In the last issue, I explained how not having an education hurts your chances to get a good job or get promoted to a position with potential for growth. There are several different paths you can take to get on track.

You can attend a community college (which is the most affordable option and the least stressful to start) or a trade school or take classes online. If you decide to pursue the trade or technical school route, make sure you research the school very carefully because there are for-profit schools that drastically overstate their graduation stats to sell you on attending their school. Also make certain that with a trade school that you really want to do the job you are training for and also make sure that if you have had any medical problems, you go in a different direction because unlike a college degree, which you can use to go in a different direction than what you studied, a technical or trade school degree is usually only good for that area, so if you develop medical problems or become injured, you could be in serious trouble.

Paying for college can seem daunting, but fortunately there are many options available to help you cover the cost of higher education. There are Pell Grants, as well as special grants just for students in the District. You can also apply for loans, as well as receive work study. To apply for all the different types of financial aid available to you, you can fill out a free application at fafsa.gov.

If you previously have served in the military, the United States government will help pay for your education. It is one of the benefits that has been helping thousands of men and women who have defended our nation and it always stays funded despite the budget issues in Washington. If you have served at least three years and were honorably discharged, you should inquire about the benefits you are entitled to at the Washington, D.C. regional office of the Department of Veterans Affairs at 1722 I Street NW. You can also receive college credit for classes you took through the military and also for skills you learned through your service. To look into that option, visit the American Council on Education at One Dupont Circle NW.

Another great way to reduce your college expenses and the time to complete a degree is to take CLEP exams. These are the College Level Examination Program exams that if successfully passed, allow you to receive college credits and not have to take the class. That will save you a tremendous amount of money and time. The test fee is $80 but if the tuition at a school is $150 per credit and a class is worth four credits, you save $520. If you were really good in certain subjects in high school, it would be worthwhile to take exams in those areas you are strong in (there are 33 exams in a wide variety of subjects and the credits are accepted nationwide at 2,900 schools).

I mentioned online school but I would only recommend that if you have your own computer and a very dependable internet connection for lessons, research and submitting homework. Also make sure, as with trade schools, to investigate any school you want to take classes from online. Many universities offer online courses, including the University of Phoenix.

Whichever path you choose, make sure to at least get some education, even if it is an Associate’s degree. Today’s job market requires you to compete for even the lowest level job against other people who have completed their degree. Getting an education makes you more marketable, lowers your chances of unemployment and puts you in a new light with employers.