Top Grants and Scholarships for the Adult Student

Adults wishing to return to college may face obstacles when financing their education…But that doesn’t mean it is pointless for an adult student to search for grant and scholarship opportunities. It may take some extra effort and long hours searching the internet, but rest assured; there are many grant and scholarship opportunities available to adults pursuing a college degree.

adult-college-studentTraditionally, the majority of scholarships available are reserved for high school seniors and often excludes adults who transfer credits from other colleges. Many times, scholarships and grants also require a student to be enrolled full-time—but unfortunately many adults students simply cannot afford the time to be enrolled more than on a part-time basis. However; if an adult student exhibits a fair amount of patience and performs the right amount of due diligence, scholarship opportunities may be found from employers, professional associations, national and local organizations, and from the college they wish to attend.

Start with Your Employer

The first place any adult student should look is through their employer. This work-related benefit is quickly gaining popularity as more adults decide to continue their education. Conditions may depend on how long the applicant has been employed, or whether the coursework is relevant to a particular career path. Disbursement of funds can vary, as some companies may award the scholarship outright, while others may require the employee to pay for tuition and then be reimbursed, which may be linked to academic performance or grade point average. 

Tap into Local and National Organizations

Another avenue to explore is through local and national organizations. Perhaps being a member of a union would qualify someone for a scholarship through their local chapter, state union office to inquire about these types of scholarships.

Being a member of the American Legion may qualify someone for a scholarship as well. If the applicant is a military reservist or former serviceman who served in a war such as Desert Storm or Vietnam would most likely be eligible. Professional associations may also be a source of scholarship award money.  also refers to the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation who offer scholarship opportunities to members who are at least 25 years of age. These qualifying members can compete for career advancement scholarships to help pay for their education.

Need-based Scholarships

Scholarships based on need and financial challenges may present another opportunity. For example, the Executive Women International offers the Adult Students in Scholastic Transition Scholarship (ASIST) which is a scholarship specifically for adults returning to college. ASIST targets “adults facing economic, social, or physical challenges, who are looking to improve their situation through educational opportunities.” Elearners offers The Project Working Mom Scholarship Fund that has awarded scholarships of over $5 million to single parents who continue their education online. To be chosen for these scholarships, applicants must submit an essay about how they plan to use their education to better their circumstances.

Scholarship seekers should consider local organizations such as their local Chamber of Commerce. cites that of local branches of national organizations that offer scholarship opportunities are Rotary International, and the National Exchange Club. These organizations offer scholarships to people who display outstanding community service or volunteerism, regardless of age or status.

It is always a great idea to visit the college’s financial aid office where the adult student is planning to attend to see what opportunities may be available to them. Some colleges have scholarship programs for students who are over 25 years of age, and who are pursuing their first undergraduate degree. Many students don’t realize this as an option, and unless they ask, a returning adult student will never know of the opportunities that may be available to them through the various scholarship programs.

College Institution Scholarships

The college that the adult student plans to attend may be a great resource for grant money. Many colleges offer their own grants for adult students, so it’s best to visit a financial advisor to see what options are available. According to, as more students are enrolling into online degree programs, there are new grants available to help with online schooling costs. These grants are awarded on a “need-based” system and students with the most financial needs will receive the larger awards. Individual colleges are also increasing the number of grants they offer to those pursing a degree online, which goes back to making sure the adult student visits or places a call to the financial aid office to find out what online grant options may be available to them.

Give Grants a Try

Grants are another way for adult students to lessen the financial burden created by Federal Student Loan Debt. Grants are different that scholarship in the fact that they are primarily awarded by a “needs-based” situation, whereas Scholarships are usually awarded on “merit-based” considerations.

There are a multitude of grants available if the adult student has the patience and drive to find them. The most widely utilized grant is the Federal Pell Grant which is an option if financial need is proven. According to the Department of Education, the Pell Grant is usually only awarded to undergraduate students who have not earned a Bachelor’s or professional degree. Award amount received depends on financial need, so the lower the family income, the more money the student has the chance of receiving. Funds are limited and once the government uses all the money they have budgeted, no more will be awarded until the next year. Students must complete a FASFA is needed in order for this grant to be awarded.

Minority or Gender-based Grants

As a woman returning to school, there are other grant options available, especially for single moms, non-traditionally-aged college students, and minority women. For example, cites that The Jeanette Ranking Foundations offers grant money to women who can demonstrate how a degree will improve their lives and benefit their community. Also, The Possible Woman Foundation International offers grant money to help women to help them reenter the workforce with the skills they need to be successful. With the right amount of research, the internet can provide many more sources of grant money available to the adult woman student. also states there are also specific grants aimed toward minority students.

  • Mexican American, along with other Latino groups may qualify for The Gates Millennium Scholars Program, a grant opportunities for Latino students.
  • African Americans also have minority grants available to them that are designed to promote diversity within a college. The United Negro College Fund a one major source of school grants.
  • The American Indian College Fund is a resource focused on Native Americans who need financial support to pay for school.
  • Physically challenged, disabled and the learning disabled are other groups that can receive specific grants to help them obtain a degree.

Often times, major corporations will offer grant money to minorities regardless of the student status to promote diversity within their company and workforce. It’s important for the adult student to ask about these types of grants when asking their employer about available funding for a degree.

Research Opportunities through your State Government

An adult student interested in returning to school should be sure to visit their state government’s website to find out if they offer degree-specific grants and/or scholarships. Checking with the state government can result in grants geared toward specific areas of need, such as nursing, teaching, or criminal justice programs. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program through Direct Loans may offer a student Federal Student Loan forgiveness to ease the burden of student loan debt with obtaining a degree and working in the public service field, for example.

As an adult or non-traditional student, one may find it more difficult to find a scholarship or grant than a current high school graduate, but armed with internet access and the right amount of determination, they just might discover more than they ever expected to find.

David Tassione

David Tassione is a Student Loan Advisor Team Leader for the Loan Management Department at Rasmussen University in Illinois. He has worked in the field of Loan and/or Default Management for two years. David has been instrumental in collaborating with the Financial Services department at Rasmussen University to keep Cohort Default Rates below the national average.

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