Statistics show that almost 70 percent of students across the nation need financial aid to further their education. Funding postsecondary education without outside assistance can be challenging, and fortunately, there are a number of scholarships and grants available for students of all ages.
As an adult going back to college, you likely have many financial responsibilities that demand your attention. You may not have some or all of the money required to return to school — but that doesn’t need to be a barrier to returning to school.
Fortunately, there are numerous scholarships for adult students, as well as grants for adults returning to college.
Financial Aid for Adults Going Back to College
Many adults considering their options to go back to college are concerned that they will not qualify for financial aid. The good news is that there is no age limit for federal student aid, and almost anyone is eligible. The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and the quickest way to apply is online through the website, www.fafsa.gov.
Federal aid for adult students can be used to pay for the expenses associated with college education, including tuition, fees, accommodation, transportation, and books. You can also use your federal aid to fund equipment, such as a personal computer. Students with disabilities can use the funds to purchase assistive devices to enable them to access classes or any other equipment necessary to complete their study programs.
Whatever your age, you may be eligible for three categories of federal student aid:
- The Federal Pell Grant. This grant is based on financial need and does not have to be repaid. This is the most popular government grant for adult undergraduate students, whether you are studying full- or part-time. To view a complete listing of this and other federal grant opportunities, refer to this Federal Student Grant Programs chart.
- Award amount. Currently, the maximum award is $5,920 per academic year. Students may receive this grant for up to 12 semesters, but must complete the FAFSA and other requirements to maintain eligibility each year. For more information about eligibility and other Pell Grant guidelines, visit the Federal Student Aid’s official Pell Grant page and its eligibility requirements page.
- No repayment requirement. Students who receive this award do not need to repay the funds, unless their enrollment drops or they receive other funding or income. For more information about repayment conditions, see the Federal Student Aid’s repayment policies.
- The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). This grant will suit undergraduate students with acute financial needs. Only students who have qualified for a Pell Grant are eligible for this grant. Funds are limited, so students who need this extra funding should apply for this grant early in their eligibility year. Check with the financial aid office for this year’s application deadline. Complete information about this federal grant program can be found at the official FSEOG page.
- Award amount. The amount of the award varies from $100 to $4,000. Awards are granted according to the student’s financial need.
- Eligibility. Eligibility for this award depends on the students’ own financial need. Students must qualify for a Pell Grant before receiving the FSEOG. To remain eligible for this award, students must have acute financial needs and meet the federal guidelines for these and other grants. For more information about maintaining eligibility, see the official federal grant eligibility page.
- Loans. The Federal Student Aid program is prepared to extend loans to deserving adult students. These loans may be subsidized, which means that you do not have to pay interest on the loan while you’re in school, or they may be unsubsidized, meaning you are responsible for paying interest regardless of loan status. All loans must be repaid with interest.
If you already received student loans in the past and are still paying them off, those loans need to be in good standing before you can receive additional aid. Generally, credit scores are not considered for the award of federal student aid, so if you have less than ideal credit, you may still apply.
Parents going back to school are not awarded a special grant or loan under the Federal Aid Program; however, a federal student aid grant may be used to pay for the cost of child care while the parent is in college.
Whatever your circumstances, you are advised to discuss them with someone in the financial aid office of the school, college, or university where you intend to study. The office needs all your information to determine the amount of aid you are eligible to receive.
Many adults may find that they don’t qualify for income-based financial aid and as such, need to look elsewhere for financial assistance to further their studies. Thankfully, there are many educational institutions and private organizations that offer scholarships and grants for adult learners. Individual employers, including Fortune 500 companies, support education by awarding grants and scholarships to deserving adult students. Several states also award scholarships for higher education to their residents.
List of Grants for Adults Returning to School
Apart from the federal grants discussed in detail above, non-government grants are awarded to specific types of adult students to address their financial needs. Grants can be specific to a student, subject, degree level, or minority when stipulating the qualifying criteria for award consideration.
State grants, such as the following examples, can be accessed when federal and other grant programs do not provide sufficient funding:
- Missouri offers The Advanced Placement Incentive Grant, which is a nonrenewable post-secondary grant that is intended to help encourage high school students to take Advanced Placement tests in science and mathematics and score well.
- The Cal Grant Program is the largest source of state funding for California undergraduates of all ages, including adult students.
- New York state has a Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), which is available to state residents enrolling at an approved school in the state. Applicants for the award must meet income eligibility requirements.
- The Michigan Tuition Grant, established in 1966, helps those in financial need in the state of Michigan pursue their higher education goals.
- The Ohio College Opportunity Grant helps Ohio residents in financial need–as determined by their FAFSA application–attend a higher education institution.
