If you’re going back to college as an adult, you may be eligible for grants and scholarships for returning students. You can also apply for financial aid and low-rate federal loans as a “nontraditional” college attendee.
Figuring out how to get scholarships for college might feel overwhelming and time-consuming — this guide can connect you with resources to help speed along the process.
In the end, receiving grants and scholarships to finish your college degree could help significantly reduce costs, thus reducing your overall student loan debt.
If you’re thinking of going back to school, you should first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The U.S. federal government and schools need to review your FAFSA to give you access to federal grants, loans and work-study programs.
There are no age restrictions on federal aid — an adult student completes the same FAFSA as a high school senior. And even if you don’t qualify for grants, you should still fill out the FAFSA to access federal student loans. Federal loans typically have lower interest rates and more generous repayment terms than private student loans, helping you save money.
Before we look at specific awards, let’s go over five types of grants you could use to go back to school as an adult:
The Pell Grant is for undergraduate students of any age who can demonstrate financial need.
The government bases the grant amount on your level of need, the cost of attendance at your chosen school and whether you attend college on a part- or full-time basis. For the 2022-23 school year, the maximum you could receive through a Pell Grant was $6,895, though this limit changes each year.
If you can show you have financial need, you might qualify for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG).
Like Pell Grants, FSEOGs do not need to be repaid. However, they’re only available if you attend a participating school.
Depending on where you go to school, your financial situation and other factors, you could receive between $100 and $4,000 a year in an FSEOG. The earlier you apply, the better your chances are of getting this grant.
Suppose you’re an undergraduate, post-baccalaureate or graduate student pursuing a degree in teaching or educational administration. In that case, you might be eligible for the federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant.
Although you’ll need to be willing to teach in a low-income school for at least four years, you could get a TEACH grant worth up to $4,000 per year.
However, if you don’t complete your service obligation, the government converts your grant into a student loan you have to repay. Therefore, it’s important to consider whether a TEACH grant is right for you.
Some states specifically offer grants for nontraditional students. For example, Indiana’s “You Can. Go Back.” program provides funds for adult students returning to school and pursuing a degree. If eligible, you can receive a grant of up to $2,000 for tuition and school-related fees.
To find out if your state has a similar program, check out our complete guide to state financial aid grants.
Many colleges and universities offer their own “in-house” grants for college students, including options for adult learners wanting to return to school. The aid, which comes from endowments and general scholarship funds, can usually be applied toward tuition, living expenses, books and other school-related expenses.
For example, the Alliss University Grant provides between $500 to $2,000 per year for adults returning to college at any Minnesota State University campus. You’ll need to show financial need and meet additional criteria to qualify.
Reach out to your school to see if they offer any school-sponsored grants to go back to school.
You can find hundreds of listings for adult scholarships on database sites such as Fastweb and Scholarships.com. Once you create a profile, you can search their listings for scholarships that fit your situation.
You can use search tools to find these awards, but to get started, here are 9 scholarships for adults returning to school:
2. Unigo $10K Scholarship
3. Imagine America
4. College JumpStart Scholarship
5. SuperCollege Scholarship
6. Michele L. McDonald Memorial Scholarship
7. Herbert Lehman Scholarship
8. Working Parent College Scholarship Award
9. World’s Easiest Scholarship
You can potentially win $1,000 to go toward your education with a Return2College scholarship. Adults pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree are eligible; there is no age limit.
To apply, submit a three-sentence essay in response to their prompt. The next deadline is at the end of September; there is typically another deadline in January, but you should check the website to be sure.
If you’re planning to attend college within the next five years, you might be eligible for the Unigo $10K Scholarship. Award recipients receive up to $10,000 toward their undergraduate or graduate degrees.
Applicants must be legal residents of the U.S. and submit a short written response to the following question: “Would you rather be smart, funny or rich? Why?”
Check their website for the deadline — currently, it’s set at Dec. 31 of the prior school year.
Nontraditional students who are 19 or older can apply for the Imagine America scholarship.
This $1,000 award is intended for adults who hold a high school diploma or GED (or can successfully pass an Ability to Benefit examination) and want to improve their situation through education or to change careers. You must become a member of the Imagine America Foundation to complete the application process.
The College JumpStart Scholarship offers annual awards for all levels of college students — including nontraditional students — who demonstrate a passion and commitment to achieving their higher educational goals.
Recipients are selected based on merit, not financial need. The winner will receive $1,000 and can use the funds to cover educational expenses at any college or university in the United States. The next deadline is set for Oct. 17.
The $1,000 SuperCollege Scholarship aims to make college affordable and accessible for students of all ages. To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and currently attend college or plan to start soon.
One winner is selected randomly, and funds can cover any education-related expenses. This scholarship has a monthly deadline — the next one due is Aug. 31.
The Michele L. McDonald Memorial Scholarship awards an annual prize of $1,000, with preference given to women who’ve raised children or are leaving the workforce to pursue a career in accounting. This is one of many scholarships funded by the Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting, with its deadline typically at the end of April.
If you’re planning on attending a four-year college or university, check out the Herbert Lehman Scholarship — if selected, you’ll receive $3,000 per year for four years. You must maintain good academic standing and be enrolled full time to continue receiving the scholarship.
To apply, your family income must be $65,000 or less. You’ll also need to supply a copy of your FAFSA form. The deadline is generally in early April.
Are you a working parent currently enrolled as a part- or full-time student at an accredited U.S. school? Job-Applications.com sponsors the Working Parent College Scholarship Awards, open to students 18 or older with at least one minor child. To apply, you have to write a 600- to 1,000-word essay and show you’ve worked an average of 12 or more hours per week for the four weeks before you applied.
Recipients will receive $1,000 to go toward their college expenses. The 2022 deadline was Aug. 12; next year’s deadline hasn’t been released yet.
You can enter the Peterson’s Undergraduate Scholarship for a chance to win $2,500. The only requirement is that you’re 17 or older with intentions to attend an undergraduate program (though residents of Maine are not eligible). One winner will be selected at random — but even if you don’t win, you can still explore Peterson’s scholarship search tool to find even more scholarships for adult learners.
The 2022 deadline was July 31, but the 2023 one hasn’t been determined yet.
Completing your degree as an adult student can be challenging for various reasons. But figuring out how to pay for college might not be as difficult as you think.
As a nontraditional attendee, you’ll want to first take advantage of federal grants, loans and scholarships for returning students. These programs could substantially reduce your cost of attendance, allowing you to earn your degree without ending up with too much debt.
If you have a gap in funding, here are some additional ways to pay for your higher education:
With enough effort, research and planning, you can significantly reduce the cost of returning to school. Take advantage of these resources and keep searching for new opportunities, since more grants and scholarships are added every day. And for more information on returning to school as an adult, check out this guide.