Grants for Adults Going Back to School

The traditional picture of a college student as someone who has recently graduated from high school is no longer so typical. The cost of college can be exorbitant, and some students do not feel they can afford it right after high school. Some do not feel ready for college, and some want to test the waters in the job market before they go to college. Today’s adult, or nontraditional, student has opportunities to pursue a college degree no matter where they are in their lives. Uncovering the array of funding opportunities will take quite a bit of research, but with practice and creative thinking, the adult student should be able to uncover numerous possibilities.

Nontraditional student grants are most likely to come from three sources:

  • Federal and State Government agencies,
  • Colleges and universities, and
  • Private associations, foundations and corporations.

Federal and State Grant Sources

The Federal Pell Grant is the most common grant for students attending college. It is available to students of any age. As an adjunct to a Pell Grant, adult students can also try to qualify for a Federal Supplemental opportunities Grant, but the income threshold is very low. Adult students are also eligible for the National SMART Grant, which is available to students majoring in subjects that are considered high-need, such as the sciences, math, engineering, and foreign Language, among other subjects. More information about these programs is available at

State governments frequently have funding programs aimed at returning students. The place to start research is with a state’s higher education commission. Each state has a different name for this agency, but every state has one. A list of state agencies, their web addresses and contact information can be found at

Colleges and Universities

Recognizing a large, under-served market, community colleges and traditional four-year institutions welcome nontraditional students. To encourage adult students, many colleges have designated grants and scholarships for this student population. Individual departments may have designated funds available, too. The place to start is your prospective college’s website, followed by a visit to the financial aid office. Students should also note that, in addition to any grants or scholarships for adult students, they may also be eligible for funds aimed at their racial group, gender, orientation, or other group identifier.

Grant Funding from Private Foundations, Associations and Corporations

The first source of private business assistance to research is the student’s employer. Many employers, particularly larger employers, offer tuition reimbursement to employees returning to school. Another work-related source of funding is available if a student is a union member. Many unions offer grants and scholarships to their members, including the AFL-CIO, which awards funding to its members and their children and spouses through the Union Plus organization. Information is available at

For employees of Walmart or Sam’s Club, the Walmart Foundation offers a number of grants and scholarships. More information and an application is available at

A number of organizations award grants and scholarships nation-wide. Two of the most prominent are:

  • Imagine America‘s grants are available to students who are 19 and older, have a GED or high school diploma, and have been working. For more information, including which school participate in this program, students should visit the website at
  • Although it is a woman-centered organization, Executive Women International has a grant program that is open to males and females. The Adult Student in Scholastic Transition grant program is designed for students who may have several dependents. More information is on their website at

Traditionally women have been much more likely to postpone college for family obligations, and now are much more likely than men to be nontraditional students. For this reasons, there are many grants and scholarships intended for female students.

  • The AARP Foundation’s Women Scholarship programs awards grants and funding to women over 40 who are returning to college or technical school to complete their degree. The website for this program is
  • The Talbots Charitable Foundation offers a generous grant to women returning to college to complete an undergraduate degree. Their website is
  • Soroptimist offers a number of awards, grants and scholarships to women who are the primary support of their family. This program welcomes applicants who have struggled against and grown from personal problems like substance abuse, domestic violence or poverty. More information is available at
  • American women 35 years old or older are eligible for a grant from the Jeannette Rankin Foundation. Applicants must fall under certain low-income guidelines. Complete information is available at
  • Single mothers and women who are dealing with some other type of adversity are eligible for funding from the Linda Lael Miller Foundation. Students can find information at

Nontraditional students who are minorities may also find funding aimed specifically at their ethnic group.

  • Hispanic single parents who are returning to school full-time cam apply for a grant from the Hispanic College Fund. Details are on their website at





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