Going Back to School? Here are the 7 Excellent Grants and Scholarships in 2021

 January 4, 2021
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If you’re going back to college as an adult, you may be eligible for grants and scholarships for returning students. In fact, nontraditional college attendees are eligible for both financial aid and low-rate federal loans. These options could reduce the cost of attending college and limit how much student loan debt you have to take on to pay for school.

How to get grants and scholarships for returning students

Here are the three pieces of the puzzle as you seek funding to go back to school:

Or if you want to skip straight to the list of grant and scholarship sources, here are the seven you could get started with. We consider all of them “excellent” choices, as they are all well-established government or private programs that offer relatively large awards to large numbers of students (rather than just a single winner each year).

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1. Federal Pell Grant
2. Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant
3. Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant
4. State-specific grants
5. Return2College
6. Unigo $10K Scholarship
7. Imagine America

The FAFSA for unlocking financial aid

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 student 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 generally don’t have to be repaid. Grants help cut down on how much you need to borrow.

1. 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. For the 2020-2021 school year, the maximum you could receive through a Pell Grant was $6,345, but the limit changes each year.

2. 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 Grant (FSEOG).

Like Pell Grants, FSEOGs 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 an FSEOG. The earlier you apply, the better your chances are of getting the grant.

3. 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 $3,772.

However, if you don’t complete your service obligation, the government converts your grant into a student loan that you must repay. Therefore, it’s important to consider whether a TEACH grant is right for you.

4. State-specific grants

Some states specifically offer grants for nontraditional students. For example, Indiana’s “You Can. Go Back.” program provides funds for adult students returning to school and pursuing a degree.

To find out if your state has a similar program, check out our complete guide to state financial aid grants.

Scholarships to go back to school

There are many scholarships for returning students available as well.

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.

5. Return2College

Three individuals can win the Return2College scholarship every year. Each winner 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. These are usually due by the end of January, but check the website to be sure.

6. 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?”

Check their website for the deadline — previously, it’s been Dec. 31 of the prior year.

7. Imagine America

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 as a returning student

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 returning students. What’s more, these programs could substantially reduce your cost of attendance. Taking action now could help to keep your education costs low and help you earn 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. And if you do need to borrow a student loan to cover a gap in funding, make sure to shop around for a loan with the lowest interest rate.

Rebecca Safier and Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.

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