Adults returning to college often find the experience a little surprising. This is especially true when you see what your tuition will be. The cost of attending college has increased eight times faster than wages, which means that over the last thirty years, college tuition has increased by 1,120 percent!
What this means for adults who want to return to college is that no matter how long it’s been since the last time you enrolled in school, the cost is going to be higher. Probably much, much higher. You may find that any money you’ve saved to pay for school is insufficient, or that you can’t afford to pay for full-time tuition. Even part-time tuition could easily be too much.
Student loans may be a viable solution for someone in their late teens or early twenties, but many adults who return to college are wary of them. They can take decades to pay off, which means older students could be saddled with debt for the rest of their lives.
Scholarships are a much more attractive option, and you really should apply for every scholarship you might qualify for. Here’s what you need to know about applying for scholarships as an adult returning to college.
Read all the scholarship essay advice you can find.
You’re probably answering the same prompts as someone much younger than you. The advice they’re getting about scholarship essays will apply too. Sure, the content will be different, and your age and life experience will affect your writing, but the vast majority of the scholarship essay advice out there applies to everyone, not just 18 year olds.
Don’t try too hard.
Your essay needs to be well written, error free, and it needs to be convincing. It does not need to read like a page from a thesaurus. Adults returning to college sometimes worry about how they’ll compare to the high-achieving younger students. They worry that they’ve forgotten too much of what they learned in school. They react to this by using unnecessarily large, obscure, or “smart sounding” words in their writing.
Do not give in to this temptation.
It is far more impressive to communicate clearly with simple language than to write something unintelligible that’s full of impressive-sounding words. Don’t worry about what the readers will think of your vocabulary. They aren’t worried about that. Worry more about your grammar, syntax, and spelling. Nail those three things, and even the simplest vocabulary will look impressive.
Draw on your life experiences.
One of the biggest advantages you have is, in fact, your age. Older students may worry that their younger counterparts are more mentally agile, more energetic, more creative, and better suited to a college environment. It’s not clear if any of that is true, but what is true is that your maturity and experience create a definite advantage.
You are, in all likelihood, better equipped to deal with the responsibilities of a college student than most of the freshmen students. Think about what you’ve done in your life – the jobs you’ve worked in, responsibilities you’ve taken on, even the personal relationships you’ve developed or ended. What have you learned from all of these? How have they shaped you as a person?
Your unique experiences are fuel for a great essay, and you’ve got a lot more of that fuel than most incoming students.
Write more than one essay.
It’s tempting to write one essay and then make minor tweaks to it for each scholarship application, but that would be a mistake. You’re much better off writing a new essay for each application, even if the essay prompts are similar. The readers see a lot of essays, and they can spot the ones that are written like a form letter.
One of the easiest ways to make your essay, and therefore your application, stand out is to write a unique essay for each scholarship. Yes, this is a lot more work, but it could be the difference between getting a scholarship and having to take out a loan.
Find scholarships that are just for you.
Every scholarship provider has a set amount of money that they distribute to new applicants each year. You’re competing against every other applicant for a portion of that money, so it only makes sense to look for scholarships are less competitive.
The best way for you to do that is to look for scholarships that are just for older students or people who are going back to school. There are many scholarships out there that will not allow first-time students or students below a certain age to apply, and you’ll have a much better chance of being approved.
Federal Financial Aid for students is not something you want to pass up. It’s true that many adults returning to school earn too much money to qualify for federal, but you may be surprised.
While some adults ignore FAFSA because they think they won’t qualify, others ignore it because they don’t want to take out student loans. Most money received through FAFSA comes in loans, but there is also a lot of grant and scholarship money available. It’s worth your time to look into it.
Returning to college as an adult can be one of the best experiences of your life, but paying for college or taking out a loan can easily ruin that. Scholarships are a huge help, and we hope these tips help you win some.
We can’t guarantee anything, but a great essay is key to winning a scholarship. For the most part, the advice you received as a high-school student about scholarship essays still applies. These tips are meant as an addition to that advice, not to replace it.