Financial Aid for Non-Traditional Students

Do you still have a CD collection? Remember the first time you saw a smart phone? Then you are (probably) not age18-22—the range we tend to think of as “college age.”

But that doesn’t mean you can’t be a college student. The world is full of “non-traditional” students (those aged 25+). In fact, as of 2013 there were roughly 8.2 million students who fell into this category. And there are lots of great reasons to head off to school, no matter how old you are. Did you know you’ll probably make more money and be less likely to face unemployment if you have a degree (learn more here)?

If you’re thinking about enrolling in college, you’re probably also thinking about how much it will cost and worrying about your finances. Concerned your age will make it harder to get financial help? It won’t. You’ll actually qualify for a lot of the same college financial assistance a recent high school graduate does—and you might even qualify for some special programs geared to non-traditional students.

Ready to finance your college education? Here are six steps to take now:

1. Fill out the FAFSA. Federal student aid, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education, is the country’s largest source of student financial aid and provides more than $150 billion in federal grants, loans and work-study support each year.

To find out whether you qualify for aid and how much you qualify for, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

According to the experts at U.S. News and World Report, there are three things to keep in mind regarding the FAFSA:

  • It’s much easier to fill out than it used to be—and the online FAFSA application can pull some information right from the IRS database.
  • It will help you find a variety of tuition resources—including scholarships and grants that you don’t have to pay back.
  • If your life changes, FAFSA awards can change too—although the awards are based on income from the previous year, if you’ve had big changes you might be able to qualify for different aid levels.


2. Talk to your employer. Many companies have tuition assistance and even scholarships and grants for their employees—your human resource department or manager should be able to help you find out. Lucky enough to have an employer who will pay some of your tuition? Woo-hoo! But be aware that most will require you to stay with the company for a certain amount of time (or face repayment penalties).

3. Consider using a 529 Savings Plan—your own or your child’s. These are tax- advantaged plans to help pay for college expenses (learn more about them here). If you have one that you—or your parents—set up in the past, you can still use it now (there’s no age limit). What if you opened one for a child that didn’t get used? You can transfer it into your name and use it yourself.

4. Check out the Lifetime Learning Credit. This is a tax credit that can be used to help pay for undergraduate, graduate and professional degree courses. There’s no limit on how many years you can claim it and it’s worth up to $2,000 per tax return. For complete information check out the IRS page on the topic.

5. Apply for scholarships. You might be surprised to learn that many college scholarships don’t have an age limit and that some were actually created with non-traditional students in mind. To find options to explore, start here and here.

6. Investigate the benefits of a Student Choice education loan from your credit union. Here’s a non-news flash: college is expensive! Many people need to investigate adding a private loan to their mix of funding sources to make their college dreams a reality. If that’s true for you, check out the advantages of the Student Choice program by clicking "Find a Loan" at the top of the page.




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