3 Ways Non-Traditional Students Can Seek Financial Aid

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You're ready to head back to school and finally earn the degree you've been dreaming of, but the cost of college has you feeling concerned. You don't have the budget to cover the costs of school, family, and living expenses all at once – even with a regular paycheck.  

Don't let the anxiety of paying for college stop you from pursuing your dreams. There are plenty of ways you can find financial assistance, even – and sometimes especially – as a non-traditional student. Here are three ways you can seek funding to help you pay for college so you can get the degree you deserve without sacrificing all of your savings.

1. Apply for Federal Student Aid

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form administered through the U.S. Department of Education to determine your aid eligibility. Although the FAFSA is most often associated with students entering college straight out of high school, there is ultimately no age limit to fill out the FAFSA. Filing your FAFSA is the first step to figuring out whether you qualify for federal financial aid, including grants, work-study programs, and loans. States and schools will also use your FAFSA to calculate aid packages. 

Fill out the FAFSA as soon as you can once the form becomes available. If you don't have your tax return information compiled early enough, use estimates that you can verify once your taxes for the year are filed.

2. Ask Your Employer

If you are currently employed, check with your employer’s human resources office to see if they offer any type of tuition assistance. You might be surprised to learn what is available to you. Keep in mind that some companies may require that you to agree to work for a specific amount of time after graduating or that you maintain a certain GPA while enrolled in order to qualify for assistance. Be sure to ask your employer if the money will be distributed to you directly upfront, if it will be sent to the school, or if it is offered as a reimbursement so you can budget your finances accordingly.

3. Search for Scholarships

Start with the financial aid office at your college of choice to find out what kind of student aid they offer beyond federal assistance. Sometimes, schools will restrict their financial aid programs to those seeking their first bachelor's degree, but some schools waive these restrictions for non-traditional students who want to earn a second degree in preparation for a career change. Your school's financial aid office may also direct you to additional resources that offer outside assistance. 

Non-traditional students can benefit from applying for private scholarships and grants, which don't have to be repaid. Many organizations and companies sponsor programs that are specially designed for non-traditional students going back to school, so you don't have to worry that scholarships are only available for traditionally-aged college students. Some scholarships are based on merit, while others include criteria like a minimum age threshold, being a single parent, nationality, or your socioeconomic background. 

Opportunities abound for non-traditional students seeking financial aid. With a bit of resourcefulness and tenacity it’s possible to ease the burden of education expenses—even if it’s been years since you’ve written a paper or cracked open a textbook. From federal aid to employer assistance and scholarships, you’ll find multiple avenues towards realizing your academic, professional, and personal goals.

Written by Ashford University staff.

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