast food or coffee, and start saving that money in high yield savings accounts instead. 

A 529 education savings plan is a special type of savings, sponsored by states or state agencies, that has a number of tax benefits when the money is spent on education-related expenses. Setting up an account like this can ensure that the money you do save goes farther when you need it. A related type of 529 plan is the prepaid tuition plan, which allows the purchase of course credits in advance using present-day costs, that may be advantageous if you aren’t planning to attend for several years. No matter the plan, getting a head start on paying for costs prior to enrolling can help minimize the debt you take on, leading to a far greater impact than you might expect on the time it takes to repay loans.

3. Seek Contributions from Family

Younger college hopefuls are often the biggest beneficiaries of family help, but that doesn’t mean that older students going back to college or even those attending for the first time can’t get assistance from family. 

Parents and grandparents may be willing to help cover your costs while enrolled in a university, either directly by offering money to help pay for tuition or related expenses like textbooks, or indirectly by contributing to savings like the aforementioned 529 plans. Indeed, establishing a 529 education savings plan can be a great way to show family members that you’re serious about obtaining your degree, and may help to persuade them to contribute to your cause. 

Money can often be deposited directly into a 529 account by gifters, thus ensuring the money really is going towards education. 529 plans have no maximum age and no income restrictions, and very few have limits on residency for those doing the saving. Even that $20 bill in your birthday card from grandma can really make a big difference when it’s added to your savings.

4. Take Free or Low-Cost College Courses

One of the most amazing things about the growth of the internet over the last twenty years is the abundance of free and low-cost courses being offered online these days. 

While you might be skeptical when hearing the word “free,” some of these courses are coming from well-respected names like Harvard, Columbia, and Georgetown, so quality isn’t lacking. There are even entire online universities that have become accredited, such as University of the People, who offer tuition-free degree programs in business. 

While this kind of experience may not have been what you had in mind when you considered going back to college, it’s hard to argue with the savings you’ll see by going with these affordable online programs.

Another possibility that’s often overlooked is community colleges. 

Senior citizens are typically able to attend courses at local community colleges for free or at reduced cost, for example. Even at full price, community colleges tend to offer course credits at a much lower cost than even state universities,  and many have transfer agreements with nearby universities. 

These transfer agreements allow students to take general education courses at the community college and then transfer the credits to the university, resulting in a degree that’s exactly the same as any other issued by the university, while saving thousands on tuition in the first two years. Look into the options at schools near you and see if this is available in your area before applying directly to the university.

5. Consider Income Share Agreements

A fresh new option that’s on the rise in recent years is the Income Share Agreement (ISA), a special type of agreement with an educational institution wherein students attend class at no upfront cost, and are only expected to pay for their education once they have landed a job. 

When signing an ISA, you agree to pay a percentage of your income, for a certain period of time (often in the neighborhood of three to four years) in order to compensate the school for the education you’ve already received. These agreements often include caps on max payout, so that if you do land an incredible six figure job right out of the gate, you don’t end up spending far more than anyone would reasonably have expected beforehand.

ISAs are still just catching on, and may not be available at all institutions. They hold the most promise for those who will see a fairly large increase in their income from earning a degree, freeing them from the burden of paying for school on their lower current salaries while still allowing them to live at the level they’re accustomed to after landing a new job. Plus, once the repayment term has come to an end, they’ll be able to enjoy their full income and really recognize the benefits of their new degree.

6. Appeal for Employer Contributions

It might seem like a stretch, but many employers are willing to help contribute to their employee’s education if they are able to recognize the benefit to the company in doing so. 

While these are more common with master’s degrees, it’s not impossible to secure at least some funding for a bachelor’s degree through your employer as well. If your degree relates to the position you’re working in already, or would relate to a department where your employer needs trustworthy workers, you might have a great shot.

Employer tuition reimbursement, as this is sometimes called, can have other conditions that must be met, such as achieving certain grades or maintaining a GPA above a particular level. They may also want to ensure that they’ll see the benefits of your new education and have expectations or requirements that you continue to work for them for a period afterward. 

Participation in such a program can also translate to a greater likelihood of promotion, since the employer has seen your dedication to the job, in addition to a lessened burden of student debt. 

Approach your company’s human resources department and see if they have a program you could benefit from.

In conclusion, a business degree can open the door to a brighter future, and that future will only shine greater if you plan for it carefully in advance. By mixing and matching the above methods, almost anyone can find a way to fund their degree without taking on tens of thousands in debt. Take that leap and become the graduate you’ve always known you could be.