Scholarships for Adult Learners and Nontraditional Students

portrait of Chinh Ngo
by Chinh Ngo

Published on September 22, 2020 · Updated on January 21, 2022

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Commonly defined as students over the age of 24, adult students represent a diverse group of individuals from all social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. Learners who do not transition directly into college after graduating from high school are defined as "nontraditional students." Most adult students choose to go back to school to earn the credentials needed for career advancement in their current field or to enter a new line of work.

This guide provides in-depth information about financial aid opportunities for adult students. Although colleges and universities dedicate a lot of their funding to scholarships for recent high school graduates, they also offer awards specifically for older students.

Furthermore, students should know that there are no age restrictions when it comes to filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Frequently Asked Questions

What are adult learners and nontraditional students?

Adult students represent people over the age of 24 who are either attending college for the first time or returning to school after a long hiatus. Nontraditional students are individuals who do not enroll in a campus-based college program immediately after graduating from high school. They include adult students and online learners.

Can adults get college scholarships?

Yes. Adult students can access many of the same financial resources as traditional learners, including federal aid, state grants, private scholarships, and university awards.

Is there an age limit on scholarships?

The FAFSA does not have an age limit. Many scholarships filter applicants by characteristics like race/ethnicity, degree major, and career goals rather than age.

How do adults pay for college?

Depending on their financial situation, adult students can pay for college out of pocket by using savings or other personal resources. However, more often than not, they need some form of external support. Opportunities include scholarships, grants, and — as a last resort — loans.

Is it too late to go back to school?

Anyone can build a better career for themselves by going back to school. With the flexibility of night/weekend classes and asynchronous online education, older students can earn their degrees while meeting professional and family obligations.

Benefits of Going Back to School

Adult students usually pursue higher education with defined academic and career goals. As experienced professionals, older students are often better able to work independently and juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. These skills can help adult students excel in online programs.

Going back to school can help you access higher salaries and more job opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual salary for professionals who hold a bachelor's degree is about $26,000 more than the salary of professionals who only hold a high school diploma.

For a list of school options, check out these rankings of the best colleges for nontraditional students and working adults.

Challenges for Adult Students

Returning to school can be a difficult step for adult students due to the distinct challenges they face. In addition to high college costs, nontraditional students often have mortgages to pay and families to support. To recruit this group of learners, many universities provide affordable online tuition that disregards residency status.

Colleges help nontraditional students … by offering dedicated tutoring and career services, technical assistance, and networking and community-building events.

Beyond financial obstacles, older students may lack self-confidence, feeling as though the years they spent out of school make them ill-prepared for the rigor of higher education. However, they can find solace knowing that other adult students attending their school likely feel the same way. Colleges help nontraditional students overcome these fears by offering dedicated tutoring and career services, technical assistance, and networking and community-building events.

Schools further support adult students by offering accelerated courses and fully online programs. Alternatively, students who want to learn on campus can often take evening and/or weekend classes. They can expedite graduation by earning transfer credits for prior college coursework, military service, volunteer work, career experience, and professional certification/licensure.

Adult students may face individual challenges stemming from their unique life circumstances. To meet these distinct needs, colleges often pair nontraditional students with a personal advisor who helps them complete the admissions process, sign up for classes, pursue internships and other professional development opportunities, and look for employment.

Scholarship Applications

To apply for most scholarships, applicants must submit a statement of goals or a personal essay, recommendation letters, and academic information. Adult students usually do not need to submit high school transcripts or standardized test scores.

If you have prior college experience, a scholarship program will ask you for official transcripts. You may also need to show proof of career experience through professional certification/licensure.

An essay helps the scholarship committee learn more about who you are and how you fulfill their requirements.

Many scholarship programs ask for 1-3 recommendation letters from sources like a professor or employer. Awards funded by religious organizations often ask for a spiritual reference from your church leader.

Certain financial aid opportunities — particularly state grants and community-based scholarships — are only awarded to students attending in-state schools. You can usually get an enrollment verification letter from your university's registrar or admissions office.

The FAFSA facilitates some private scholarships, requiring you to submit this form before completing additional steps. Additionally, your financial aid information gives the scholarship committee insight into your background.

Where to Find Scholarships

The FAFSA is one of the best tools at your disposal when looking for financial aid. While the FAFSA does not restrict applicants by age, the program does limit what kind of funding graduate students may access. For example, if you enroll in a master's or doctoral program, you become ineligible for subsidized federal loans.

In addition to submitting the FAFSA, you should apply for additional scholarships and grants. Conduct research using keywords specific to your circumstances. These filters may include academic major, career experience, religious affiliation, ethnic background, and geographic location.

