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Where to Get Grants Instead of Loans as a Non-Traditional Student

Non-traditional students come from a wide range of backgrounds and situations. Many adult learners return to college after a hiatus—perhaps as a result of financial constraints or a family emergency. Other non-traditional students may be starting college for the first time after deciding to pursue new opportunities in a different field. As the job market becomes more and more competitive, an increasing number of adult learners are returning to college. In 2018, a projected 7.6 million adults aged 25 and older went back to earn their degree. Although there are unique challenges for adult learners, financial aid does not have to be one of them.

In addition to student loans, there are also opportunities for grants: scholarship money that does not have to be paid back. Many grant programs do not have age restrictions, which means that non-traditional students are not automatically disqualified. If you’re considering going back to school, know your options and take advantage of all the financial support you can get!


Before you look for grants, the most important thing you need to do to figure out your aid options is to fill out the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). Free to submit and easily accessible, this form is the ticket for access to the largest source of financial aid. Most importantly, the FAFSA does not take age into consideration; it’s a tool for traditional and non-traditional college students alike.

Once you’ve got the FAFSA taken care of, you’re free to explore your options!

Types of Grant Programs

Grants from the Federal Government

The federal government allocates funds specifically to help students attend college. Many but not all of these programs are available to non-traditional students, so it’s important to conduct thorough research in order to find programs for which adult learners may be eligible. Here are a few examples of federally funded grants:

  • Federal Pell Grant
    • The Federal Pell Grant is available only for students who have not yet obtained a bachelor’s degree, but every eligible student who applies receives some amount of funding. The amount awarded is based on each individual’s level of financial need, determined by the expected amount one can contribute subtracted from their particular school’s overall cost of attendance.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant
    • Similar to Pell Grants, FSEOG programs are based on financial need; however, unlike Pell Grants, they are awarded to a limited number of students on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s important to note that, not only are students more likely to receive funding the earlier they apply, but also that the FSEOG is only administered through cooperating colleges and universities. See whether your prospective school participates, and act quickly!
  • The Federal TEACH Grant (Federal Government Grant)
    • Hopeful teachers or education administrators in undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, or graduate programs can compete for the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education. In order to be eligible, recipients must serve in a high-need (and often low-income) community. The Teach Grant is also based on merit; academic requirements for eligibility can be found in your financial aid office. Another important factor to note is that, if students do not meet the requirements for the program, the grant funds are converted into a loan, meaning it would then have to be repaid in the future.

What is a Non-Traditional Student?

State-Supported Grants for Non-Traditional Students

You can find more about which local grants are available to you by visiting the dedicated website for your state’s Department of Education. Several states, like Tennessee and Florida, have state initiatives that offer tuition discounts or other grants for working adults going back to school. Some major metropolitan areas go further to offer similar programs in addition to more general state-based aid. Many states also provide reduced or entirely waived fees for senior citizens pursuing a degree.

General Education Grants for Non-Traditional Students

With research, non-traditional students can benefit from grants that award specific abilities, interests, or demographics. Special funding can be reserved for people with certain career goals, talents, or even identities (like students with disabilities, underrepresented minorities, women, single parents, veterans, and some from different religious backgrounds). It may require some extra digging to find a grant that pertains to you, especially since they are uncentralized and administered by all kinds of private and professional organizations, corporations, and advocacy groups. This means the possibilities are endless, but also that you should proceed with caution—the Internet could have scams floating around. Check for legitimacy!

College-Funded Grant Programs

Most colleges and universities offer their own grants. It might be tedious to navigate every one of your potential schools’ application processes, but it’s worth it. Non-traditional students have a good chance of finding unique in-house grants, so put in the effort and contact each financial aid office to see if there are any options available to you.

Keep in Mind…

Most grants that are available to or reserved for non-traditional students will require acceptance or enrollment at an accredited institution before any money can be awarded. It may be beneficial to wait to complete the grant application process until you have a firm grasp on the direction you’re headed. Still looking for the right school for you? Abound is dedicated to adult learners like you. Take a look at the schools we have vetted for quality, and get one step closer to a bright, successful future.

More Helpful Resources:

What is a Non-Traditional Student?

Top Reasons Why You Should Finish College

5 Great Ways to Lower Your Textbook Costs

Free Money: Go Back to School on Your Employer’s Dime

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