College Financial Aid Options for Non-Traditional Students

In an era when most adults will have four, five or more jobs in their adult life and at the current rate of information exchange it is no wonder that a large population of non-traditional aged students are appearing on campuses across the country. At some point in our adult lives it becomes necessary to refresh or completely revamp our knowledge base to stay current and employable in our industry or field. Many adult learners pursue continuing education through conventions, conferences and in-service trainings. When these traditional models of education become ineffective, or if your job is on the line if you do not have the required degree, it may become necessary to put away the briefcase, load up the backpack and head to your local college admissions office.
Once you’ve made the commitment to return to school, or even if you’re still considering the move, it is important to find out if you can afford to become a student again. The first stop should be to your school’s financial aid office. Below are some questions that you should ask of your financial aid office:
1. What is the cost of attendance for a non-traditional student? Can my cost of attendance be adjusted for items like rent or mortgage, transportation, childcare or care for other dependents?
2. At my class standing (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior or graduate student) will I be offered enough aid to cover my cost of attendance?
3. Are there any specific aid programs for returning students?
4. What type of support systems exist on campus for students who are not in the typical 18-22 age range?
If after you gather this information, you feel you want to pursue consider the following as suggestions for a smooth transition:
1. First, you will not be eligible for financial aid, such as many student loans and federal grants, unless you are pursuing a degree or certificate. This does not mean you must complete a program but it does mean you must be taking the classes for credit and with an intent to finish your program. Financial aid is not intended to support those who are pursuing education simply for enrichment or the love of learning.
2. Consider a combination of work and school. Making the transition back to student life is harder than you might anticipate. If you’re older than the traditionally aged college student, you may feel unable to keep up in the classroom or envious of the amount of study time your classmates have, while you must mow the lawn or pay your bills before you hit the books. You only need to be enrolled half time to receive financial aid. If you’re not in a hurry, go slow and enjoy being a student again.
3. Create a support system. You simply cannot do it by yourself, especially if you’re a parent. Stay away from those who doubt your commitment to your education and surround yourself with like-minded students who share your values. Create a back-up childcare system. A sick kid during finals week can destroy a whole term of hard work. Be upfront with your instructors about the stressors in your life. Chances are they will be very sympathetic. Tell your spouse or significant other that you need their support. Your investment in yourself will pay off for both of you down the road.

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