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Nontraditional College Students: Know Your Funding

Paying for school as a nontraditional college student can be challenging but there are many resources available to help with financing a degree.

Are you considering going back to school as a as a parent, part time student, while you are working full-time, or after you complete your GED? If so, then you are considered a “nontraditional” college student.

A nontraditional student is typically an older student going back to finish a degree; a laid-off worker who wants additional credentials to improve her job prospects; or a 30-something office worker who realizes she’s always wanted to be a teacher or needs a higher degree to move up in her chosen career path.

One of the first major concerns for any student—traditional or nontraditional—pursing a degree is how you will pay for it. If you’re concerned your nontraditional status might be a roadblock to getting financial aid, don’t worry. You can qualify for much of the financial assistance a recent high-school graduate does – and you might even qualify for some special programs geared to non-traditional students.

Ready to get started on financing your college education? Here are six steps you should take now (if you haven’t already).

It’s not the same FAFSA you remember.

Federal student aid, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education, is the country’s largest source of student financial aid and provides more than $150 billion in federal grants, loans and work-study support each year. To find out if you qualify for aid, and how much you qualify for, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

A few things to keep in mind regarding the FAFSA:

  • It’s much easier to fill out than it used to be. The online FAFSA application can pull some information straight from the IRS.
  • It will help you find a variety of tuition resources – including scholarships and grants you don’t have to pay back. If your life changes, FAFSA awards can change too – although the awards are based on income from the previous year, if you’ve had big changes you might be able to qualify for different aid levels.

Talk to your employer.

Many companies have tuition assistance and even scholarships and grants for their employees – your human resource department or manager should be able to help you find out.

Consider using a 529 savings plan.

These are tax-advantaged plans to help pay for college expenses. If you have one that you – or your parents – set up in the past, you can still use it now (there’s no age limit). What if you opened one for a child that didn’t get used? You can transfer it into your name and use it yourself. Find out more about 529 Plans.

Check out the Lifetime Learning Credit.

This is a tax credit that can be used to help pay for undergraduate, graduate and professional degree courses. There’s no limit on how many years you can claim it and it’s worth up to $2,000 per tax return. To find out more about the Lifetime Learning Credit, check out the IRS page on the topic.

Search the internet for scholarships.

You might be surprised to learn that many college scholarships don’t have an age limit and that some were created with non-traditional students in mind. To find options to explore, begin your search here. Also, keep an eye out for the Oklahoma Central Scholarship Program. Applications are accepted each spring.

Investigate the benefits of a private loan.

If you’ve exhausted the aforementioned avenues, then you might consider adding a private loan to the mix of funding sources to make your college dreams a reality.

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