15 Scholarships and Grants for Adult Students Returning to College

Earning a Bachelor’s degree has long been associated with financial benefits throughout one’s career. While returning to college as an adult can initially seem expensive, the long-term advantages often outweigh the costs. For those concerned about finances, there’s good news: adult learners have access to various financial aid options.

adult student

Federal student loans are available without any age limits, providing a reliable source of funding for non-traditional students. Additionally, numerous scholarships and grants specifically target adult students seeking to resume their education. These college grants and scholarships can significantly reduce the need for borrowing, making higher education more accessible and affordable for adult learners.

How can I return to college for free?

Going back to college for free will be a challenge, but you can significantly cut down on the amount you have to borrow. There are hundreds of grants and scholarships available for continuing education that are free to apply for.

However, many students overlook these scholarships because the amounts are so small. When you’re expected to pay tens of thousands of dollars in college tuition, a $1,000 scholarship doesn’t seem like it would make much of an impact.

But just those small purchases at Target or the grocery store add up and make a dent in your monthly budget; scholarships quickly add up as well. Applying for scholarships can cut down on your out-of-pocket expenses and make it easier for you to go back to college.

15 Places to Find Scholarships for Returning Students

Are you interested in applying for scholarships, but unsure where you should start? Listed below are 15 scholarships for adults returning to school.

1. Imagine America

Nontraditional students over 21 can apply for a $1,000 scholarship from Imagine America. This scholarship is for adult students looking to continue their education at a trade school. Applicants must become a member of the foundation to apply.

2. Fastweb

Fastweb is one of the best resources available for finding college scholarships. You can search through a database of over 1.5 million scholarships, and the site is free and fairly intuitive to use.

You will need to create a Fastweb account to apply for scholarships, but this is pretty easy to do. And once you’ve entered your personal information, the company will use this to match you with scholarships that might be a good fit.

3. Return2College

Every year, Return2College awards three scholarships to adult students who are looking to go back to school. You can use the $1,000 scholarship to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree. To apply, you’ll need to write an essay and submit it by January 31, 2024.

4. GoGrad

GoGrad provides information on finding scholarships, as well as a database you can search. One thing that’s unique about GoGrad is that it can point you toward specific scholarships catering to women, veterans, and the LGBTQ community.

5. Scholarship America

Scholarship America lets you browse through their database of scholarships before even creating an account. And you can specify your search based on the availability of the scholarship and by specific states.

6. Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant

Adult students who are pursuing a degree in teaching may be eligible for the federal TEACH grant. This $4,000 grant is available for future teachers that are willing to commit to working in a low-income school for four years after graduation.

7. Unigo

Unigo provides resources for high school, college, and graduate students. And it also has a free database of over 3.6 million scholarships worth over $14 billion. After you create your profile, Unigo will match you with scholarships that might be a good fit.

Unigo also offers its own $10,000 scholarship. The company has awarded over $500,000 in scholarships to date.

8. Scholly

Scholly is a mobile app that connects college students to scholarships tailored just for them. After you’ve created your profile, Scholly will send you a list of possible scholarships. Each scholarship will come with a rating, and the higher the score, the more likely the scholarship is a good match for you.

9. SuperCollege Scholarship

The SuperCollege Scholarship is a $1,000 award that aims to make higher education more affordable and accessible for all students, regardless of their age.

Eligible applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are currently enrolled in college or plan to start soon. One winner is chosen at random and the funds can be used to cover any education-related expenses.

10. College JumpStart Scholarship

The College JumpStart Scholarship is available to nontraditional students in the United States (or legal residents). It offers a $1,000 award to a student who is dedicated to using education to improve their own life, as well as the lives of their family and community.

To apply, candidates must submit a 250-word personal statement based on one of several provided prompts. You must either be currently enrolled in a two or four-year college or vocational school, or have plans to enroll within the next 12 months.

This scholarship search engine by Sallie Mae will connect you to 950,000 scholarships. And you can set alerts to notify you when new scholarships become available.

12. Pell Grants

A Pell Grant is available for students that can demonstrate financial need. The maximum amount you can be rewarded in the first year is $5,775. The nice thing about a Pell Grant is that it’s solely based on financial need, not the total cost of attendance.

13. Check with Professional Organizations

One good way to find new scholarships is by joining a professional organization within your field of study. Of course, finding the right organization will take more digging on your part, but it could be a great way to uncover valuable scholarships.

If you don’t currently belong to a professional organization, you can check JobStars to find a list of organizations for different industries.

14. CollegeScholarships.org

Unlike many other options on this list, CollegeScholarships.org doesn’t ask for any personal information or require you to create a profile. You can browse through the list of scholarships for free, and you can filter your search by your location, gender, and more.

15. Your College

Scholarship databases are excellent resources to take advantage of, but don’t forget to look into opportunities at your college. Contact the financial aid department at the school you plan to attend and ask them to send you an up-to-date list of scholarships for graduate students.

If you’re still considering several schools, this is even better. Contact every school you plan to apply to and compare the scholarship opportunities offered by each. This can help you narrow down your search.

Tips for Applying for Scholarships and Grants

If you’re just getting started, applying for scholarships can feel overwhelming. But, here are a few steps you can take to organize your search and improve your chances of success:

  • Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid: If you’re considering going back to school, the first item on your to-do list is to fill out the FAFSA. Once you’ve filled out the FAFSA, you’ll have access to federal grants and student loans. Even if you don’t qualify for any grants, you should qualify for federal loans, which come with lower interest rates than private loans.
  • Get your paperwork together ahead of time: You’ll need to have letters of recommendation before you can apply for scholarships. It’s a good idea to gather these ahead of time, so you’ll be prepared once you start applying.
  • Create a deadline calendar: Different scholarships will have different application deadlines. To keep yourself organized, you can track your applications on a calendar, so you can be sure you won’t miss out on anything.
  • Start early and apply often: Start applying for scholarships a year before you plan to return to school. And apply for as many as possible to maximize your odds of success.
  • Always follow the directions: The easiest way to miss out on free scholarship money is by not following the directions. Make sure you read through the directions and follow them to the letter.
  • Don’t rule any scholarships out: And finally, don’t rule any scholarships out because you think they’re too small. Even if it’s just $500, that’s free money you won’t have to pay back after graduation. Small numbers add up to big numbers, so apply for everything you can.

Bottom Line

Returning to college as an adult student presents unique financial challenges, but also numerous opportunities for financial aid through scholarships and grants. The key takeaway is that adult learners have access to a wide array of funding options that can significantly reduce the burden of tuition costs. These include federal student loans with no age restrictions, specific scholarships for adult learners, and grants targeting different demographics and educational paths.

While the prospect of managing education costs can be daunting, especially with the perception that scholarships offer minimal relief, it’s essential to recognize the cumulative impact of these financial aids. Just as minor expenses can add up over time, small scholarships collectively can make a substantial difference in managing education costs. The process requires diligence, organization, and an open-minded approach to applying for as many opportunities as possible, regardless of the amount.

Jamie Johnson
Meet the author

Jamie Johnson is a freelance writer who has been featured in publications like InvestorPlace and GOBankingRates. She writes about various personal finance topics including student loans, credit cards, investing, building credit, and more.