Many adult students, especially those attending part-time, fail to apply for financial aid. Adult Learners do not always follow the same timetable as that of a traditional student which may cause them to not be aware of financial aid deadlines. Additionally, they are faced with other responsibilities that may delay the decision of returning to school. Although there are numerous differences between adults returning to school or beginning their academic career and traditional students, as far as financial aid is concerned, the steps are very similar and there is no age limit for federal and state financial aid.
Work conflicts and home and family responsibilities, as well as financial difficulties in paying tuition, are some reasons commonly given by adult students for dropping out of school. Despite these barriers, adult learners of any age can learn and succeed in their pursuits if they are afforded the opportunity, assistance, and support they need. For students, a better understanding of all costs associated with education is imperative. Direct costs include tuition and fees, but indirect costs may include the loss of income from employment changes, increases in transportation, books, and supplies. Students should research to find out if institutions regularly increase tuition and if so, by how much. The goal is to have a realistic projection of education expenses for the entire time in college. And then they can start with applying for aid.
The first step in the financial aid process for all students is the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This federal application determines a student’s financial need as well as eligibility for federal aid programs such as grants and student loans. In addition, states provide financial assistance to eligible students attending an institution within that state. All students and all colleges use the FAFSA. However, in addition to the FAFSA, some colleges require supplemental forms to apply for institutional aid. A student must find out what is required of each and every institution and all deadlines. Students complete only the FAFSA and list all schools to receive the information electronically. Eligibility for financial aid is determined one award year at a time and thus, applying for aid must be done annually. The FAFSA may be found at www.fafsa.gov.
There may be additional sources of funding and assistance for adult learners. Institutions may offer scholarships or grants to students. Students should review all college and university websites for applications, deadlines, and eligibility criteria. In addition, employers may help with funding for education. Students should contact the human resources department at their company for more information. Most community and civic organizations, as well as large corporations, also provide scholarships to students. Federal tax benefits are also available to eligible students. Additionally, many institutions award credit for prior learning, specific exams, or portfolios at a reduced cost.
It is important to be educated about financial aid and what it involves. There are four basic types of financial aid offered by four basic sources. However, each type consists of many different programs. The four basic sources of funding come from federal, state, institutional, and private sources. If asked the definition of financial aid, one would say grants, scholarships, employment, and loans. Most people tend to equate financial aid with ‘free money’, however, it is much more than just that. While a student may hope to avoid loans depending on the institution and its cost, that may not be realistic. Therefore, a student needs to understand all the ins and outs of educational loans. Many students mistakenly think they may not qualify for aid based on their income and assets. However, if a student chooses not to apply, they may be closing the door on some opportunities that could help pay for college. There are still other sources of aid available regardless of financial need, but many require the completion of the FAFSA first. Obviously, the primary goal of financial aid is to assist students in paying for college. This is done by distributing limited resources in an equitable manner and by providing a balance of aid programs. Although it may seem daunting at first, applying for financial aid, like applying for college, does not have to be hard. As consumers, students need to look beyond the ‘sticker price.’ Attending college is one of the most important decisions – and definitely, one of the greatest investments – a student will ever make and financial aid is a major part of it.