In this day and age, going to college is virtually essential if you want a well-paying occupation that can sustain a quality way of life. However, college is not cheap – it can be very expensive, depending on the prestige and quality of the university, the program you are interested in enrolling, and how long it will take to earn your degree.
Therefore, it’s essential to get as much financial aid as you can. And yes, even non-traditional (over age 25) students that are taking online courses can receive financial aid.
First, you can file for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at any age; the main requirements to qualify are (taken from the FAFSA website):
“- You have to be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen. – You have to have a valid Social Security number (unless you’re from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, or the Federated States of Micronesia.) – You comply with Selective Service registration, if required. – You have a high school diploma, General Education Development (GED) Certificate, or pass an approved ability- to-benefit (ATB) test. – You have to be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student working toward a degree or certificate in an eligible program at a university that participates in the federal student aid programs. – You must NOT owe a refund on a federal grant or be in default on a federal student loan. – You must have financial need (except for unsubsidized Stafford Loans.) – You must NOT have certain drug convictions. – Other requirements may apply, depending on the university you apply to.”
How much financial aid you can expect to receive from FAFSA is dependent on your Expected Family Contribution (EFC,) your year in school, your enrollment status, and the cost of attendance at the school you will be attending. You should contact your university’s financial aid office to see how much you can receive at that school.
If you are attending an accredited university, your school will send you a 1098-T form at the beginning of each year. This form will include important tax information about your education-related expenses that the school has to send to both you and the IRS. Once you receive this information, you can then file for tax deductions that can save you up to $ 2,000, including the following –
The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit – available to all students who take at least one class from an accredited school. Qualifying students can get credit for 20% of the first $ 10,000 they spend on educational expenses, up to a maximum of $ 2,000. To be eligible, single filers must make an adjusted gross income of less than $ 52,000 and joint filers must make less than $ 105,000.
The Hope Scholarship Tax Credit – offered to students who are enrolled at least half-time and are in their first or second year of undergraduate study. Filers who meet the income cap requirements (same as for the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit) and who have no felony convictions involving the possession or distribution of controlled substances can receive up to $ 1,500 in credit.
Higher Education Tuition and Fees Deduction – the income cap requirements are higher with this option, as singles with adjusted gross incomes between $ 65,000-$ 80,000 and families who make between $ 130,000-$ 160,000 are eligible for a $ 2,000 deduction.
Other types of aid include government and private loans, government, university, and private grants, and university and private scholarships. There are ones available for non-traditional students as well. There are online resources that can help you locate ones that are specifically for non-traditional students. The Fastweb Scholarship Database lists more than 50 awards that have a minimum age requirement of 30 or older and over 230 awards with a minimum age requirement of 25 or older. Over 1,800 awards have no age restrictions at all.
Regarding loans, if at all possible, try to obtain government loans – they usually offer the most reasonable rates and terms compared to private loans from banks.
While many schools restrict eligibility for the school’s own financial aid programs to the first Bachelor’s degree, some schools will waive that restriction if an adult is returning to school and working toward earning a second degree in preparation for a career change. Check with your university to see if you’re eligible for their financial aid programs.
Also check with your current employer to see if he/she is willing to reimburse you for part or all of your tuition. Of course, this likely will only happen if you are taking courses to further your current career and are likely to remain at the company you are currently working at, but if you fall into this category, you should seek out your employer to see if he/she can help ease the financial burden of your courses.
Paying for college is never easy, especially for non-traditional students who don’t qualify for many forms of financial aid, but by utilizing the Internet and other resources, you can find loans, grants, and scholarships that you are eligible for to help make your return to college a bit easier on your finances.