Scholarships for Adult Students

Home » Scholarships for Adult Students
Ready to start your journey?

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 to all types of learners if you know where to look.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

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. In short, yes it does.

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.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

But as you start to search for colleges for working adults, it’s important to know that the term does include you and so you are eligible for non-traditional scholarships and aid opportunities.

Need-based Aid for Adults

college student jotting down notes

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

In terms of need-based aid, grants are 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 (For example, the Pell Grant)
  • Your state (For example, 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, 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 the truth is, most students do qualify for aid. And 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. Don’t miss out on this opportunity for free money for college.

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!

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

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

Older student cholarships 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 to you.

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: 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: Ask about scholarships or tuition reimbursement programs at your workplace.
  • Clubs / Organizations / Associations: Check with any groups you belong to see if they sponsor scholarships for members.
  • College: Look for scholarship and aid information on your college’s website, and contact the 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, you can choose more than one to apply to.

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.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

Start checking online search sites and see what you find. Visit the sites regularly, as 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 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. Be sure to devote ample time to each application. Review the details of each scholarship carefully and tailor your application to meet the specific criteria.

Try not to use the same essays for all your applications, and be sure to submit all components of the 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 through 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 require you to reapply each year and satisfy certain criteria like maintaining a certain GPA.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

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. And finally, be sure 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 for which you never applied for
  • Don’t attend free financial aid seminars that aren’t associated with a school

Try to always 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?

group of students discussing lesson in class

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

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

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 they will look at your GPA and test scores and many may require activities resume essay recommendation letters and an interview.

Scholarships for Adult Learners and Non-Traditional Students

group of students working together at a computer

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:

    1. Return2College
      Amount: $1,000
      Renewable: January 31, April 30, September 30
      Essay: 3 sentences
      Criteria: Age 17 or older; Must be attending a college or graduate school full or part-time, or planning to attend within the next 12 months
    2. Imagine America Adult College Grants
      Amount: $1,000
      Deadline: December 31
      Essay: N/A
      Criteria: Age 19 or older; Never received an Imagine America scholarship/award; Must be enrolled in participating college; Must complete assessment
    3. Unigo $10k Scholarship
      Amount: $10,000
      Deadline: December 31
      Essay: 250 words or less
      Criteria: Age 14 or older; Must be a US Citizen
    4. American Legion Non-Traditional Student Scholarship
      Amount: $2,000
      Deadline: March 1 every year
      Essay: N/A
      Criteria: One award per division; Must be a current member of The American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary, or Sons of The American Legion; Must be a non-traditional student returning to education later in life
    5. AfterCollege Succurro Scholarship
      Amount: $500
      Deadline: March 31
      Essay: 200-word personal statement
      Criteria: Must be enrolled in an accredited program with a minimum GPA of 2.5
    6. College JumpStart Scholarship
      Amount: $1,000
      Deadline: April 15
      Essay: 250 words or less
      Criteria: Open to 10-12th graders, college students, and non-traditional students
    7. Scholarship Detective Launch Scholarship
      Amount: (2) $1,000
      Deadline: December 31
      Essay: 140 characters or less
    8. Get Educated Online College Scholarship
      Amount:  (2) $1,000
      Deadline: October 15 or March 15
      Essay: 500 words
      Criteria: For students enrolled in accredited online degree programs in the U.S; a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0
    9. Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship
      Amount: Up to $40,000
      Deadline: December
      Criteria: Must attend a fully accredited four-year institution to pursue a baccalaureate degree; Must have a minimum GPA of 3.5; Must demonstrate financial need
    10. Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund
      Amount: Varies
      Deadline: February 26
      Criteria: Must be a women age 35 or older; Must demonstrate financial need
    11. Alpha Sigma Lambda Scholarships
      Amount: (14) $3600
      Deadline: April 30
      Essay: No longer than 2 typed pages
      Criteria: Must be an adult learner enrolled in an associate’s or bachelor’s program and have completed 24 semester hours with a minimum GPA of 3.2; Must demonstrate financial need

It’s important to consider your specific needs and interests when applying for a scholarship. 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 as it offers flexibility and eliminates the cost of staying on campus or travel expenses. It also allows 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, rest assured that there are plenty of scholarships available regardless if you’re going back to school after some time off, or changing careers. Choose a scholarship for adult students and apply today. Don’t wait any longer to start your 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.