Financial Aid

Financial Aid for Older and Nontraditional Students

Find financial aid and scholarships for nontraditional students on Fastweb.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

February 27, 2023

Financial Aid for Older and Nontraditional Students
Discover financial aid, scholarships and education resources for adult, older and nontraditional students.
Contrary to popular belief, financial aid isn’t just reserved for first-time college students. Financial aid is available to older and nontraditional students as well. You just must know where to look.

Is there an age limit for federal student aid?

There is no age limit to receive federal student aid. A student of any age can get financial aid; to receive federal aid and federal grants students must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Similarly, there is no FAFSA age limit., adds the adult student still needs to make sure not to miss any FAFSA deadlines, just like any other student.

Financial Aid Options for Adults and Non-Traditional Students

Going back to school as an adult or non-traditional student doesn't limit your financial aid options. Adult students can find ways to help them afford school with the same resources and methods traditional students use. Older students should conduct a search for aid just like younger students. There are six types of financial aid adult students can take advantage of.


The Fastweb scholarship database includes plenty of college scholarship opportunities for students of all ages, and some scholarship offerings even have minimum age requirements for application that specifically target older students.

Scholarships for Non-Traditional Students, Returning Students and Adult Students

College Aid for Adult Students

Although many schools restrict eligibility for the school's own financial aid programs to the first Bachelor's degree, some schools will waive the restrictions when the student is an adult returning to school to earn a second degree in preparation for a career change. Many colleges offer free tuition to senior citizens who wish to audit classes and significantly reduced tuition for classes taken for credit. Unfortunately, many nontraditional students will find that the colleges are less willing to adjust for other expenses, such as married student housing, supporting a family or providing family health insurance. This is why many families will have one spouse working while the other is in school, and then switch off so that the other spouse can earn a degree later.

Federal Student Aid

Nontraditional students should submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA for short, just like younger students. Adult students are eligible for federal work-study, federal grants and loans. The FAFSA is the first step for students to receive any type of federal financial aid.

Government Regulated College Savings Accounts

The Coverdell Education Savings Account requires savings funds to be used by the time the beneficiary reaches age 30. Section 529 college savings plans, on the other hand, do not have any such age restrictions. There are, however, restrictions based on educational background. The Department of Education has a helpful resource on Federal Student Aid for Adult Students. Check out their Adult Student Checklist.

Student Loans

Adult students are eligible for federal education loans and private student loans. Students who are 24 or older are considered automatically independent. Independent undergraduate students are eligible for increased unsubsidized Stafford loan limits -- an additional amount per year during the freshman and sophomore years and an additional amount per year during the junior and later years -- since their parents cannot borrow from the PLUS loan program. Even though nontraditional students may be eligible for increased loan limits, they should avoid over-borrowing. Do not borrow more than your expected starting salary after you graduate. It may be tempting to borrow more for your living costs, but this will make it more difficult for you to repay the debt after you graduate. Graduate and professional students are eligible for Stafford loans each year. They are also eligible for the Grad PLUS loan.


A student who has already earned a bachelor's degree or first professional degree is no longer considered an undergraduate student and is ineligible for the Pell Grant. However, adult and non-traditional students can receive the federal TEACH Grant. There are also a variety of grant opportunities for non-traditional students that served in the United States Armed Forces.

Employer Sponsored Aid

Nontraditional students who will be quitting a job to go back to school should ask the college financial aid office for a "professional judgment" review to adjust the income from prior-prior tax year income to estimated award year income. If you are currently employed, ask your employer's human resources office about the availability of employer tuition assistance. Employers may require you to keep working or agree to work for the company for a set number of years after graduation. They may require you to maintain a minimum GPA in order to get assistance. Often the assistance is provided as a reimbursement after the fact, so you'll need to budget for your cash flow needs.

Adult Continuing Education Resources

Online learning has many names these days: e-learning, online training, distance education, remote learning or distance learning. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s a great option for adult and continuing education, mostly because it offers greater flexibility than a traditional, in-person college experience. Most adults and nontraditional students are also working full- or part-time, which makes a schedule that works around what they’re already doing a priority. Students can choose from four-year degree programs to certifications to video lectures that will help them brush up or gain more expertise on a certain subject. Additionally, we are living in truly unprecedented times with the impacts of the Coronavirus. Many students, from grade school to returning alike, are finding and tapping into the benefits of online learning. Not only can students continue their education without interruption this way, they can also do so safely and within social distancing guidelines. There is no limit to what nontraditional students can learn and have access to through online learning. To start the online learning experience, visit Fastweb’s Online Learning Center, where we can match students to a virtual learning experience that meets their needs. Students of all ages are encouraged to create their free Fastweb profile. A Fastweb profile matches students to scholarships that fit them—including scholarships specific to adults returning to college or the nontraditional student going to college for the first time.

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