Can Non-Traditional Students Get Financial Aid?

Can Non-Traditional Students Get Financial Aid?
Athina Hansen

Athina Hansen

Content Writer at Gradehacker

Being a   non-traditional student, you might feel like you’re the odd one out. Many think college is a space dominated by the 18-year-old college student supported by their parents—the young college student who sees college as an obligation rather than a privilege.

However, when we look at the numbers, this is not the case! In fact, 74% of American undergraduate students are classified as non-traditional!

 Education is a powerful and rewarding tool that can get you to where you aspire to be professionally. However, let’s face it, college is…expensive!

Even if you have a source of income, it is sometimes not enough to cover most colleges’ tuition, especially as a non-traditional student where you have added financial responsibilities. Like rent, groceries, transportation, etc. I won’t continue, so I don’t cause you a headache!

Here at Gradehacker, we assist non-traditional college students in many ways, such as with coursework or exam. We are a trusted source of information to help make college more manageable. In our years of experience, we have seen how frequently students struggle with funding their way through college. In fact, many of our clients have asked us for advice on how to successfully finance their education. 

Can non-traditional students get financial aid? The short answer is yes! This article will answer your question in depth and share different resources that you can access as a non-traditional student to fund your college education!

Scholarships for Non-Traditional Students

So, first, let’s talk about scholarships. Scholarships are a godsend because they decrease the amount you have to pay for college or, in some cases, cover tuition completely!

So now you’re thinking, well can I receive a scholarship just like my traditional student counterparts?

Yes! There are many scholarship opportunities out there, and many of them do not have age restrictions.

That brings us to the next step, where can I find scholarship opportunities? To find scholarship opportunities, you can check out the  Scholarship Finder sponsored by the  U.S. Department of Labor. You can also use the  Find Scholarships found on  Fastweb.

As is the case with traditional students, it’s just a matter of searching! In fact, you will find that there are scholarships that specifically target non-traditional students.


Scholarship Application

College Aid for Non-Traditional Students

Okay, well, what about the college’s own aid programs? When it comes to colleges’ financial aid programs, many colleges limit eligibility to students who are receiving their first bachelor’s degree.

However, some colleges waive these restrictions when an adult student returns to college to earn a second degree for a career change.

Not every college is the same, so don’t just assume you will be ineligible for the financial aid programs offered by your college. Take the time to actually review the programs offered and their requirements.

If you’re a senior citizen, there will also be college aid that you can access. Several colleges provide free tuition to senior citizens wishing to audit classes or offer a reduction in tuition for classes taken for credit.

Before you ask yourself, “Will I be eligible?” here are some common requirements for this type of college aid.

Some requirements include:

  • Being a state resident.
  • Meeting age requirements (tends to be 60 or above).
  • Income restrictions (ex: fewer than $15,000 in income during the last year).

 In case you were interested in the possibility of auditing classes for free, you should know that this option is determined by a space-available basis.

If you are interested in looking into these options, check out this resource on tuition waivers available to senior citizens by the state. All you have to do is find your state on the list and click it to find the opportunities available near you! 

Federal Student Aid for Adult, Non-Traditional or Older Students

Now we’re going to cover the long-awaited federal student aid!

You may be wondering if non-traditional students have to complete another process to receive federal student aid. Luckily, there is just one process that both younger and older students alike have to complete.

No matter what type of college student you are, you should submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

For the most part, federal student aid does not have age restrictions. However, an exception is the  Coverdell Education Savings Account, where funds have to be used by the time the beneficiary reaches age 30. On the other hand,  section 529 college savings plans do not have these same age limits.

You have to keep in mind that your educational background may impact the type of federal student aid you can receive. Have you already received a bachelor’s degree? Well, if so, you cannot access the  Pell grant, which is meant for undergraduate students.

But don’t fret, because if you have already received a Bachelor’s degree, you can still access other forms of aid such as  federal education loans or  work-study!

You should also be aware that students who are 24 or above as of December 31 of the award year are classified as independent. Okay, but why does this matter? 

Well, independent undergraduate students can access increased unsubsidized Stafford loan limits. In the freshman and sophomore years, there is an additional amount per year, as well as in junior or later years. This is because their parents cannot borrow from the  PLUS loan program.

Each year, graduate and professional students are eligible for Stafford loans and the Grad PLUS loan!

Are you planning on quitting your job to return to college? If so, you should ask the college financial aid office for a professional judgment review to adjust the income from the prior tax year income to estimate the award year income.

If you’re an adult student, a helpful resource is the  Adult Student Checklist published by the U.S. Department of Education.


Federal Student Aid

Employer Tuition Assistance

Well, what if you currently have a job? If you are currently employed, reach out to your employer’s human resources office to inquire about the possibility of receiving employer tuition assistance.

The majority of large employers offer some form of tuition assistance! Over $5k in assistance is excluded from gross income (sometimes even more).

Sounds pretty awesome, right? However, employer tuition assistance often involves specific requirements. For example, they may require you to continue working for the company for a set number of years after graduation. Or they may require you to maintain a minimum GPA.

Also, keep in mind that generally, employer tuition assistance is reimbursed after the fact. This means that you shouldn’t throw your budgeting out the window just because you will take advantage of tuition assistance! 

There Are Financial Assistance Resources Out There for You!

Unfortunately, colleges aren’t as willing to assist with other expenses generally associated with non-traditional students. These include married student housing, supporting a family, or providing family health insurance.

Also, even though, as a non-traditional student, you are eligible for increased loan limits, you should avoid over-borrowing. Make a note of your expected starting salary after graduating and do not exceed it!

Of course, it can be tempting to borrow more to cover your living costs. Still, you don’t want to face an unpayable debt after graduating.

Non-traditional students come in every shape, size, and form! Several characteristics may differentiate you from the “traditional student.” For example, you may have a family, a full-time job, or be a senior citizen.

No matter which characteristic sets you apart from the rest, know that there are resources out there for you, which can financially support your college education!

We understand how difficult it is to financially manage to go to college. We hope that this article helped you understand the different types of financial aid a non-traditional college student can receive.

Looking to learn more about being a non-traditional student and college finances? Check out these related articles where you can learn about these topics:

Athina Hansen

Athina Hansen

Athina has worked with Gradehacker both as a content writer and a study consultant, where she assisted college students with nursing courses. Athina has a background of educating others and producing content, having tutored college students and produced articles for her school magazine. She brings her experience to her current role, where she writes content to empower and assist the non-traditional college student who is often overlooked. You can find her on LinkedIn