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Financial Aid for a Student Returning to College for Retraining in a New Career

Mark Kantrowitz

November 29, 2010

My wife is looking to go back to school for a new career. But I'm pretty lost as to how to help her with all this financial aid stuff. Can you help me to get started, or at least point me in the right direction? — Skyler G.

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Most of the answer to the first question in last week's Ask Kantro column is relevant to your wife's situation. She will need to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), use the education tax benefits like the Hope Scholarship or Lifetime Learning tax credits, and search for merit-based aid on free sites like

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There are, however, a few differences when someone is returning to college to get a second degree. If she already has a Bachelor's degree and is seeking an undergraduate degree, she will be ineligible for most forms of federal student aid other that student loans (up to her remaining eligibility) and the education tax benefits. See Ask Kantro: What types of student aid are available for a second Bachelor's degree? for more details on financial aid for a second Bachelor's degree.
If she does not already have a Bachelor's degree, she may also be eligible for federal grants such as the Pell Grant. If she is pursuing a graduate degree she will be eligible for higher loan limits. Unfortunately, debt is often unavoidable for a second degree, even at a low-cost public college. There are a few scholarships targeted to older students and a few scholarships with age restrictions, but most scholarships are not limited by age. Since she is married, she will report her and your income and assets on the FAFSA. She will not report her parents' income and assets. If your combined income will be lower because she lost her job or is quitting her job to go back to school, she should ask the school for a professional judgment review to base her financial aid on estimated award year income instead of prior tax year income. She should consider whether additional training is all she needs, as opposed to a second degree. She might be able to take just a few courses if the new field is related to her old field and re-enter the workforce sooner.

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