Education is an investment in yourself regardless of your age. However, financial constraints may prevent many from pursuing their dreams, especially if you’re an adult going back to school.
The average cost of college tuition can range from $26,000 to $56,000 per academic year, depending on the institution, making it difficult to pay for many.
But there are different types of financial aid options for adult students that can mitigate the overall cost or completely take care of tuition fees.
Understanding the different types of financial aid for adult students can initially seem complex. That is why, in this guide, I’ll simplify and break them down so you can understand the steps needed to get financial aid for your college degree.
Types of Financial Aid for Adult Students
Before we go ahead and break down every possible financial aid for adult students, let’s take a look at the options available for adults first –
- University Employment
- Employer-Sponsored Aid
- University Financial Programs
- Community and Local Organization’s Support Programs
- Student Loans
1. Scholarships for Adult Students
The best way to tackle your financial situation as an adult student is through scholarships. There are two types of scholarships that you can opt for –
- Government Funded Scholarships
- Private Scholarship Programs
Let’s give you the details –
Government Funded Scholarships
As the name suggests, these types of scholarships come directly from the governing body. These scholarships are given out to help students in need and to ensure that talented individuals can reach their full potential without facing financial constraints.
Government-funded scholarships can be broken down into two parts –
Federal Scholarship Support
This will require you to provide the necessary documents and meet specific criteria before you can get any support. You will need to fill out FAFSA and then check different types of federal scholarships to determine whether you are eligible.
To search for scholarships, you can use various scholarship search engines like wemakescholars.com or scholarships.com.
Adults can apply for college loans by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine eligibility for federal student loans. Additionally, they can explore private student loans offered by banks, credit unions, or online lenders, considering factors like interest rates, repayment terms, and borrowing limits. It’s advisable to exhaust federal loan options before turning to private loans, as federal loans often offer more favorable terms and borrower protections.
The State scholarship awards students different types of scholarships and grants based on their need and qualifications. And the type of financial support and scholarship will differ from one state to the other.
To check for your state’s financial support and scholarships, consult with the state higher education agency or state-specific scholarship search engines and your eligibility.
Then, contact the state scholarship offices and follow the necessary procedures required to complete your scholarship applications.
Private Scholarship Programs
As for private and institutional programs, this will depend on their personal terms and whether you suit their criteria or not.
On average, a student who received scholarship or grant at a private 4-year college will receive more than a student in a public 4-year college.
While private sponsors may have different goals in mind, the general purpose of private scholarships is to show goodwill and help students to obtain higher education by taking care of their financial concerns.
Financial aid FAQs provide essential information on eligibility, types of aid, application process, notifications, renewals, loan details, special circumstances, appeals, and tax implications.
After scholarships, you should start looking into grants. You can opt for federal or private grants, considering you meet their requirements.
There are a multitude of federal grants out there like –
- Pell Grant
- TEACH Grant
- FSEOG Grant
- Federal Work-Study Program
- STEM Grants
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant
- Federal Grants for Military Personnel
To apply for any of these grants, first you will need to submit your FAFSA, which is entirely free. You will have to meet the eligibility requirement for FAFSA to do so. The basic requirements are as follows:
- Applicant must be a US citizen or non-citizen with SSN validation from the US government
- Have a GED certificate, high school diploma, or equivalent educational certification
- Must be enrolled or accepted in a certificate or degree program
- Applicant must maintain sufficiently good academic progress in school
- No criminal records of any sort [students with criminal convictions excluded]
- Applicant mustn’t have any loans or owe money to the government or federal agents
Adult students can also opt for grants from private sponsors. The sponsors determine the eligibility and terms.
Avoid common FAFSA mistakes such as missing deadlines, providing incorrect information, skipping questions, not using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, and not updating information for accuracy.
Adults can apply for college loans by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine eligibility for federal student loans. Additionally, explore private student loans offered by banks, credit unions, or online lenders, considering interest rates, repayment terms, and borrowing limits. Exhaust federal loan options before turning to private loans, as federal loans often offer more favorable terms and borrower protections.
3. University Employment
Universities and colleges will allow you to study for free or require partial payment if you are enlisted as an employee in their institution. There are multiple ways you can take this approach.
You can be a full-time worker there and ask to apply for a degree for free or partial payment. Research assistants and teacher assistants are the two most common employment options for adult students who are pursuing masters and doctorate.
For adult students opting for a bachelor’s degree, possible employment options can be working as an accountant at the university or taking part-time jobs in campus stores.
When selecting these employment and contracts, make sure to balance your work hours with your study hours.
Most universities have this option to support their employees if they want to pursue a higher degree from their institution.
4. Employer-Sponsored Aid
Many companies want their employees to pursue higher degrees and will offer financial support if needed. They do this to ensure the following:
- Invest in Their Employee Development
An educated workforce is an asset and every company realizes that it benefits both their employees and the organization.
- Retain Talented Employees
Almost every employer-sponsored aid is aimed towards keeping employees to stay with the company.
The employers will offer a commitment contract that will bind the employer to stay in the company for a certain period. This also creates a sense of loyalty towards the employer from the employee.
