City University of New York student Kelly Giles could have pursued an MBA, but instead she chose a second bachelor's degree. Her original undergraduate degree was in business, but she wanted to go back to school to study gender and urban sociology after she was laid off by her nonprofit employer.
She was able to customize her course work to explore the field, helping her narrow her focus. Giles' ultimate goal afterward is pursuing a Ph.D. in a sociology field.
While pursuing a master's degree makes sense for many students, for others like Giles it can make just as much sense to pursue a second bachelor's degree.
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According to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of scholarship website Fastweb, students who pursue a career field dramatically different from that of their original degree, such as changing fields from sociology to engineering, may prefer to start with a second bachelor's because of the number of undergraduate courses required for a master's degree.
Second bachelor's degrees are often completed in the same time frame as a master's degree, but there are fewer options for financial aid. The following are a few types of aid that could be available to Giles and that other students pursuing a second bachelor's degree should consider.
1. Federal student loans: Federal Stafford student loans are available for second bachelor's degrees, but the lifetime limit is based on your total time as an undergraduate. A master's degree student would start over with federal Stafford student loan lifetime limits, Kantrowitz says.
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The limits don't increase for additional undergraduate degrees, he says. The current lifetime loan limit is $57,500 for undergraduates. If a student already borrowed this amount for an undergraduate degree, he or she would not be able to borrow more for a second bachelor's through the Stafford program.
However, Kantrowitz says, the lifetime loan limit prior to July 1, 2008 was $46,000. If students who still have a loan balance from before that date returned to school now, they would be able to borrow at least $11,500 through the Stafford loan program.
In addition, every dollar they didn't use of their initial $46,000 would also be available for potential use now – as long as the total amount borrowed wasn't above their annual limit. The annual limit for the 2012-2013 school year is $12,500 for undergraduate students in their junior year or beyond.
The PLUS loan program, additional funding available to both parents and independent students, is available to supplement Stafford student loans up to the maximum cost of attendance.
2. Scholarships: Pursuing a second degree doesn't significantly affect scholarship eligibility. Second degree students would be ineligible for only about 10 percent of undergraduate scholarships available on Fastweb, Kantrowitz says, such as scholarships available only to graduating high school seniors.
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Students should seek out scholarships specifically for second degree students. Giles received a scholarship that covers her tuition at CUNY.
According to Kim Hartswick, academic director for CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies, about 10 percent of the school's second degree students receive Thomas W. Smith Awards: $2,715 per semester for full-time students (those taking a minimum of 12 credits per semester) and $1,380-$2,070 per semester for part-time students (six to 11 credits per semester).