Adult Learner and Nontraditional Student Scholarships

The following list contains popular scholarships for adult students. Each entry details the award amount, deadline, and general criteria. However, this list should only serve as a starting point; look into additional opportunities based on your background, achievements, and professional goals.

Alpha Sigma Lambda Scholarship

Who is eligible? Adult undergraduate learners attending a school with an active Alpha Sigma Lambda chapter can apply. Applicants must have completed at least 24 credits of coursework with a minimum 3.2 GPA.

Award amount: $3,600

Deadline: May

View Scholarship
American Legion Auxiliary Nontraditional Student Scholarship

Who is eligible? This scholarship is open to members of the American Legion, Auxiliary, or Sons of The American Legion. Applicants need to attend a two-year or four-year school or be enrolled in a certified, trade, professional, or technical program.

Award amount: $2,000

Deadline: March

View Scholarship
Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education Scholarship Program

Who is eligible? ANTSHE offers four annual scholarships to nontraditional students. Applicants must be at least 23 years old and meet one additional requirement, such as having low-income status or military service experience.

Award amount: Varies

Deadline: March

View Scholarship
College JumpStart Scholarship

Who is eligible? This biannual award program supports traditional learners and adult students. Applicants submit an online form, providing some personal information and a 250-word statement of purpose responding to a designated prompt.

Award amount: $1,000

Deadline: October and April

View Scholarship Graduate Technology Scholarship For Military Veterans

Who is eligible? HotelPlanner awards this scholarship to veterans along with their spouses and children. In addition to demonstrating financial need, applicants must submit a 500-word essay describing their interest in a technology-related career.

Award amount: $1,000

Deadline: August (summer cycle) and December (fall cycle)

View Scholarship
Imagine America Scholarship Program

Who is eligible? The Adult Skills Education Program Award is open to older students attending one of 400 partnering career colleges. Candidates need to meet financial need requirements and complete the National Center for Competency Testing Educational Success Potential Assessment.

Award amount: $1,000

Deadline: December

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Niche "No Essay" College Scholarship

Who is eligible? This award is available to traditional and nontraditional students who currently attend college or plan to enroll within the next 12 months. After creating an online profile, candidates can apply for this scholarship every month.

Award amount: $2,000

Deadline: Monthly

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Osher Reentry Scholarship Program

Who is eligible? Funded by the Bernard Osher Foundation, this scholarship program supports older students with a cumulative gap in their undergraduate education of five or more years. Applicants need to demonstrate financial need and the willingness to participate in the workforce upon graduation.

Award amount: Varies

Deadline: Varies

View Scholarship
Return 2 College Scholarship Program

Who is eligible? This program accepts applications from students currently enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as those who plan on enrolling within the next 12 months. Applicants must be at least 17 years old. They must submit an online form that includes a three-sentence essay explaining their reasons for getting a college degree.

Award amount: $1,000

Deadline: September

View Scholarship
Royal Neighbors Scholarship Program

Who is eligible? This scholarship supports beneficial members of Royal Neighbors who are enrolled in two-year or four-year colleges or vocational/skilled trade programs. Applicants need a minimum 2.5 high school GPA. In lieu of academic transcripts, adult students who graduated high school over 10 year ago can submit details of their work history along with a professional reference.

Award amount: $1,000 or $5,000 (depending on degree type)

Deadline: March

View Scholarship
SuperCollege Scholarship

Who is eligible? This program accepts applications from traditional and adult students. Applicants must submit an online form that includes information about their target degree and career goals. SuperCollege draws the winner randomly.

Award amount: $1,000

Deadline: May

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Ulman Foundation Scholarships

Who is eligible? The Ulman Foundation grants this award to young adults between the ages of 15 and 39 who have been impacted by cancer. Applicants must be undergoing the diagnosis/treatment process or support a parent/guardian, sibling, or spouse going through this process.

Award amount: $2,500

Deadline: March

View Scholarship
Unigo $10K Scholarship

Who is eligible? This scholarship is open to students who currently attend an accredited higher education institution (or plan to attend by fall 2026). Candidates must submit an application that includes a 250-word response to the prompt, "Imagine a historical figure is brought back to life. Who is it? What's their favorite mobile app?"

Award amount: $10,000

Deadline: December

View Scholarship

Scholarships for Women Adult Learners

Army Women's Foundation Scholarships

Who is eligible? Applicants must be women who are currently serving or have served in the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Reserve, or Army National Guard. Daughters of these women are also eligible. To qualify for the community college and certificate program scholarships, candidates need a minimum 2.5 GPA. The college/university and graduate program scholarships require applicants to have at least a 3.0 GPA.

Award amount: $1,000 for community college and certificate programs; $2,500 for four-year schools and graduate programs

Deadline: January

View Scholarship
Executive Women International Adult Students in Scholastic Transition Scholarship

Who is eligible? The ASIST award is available to adult students facing physical, economic, and/or social challenges. Candidates apply through one of the organization's local chapters. Requirements vary by chapter, but applicants generally need to demonstrate financial need and have clearly defined career goals.

