More adults now more than ever are returning to college to get their bachelor’s or master’s degrees.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2014 there were 8.2 million students over the age of 25 attending college. Over the past 15 years, there’s been a sharp increase in adults going back to school.
Older students tend to go back to school for a wide range of reasons, from getting the training they need to climb the corporate ladder to personal fulfillment.
Yet, while completing a degree is an admirable pursuit, it can be expensive.
What’s more, many adult students don’t think they can get scholarships and grants. So they end up relying solely on student loans and rack up debt.
However, non-traditional 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 take on in the process.
First step: complete 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).
That’s because the U.S. federal government and schools require FAFSA completion to get access to federal grants, loans, and work-study programs.
Additionally, there are no age restrictions on federal aid. So an adult student can complete the same FAFSA as a high school senior.
And even if you don’t qualify for grants, you should still fill out FAFSA to get access to federal student loans. Federal loans typically have lower interest rates and more generous repayment terms than private ones.
Grants to go back to school
There are also grants offered by the federal government available to non-traditional students.
Since these are grants, not loans, they do not have to be repaid, which is pretty awesome. Grants can also help cut down on how much you need to take out in student loans.
Federal Pell Grant
The Pell Grant is an option 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.
With a Pell Grant, you can get as much as $5,815 towards your education each year.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant
If you can show you have financial need, you may 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 are only available if you attend a participating school.
Depending on where you go to school, your financial situation, and other factors, you can receive between $100 and $4,000 a year in FSEO grants. The earlier you apply, the better your chances are of getting a grant.
Federal TEACH Grant
If you are an undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, or graduate student pursuing a degree in teaching or educational administration, you may be eligible for the Federal TEACH Grant.
While you must be willing to teach in a low-income school for at least four years, you can get a TEACH grant up to $4,000 in value.
However, if you do not complete your service obligation, the government converts your grant into a student loan which you then need to pay back. Therefore, it’s important to really consider if a TEACH grant is right for you.
Some states specifically offer grants for non-traditional students.
For example, New Jersey has a special program for disengaged adult students. These are people who left school within the past ten years and are now going back to college.
To find out if your state offers aid, check out your state’s department of education website and search for grant information.
Scholarships for adults
There are many scholarships for adults available as well.
Below are just three scholarships for adults currently accepting applications.
Three individuals can win the the Return2College scholarship every year.
Each person receives $1,000 towards their education. Adults who are pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree are eligible.
To apply, submit a three-sentence essay in response to their prompt by January 31, 2017.
UNIGO $10K Scholarship
If you are planning to go to college within the next five years, you may be eligible for the UNIGO $10K Scholarship. Award recipients receive up to $10,000 towards their undergraduate or graduate degree.
Applicants must be legal residents of the United States and submit a short written response to the following question, “Weighing the expected investment and return, is college worth it for you? Why?”
You must submit your application by December 31, 2016.
Non-traditional students over the age of 21 can apply for the Imagine America scholarship, a $1,000 award.
These are scholarships for adults looking to improve their situation through education. To apply, submit your responses and information by December 31, 2016.
Going back to school
Completing your degree as an adult student can be challenging for a variety of reasons. But paying for school may not be as difficult as you thought.
As a non-traditional attendee, you may be eligible for federal grants, loans, and scholarships for adults. What’s more, these programs can substantially reduce your cost of attendance.
If you’re considering going back to school, complete your FAFSA as soon as possible and begin searching for applicable adult scholarships. Taking action now can keep the cost of education low and help you get your degree.
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