Nontraditional college students in the United States are classified in many ways but, generally speaking, a nontraditional student is anyone who chooses not to attend college directly after finishing high school. Nontraditional students vary greatly in age, previous education, family structure, life situations, and reasons for pursuing a college education. Many have previously attended some college, have held jobs, and have families.
Financial aid for nontraditional students is generally harder to access. Even though a large amount of college students are now over the age of 25, financial aid is still targeted mostly at traditional students. Many non-traditional students have different financial requirements not addressed in the typical financial aid program. Although you might have to search a little harder to find them, special financial aid programs for non-traditional students are still available.
Federal Financial Aid
In general, nontraditional students are more likely to apply for financial assistance than any other type of federal funding. With the exception of the Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG), all federal financial aid programs are available to non-traditional students, including the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Perkins Loans, and Direct Stafford Loans. In general, Federal financial aid programs have no age restrictions. Once an individual is 24 years old, the applicant is regarded as legally independent from his or her parents. This is generally seen as an advantage, as many non-traditional students do not have the financial stability to pay for higher education without assistance.
Non-traditional students may also qualify for work-study programs available at their college or university. Mostly offered to students already receiving federal financial aid, these programs allow students to work on a part-time basis while still taking classes, usually for tuition reimbursement. Most work-study programs usually include certain grade requirements.
Scholarships intended for non-traditional students provide financial help based on need, location, major, or even age. While many scholarships have no age restrictions, some are available only to students with a minimum age of 25 years old! Non-traditional students should focus on these scholarships, as well as ones requesting previous work experience and community service. Non-traditional students should always conduct significant scholarship research both online and through their university to find the newest scholarship opportunities.
While some post-secondary institutions will limit the amount of undergraduate financial aid available to students pursuing their first bachelor's degree, other schools will lift this limitation if a student is returning to school to pursue an additional degree. Non-traditional students should meet with a financial aid representative at the chosen school to gain additional information about what kind of aid programs the school offers.
Private Student Loans
After all attempts to receive federal aid have been exhausted, non-traditional students can consider applying for a private loan. Private loans are available from most banking institutions at a wide variety of interest rates.
If you are considering continuing work after returning to college, you should ask your employer whether any kind of financial assistance is available to employees. While many large companies offer their employees some type of tuition assistance, most have specific requirements regarding employment commitment, program type and relevancy, and standard grade requirements. Most employers will not offer financial assistance for just a few courses. Students must be enrolled in a degree or certificate program.
College Savings Plans
Many college savings plans are available, both with and without age restrictions. For example, the Coverdell Education Savings Account must be used before the beneficiary reaches his or her 30th birthday. In contrast, the 529 college savings plans have no age restrictions.
Some federal financial aid is available only to part-time students, while many programs require a minimum of half-time enrollment. Students receiving loans must understand that dropping below half-time enrollment may trigger loan repayment.
Many states offer reduced or free tuition for senior citizens attending in-state public institutions. Also, many colleges offer reduced tuition rates to senior citizens seeking course credit, while others will offer free tuition for senior students only auditing classes. Senior citizens must be at least 60 years of age and legal state residents to be eligible for special tuition rates. In some cases, income limitations apply.