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Financial Aid for Non-Traditional Students: How to Find Aid

Several financial aid options exist for adults interested in going back to school for a degree or for vocational training. There are a number of programs designed to give financial aid through scholarships, grants and federal loans to the growing adult and non-traditional student populations.

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There are a variety of financial aid options available for nontraditional students, including school-sponsored programs, student loans and scholarships funded by private organizations.

Financial Aid for Non-Traditional Students

The Department of Education's 2011-2012 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study indicated that a higher percentage of financial aid goes to students age 24 or older or who are financially independent from their parents than to younger, dependent students. Most of this aid is in the form of loans and grants. Here, we'll look at how to find sSome of the financial aid options for these students.

Online Scholarship Databases for Non-Traditional Students

Fastweb.com and FinancialAidFinder.com offer current databases of scholarships and grants with non-traditional students in mind. Many foundations set up free student aid for adult students based on age, prior occupation, intended major or life experience. The sites send e-mail alerts to members whenever they meet the qualifications for new scholarships or grants. Award amounts vary from a few hundred to several thousand dollars in assistance.

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Financial Aid Through Private Organizations

The Association for Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education posts annual scholarships and financial aid for adults, minorities and veterans. Annual conferences are held at colleges and universities in various cities across the nation, which provide professional lectures and financial aid information to non-traditional students. The organization confers awards during these conferences to outstanding students and faculty members.

Several national and international organizations offer assistance to female students in pursuit of a first or post-baccalaureate degree. A sample of these foundations include:

  • Executive Women International, which offers Adult Students in Scholastic Transition (ASIST) awards annually for unemployed or underprivileged women.
  • The American Association of University Women, which provides a $20,000 American Fellowship award to a female doctoral student who requires dissertation research aid.
  • The Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting, which established a Women in Need scholarship for returning female students pursuing an accounting degree.
  • The Jeannette Rankin Women's Scholarship Fund, which helps financially struggling women over 35 with assistance in earning a vocational certificate or a 2- or 4-year degree.
  • Talbots Women's Scholarship Fund, which awards six $10,000 and 60 $1,000 scholarships to adult women in the U.S. or Canada registered in full-time degree programs.

Some local groups provide scholarships specifically for nontraditional students. For example, the Hamilton Community Foundation assists non-traditional students who are residents of Hamilton, Ohio. Similarly, the Hugh and Elizabeth Montgomery Scholarship offers funding to adult learners in Franklin County, Maine.

School-Based Assistance

Some schools offer special grants and financial assistance to non-traditional students. Criteria may include veteran or marital status, age, previous college experience or dependent children. A Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or another application is required, along with transcripts and other necessary records. A Federal Student Aid PIN allows students to electronically sign, apply for and manage multiple student loans. In addition, alumni of many universities set up scholarship foundations for new students of a particular school, state or major, including nontraditional learners.

Professionals Headed Back to School

According to U.S. News and World Report, non-traditional students who quit a job to head back to school will still have previous employment earnings counted toward their expected family contribution. Students in this situation should request a 'professional judgment' review from the school's financial aid office or submit an appeal after enrolling to prove full-time school attendance. Employed students enrolled full- or part-time may want to check with employers for possible tuition assistance programs.

Student Loans

Students of all ages may be eligible for federal Stafford loans. Non-traditional students (those over 24 years old) may be awarded increased limits for unsubsidized loans. The loan accumulates interest; however, students may defer payments up to six months after receiving a degree. Other federally funded student loans include the William D. Ford Direct Loan and the Federal Perkins Loan. Eligibility may depend on the student's financial need.

Nontraditional students can find cost assistance by examining their school's financial aid programs, learning about loan options, searching online databases and considering the options provided by educational foundations and scholarship funds.

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