Scholarships for Adult Students

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If you’re planning to go back to school in order to advance your career or transition into a new one, you may already know that a college degree is going to cost you.

Scholarships for Adult Students

But, just as there are scholarships for sophomores in high school, there are also billions of dollars in scholarships for older students and other forms of financial aid available if you know where to look.

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We’re here to help you determine how you can get free money for college, even as an adult, so let’s get started.

Scholarships for Adults and Non-Traditional Students

You’ve probably encountered the term “non-traditional student,” and you may have wondered if it applies to you.

A non-traditional student is someone who is not attending college in a typical way. This may apply to:

  • Students who are not entering college directly from high school. This student may have gone into the workforce, joined the military, traveled, started a family, or taken a break from education for any number of other reasons.
  • Students who live off campus and commute.
  • Students who are enrolled online.
  • Students who attend part-time, rather than full-time.

As you can see, all sorts of students fall into this category. A nontraditional student could be 20 years old or 80 years old, may be unfamiliar with their chosen field of study, or may have worked in the field professionally for years.

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As you start to search for colleges for working adults, it’s important to know that there may be scholarships and financial aid opportunities available specifically for non-traditional students.

Need-based Aid for Adults

college student jotting down notes

We can begin our financial aid discussion by covering need-based aid, which includes grants, student loans, and work-study opportunities. Need-based aid is available for all students to apply for, including adult learners.

In terms of need-based aid, grants will often be your best bet because they do not have to be repaid. Some grants are aimed at specific populations. There are grants for single mothers, for example. Grants for adults returning to college may come from:

  • The federal government (e.g. the Pell Grant)
  • Your state (e.g. New Jersey’s Disengaged Adults Returning to College Grant Program)
  • Your college
  • Businesses and nonprofits
  • Various organizations and associations, professional or otherwise

In addition to grants, you may be eligible for low-interest loans or work-study opportunities that can help cover college expenses.

One of the best and easiest ways to access need-based aid is by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA opens the door to federal and other types of aid, and all students are eligible to apply, regardless of age.

Each year, billions of dollars of federal funds go unused simply because college students fail to submit their FAFSA, believing they won’t qualify for any assistance, but most students do qualify for aid. The application is free and easy, so there’s nothing to lose.

You can submit the FAFSA beginning October 1st of the year before you plan to attend college, and it’s a good idea to apply early because some funds are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. This opportunity for free money for college is too good to miss.

Types of Scholarships for Adult Students

woman searching for scholarships online

Some students believe scholarships are only available to straight-A students attending college right after high school, but that’s far from the truth!

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Most scholarships do not have age restrictions, so generally, adult learners are eligible to apply for the same scholarships as traditional students. On top of that, there are many additional opportunities geared toward adult learners’ unique circumstances.

Older student scholarships aren’t only awarded for academic achievement. You can find adult student scholarships based on a variety of needs, including:

  • Scholarships by major
  • Scholarships by state, city, or region
  • Scholarships by age
  • Scholarships by gender
  • Scholarships by ethnicity
  • Scholarships by religion
  • Scholarships by sexual orientation or lifestyle
  • Scholarships for working adults
  • Scholarships for single parents
  • Scholarships for adults returning to college
  • Scholarships for seniors
  • Scholarships for adults with disabilities
  • Scholarships for women
  • Scholarships for specific talents
  • Scholarships for athletes
  • Scholarships for artists
  • Scholarships for community involvement
  • Scholarships for certain hobbies and interests

No matter who you are, where you are, or what you’re studying, there are likely scholarships available for you to apply to.

How to Find Scholarships for Adults

This free money won’t just fall into your lap. You will have to go find it. Here are a few places to start your search for adult learner scholarships:

  • Search engines: You can look for free scholarship search sites. Online search tools, like Sallie Mae’s free Scholarship Search, are some of the easiest ways to find scholarships.
  • Employer: You can ask about scholarships or tuition reimbursement programs at your workplace.
  • Clubs, organizations, and associations: Various groups you belong to may sponsor scholarships for members.
  • College: Most college websites provide scholarship and financial aid information. You can also contact your school’s financial aid office to see what’s available for adult learners in your field.

There are a lot of resources available to help you find adult scholarships. After you’ve completed your research, it is important to apply to several. The more you qualify for, the less you’ll have to pay.

When to Apply for Scholarships

college guy looking for scholarships online

When students ask when they should apply for scholarships, our response is always the same: early and often. As soon as you have made the decision to go back to school, even if you have not yet chosen a school or an area of study, it’s a good idea to start looking for scholarships for adult students.

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You can start by checking online search sites. It’s beneficial to visit these sites regularly because scholarships are added to the databases every day. It’s very important to keep on top of new scholarships and approaching deadlines.

While scholarship deadlines are scattered throughout the year, October and March are especially busy, so it is best to be prepared and get an early start whenever possible.

How to Apply for Scholarships

two college students applying for scholarship

As you discover scholarships, it’s a good idea to use a calendar or planner to keep track of all the important deadlines. You’ll need to devote ample time to each application. It’s important to review the details of each scholarship carefully and tailor your application to meet the specific criteria.

