Financial Aid for Older College Students

It’s Never Too Late to Achieve Your College Goals


If you are an adult who never attended college, or someone who didn’t finish college, you may finally be thinking about going for that elusive degree. One thing that might hold you back, though, is the money. While a degree will probably help you get a higher-paying job, you need to figure out how to pay for that degree in the first place. You may have other responsibilities with your family and personal expenses, or think you’ve just waited too long to make this dream come true.

The good news is that you may not have to shoulder the entire burden by yourself because there is still financial aid available to older students. Here are a few things you need to know about financial aid for non-traditional students:

  • Federal Financial Aid: Although the vast majority of students who receive financial aid are in their late teens and early twenties, you might be surprised to find out that there is actually no age limit on this type of assistance. As an example, first-time attendees might be eligible for a Pell Grant or a Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, depending on your income and other factors, or you could be eligible for a federal work-study program. Almost everyone is eligible to receive some type of support, but you must still take the initial step of completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). There is no cost to submit this application at, and no credit check is required. If you are quitting your job to attend college full-time, experienced a medical emergency, or are returning to college after a divorce, be sure to notify the financial aid offices that your income situation will change dramatically from what you reported on last year’s tax returns. Some states and colleges may also have grant programs in place that are specifically targeted to the non-traditional learner.
  • Tax Benefits: Depending on your specific circumstances, you may be eligible to receive tax credits or tax reductions that could lower the amount of taxes you pay. This could free up additional money to help pay for college costs.
  • Employer Support: If you are already working, ask your employer if there is a tuition assistance program for employees. Find out what you need to do to qualify.
  • Scholarships: You may still be eligible for certain scholarships, despite your age. In fact, some scholarships have minimum ages that start at 25 or 30, so you won’t be competing against every college student in America. Check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search or as starting points, and do your own research from there.
  • Student Loans: You will still be eligible to apply for federal student loans, and may even qualify for a higher amount because you are considered “independent.” Private student loans may also be available to older students. The one qualifier with either type of loan is to be careful of repayment terms, as they may clash with family needs or retirement spending.

Depending on your age and individual circumstances, it is usually not a good idea to take money out of retirement savings or to use a home equity loan to pay for college expenses. Make sure you leave enough money in your emergency savings account to cover any unforeseen circumstances that may arise.

Good for you if you’re thinking about attending or going back to college. Check out your financial aid options and you might be back in the classroom faster than you think.