Going back to school is one of the best things you can do to improve your quality of life and career prospects. A 2018 survey found that 70% of adults view higher education as critical for workplace success, and 60% report contemplating returning to school.
However, financial barriers loom. Seventy-five percent of respondents claimed they were concerned about being “burdened with student loan debt,” and 70% reported that other financial barriers prevented their return to school.
Don’t let the financial barriers of today prevent you from realizing a happier financial future tomorrow! Loans aren’t the only option for funding your education. Grants for adult students can help you pay for school without taking on more debt.
Paying for School With a Grant: The Basics
Grants are financial awards that pay for all or a portion of your school costs. Unlike student loans, you don’t typically have to pay them back.
Thousands of grants are available to fund your education. However, each has its own terms and specific dollar amount, so it’s important to apply for grants that are a good fit for your needs and goals. In some cases, you may be able to use multiple grants or a combination of grants and loans to fully fund your academic career.
Here are some questions to ask when applying for a grant:
Who is eligible for this grant?
Some grants are for members of specific organizations. Others target returning learners, people majoring in a specific field or people with certain life experiences, such as first-generation college students.
What are the requirements I must meet to retain eligibility?
Some grants require you to complete a certain number of credit hours each semester, attain a specific GPA or even do community service.
How much money can I get?
Some grants award a specific amount to every student. Others offer a range based on factors, such as financial needs or academic standing.
What does the grant cover?
Funding your education includes more than just paying tuition. You will need family support, work flexibility and possibly childcare. Some grants mitigate these pressures by offering funding for textbooks, childcare and other common expenses.
What is the application process?
Some grants require only five minutes of paperwork, whereas others demand extensive documentation, references or even an interview. Get clarity about the requirements to apply for the grant, then weigh these against the grant’s value. A $500 grant might not justify multiple essays, but a grant that fully funds your entire education could.
If you hope to apply for a grant, it’s wise to start early. The more applications you can fill out, the more grants you may earn.
Loans vs. Grants for Adults Going Back to School
You don’t have to choose between loans and grants. You can use both to fund your education. However, there are some key differences between the two:
- Eligibility requirements: Subsidized federal student loans are need-based, whereas grants have a range of eligibility requirements that may or may not include financial need. Unsubsidized loans generally require a credit check.
- Application process: The loan application process focuses on your finances and credit, whereas grants vary in their requirements.
- Federal availability: A small number of federal student grants are available — most notably, the Federal Pell Grant.
- Disbursement and use options: There may be limitations on how you can use your grant or to whom it is disbursed. For example, the grant might go directly to the school or require that you provide proof that you are enrolled before the funds can be released.
- Repayment: You have to repay student loans, although you may be eligible for student loan forgiveness as part of some financial programs. You don’t have to pay back grants if you meet the grant’s requirements.
Where to Find Grants for Adult Students
With so many grants available, you may need to look in multiple places to find the right fit for your educational goals. Here are some options to get you started:
- Grant websites: Sites such as Unigo maintain comprehensive and searchable lists of grants.
- Federal government: The Federal Student Aid website maintains a list of grants.
- School: Your school may maintain a list of grant options, so visit your financial aid office to explore your options.
- Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers several grants, among other benefits.
- Organizations: Many organizations, including hundreds of nonprofits, offer grants. Consider reaching out to organizations that share your interests. For example, if you intend to become a social worker, local nonprofits that work with children and families may be interested in supporting you. Also, ask about grants from any organization at which you are currently a member.
- Churches: Some churches offer grants to their members. Check your church bulletin or visit the church business office.
- Employers: Your employer may offer grants for adults going back to college, especially if you work for a larger company. Be sure to inquire about this employee benefit.
Do You Have to Pay Back Grants for College?
A grant is not a loan. This means that you do not have to repay it after you graduate. You will, however, have to meet the terms of the grant. If you fail to do so or do not use the money to fund your education, you could have to repay all or a portion of the money.
This is a rare circumstance, though. Even if you don’t graduate or earn low grades, you won’t typically have to repay the grant. Be sure to carefully review the grant's terms to ensure you can meet them. In some cases, you will get the grant every year if you continue to meet the grant’s requirements.
Other Strategies for Paying for College
Although college costs have risen exponentially, the options for funding college have also expanded. Even for adult learners with significant debt or a history of student loan default, there may be numerous options for funding college. At SNU, almost all students receive some financial aid. You can maximize your college funding options by combining several different financial aid awards, including:
- Subsidized student loans
- Unsubsidized student loans
- Grants, including federal grants
- Military and VA benefits
Consider also that a shorter graduation timeline makes college more affordable by reducing tuition costs, childcare needs, transportation and missed work costs. A school that prioritizes rapid graduation while still ensuring a rigorous academic program is a great fit for most adult learners.
Don’t rule out loans or other forms of federal aid before consulting with our financial aid office. We can help you choose a moderate approach that limits debt and ensures you can fully fund your degree and graduate on time. Visit our financial aid office to learn more.
SNU is committed to making college accessible and affordable while also offering a quality education that makes you competitive in today’s job market. We save you time and money with a variety of course structures, including online and evening classes. Our goal is to help you graduate quickly, armed with the professional expertise you need to build a fulfilling life and give back to your community.
To compare your options for attending college as an adult learner, check out our free guide.