When you think about education and financial aid, you might think primarily about students who are graduating high school and heading to college. They can apply for federal financial, scholarships, and grants.

What if you’re an adult who’s heading back to school to advance your career, learn a particular skill set or perhaps enter into an entirely new career? How can you pay for the costs of continuing education as an adult? You aren’t alone first and foremost. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, almost three million college students who were enrolled in 2018 were 35 or older.

The following explores some of the options potentially available to you. 

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

You may be familiar with the FAFSA if you completed it when you went to school the first time around, and it’s still important. The FAFSA is the most essential step to take if you’re planning to go to school as a teen or adult, and there’s even a chance you might need financial aid. Along with serving as the precursor to financial aid from the federal government, it’s also used for work-study programs and grants.

If you’re older than the age of 24, the Education Department views you as an independent student. This may mean you’re eligible to qualify for more need-based aid than a young person who’s a dependent of their parents. 

Even so, it’s important not to get into more debt than you can reasonably repay, particularly since your timeframes are going to be different than a younger student. 

When it comes to completing the FAFSA, make sure you’re aware of all the current deadlines and sometimes the sooner you get your application in, the more opportunities for financial aid will be available to you. 

Look Into State Grants

As an adult student, if you’re worried about covering the cost of continuing education or to get a new degree, look for free money first. Free money is those sources of education funding you don’t have to repay. It’s best to get into as little debt as you possibly can, even if the debt is to pay for your education. 

Many states offer a variety of grant programs, so you can search based on where you live and see what’s available. Some grants may be available specifically or older students.

Some grants may be geared more toward allowing you to audit classes than actually earning credits towards a degree, so be sure to clarify. 

Apply for Scholarships

Scholarships are a great way to cover the cost of your education, regardless of how old you are. Again, as is the case with grants, some might even be specifically for older students. Scholarships are offered by companies and nonprofit organizations most often. There are scholarships that are dependent on what you’re going to study, affiliations you may have and many others.

If you want to do any kind of college or continuing education, definitely do a thorough search of the scholarship options available. 

If you’re currently working, you should speak with your employer about scholarships or other ways they might help you pay for the cost of school. Many employers may be more willing than you think, particularly if you’re going to gain a skillset that could help you in your current role or at your current company. They’re investing in their own business if they help you cover the costs of school. 

If your company does offer some sort of tuition assistance program, you may have to sign an agreement to work for them for a certain number of years. Some companies will offer tuition reimbursement as a form of financial aid to employees as well. 

Take Advantage of Tax Credits

Be aware there are certain tax advantages if you go back to school and pay for it, and these tax benefits can help offset some of your costs. The Lifetime Learning credit is one option you might want to explore, and it can be used for anything related to school even if you’re doing training that isn’t working toward a degree.

Finally, if you are a single parent and you’d like to return to school, you may be eligible for tuition discounts. Some schools around the country offer financial aid as well as other support services to help single parents who are continuing their education. Some scholarship programs are also made available to single parents who are returning to school.


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