Grants for Returning Students

The search for educational funding can be quite intimidating to a student returning to higher education after taking a break. Most funding opportunities are aimed at young people coming out of high school, who have a record of good grades and extracurricular activities. This is slowly changing as it becomes more mainstream to return to college, but returning students must leave no stone unturned if they are going to be successful in their search for grants and scholarships. In addition to exploring federal and state opportunities and grants and scholarships from the school itself, older students should consider every organization they belong to, have belonged to, or could belong to as a possible source of funding. With persistence and creativity, returning students should uncover a number of possibilities.

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

Grants and Scholarships from 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.

Look to Your Employer for Grants and Scholarships

A growing number of employers, particularly larger employers, offer tuition reimbursement to employees returning to school. Some require that the studies be related to the student’s current career, but many do not.  For example, the Walmart Foundation offers a number of grants and scholarships to employees of Walmart and Sam’s Club.  More information and an application is available at

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

Grant Funding from Associations and Organizations

Organizations ranging from large national groups to local service groups offer grants and scholarships to students at all stages of life. Grants and scholarships awarded nation-wide include:

  • 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 returning 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 can apply for a grant from the Hispanic College Fund. Details are on their website at

Students who are returning to school to pursue a higher degree or a professional specialty should explore professional associations and organizations both nationally and locally that are affiliated with the subject being studied.  These organizations have an interest in diversifying their workforce, and many of them have promoting education in their profession as part of their mission.




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