Whatever field of study you choose, there are many grantors who may be willing to help deserving adults to further their education. Grants for nontraditional students are typically awarded by corporations, advocacy groups, trusts, foundations, and professional associations. You are advised to consult someone in the financial aid office of the institution where you plan to study for assistance in applying for a grant that will suit your needs.
List of Scholarships for Adult Students
Many scholarship opportunities exist for students who are part of an identity group, who study in a certain field, who play sports or who have other qualities that appeal to granting foundations. Adult returning students often look to their communities, churches and employers for scholarships, too. Like the federal student aid programs, many scholarship granting entities require the FAFSA as a first step in the application process. The following are some of the organizations that accept adult learner scholarship applications:
- College JumpStart Scholarship. Non-traditional, returning adult students may apply for this semiannual, non-renewable $1,000 scholarship from the JumpStart Scholarship foundation. Any U.S. citizen or resident is eligible for this award. Applicants must attend a U.S. college for undergraduate or graduate school. Information about this scholarship can be found on the JumpStart Scholarship website.
- How to apply. Fill out the JumpStart Scholarship online application. The application includes a short, written personal statement.
- Apply early. Application evaluators have more time to consider applications they receive early. Many applications arrive near the deadline, which gives evaluators less time to assess each applicant.
- Deadlines. Application deadlines are the same each year: midnight April 15 for the fall award and midnight October 17 for the spring award. Scholarship recipients receive notification by phone 8-10 weeks after the application deadline.
- The ASIST Scholarship. Executive Women International (EWI) sponsors nationwide scholarships for both men and women who are starting, returning to or continuing their higher education. Their selection criteria favors adult students who have financial challenges and who are raising children. Read about the organization and its scholarship at the EWI ASIST Scholarship website.
- How to apply. The 10-page application for this adult student scholarship is online as a PDF form. Applicants can download the form here, print it and fill it out.
- Two references and an essay. The lengthy application form requires both an essay and two letters of recommendation.
- Financial documentation. Students must submit copies of their FAFSA Student Aid Report as well as documentation of their school’s financial aid package.
- Submit applications to the local EWI chapter. Applicants must live in an area with an active EWI local chapter. All scholarship application materials must be submitted to the local chapter for consideration. Visit this page to see a list of EWI chapters.
- The 1,000 Dreams Scholarship. This non-renewable, semiannual scholarship foundation awards grants up to $1,000 to selected applicants. Funds are to pay for the student’s education-related expenses, like books, but not tuition. Visit the 1,000 Dreams Fund website to learn more about the scholarship, its past winners and the 1,000 Dreams Foundation.
- How to apply. Applicants must be women who are enrolled in college, with no stipulated age limit. Interested students can apply for the scholarship by submitting documentation and answers to the supplemental application questions.
- Eligibility requirements. To be considered for this scholarship, applicants must be women who are enrolled in college and who can demonstrate financial need. In addition to answering the application questions, students must submit one or two letters of recommendation and an essay.
- Deadlines. Application deadlines are in March and November each year. Consult the scholarship fund page for this year’s exact application submission date.
- Get Educated Online Distance Learning Scholarship. This online education guide site sponsors a semiannual $1,000 scholarship that is open to U.S. students who are enrolled in a college distance learning program. Award criteria includes both academic merit and financial need. To learn more about this opportunity, visit the Get Educated Online Distance Learning Scholarship’s main page.
- How to apply. Applicants can download the PDF application here. Along with the application, students must mail a 500-word essay, high school or college transcripts and their current FAFSA Student Aid Report to the address listed in the application.
- Eligibility requirements. To be considered for this scholarship, students must be U.S. citizens with a minimum 3.0 grade point average. Applicants must demonstrate financial need and enrollment in an accredited college distance learning program.
- Deadlines. Students must submit their applications by either April 15 or October 15 for consideration.
Get the Financial Help You Need to Go Back to College as an Adult Student
This guide provides a mere sample of the hundreds of grants and scholarships that are available to adult students. No matter how old you are, you must never feel at a disadvantage when applying for financial assistance. Our guide has shown you that the adult student population is in the ascendancy—a fact that demands attention from industry and educational institutions.
There are no obstacles to going back to school that you can’t overcome, and it is never too late to further your education.
It’s time to show courage and dare to take that first step to advancing your career.
Ready to learn more about how you can start the process of going back to school for a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree? Research your options and contact an enrollment advisor today. Now is the time to turn your ambition into action.
Here are some other resources to consider when taking the next step toward going back to school:
Student Loan and Tax Information
Going Back to School for Finance and Accounting
Going Back to School for a Second Bachelor’s Degree