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Let’s cut to the chase—college is expensive. The decision to go to school as an adult generally comes with a heightened concern of paying for it, especially if you’re also balancing a mortgage, supporting a family or will need to change jobs or switch to part-time work

With tuition costs rising each year, competition for financial aid funds increases as well. We spoke with Jim Brooks, Associate Vice President, Director of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships at University of Oregon to help provide tips on how adult learners can find opportunities to receive money to use toward college.

Where to begin

Brooks suggests students begin with their school’s financial aid office. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with your school’s process for requesting and receiving aid, in addition to researching aid offered through your state.

“We have some information on our website at financialaid.uoregon.edu. The State of Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission’s Office of Student Access and Completion (OSAC) also has information on state grants and state-managed scholarships that students might apply for,” says Brooks.

And, while you’re visiting your school’s financial aid office, ask if any organizations specific to adult learners exist on campus or online. 

“If the institution has support offices for adult learners, be sure to talk to staff in those offices as they can help guide your re-entry into education, and may also have scholarship or need-based funds set aside specifically for adult learners.”

Learn the basics

Financial aid generally falls into one of three categories:

  • Need-based – Determined by household income.
  • Merit-based –  Determined by achievement factors, including academic success, extracurricular activities, and community involvement.
  • Association-based – Dependent on your “associations” with identifying groups, such as gender, religious organization, country of origin, etc.

Aside from your income, think about the different organizations you belong to and what makes you unique. Create a list of factors that contribute to your identity to call upon when searching for scholarships, grants, and prizes. 

For example, did you know there’s a graduate scholarship available for non-Japanese women to study in Japan? Each year, roughly 1.6 million privately-funded awards worth more than $10 billion dollars are available to help cut the costs of attending college. Cast a wide net and apply for as many opportunities as possible, using your unique qualities to your advantage.

Fill out the FAFSA

Whether you’re attending school for the first time or returning for graduate studies, your first step in obtaining federal financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form. The aid you may receive will come in the form of loans, grants, or work-study. Have questions about how your income will affect your award? Your school’s financial aid office can help guide you.

“If your financial situation is changing due to your returning to school, be sure to talk to the financial aid administrator at the school you will attend since they may be able to use professional judgment to reconsider your aid eligibility based on your changes in income.”

 Worried you’re too old to qualify for federal aid? Don’t be. There is no age restriction on receiving federal student aid. And don’t worry if you don’t have perfect credit. Your credit score is not considered when determining most federal aid awards.

Check deadlines

Don’t let an opportunity to save money pass you by. Submit your applications earlier rather than later to give yourself the best chance at receiving funds. 

“Be sure to check deadlines for scholarships and other institutional aid. Funds tend to be limited and so institutions will award students who meet their deadlines first, and only consider late filers if they have remaining funds available, something that typically does not happen.”

Do your homework

Using an online search tool is an easy way to locate awards. However, just because you found an application for an award doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. Avoid scams by researching the organization offering the award. Credible organizations will not ask for your social security number or bank account information to fill out an application, and steer clear of companies asking you to pay an upfront application fee or processing fee.

“Scholarship searches are a good option to explore. Students should not pay agencies to do the searches for them, but instead use some of the free online search engines to search on their own. There are scholarships out there that an adult learner might be eligible for. It will just mean making the effort to look.”

We compiled a list of just a few scholarships, grants, and prizes geared toward non-traditional and adult-learners. Please note the information below is current as of the time of publication, but subject to change.

1. Adult Skills Education Program (ASEP) Scholarship

Offered by: Imagine America Foundation

Average amount awarded: $1,000

Contact: Lee Doubleday, leroyd@imagine-america.org


2. College JumpStart Scholarship

Offered by: College JumpStart Scholarship Fund

Average amount awarded: $1,250

Contact: Scholarship Administrator, admin@jumpstart-scholarship.net


3. American Legion Auxiliary Non-Traditional Students Scholarships

Offered by: American Legion Auxiliary National Headquarters

Average amount awarded: $2,000

Contact: Kristin Hinshaw, Program Coordinator, Education@ALAforVeterans.org


4. Vermont Non-Degree Student Grant Program

Offered by: Vermont Student Assistance Corporation

Average amount awarded: $1,764

Contact: Grant Program Department, grants@vsac.org 


5. Literary Achievement Awards

Offered by: Golden Key International Honour Society

Average amount awarded: $1,000

Contact: Scholarship Program Administrators, scholarships@goldenkey.org 

Looking for something else? Try using Peterson’s Scholarship Search Engine. Our database hosts over 1.6 million privately-funded awards worth over $10 billion, so there will likely be something available for everyone!