In today's higher education landscape, students come from all walks of life, from the recent high school graduate who decides to work full-time before attending college, to the mom who's ready to head back to school.
If, like these examples, you identify as a nontraditional student, you're probably spending lots of time looking at financial aid options. The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, an independent committee that advises Congress and the Secretary of Education, found that financial barriers are the primary cause for part-time and delayed enrollment. And whether you're seeking an online degree or enrolling on campus, the Scholarship Coach has a handful of scholarship opportunities for you to pursue.
[Get answers to three common questions nontraditional students ask.]
If you're looking to resume your undergraduate studies, the Bernard Osher Foundation's Osher Reentry Scholarship Program rewards individuals who want to continue their education after five or more years away from school. The foundation doesn't directly distribute awards to students. Instead, institutions apply to administer the scholarship based on funds that the foundation gives them.
Each institution can apply for up to $50,000 a year with possible renewal for second and third years, so it's worth researching to see if your school of interest offers the program. There are currently 90 institutions on the foundation's list and you'll want to check with specific schools to see when their application cycle closes.
For women seeking to restart their studies or to make a career change, the American Association of University Women offers a career development grant for its members. The one-year grant, which ranges from $2,000 to $12,000, allows women to complete course work beyond a bachelor's degree. According to the organization's website, primary consideration is given to women of color and women pursuing their first advanced degree or credentials in nontraditional fields.
[Find out why older students face struggles in college.]
In addition to an online application, other program requirements include a proposed budget and narrative, one letter of recommendation and a $35 nonrefundable filing fee. Although grant recipients have already been chosen for the 2014-2015 academic year, keep tabs on the site for a new application. Last year's cycle opened Aug. 1.
If you or your family is strapped for financial resources and you live in rental housing, you may be eligible for the Mary Lou Manzie Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship, offered by the National Leased Housing Association, targets nontraditional students who live in rental housing that's owned, managed or administered by the group. Association members are primarily involved in Section 8 housing programs.
Applicants must demonstrate both merit and need. The scholarship can be used to cover the cost of tuition, books and other class-related expenses. Although 2014 scholarship recipients have already been selected, so check back this winter for the 2015 application.
[Check out these scholarship programs for low-income students.]
Finally, seek student groups or associations that assist nontraditional students. On-campus resources like the University of Wyoming's Nontraditional Student Center, which says that one in three students enrolled at the university is a nontraditional student, offer significant services.
In addition to listing relevant scholarship opportunities, these centers can also provide interest groups and academic support. National associations like the Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education can also offer support and networking alongside scholarships.
The skyrocketing cost of tuition, as well as personal obligations, means that there are a number of factors that can contribute to nontraditional student status. No matter your situation, it's never too late for school, and these scholarship opportunities can give you a head start for your return to campus.
Carissa Chang joined Scholarship America in 2013. She is an alumna of Taylor University and a former scholarship recipient.