Back to School: Grants for Nontraditional Students

A non-traditional student does not fit the typical college student profile. This student is an adult age 22 and older going to college or trade school for the first time, or resuming their education. Nontraditional students do not have recent grades or a list of impressive high school extracurricular activities to help them get money for college.

Because of this, it can be difficult for non-traditional students to find college scholarships. The secret to obtaining grants and scholarships as a non-traditional student is to pursue every possibility. Funding for nontraditional students can come from the federal government, state governments, employers, and private organizations.

Federal and State Grants for Nontraditional Students


Pell Grants are the obvious first choice for students of any age, since the federal government awards more of these grants than any other type. The only catch is that Pell grants are income-based, but if family income does fall within the guidelines, this is a valuable grant. According to 2007-08 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study data, non-traditional students are actually more likely to receive Pell Grants than traditional students. Approximately 40 percent of students age 24 to 29 and 32 percent of students 30 and over receive Pell Grant aid.


State governments frequently have funding programs aimed at nontraditional 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  Workers who have been laid off and cannot find a job in their previous field may qualify for aid to retrain in a new field, as well.

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. Over 20 states waive all or part of tuition costs for seniors at state colleges; the age threshold ranges from 60 to 65. 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, religion 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 are 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

The keys to success in obtaining grants and scholarships are thinking broadly about where the funding could come from and being persistent.








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