As a returning student, you may feel that the scholarship search will be fruitless, financial aid will be nonexistent and that there are more inconveniences rather than benefits to going back to school. But that’s not the case at all. In fact, there are more than a few resources at your disposal to help you pay for school too. Independent Student Status Fortunately, most returning students will likely qualify for independent student status, meaning you are no longer considered dependent on your parents (whether or not they would have or could have paid for you to attend college immediately after high school -- but that's an entirely separate issue). Financial aid for independent students is drastically different than that of dependent students.Independent students are more likely to qualify for Pell Grants, and they are also eligible for larger Stafford loan amounts. To qualify as an independent student, you must be over 24 years of age, have served in the military, be responsible for dependent children or married. Qualifying as and independent on the FAFSA. Tuition Waiver Many returning students can take advantage of tuition waiver programs at schools and universities, especially individuals who have been laid off or dislocated. What’s more, some states even take care of the tuition bill for returning students. New Jersey covers all tuition for unemployed persons who wish to return to college. Granted, you have to maintain a certain GPA as well as meet other requirements.Scholarships for Returning Students Like there are scholarships for college and graduate students, there are scholarships for returning students too. At the same time, many scholarships that are open to college students are open to older students as well. You just have to know where to find them.If you don’t know already, Fastweb has the largest scholarship database on the web. By filling out a profile, you’re guaranteed to find scholarships that you qualify for, whether you’re 18, 38 or 58. Employer Tuition Assistance FinAid reports that seven out of eight major employers offer employer tuition assistance to its employees. The tuition assistance may not cover the entire cost of tuition, but it will cover quite a bit. Like state and university tuition waiver programs, employer tuition assistance comes with a few caveats as well. Employees seeking financial assistance may have to study in a field that is similar to the one they’re working in, achieve a certain GPA or stay with the company for a specified period of time after graduation. Alternative Loan Options Older students who own property may want to consider alternative loan options, like a home equity loan. These allow you to borrow against the equity of your home, which oftentimes provides lower interest rates than private education loans. However, a home equity loan typically requires you to show proof of employment. If you plan on quitting your job in order to return to school, this type of financing probably isn’t the best option for you. And remember, like undergraduate students, it’s always best to borrow federal loans first if you’re planning to borrow anyway. They have the lowest interest rates of any financing option. Single Parent Programs Many two and four year schools have programs exclusively for single parents, like scholarships and grants. In addition to financial assistance, some colleges and universities provide programming and academic advising that is geared toward single parents. Some of this programming includes life skills like budgeting, finding child care and effectively conducting the job search. Finally, some schools will even offer day care facilities and special housing for single parents. Senior Citizen Benefits Last but not least, there are even returning student benefits for Senior Citizens. Many community colleges and universities offer senior citizens of a certain age in the community a chance to audit classes for free. Typically, space is very limited, and senior citizens are only permitted to take a class if there is available space. Financing opportunities for returning students may not be as visible as those for students who have just graduated high school. However, the truth is, there are plenty of options that make returning to school a reality for those that have always thought it would be impossible for them. And if you look closely enough, you’ll be able to find even more help than you ever thought existed.
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