How to Locate Nontraditional Student Grants
Graduating from high school and moving on directly to college is considered the “traditional” path, and students who deviate from this are often deemed “nontraditional.” Historically, a nontraditional student was labeled as such due mostly to age. Anyone over the age of 24 was considered nontraditional, for example.
Today, the Institute of Education Sciences defines a nontraditional student instead based on their high school graduation status, family and financial status, and their enrollment patterns. Students obtaining a certificate of completion, like a GED, instead of a high school diploma are then considered nontraditional. Anyone over the age of 24 is automatically considered independent financially for purposes of financial aid. Nontraditional students often have dependents, work full-time, attend school part-time, and have different financial constraints and family responsibilities than those of more traditional students. Enrollment patterns are taken into account, with nontraditional patterns indicated by deferring higher education for a year or more after high school graduation. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that nearly 71 percent of undergraduates in the United States meet these criteria for nontraditional students.
Many scholarships, grants, and financial aid packages are designed with traditional students in mind, making it more difficult for adult learners and nontraditional students to get help paying for higher education. For example, many schools limit their financial aid to first-time students, those attending full-time, or students receiving their first bachelor’s degree. Schools may also be unwilling to adjust for other financial expenses nontraditional students may have, including housing for their families or child care. Loans offer money with a catch, and often students become bogged down in debt. Grants – money you don’t have to pay back – are available for nontraditional students, however, if you know the right places to look.
Federal financial aid doesn’t have any age restrictions, so one of the first things to do if you are a nontraditional student is fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. You can apply online. You will need your most recent tax returns, valid social security number, and other relevant bank or financial records. You will also need to create a FSA ID, which will give you access to your personal federal financial aid information. Nontraditional students are generally considered financially independent, and the FAFSA determines your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) in order to determine how much and what type of aid you are eligible for. The most common grant for nontraditional students is the Federal Pell Grant disbursed by the U.S. Department of Education. Eligibility for the Pell Grant requires that you:
- Be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or eligible non-citizen
- Are registered with the U.S. Selective Service if you are a male over the age of 18
- Have a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent
- Not have any federal loans in default
- Be working towards your first undergraduate degree (although there are some graduate degree program exceptions)
- Sign a statement that you will use all funds for educational purposes
- Make satisfactory academic progress while receiving federal funds
- Be enrolled or accepted at a participating degree-oriented school
The Pell Grant is based on financial need, and for the 2016-17 award year, it has a maximum amount of $5,815 per year. The amount you receive also depends on the cost of attendance at your school, whether you are a full-time or part-time student, and your plans to attend school for the whole academic year. You must reapply for federal aid and fill out a FAFSA every year. Pell Grants can be used to pay for tuition, school fees, room and board, books and supplies, and even dependent care when necessary. These grants are paid directly to the school on your behalf, with any remaining money disbursed to you to be used for education-related expenses.
Check With Your Workplace or Desired Profession
Nontraditional students may already have jobs and wish to attend school while working. Many corporations offer workplace grants for employees wishing to go back to school. These programs often have requirements, such as only covering tuition for particular fields of study, or that you maintain a certain grade point average. Some companies require you to pay school costs up front, but if you meet their requirements, they will reimburse you up to a set amount. Others may match funds for school and education-related expenses. Be sure to check with your human resources department in order to see if your company offers scholarships or grants for college.
If you are seeking a career change, there are certain professions that will offer grants and scholarships to help you afford the new degree or certificate. Many states and even hospitals offer grants for those wishing to pursue a career in nursing, for instance. Prospective teachers may also qualify for additional funding either through the college itself or the federal TEACH grant, which offers up to $4,000 a year if you are a student planning to teach in a low-income school or in a high-need field. Check with your school’s financial aid office in addition to filling out your FAFSA to determine if you qualify for these forms of aid.
This may seem superfluous, but there are many grants and scholarships available to different types of people offered by non-profit, faith-based, and national organizations as well as individual schools and even states. Grants may be offered on the basis of:
- Culture or race
- Disability status
- Minority status
- Military service
If you are a woman over age 35, you may be eligible for the Jeannette Rankin Foundation (JFF) scholarship, for example. This scholarship is meant to help low-income women pursue their first bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree, or a technical or vocational education. Additionally, minority status may open some doors for grant money as well; Little People of America offers grants to people under 4’10” in height, and the United Negro College Fund aids African American students, for instance. If you are Native American, check with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to find grants you may qualify for. If you have a disability, a disease like lupus or cystic fibrosis, or have survived cancer, there may be additional grants open to you through private organizations or even the Department of Labor. Faith-based grants or scholarships may be offered if you are a member of certain religious groups by some churches and church organizations as well. Atheists for Human Rights also offers funding for atheists if you meet their specific requirements.
If you, or your family member, served or serve in the military, you also have additional options. Veterans have access to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which pays up to 100 percent of public college tuition and fees and may also cover books and living expenses for up to 36 months within 15 years of leaving the service. Veterans may also transfer their benefits to family members. The Yellow Ribbon Program expands on the GI Bill benefits as well. Military veterans should apply through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA. Many private organizations also offer scholarships for military service and their spouses, widows, or dependents.
Additionally, schools may offer free or grant-based tuition for senior citizens or those meeting age-related criteria. In most cases, if you are over the age of 60 and want to take classes, you can do so for free or for a very low cost. These classes are usually offered in the form of an audit and do not count towards a degree or offer any form of college credit. If you are a senior citizen and do wish to earn a degree, however, check with your state, as oftentimes fees and tuition will be waived. You should run an online search in addition to checking with your financial aid office for anything you may qualify for; leave no stone unturned.
Seek Out Private Organizations
Membership to the Elks, Masons, or any other social club may entitle you to grant money. The amounts are typically small, around $500 a year, but it all adds up. Social and professional organizations, like Rotary International or Jaycees, may offer one-time grants or scholarships as high as $2,500, like the Charles R. Ford Scholarship.
In addition, belonging to a union may benefit you when seeking college grants and scholarships. Union Plus has distributed 3.6 million scholarship dollars to working members and their children over the past 22 years. Their scholarships are highly competitive, awarding anywhere from $500 to $4,000 dollars a year to qualified applicants. Check with your union representative for more information on these and other union-based grants or scholarships. Be sure to check with any and all organizations you belong to in order to determine if they offer college grants and what their requirements may be.
Individual colleges, universities, career, vocational, and technical schools all offer their own financial aid programs and may include grants and scholarships for nontraditional students. The Bernard Osher Foundation works with colleges and universities to offer the Osher Reentry Scholarship to students who have experienced an interruption in their education of at least five years and want to resume their undergraduate education. This foundation has provided up to $50,000 a year in the past for eligible students.Contact your school’s financial aid office to find out what kinds of grants or scholarships they may offer for nontraditional students. You may also qualify for a grant based on your location or state of residence. For more information on federally funded and state grants, you can check into your State Grant Agency, which lists phone numbers and websites for individual state agencies.In addition to grants and scholarships to fund tuition and school fees, nontraditional students often have other hardships that may prevent them from attending school. Many have dependents and can’t afford child care. The federally funded program Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program (CCAMPIS) is one such answer, offering campus-based child care to low-income students. This grant program disburses money in four-year cycles to eligible students and, in 2010, offered an average of $103,445 a year. Eligibility is based on financial need.
Searching for grants, scholarships, and funding to assist you in attaining a higher education if you are considered a nontraditional student requires persistence and patience. You may have to fill out multiple applications, including writing essays and providing specific information. It is important to remember that every little bit helps, and you may qualify for more than one grant or scholarship at a time. For more information on ways to fund your education, contact browsing our site.