More adults than ever are returning to college to get their bachelor’s or master’s degrees and advance their careers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an estimated 8.1 million students age 25 and older attend college. That number is expected to grow by 18 percent by 2025.
Although completing a degree can help you move up the corporate ladder, it can be expensive. What’s more, many adult students think they’re ineligible for scholarships and grants. Instead, they rely solely on student loans and rack up debt.
However, nontraditional college attendees are eligible for financial aid and federal loans. There are even programs and scholarships for adults going back to school. The best part is that these options can reduce the cost of attending college and limit how much student loan debt you have to take on to pay for school.
First step: Complete the FAFSA
If you’re thinking of going back to school, the first thing you should do is complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The U.S. federal government and schools need to review your FAFSA to give you access to federal grants, loans, and work-study programs.
There are no age restrictions on federal aid. An adult student completes the same FAFSA as a high school senior. Even if you don’t qualify for grants, you should still fill out the FAFSA to get access to federal student loans. Federal loans typically have lower interest rates and more generous repayment terms than private loans, helping you save money.
Grants to go back to school
There are also grants offered by the federal government available to nontraditional students. Since these are grants, not loans, they don’t have to be repaid. Grants help cut down on how much you need to borrow.
Federal Pell Grant
The Pell Grant is for undergraduate students of any age who can demonstrate financial need.
The government bases the grant amount on your level of need, the cost of attendance at your chosen school, and whether you attend college on a part- or full-time basis. According to the Department of Education, the maximum you can receive through a Pell Grant is $5,920, as of January 2018.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant
If you can show you have financial need, you might be able to qualify for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity (FSEO) Grant.
Like Pell Grants, FSEO Grants do not need to be repaid. However, they’re only available if you attend a participating school.
Depending on where you go to school, your financial situation, and other factors, you could receive between $100 and $4,000 a year in FSEO Grants. The earlier you apply, the better your chances are of getting the grant.
Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant
If you’re an undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, or graduate student pursuing a degree in teaching or educational administration, you might be eligible for the federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant.
Although you must be willing to teach in a low-income school for at least four years, you can get a TEACH Grant worth up to $4,000.
However, if you don’t complete your service obligation, the government converts your grant into a student loan that you must pay back. Therefore, it’s important to really consider whether a TEACH Grant is right for you.
Some states specifically offer grants for nontraditional students. For example, New Jersey has a special program for ”disengaged” adult students, meaning people who went to college but left before obtaining their degrees.
To find out if your state has a similar program, check out our complete guide to state financial aid grants.
Scholarships for adults
There are many scholarships for older students available as well. Like grants, scholarships are like free money, in that you don’t have to pay them back.
You can find hundreds of listings for adult scholarships on database sites such as Fastweb and Scholarships.com. Once you create a profile, you can search their listings for scholarships that fit your situation.
Below are three scholarships for adults currently accepting applications.
Three individuals can win the Return2College scholarship every year. Each person receives $1,000 toward their education. Adults who are pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree are eligible; there is no age limit.
To apply, submit a three-sentence essay in response to their prompt by Jan. 31, 2018.
Unigo $10K Scholarship
If you’re planning to go to college within the next five years, you might be eligible for the Unigo $10K Scholarship. Award recipients receive up to $10,000 toward their undergraduate or graduate degrees.
Applicants must be legal residents of the U.S. and submit a short written response to the following question: “Imagine a historical figure is brought back to life. Who is it? What’s their favorite mobile app?”
You must submit your application by Dec. 31, 2018.
Nontraditional students over the age of 21 can apply for the Imagine America scholarship, a $1,000 award.
These scholarships are intended for adults looking to improve their situation through education and who plan to enter a trade profession. You must become a member of the Imagine America Foundation to complete the application process.
Going back to school
Completing your degree as an adult student can be challenging for a variety of reasons. But paying for school might not be as difficult as you think.
As a nontraditional attendee, you might be eligible for federal grants, loans, and scholarships for adults. What’s more, these programs can substantially reduce your cost of attendance. Taking action now can keep your education costs low and help you get your degree without ending up in debt.
If you’re looking for other ways to pay for school, check out these tips to reduce your college costs even further.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2019!
|1 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
2 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Information advertised valid as of 4/1/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2019 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
8 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|4.24% – 13.24%1||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.07% – 11.32%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.84% – 13.49%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.50% – 11.35%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.25% – 13.25%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|6.08% – 7.22%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.95% – 9.81%7||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.45% – 12.42%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|