- Attract Talents
Companies offer tuition fee sponsorship to grab talented individuals and keep them under their wing once they have honed their skills through education.
As an adult student, if a firm or company has employed you, then make sure to check their employee support system regarding higher studies.
So, check in with your HR department and see if you are eligible for this sort of sponsor support from your employer. You may have to agree to some specific terms before you can avail yourself of this form of financial aid.
5. University Financial Programs
Every university has personal financial programs, and adult students aren’t excluded from these either.
Some of the most common financial aid programs include:
- Sports scholarships for students who have demonstrated exceptional athletic talents
- Arts & music scholarship for students who meet the institution’s portfolio requirements.
- Diversity financial programs for students representing minority groups, diverse backgrounds and communities.
- Community service scholarships for students who have dedicated themselves to the improvement of the community and have awards highlighting their civic engagement.
- Entrepreneur grants for students who have demonstrated their strategic and business prowess and require funding for further development.
- Foreign exchange programs and study abroad programs offer foreign adult students who want to be part of their academic program.
Therefore, if you have any specific university in mind, make sure to check their financial support page or call their offices to find out if you are eligible for their programs or not.
6. Community and Local Organization’s Financial Support Programs
You should contact local non-profit organizations offering financial support for students and see if you are eligible for their support programs.
For example, local business scholarships where business associations will offer charitable scholarships to support local students.
They may have specific requirements like belonging to a certain area or having certain subjects as AP courses.
There are also Veteran Education Assistance, Women or Minority Organizations, and Parent Support Programs that help the respected audiences and their children with education support.
7. Student Loans
Lastly, you can opt for student loans as a means for your financial support. While you may be skeptical about getting in debt, keep in mind that getting scholarships in college is quite difficult.
Only 1 in every 8 students receives scholarships. Those who do get a scholarship don’t get enough, as the stats show 97% of students receiving scholarships in college get less than 2,500. Only 0.2% of applicants get around 25k USD and 0.1% gets a full ride.
This is due to the fact that almost 58% of college students seeks financial help from scholarships & grants for college tuition. That’s why you may have to opt for student loans even if you manage to gain scholarships or grants.
Federal loans are often the preferred choice for students as they come with additional perks and can be based on your monthly income.
You can look into some of the following federal student loan options:
- Direct subsidized loan- you’ll have to showcase your financial need along with documents proving your US citizenship and completion of FAFSA. This is the most preferred option for students as the Department of Education handles these loans.
- Direct unsubsidized loan- you won’t have to provide any proof of financial need, but the documentation requirements are the same as the subsidized loans.
- Direct PLUS loan- to avail of this federal loan, you’ll need to have a good credit score, be a US resident, and complete FAFSA.
Private loans can also be satisfactory if you are an adult who had the time to invest and now has enough financial backing to carry a student loan.
Some popular private lenders in this field are Wells Fargo, Discover, and Sallie Mae. When choosing a private lender, you should look out for the loan duration, interest rates, and any unique conditions (if any) the lender provides.
You will also have to be wary of the eligibility requirements, such as good credit scores, promising grades, and other factors.
How Much Financial Aid Can You Get?
The amount of financial aid will depend on quite a few factors. Private scholarships, grants, and aids will be based on the terms of the sponsor or the organization that is providing the aid.
On the other hand, Federal grants have a maximum and minimum range that will apply to you depending on the following factors:
- The Cost of Attendance or COA for your program (the amount that will cost you to go to school for an entire school year)
- Expected Family Contribution or EFC (the amount your family is able to contribute to your education if you were to be selected to a program)
- Need-based aid is provided based on the subtraction of COA & EFC
- Non-need-based aid is provided based on the subtraction of COA & any given financial aid
Amount of Financial Aid Adult Students Can Get Through FAFSA
|Name of Financial Aid||Estimated Aid (Yearly)|
|Pell||4310$ – 7395$|
|FSEOG||670$ – 4000$|
|Federal Work-Study Program||Varies by University|
|Iraq & Afghanistan Service Grant||$6501.99$|
|Federal Grants for Military Personnel||Varies by personnel and need|
|Direct Subsidized Loan||3500$ – 5500$|
|Direct Unsubsidized Loan||5500$ – 20500$|
|Direct Plus Loan||Total COA amount|
Keep in mind that grants and financial aid supported by the FAFSA only last for one study year. After a year, you will have to reapply your FAFSA to avail your aid.
There is no age requirement for learning, and your financial situation shouldn’t keep you from the desired degree. That is why don’t be disheartened if you have passed the traditional student age.
There are many different types of financial aid for adult students; you just need to look at the requirements and see if you are eligible. Best of luck!
- Barriers in returning to learning: Engagement and support of adult learners (27th May 2015) by Rabourn, K. E.; Shoup, R.; BrckaLorenz, A.
- Undocumented College Students, Taxation, and Financial Aid: A Technical Note (8th March 2009) by Michael A. Olivas
- Does Financial Aid Impact College Student Engagement? Evidence from the Gates Millennium Scholars Program (04 February 2016) by Angela Boatman & Bridget Terry Long