BY DREW HENDRICKS
Federal Student Aid for Returning Adults
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 8.1 million college students are aged 25 and older. This number is continuously growing, expected to multiply by 18 percent by 2025. With a continually changing economy and technology that consistently evolves, it’s essential to stay up to date on skills and information to land the best possible job. Whether you’re getting an extra Associate’s, attending a vocational program, or continuing to your Master’s or Ph.D. after completing your BA some time ago, you’re still eligible to receive federal student aid.
Once you’ve applied to your programs of choice (making sure that they can accept federal funding, of course), you can complete the FAFSA paperwork like any other student. Your grant size depends on your current job, family, and financial status. While younger students in need still get priority, you’re likely to get a good-sized contribution if you qualify, regardless of your age. Older students that have dependents usually receive more grant money, unless their income is above the federal limit for financial aid. If you attended an undergraduate program and received Pell Grants in the past, you may not be eligible this time around. Even if you can’t receive Pell anymore, you can still secure your tuition money from FAFSA.
The government offers FSEO (Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity) Grants to returning students looking for a career change or upgrade their level. Like other grants, these don’t have to be repaid. On the other hand, not every college accepts these grants, so you’ll have to apply to a participating program.
The best thing older students can do after applying for financial aid is inquiring about scholarships. There are so many scholarships that are not dependent on previous grades. Awards can be state-funded or privately funded, so there are no limits. As a returning student, you likely have a certain point-of-view that makes you an asset – and believe it or not, plenty of organizations would love to give you a scholarship. Depending on your interests, work experience, and personal story, you can find dozens of qualifying scholarships to apply for. The process might be lengthy, but it’s worth it. You can also ask your school’s financial aid team to direct you to a list of scholarships.
Lastly, try your employer. You’d be surprised at the number of companies and brands that offer continuing education opportunities to their employees. Especially large companies and corporations almost always have extra courses you can take or programs that supplement your tuition or textbook costs. It makes sense for businesses to invest in their workers. Some companies might require you to stay with them for a few years after completing your education, and others will grant you promotions if you can come in with an updated diploma. Ask your HR department about continuing education opportunities.
What to do When Financial Aid Isn’t Enough
In some cases, your family’s income might be too high to receive full federal funding. You might get find that FAFSA covers just a part of your tuition, leaving you to scrounge up the rest. Fortunately, you can augment your tuition costs in a few simple ways.
- Federal Work-Study programs – These usually fill up quickly, but it’s always worth applying. Colleges set up specific jobs that pay minimum wage and offer part-time hours for students enrolled in the school. It’s an easy way to get work experience, make your tuition money, and have a job you don’t have to commute to.
- Work from home – For students with specific skills, or returning students with work experience, consider freelancing and working remotely. If you can write, design, program, translate languages or have nearly any other skillset, you can offer your services. Working from home, you can set your hours and work at a pace that allows you to put your education still first. Take a look at this list of 25 tips for working from home and see if this type fits into your school/work balance.
- Tutoring – If you have excellent grades in any particular subject, you can stay on campus and offer your tutoring services to your classmates. It’s an easy way to make money, and come finals season, you’ll notice a burst in business. When you can’t get a job on or near your school, try working for yourself. You can advertise on student boards and social media, or even get your professors to endorse you.
- Payment Plans – Your school may offer payment plans through the Bursar or student accounts office. You won’t have to take out a loan, and an officer will help you budget the payments so that they are affordable. These payment plans might have strict rules though with costly late fees, so check over all the fine print before you sign anything.
Secure Your Federal and State Financial Grants Before Fall 2019
You can usually expect to wait a while before receiving an answer from FAFSA, Pell, or any other scholarships you’ve applied to. Since this process takes months, it’s important to start early. You should receive an answer if you are awarded any money by August. If you’re not sure or haven’t heard back, contact your school’s Bursar office. They’ll let you know right away if there are problems with your paperwork so that you have time to make corrections and receive full benefits before the Fall semester starts. Most schools require payment up front, so if your grants don’t come through, you’ll be sent a bill for the full semester. Failure to pay will cause you to be discharged from all of your registered classes.
You can check for updates on your FAFSA application by logging in through their website. You’ll also see any information regarding Pell or state grants as well. Scholarships will contact you through email or direct mail whether or not you’ve been accepted. Give yourself a three-week grace period and check up on your financial aid status before you’re due to start school. That way, you can avoid any major issues and go into the semester worry-free.
Drew Hendricks contributes to Forbes Inc and Entrepreneur