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.
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