Many people are already in massive debt, between mortgages, credit cards, and student loans. It’s easy to think you’ll never get out of the cycle of owing money to somebody, especially if your current career doesn’t pay as much as you’d like.
If you’re looking for a career change or just want to move up the ladder at your current employer, you might consider pursuing an additional or advanced degree. But what if you can’t afford the tuition or another student loan payment? You may think there aren’t any scholarships available for adult or non-traditional students, but you are wrong. Depending on your field of study, you can find a plethora of funding opportunities for your return to the classroom.
First things first. Fill out the FAFSA!
The first step for any college-bound student should be to fill out the FAFSA. This document allows the federal government and your school to give you grants, loans, and work-study opportunities. Even if you’re not looking to take out student loans, you need to submit this document in order to receive any other financial aid from the government or your school.
Grants do not need to be paid back, and adult students qualify for many of them. More information about Federal Grants can be found at Studentaid.gov. In addition to Pell Grants, adults pursuing a degree in education or educational administration may qualify for the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant.
Finally, some states sponsor grants for residents attending in-state schools, and a few of these grants are earmarked specifically for adults returning to campus. For example, Indiana’s “You.Can.Go.Back” program provides adult students with $2000 to attend an in-state University.
Scholarships unique to your situation.
Start your scholarship search with opportunities for students in your situation. You’ll be more likely to win scholarships that are sponsored locally or are meant for students like you.
Many colleges and universities set aside scholarship money for adult students, so look into these opportunities for the school of your choice. Fastweb, one of the leading sources in scholarship opportunities, offers a list of scholarships for non-traditional, adult, and returning students at specific institutions. If you don’t see your school on the list, contact the financial aid department for information.
Also inquire at your workplace about scholarships or tuition assistance for employees. Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and Talbots all offer some kind of financial aid for associates pursuing higher education. Other employers might refund some of your tuition if you pursue an advanced degree in your field or even pay for you to pursue a master’s degree.
If you’ve exhausted all of those opportunities, check out some of degree-, gender- or age-specific scholarships listed below:
- The Imagine America Foundation offers a scholarship of up to $1,000 for adult learners who wish to train for a new job. This scholarship is meant for adults who have little to no previous secondary education. This is a good source of funding for anyone who wants to enter a trade profession, where the cost of education is not as high as pursuing a bachelors or masters degree.
- The Charles Shelton Veterinarian Medicine/Technology Scholarship awards $2,000 to African-American students pursuing a degree in veterinary medicine. This opportunity is for all students, both traditional and returning.
- The Bernard Osher Foundation supports adult learners in a variety of ways. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes program offers adults age 50 and older a way to take non-credit classes at over 100 colleges across the United States. If you’re planning to re-enter college as an undergraduate after a gap or five years or more, you may qualify for the Osher Reentry Scholarship Program. In addition, if you live in California or Maine, you may qualify to receive a scholarship for a more advanced degree as well.
- The Rankin Foundation Scholarship Fund provides scholarships to low-income women, ages 35 and over, to pursue a post-secondary education. Most of their scholarship recipients are also single mothers, although that is not a requirement to apply. The program granted over $3 million in scholarships in 2018. This is just one of many scholarship programs for women and single mothers.
- The Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education offers a variety of scholarships to nontraditional students who are active members of their campus. You do have to become a member of the organization to qualify, but membership also gets you access to webinars, newsletters, and discounted conference fees.
This is not an exhaustive list of resources. For more information, check out a scholarship database such as Fastweb or the College Board’s new scholarship search site.
Scholarships open to anyone.
Consider applying for any foundation or corporate-sponsored scholarship that you qualify for, especially if you’re pursuing an undergraduate degree or returning to school after a long absence. Read the guidelines carefully to make sure you qualify, but keep in mind that most undergraduate scholarships don’t specifically discriminate against adult learners. If you’re a freshman, you’re a freshman. Even if you’ve had a temporary break in your education, you probably qualify for scholarships based on your current level in college.
To find these scholarships, look to local sources first, as they are less competitive than national scholarships. Then, use some of the national scholarship databases we’ve already suggested.
There’s always money available!
To summarize, always fill out your FAFSA in order to be considered for federal financial aid. Then, look close to home, where scholarships are likely less competitive, and seek out scholarships from local agencies, your employer, and your school. Finally, you can find scholarships you’re uniquely qualified for by looking on scholarship search engine sites.
The cost of attending college may have risen since you were in high school, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay all of it out of your pocket. There’s always money available if you know where to look. With some creative searching, and a little bit of work, you can discover lots of funding for hard-working adults like you.