A crucial concern facing many returning adult students is how they are going to meet their college education expenses. To begin our discussion, we must first eradicate the falsehood that financial aid is primarily for younger prospective college students. On the contrary, specific grants, loans, and scholarships, both privately and publicly funded, are continually made available to the adult learner.
How does one know if his or her program of choice qualifies for financial aid assistance? According to the U.S. Department of Education, higher education includes the following educational settings: colleges, universities, graduate or professional schools, community colleges, vocational or technical schools, or any other school beyond high school.
To begin, two basic categories of financial aid exist - need-based and non-need based. Sources include federal, state, institutional, and private. Need-based aid is based on a student's financial need, and not on academic merit or talent. Need-based aid exists in three forms: grants and scholarships, loans, and employment. A substantial amount of need-based aid is issued annually from the federal government. Non-need based aid is not based on financial need, but rather on one's academic abilities, special skills, talents, or other specific criteria.
How does one know if he or she is eligible for need-based financial aid? The federal government has developed a need analysis formula to determine one's Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which indicates the amount that a student is expected to contribute toward his or her educational expenses within a given year. School financial aid administrators also utilize this formula when awarding Federal aid. This need analysis is presented here as an equation: "Cost of Attendance - Expected Family Contribution = Need" Basically, the cost of attendance includes the following items: tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and miscellaneous expenses.
Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended in 1998, has sanctioned the following federal financial aid programs: Federal Pell Grants, Federal Stafford Loans (subsidized and unsubsidized), Federal PLUS Loans, Campus-Based Programs, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Federal Work Study, and Perkins Loans. Keep in mind that one's EFC information is not a prerequisite eligibility criterion for all of these programs.
The most popular of these programs is the Federal Pell Grant, issued to undergraduate students who have not yet earned a baccalaureate or professional degree. Students can apply for this grant by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form online through the U.S. Department of Education's website, http://www.fafsa.ed.gov. The FAFSA form also enables students to apply for federal student loans such as Federal Stafford Loans, Federal PLUS Loans, and Perkins Loans.
A need-based subsidized Stafford loan specifies that the government pays the interest on the loan while the student is in school, during grace periods, and during any deferment periods. An unsubsidized Stafford Loan specifies that the student is responsible for paying all of the interest that accrues. Both undergraduate and graduate level students are eligible to apply for Stafford and Perkins loans.
In addition to the aforementioned, adult students should also research the availability of private scholarships offered through their learning institution of choice. Private scholarships are also offered as either need-based or non-need based. Various criteria offer numerous students eligibility for such programs. Specific criteria may include: field of study, ethnic background, single parent status, leadership abilities, and academic memberships. In addition to the information provided here, students are urged to contact their particular school's financial aid officer, who will discuss with the student his or her financial aid options.