Paying for college if you’re a non-traditional student doesn’t have to be an expensive burden. If you’re thinking of going back to school and over 25, you can fill out the FAFSA. For all students, the FAFSA is the key to getting federal money to help pay for college. Applying for federal aid can help students — traditional and non-traditional — get grants, federal loans, and scholarships.
Official data suggest that the average cost of a four-year degree program is $27,357. So, it makes sense to get as much help as possible to pay for college. Federal grants can be worth thousands of dollars to cover school fees, and you don’t have to repay the money. Also, scholarships can significantly reduce the cost of college. Even federal loans make paying for college easier due to lower interest rates and flexible payment options.
If you’re a non-traditional student, how can the FAFSA help you pay for college? This article gives you the top ten tips on using the FAFSA to get money for going back to school.
Are You a Non-Traditional Student?
You are a non-traditional student if you are age 25 and over. The National Center for Education Statistics says that typically, non-traditional students are financially independent. These students often have family responsibilities and may be raising one or more children as a single parent. Also, most non-traditional students work full- or part-time.
Related reading: Top tips for non-traditional students to be successful.
What is the FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an application to assess financial need. Non-traditional and regular students file the FAFSA as the first step in applying for aid to pay for college. The application helps determine eligibility to get grants, loans, and some scholarships.
The Pell Grant is the most common type of federal aid awarded to eligible students, regardless of age.
Related reading: Five things you never knew about the FAFSA.
The Top 10 FAFSA Tips for Non-Traditional Students to Pay for College
If you’re going to college, filing the FAFSA is an excellent way to fund your college education. As a non-traditional student, your earnings — not your parents’ — are the basis for the evaluation. Even if you don’t think you qualify, you should still file. After all, it’s a chance to get free college money you don’t need to repay.
Here are the top ten FAFSA tips so that you can afford to go to college.
1. Non-traditional students are eligible for financial assistance
Age is no barrier when it comes to applying for free college money. Even if you are enrolling in college as an adult learner, the FAFSA is there to assess your eligibility. In some cases, you could qualify for a federal grant. In other cases, some scholarships for non-traditional students require you to file the FAFSA first.
2. Filing the FAFSA is free for everyone
Students of any age should file the FAFSA because it doesn’t cost anything. If you need help filling the application, you should visit the FAFSA website or speak to someone at your school’s financial aid office.
Related reading: FAFSA mistakes to avoid at all cost.
3. Always file the FAFSA if you attend college
It’s worth filing the FAFSA early, even if you can pay for college without taking out a loan. Although federal grants are awarded based on severe financial need, you could still get scholarships. Any additional help to pay for college means more money in your pocket.
4. Filing the FAFSA online is faster
Speed up the processing time by filing your FAFSA online. Although you can still fill out a paper application, it can take three weeks to process. The other advantage of filing the FAFSA online is that it automatically gets your tax information. The IRS DRT tool fills in the relevant tax details, significantly reducing the chances of making mistakes.
5. Avoid Common FAFSa filing Mistakes
Crucial to getting money to pay college tuition and fees is filling the FAFSA accurately. Applying as a non-traditional student means that eligibility depends on your earnings. However, you should take care to answer every question accurately. This means using your legal name, getting your social security number right, and not leaving blank spaces on forms.
6. The FAFSA helps non-traditional students get scholarships
Did you know that millions of dollars in scholarships go unclaimed every year? Unfortunately, many students don’t apply for scholarships because they assume that they won’t win them. Even if the amount is small, the value of scholarships adds up. Scholarships could go a long way to covering tuition fees.
Related reading: What should you do after applying for a scholarship?
7. Financial aid pays for more than just college
Financial assistance awarded through the FAFSA is generally for college fees, tuition, and course material. But you can use any extra money to pay for additional expenses. The funds could pay for childcare, food, utilities, or transportation to college.
8. Apply for financial assistance every year
Don’t make the mistake of forgetting to file the FAFSA. To continue receiving financial aid, you should apply before the deadline every year. You must do this even if your financial situation hasn’t changed.
9. Speak to the financial aid office if your circumstances change
What happens if your circumstances change? FAFSA awards non-traditional students grants based on income. Losing your job, going through a divorce, or having large medical bills impacts your income. So, you may be eligible to get more money towards college. If you have faced life-changing circumstances, speak to the financial aid office at your school.
10. Appeal your award
When filing your FAFSA, a great tip is to appeal if you’re not satisfied with the amount of financial aid. For example, your circumstances could have changed since submitting the form. To appeal the award, you should speak to someone in the financial aid office where you go to college.
How Non-Traditional Students Can Pay for College: The Bottom Line
Funding to pay for college is available to non-traditional students, as well as “traditional” students. The FAFSA is the key to accessing free money or low-interest federal loans to help you pay for college. Always make sure you submit the FAFSA, even though you don’t think that you’ll qualify.