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Achieving a college education is an admirable goal no matter how old you are, how you earned a high school degree, or how you live your life.
Being a non-traditional student can help you face college with wisdom and life experiences under your belt. And if you’re looking for ways to help pay for your education expenses, you have several options.
Here’s what you should know about non-traditional student loans:
- What is a non-traditional student?
- General education grants for non-traditional students
- State-supported grants for non-traditional students
- Student loan options for non-traditional students
- Financial tips for non-traditional students
- Things to consider before taking on debt as a non-traditional student
What is a non-traditional student?
A “traditional” student is someone who attends college after graduating high school. A non-traditional student, on the other hand, may have had a unique enrollment pattern, may have a more complex financial or family status, and may not have graduated high school in the standard manner. While there’s no one definition of a non-traditional student, these are some common characteristics:
- Didn’t pursue a college education as soon as they graduated high school
- Is financially independent from their parents
- Has dependents, such as children
- Is a single parent
- Earned a GED instead of a high school diploma
General education grants for non-traditional students
Non-traditional undergraduate students make up nearly 15% of the current national student body, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. These are some federal grants that non-traditional students may be able to qualify for:
- Federal Pell Grant: Students who have yet to earn a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree can apply for this federal grant and is only available for those students who display exceptional financial need. The maximum award for the 2022-23 school year is $6,895.
- TEACH Grant: Students who want to work as a teacher can potentially receive financial assistance from the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant, but they have to complete a teaching service obligation or they’ll need to repay the grant — including interest.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant: This grant is designed to support undergraduate students with exceptional financial need, but only select schools offer it. You can receive anywhere from $100 to $4,000 per year depending on the funds your school has available.
State-supported grants for non-traditional students
It’s worth looking into the different grant programs available in your state. These are a few examples of grants that can help support non-traditional students:
- Arizona Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership: This program offers need-based grants to low-income, undergraduate, Arizona resident students who have demonstrated substantial financial need. The maximum award amount for the academic year is $2,500. Non-traditional students who are financially independent, but who don’t earn a high income, may be able to qualify for this grant.
- Cal Grant Transfer Entitlement Award: Some non-traditional students may choose to attend community college before transferring to a four-year university. This grant can provide financial support to those students in California.
- The First Generation Matching Grant Program: First generation college students in Florida can apply for this need-based grant program if they can demonstrate substantial financial need and are enrolled in eligible participating colleges.
Keep Reading: Grants to Pay Off Student Loans for 2022
Student loan options for non-traditional students
After exhausting grant options, you may still need help financing your higher education. This is where student loans can come in handy, and you have two main types to choose from:
- Federal student loans: The federal government issues these student loans in addition to grants, loans, and work-study opportunities. In most cases a credit check isn’t required, and you’ll have access to benefits such as income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness options.
- Private student loans: After exhausting federal student loan options (which tend to come with more favorable interest rates and terms than private student loans), you can apply for private loans to fill any funding gaps. Private loans are available through lenders such as banks, credit unions, or student loan issuers. You’ll likely need good credit (or a cosigner with good credit) to qualify.
Financial tips for non-traditional students
Grants are a great place to start if you’re a non-traditional student looking for financial aid, but consider these options if you need help paying for college:
See if your employer offers tuition assistance
If you’re currently working, your employer may offer tuition reimbursement or other benefits if you’re pursuing higher education to boost your career. Some employers offer programs that pay for your tuition up front and send funds directly to the school. Other employers may pay for your tuition after you finish a course or earn your degree.
Fill out the FAFSA
The first step to finding out what type of government aid you qualify for is submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The information you provide on this form helps schools determine what types of federal aid you’re eligible for.
Look for scholarships
Plenty of not-for-profit and other types of organizations offer scholarships for non-traditional students. You also have the option to apply for scholarships through your school’s financial aid department.
Things to consider before taking on debt as a non-traditional student
It’s important to weigh all your options before taking on debt to pay for your college education. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re considering whether to borrow student loans:
- Get a realistic picture of the full costs: You should take the time to research how much money you need to spend on your education. Underestimating how much money you need to borrow can result in not having enough money to cover your education costs. Borrowing too much can result in paying interest on money you didn’t need to borrow.
- Competing financial priorities: It can be hard to juggle the costs of college and other financial priorities, such as supporting a family or paying a mortgage. It’s important to sit down and map out a plan for managing all those competing priorities before taking out any student loans.
- Dropping out: If you’re struggling to keep up with the demands of college or discover it isn’t the right path for you, it could be difficult to pay back your student loans — especially if you weren’t able to advance your career without completing your degree.
- Overdependence on student loans: Some students turn to their student loan funds to help them cover living expenses while in college. This is normal to an extent, but becoming too dependent on them can be problematic.
- Neglecting retirement planning: Older students may find that adding the cost of college tuition and fees to their plate makes it harder for them to work toward important financial goals, like saving for retirement. If possible, you should still continue making progress on saving for retirement, especially if you’re returning to school later in life.
The companies in the table below are Credible’s approved partner lenders. Whether you’re the borrower or cosigner, Credible makes it easy to compare rates from multiple private student loan providers without affecting your credit score.
|Lender||Fixed Rates From (APR)||Variable Rates From (APR)|
|4.509 - 14.83%9||5.62%9 - 15.95%9|
your credit score. 100% free!
Lowest APRs reflect autopay, loyalty, and interest-only repayment discounts where available | 10Ascent Disclosures | 1Citizens Disclosures | 2,3College Ave Disclosures | 7EDvestinU Disclosures | 8INvestEd Disclosures | 9Sallie Mae Disclosures