It’s best not to use the same essays for all your applications, and you’ll want to make sure to submit all components of each application. It’s important to read the fine print and follow directions carefully. You may even want to ask someone to proofread your application.

In most cases, when you apply to colleges with financial aid, you will automatically be eligible for scholarships offered at that school.

What To Do Once You Get a Scholarship

two adult students studying in library

It’s important to make sure you understand the limitations of each scholarship you receive. Many scholarships will require you to reapply each year and satisfy certain criteria, like maintaining a certain GPA.

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It’s up to you to make sure you’re meeting the requirements and re-applying when it’s time. If you fail to do so, you could miss out on the scholarship money altogether.

Finally, it’s a good idea to thank the business or organization that sponsored the scholarship. A phone call, a personal email, or a letter will go a long way in letting them know you appreciate their financial support.

How To Avoid Scholarship Scams

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of people giving you free money, but there are also people looking to take your money and steal your identity. Unfortunately, scam artists often target unsuspecting students with promises of guaranteed money.

To avoid scholarship scams:

  • Never pay to apply for a scholarship
  • Watch for phrases like “redemption fee,” “disbursement fee,” or “processing fee”
  • Don’t speak to individuals who call or email you regarding a scholarship that you never applied for
  • Don’t attend free financial aid seminars that aren’t associated with a school

It’s important to be aware and look for warning signs like the ones listed above. By keeping the above points in mind, you can hopefully avoid any scholarship scam that may cross your path.

Where Does Scholarship Money Come From?

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Scholarships are typically awarded on an annual basis, and while federal and state governments award some scholarships, the majority of funds are awarded by colleges or private organizations.

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Heritage and professional organizations, corporations, community businesses, churches, and civic groups all offer scholarships too.

Each scholarship fund has different criteria and uses a different evaluation process. Often, scholarship committees will look at your GPA and test scores, and many may require a resume of work experience and curricular activities, essays, recommendation letters, or interviews.

Scholarships for Adult Learners and Non-Traditional Students

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There are a number of scholarships for adults and other non-traditional students. Some are dedicated to these types of students, while others are simply open to any college student regardless of age.

Here are a few scholarships that are not school-specific:

  • Return2College
    Amount: $1,000
    Renewable: January 31, April 30, and September 30
    Essay: 3 sentences
    Criteria: Must be age 17 or older and attending a college or graduate school full-time or part-time or planning to attend within the next 12 months
  • Imagine America Adult College Grants
    Amount: $1,000
    Deadline: December 31
    Essay: N/A
    Criteria: Must be age 19 or older, complete an assessment, be enrolled in a participating college, and have never received an Imagine America scholarship or award
  • Unigo $10k Scholarship
    Amount: $10,000
    Deadline: December 31
    Essay: 250 words or less
    Criteria: Must be 14 or older, be a US citizen, and reside in the 50 United States or the District of Columbia
  • American Legion Non-Traditional Student Scholarship
    Amount: $2,000 (only one awarded per division)
    Deadline: March 1 every year
    Essay: N/A
    Criteria: Must be a current member of The American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary, or Sons of The American Legion and a non-traditional student returning to education later in life
  • AfterCollege Succurro Scholarship
    Amount: $500
    Deadline: March 31
    Essay: 200-word personal statement
    Criteria: Must be enrolled in an accredited program and have a minimum GPA of 2.5
  • College JumpStart Scholarship
    Amount: $1,000
    Deadline: April 15
    Essay: 250 words or less
    Criteria: Must be a 10-12th grade student, college student, or non-traditional student
  • Scholarship Detective Launch Scholarship
    Amount: (2) $1,000
    Deadline: December 31
    Essay: 140 characters or less
  • Get Educated Online College Scholarship
    Amount: (2) $1,000
    Deadline: October 15 or March 15
    Essay: 500 words
    Criteria: Must be enrolled in an accredited online degree program in the US and have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0
  • Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship
    Amount: Up to $55,000
    Deadline: December
    Criteria: Must attend a fully accredited 4 year institution to pursue a baccalaureate degree, have a minimum GPA of 3.5, and demonstrate financial need
  • Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund
    Amount: Varies
    Deadline: February 26
    Criteria: Must be a woman age 35 or older and demonstrate financial need
  • Alpha Sigma Lambda Scholarships
    Amount: (6) $3,000 and (15) $2,500
    Deadline: May 13
    Essay: No longer than 2 typed pages
    Criteria: Must be an adult learner enrolled in an associate’s or bachelor’s program that has completed 24 semester hours with a minimum GPA of 3.2 and must demonstrate financial need

It’s helpful to consider your specific needs and interests before applying for a scholarship. It’s important to read all of the requirements and submit a complete application to increase your chances of being awarded one of the college scholarships for adults.

Going Back to School Online

If you are considering going back to school, choosing an online degree may be a great option because it offers flexibility and eliminates the cost of staying on campus or traveling expenses. It can also allow you to continue working and earning money while you learn a new skill and work toward your new degree.

If you’re worried about paying for your online degree, there are plenty of scholarships available, regardless of whether you’re going back to school after some time off or changing careers. You can choose a scholarship for adult students and apply today to get started on your journey toward an online education.

Ready to start your journey?
Elizabeth Abner
WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.