These days, you can attend college and university at any age, people don’t have one career but a few, and often older adults will return to school to complete a degree they began working towards as young adults. Experience is valuable, and often people are able to base their careers on their experience, but paper can be valuable too. It is becoming more and more common for people to go back to school for a diploma they need to further their career, or change careers perhaps. Older students and non-traditional students are becoming increasingly commonplace on campuses.

Non-traditional students are defined negatively, not because there is anything wrong with them, but because they are defined by what they are not; they are simply not traditional students. A typical student begins college right after they finish high school. A student who graduates from high school and decides to take a year off, to travel or what have you, is a non-traditional student. A single parent going to college is atypical. Someone who works full-time and goes to school is not the norm, someone who is well off enough that they can pay for school without loans or without having to work is unusual, and someone who has dependent children or other family members (besides their spouse) and still manages to attend school is not the standard. These are all non-traditional students.

Many schools provide options for older and non-traditional students. Visit the financial aid office of the school you plan to attend; this help is available to you free of charge. Also, start early and allow time for processing.

  • The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is an application all students should fill out, regardless of age. Visit to apply online. Remember that this is a FreeAFSA; don’t be duped into paying a fee for it. You can file a paper form if you prefer, but processing takes longer this way. It takes only days to receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) after filing your application online, but it can take up to six weeks if you file a paper form.


International Students

International Students

Even students who have the means to pay for school without loans can benefit from filing an FAFSA. Scholarships and grants vary from state to state and are often linked to life circumstances, but these forms of financial aid do not need to be repaid. Applying does not mean you need to accept what is offered to you, it simply lets you know what is available to you. It is usually worthwhile to apply for what is offered to you though. Each year, some scholarships are not awarded simply because no one applies for them.

  • Members of The American Legion have the opportunity to apply for a $2,000 scholarship to help pay for a two or four-year degree program. These scholarships are handed out annually, and one is given out in each geographic division.
  • The American Association of University Women (AAUW) helps women return to school to advance their careers or re-enter the work force. This is done through their Career Development Grants program. Recipients must be U.S. citizens and attend an accredited school. Funding is available for certificate programs, technical training, bachelor’s degrees, additional bachelor degrees, and master’s degrees. Doctorate level courses are not supported.
  • Each year, Destiny Solutions offers two $2,500 scholarships to adult students through the Mary Cone Barrie Scholarship. Destiny Solutions is a technology firm and makes this opportunity available to support lifelong learners. Students can be studying at any accredited institution in either the United States or Canada.
  • Adult College Grants are also offered by the Imagine America Foundation (IAF). IAF is an organization which originated for the purpose of providing scholarships to people seeking education, training, and research assistance.


Adult learners can receive $1,000 towards their education through the ASEP (Adult Skills Education Program).  They must be enrolling in a participating school, be a U.S. citizen or resident, be at least 19-years-old, and have a high school diploma or equivalency. Applicants also need to complete an assessment to qualify.

An additional $500 grant is available through the Adult Excellence Award. These recipients are nominated by their college and have a high attendance record as well as a high GPA (3.5 or greater). The number of grants given out depends on the availability of funds.