Every student’s college experience is different. Sure, the majority of students earn their high school diploma and in the same year, enroll in college. But not everyone takes this route, and this is where nontraditional students come into play.
You may be wondering what a nontraditional student is and if you fall into this category. There is not a catch all definition for nontraditional students, and in fact there can be a wide range of these types of students.
We will go over what it means to be a nontraditional student, how they can apply for scholarships, and answer any general questions about scholarships and why they are important.
What is a Nontraditional Student?
As we’ve said, there is not a “one size fits all” definition of a nontraditional student. A traditional student usually falls in the age range of 18-23. They enroll in college immediately or soon after high school graduation. Many traditional students will work part-time while being enrolled in college, but they are still considered full-time students.
Nontraditional students are usually over the age of 24 and older. Because of this, these students usually have work or family situations that make them unable to attend college full-time. Nontraditional students may hold a full-time job which will make them a part-time student or someone who occasionally attends college.
Some nontraditional students may have dependents such as children. They could be a single-parent who is enrolled in school part time because they have to split and manage time between work, their children, and school.
Other nontraditonal students may have gone a different route in enrolling in college. They might have a GED rather than a traditional high school diploma. Usually, these students do not live on campus like the rest of the general population.
Because nontraditional students fall into these categories of unique or extenuating circumstances, they might have a difficult path to earning their degree. Fortunately, there are support programs that are in place specifically to help these kinds of students. One support network is the Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education. Another is the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education. These organizations provide support, scholarships, and a mission that holds true to the belief that it’s never too late to return to school.
Here is a quick breakdown of everyone who is considered a nontraditional student:
- Students over the age of 24
- Students who enroll in college after being graduated from high school for one year or more. These students could have taken a gap year, but they did not immediately enroll in college after high school.
- Students who attend a part-time program due to supporting a family or holding a full-time job.
- Students who have to care for dependents that are not their spouse. i.e. single parents
- Students who are financially independent meaning they do not get any financial help from their parents.
- Students who have a full-time job.
- Students who have a GED.
Why Should Nontraditional Students Attend College?
For nontraditional students, higher education can lead to bettering their life either for themselves and their families, if they have one. Nontraditional students may be in a different age range, but usually come with helpful life experience. They either have previous work experience or a detailed history of life experience. This can be extremely helpful to general members of the student population who are traditional students. Even though it might be more difficult to reach graduation, because older students know the meaning of hard work and perseverance, they can often attain their goals with extra support.
How Do Scholarships Help?
Nontraditional students may need scholarships more than any other category of student. They might be responsible for paying their own way through college, while working, and also supporting a family.
Scholarships are essentially free money. They don’t need to be repaid, and so any scholarship will help.
There are scholarships specific to nontraditonal students and scholarships that aren’t. Some scholarships will only require the student to be enrolled in college, regardless of age. Finding scholarships is difficult for every category of student because they can have such specific requirements to even be eligible to apply.
Do Nontraditional Students Qualify for Financial Aid?
You will hear many traditional students talking about the FAFSA -- or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This application is from the government and determines what federal aid they are eligible to receive. All nontraditional students should fill out a FAFSA just like younger students.
There is no age limit on a Federal Pell Grant. This grant, unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid. It is awarded to students who show exceptional financial need and have not earned a bachelor, masters, or professional degree.
If you are awarded a Pell Grant, all you have to do to maintain the grant is stay enrolled in an undergraduate program and complete a FAFSA every year. It automatically goes away after completion of your bachelors degree.
Nontraditoinal students are sometimes eligible for increased loan limits -- however this can be a slippery slope. Students who fill out the FAFSA will be eligible for direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
Subsidized loans are slightly better in that the U.S. Department of Education will pay the interest on your loan while you are enrolled in school at least half-time, for up to six months after leaving school, and during a deferment period. Unsubsidized loans are different, students are responsible for paying the interest on these loans at all times.
There is no single answer to describe how much you will receive in loans, this is determined by your school.
Nontraditonal students may also be eligible for grants based on financial need. Scholarships are available depending on criteria. For example, some scholarships for nontraditional students may be specific to major, graduate students, single parents, and women. We will help you determine what scholarships are best for you.
Scholarships for Nontraditional Students
Even though scholarships exist for nontradtional students, there is still a certain set of criteria for recipients of these awards. We will list a few scholarships so that nontraditional students can get a sense of how specific these scholarships can get.
ASPSF Single-Parent Scholarship
Amount of scholarship: Varies
The ASPSA scholarship is open to residents of Arkansas and Bowie County, Texas. They must meet the definition of a single-parent -- single, or married but divorice will be finalized by the time the award will be distributed. You must have 50% custody of one dependent child under the age of 18. You are the only adult in the home with children, you live with your parents/relatives, or a roommate who is not your partner or co-parent.
From there further requirements are:
- Legal resident of the United States
- Earned a high school diploma or GED
- Have not previously earned a bachelor’s degree
- Have a 2.0 cumulative GPA
- Household income is not more than 250% of Federal Poverty Guidelines
- Completed or in the process of completing the FAFSA
- Attending an ASPSF approved school or training program
- Pursuing a degree or certification that leads to employment at family-supporting wages
Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund
Amount of Scholarship: Varies
The Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund provides scholarships and support for low-income women ages thirty-five and older across the US to build better lives through post-secondary education. To apply, you must be a permanent resident of the United States.
To complete the application, students will need to prove low-income status through tax returns (income guidelines are posted on their website) and provide most recent transcripts or letter of acceptance in a not-for-profit, regionally accredited program. Applicants must be pursuing a technical, vocational, associate’s, or first-time bachelor’s degree. Two letters of recommendation from non-family members must also be submitted with the application. The scholarship is renewable for up to five years.
Betty Barrick Non-Traditional Student Scholarship
Amount of Scholarship: $1,000
The Betty Barrick Scholarship will be awarded to a student, age 25 or older that is an undergraduate degree in agriculture or a natural-resources related field. Applications must have attached copies of the applicant’s high school transcripts and any college transcripts, two original letters of recommendation, and a comprehensive essay. Guidelines for the essay can be found with application instructions, other instructions and eligibility requirements can also be found on the website.
Mary Lou Manzie Memorial Scholarship
Amount of Scholarship: Varies
This scholarship, presented by the National Leased Housing Association goes to students who live in public housing. This scholarship goes to nontraditional students who demonstrate both merit and need and want the chance to pursue higher education that will lead to better employment opportunities. Additional instructions can be found on their website.
These are just a few of the scholarships that are available to nontraditional students and offer a glimpse of what these students should be looking for as they apply. Make note of need-based scholarships, those for single-parents, and major-specific awards. If you can gather the criteria about yourself and your intended major, this will make it easy to determine which scholarships apply to you and which don’t.