Award amount: $2,000-$10,000

Deadline: April

View Scholarship
Jeannette Rankin Women's Scholarship Fund

Who is eligible? The Rankin Foundation offers two awards to female adult students. The Emerge Scholarship is open to applicants who are at least 25 years old, while the Jeannette Rankin Scholarship accepts applications from women ages 35 or older.

Award amount: $2,000 per year for up to five years (contingent on academic performance)

Deadline: February

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Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation Awards

Who is eligible? This program supports mothers with minor children pursuing their first vocational/associate/bachelor's/master's/doctoral/professional degree. Applicants also need to demonstrate low-income status based on the number of people in their household.

Award amount: Up to $5,000

Deadline: August

View Scholarship
Society of Women Engineers Scholarship

Who is eligible? SWE awards a variety of scholarships to women pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees with the intent of working as engineers. To qualify for reentry and nontraditional scholarships, students must be out of school for at least two years prior to the beginning of their current course of study.

Award amount: Varies

Deadline: March for first-year applicants; February for sophomores and above

View Scholarship
Women's Independence Scholarship Program

Who is eligible? Applicants must be female survivors of intimate partner abuse who have been separated from their partner for 2-7 years. On top of financial need, candidates need to have a clear career entry/advancement plan.

Award amount: Varies based on the candidate's situation, but the average award amount is about $2,000 per school term

Deadline: There is no cutoff date. However, applicants should submit all documents at least two months before the start of their program.

View Scholarship


Like scholarships, grants are awards that you do not need to repay. By filling out the FAFSA, you can qualify for a variety of grant funding based on your financial need. You can also apply for grants through state government agencies, community organizations, and professional associations.

true Federal Pell Grants

Individuals who fill out the FAFSA may qualify for a Federal Pell Grant. This money is allocated for undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor's, master's, or professional degree.

State Grants

Every U.S. state provides grants based on factors like financial need, military service, tribal affiliation, and career. You can search for these opportunities by visiting the website of the National Association of Student Aid Administrators.

Private Grants

Private grants usually come from nonprofit organizations, such as the United Negro College Fund. You can also find these awards through professional or industry-specific associations, like the Air Force Aid Society.

Grants for Adult Learners and Nontraditional Students

The following list includes four grants for adult students. Like the scholarships above, these grant programs each come with their own application requirements.

AAUW Career Development Grants

Who is eligible? This program supports female bachelor's degree-holders pursuing advanced credentials for the first time. AAUW prioritizes women of color who are working in nontraditional fields. The grant committee holistically evaluates each candidate based on criteria like the quality of their written proposal and their potential for professional success.

Award amount: $2,000-$12,000

Deadline: November

View Grant
CollegeAmerica Return To Learn Grant

Who is eligible? This award is available to adult students attending CollegeAmerica — a nonprofit higher education institution with five locations across Arizona and Colorado. Students apply for this grant during the admissions process. They need to have some college credits, but cannot have a completed degree.

Award amount: $5,000

Deadline: Varies based on a candidate's start date

View Grant
Program for Continuing Education

Who is eligible? The P.E.O. Sisterhood offers this grant to women living in the U.S. or Canada as citizens/legal permanent residents. The award goes toward tuition, helping students complete a certificate or degree they need for employment. Applicants must receive a recommendation from their local P.E.O. chapter.

Award amount: Up to $3,000

Deadline: Varies based on chapter recommendation

View Grant
Soroptimist Live Your Dream Awards

Who is eligible? This program is open to women who provide primary financial support for themselves and their dependents. Applicants should be currently enrolled in or have been accepted to a vocational/skills training or undergraduate program. They also need to demonstrate financial need.

Award amount: Up to $16,000

Deadline: November

View Grant

Additional Resources For Adult Learners

College for Adults

This website provides comprehensive resources for adult students, helping them apply to college, find scholarships, and strengthen key academic skills. The website provides tools for career exploration and planning.

Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education

ANTSHE supports adult students and postsecondary educators through research, policy advocacy, and community-building. This nonprofit also funds a variety of scholarships and academic awards.

Distance Education Accrediting Commission

In addition to accrediting online colleges, DEAC helps nontraditional students find the right school, apply for financial aid, and earn transfer credits. The organization's student center also provides resources specifically for active military members and veterans.

Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society

By joining ASLHS, nontraditional students can gain access to research and scholarship opportunities. The society helps adult students find a community of peers through national networking events and campus chapters.


GoCollege was founded in 1997 as one of the first websites dedicated to assisting students with college application and financial aid. This comprehensive site provides resources and guides specifically for adult students.

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