Top 7 College Planning Tips Nontraditional Students Can’t Afford to Miss

by | Jul 5, 2021 | Planning for College

Are you an adult nontraditional student looking to go back to college? Feeling a little anxious about it?

I get it, trust me. I went back to school in my 30’s and didn’t know what to expect.  Thoughts about work, money, and bills, drown me in fear.

But the truth? Those of us going back to school in our 30’s aren’t alone. In fact, we’ve quickly become the norm.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports 73% of people currently in college are nontraditional students.  That means, if you’re 24 or older, you’re in good company!

If you’re ready to take the leap, we’ve got you covered. Below is a list of helpful tips to support you on your journey back to college.  

1. Apply For The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

True or false: if you’re over 25 you don’t qualify for FAFSA? The answer is FALSE. No matter your age or station in life, FAFSA is available to you.

As a non or new traditional student, you simply file as an “independent” student as opposed to dependent.

Sure, it’s true that a student receives the most  “free money” or federal grants from FAFSA straight out of high school. But don’t let that discourage you from applying. There are other products that FAFSA offers for financial aid. 

You may be lucky enough to receive a Pell Grant. Likewise, many adult learners qualify for federal student loans. Federal student loans must be paid back with interest but it’s not all bad. The upside is that they have a much lower, fixed interest rate over private loans.

Another plus? Flexible repayment options like income-based monthly payments and student loan forgiveness.  Manageable terms of your repayment options come in handy when the time comes to pay back what you owe.

Want to learn more about FAFSA? 

Check out these awesome FAFSA modules on Inversant’s Learning Circle

Our popular interactive modules are in English and Spanish. Plus, you can watch from the comfort of your home, at your own pace. 

You’ll become a FAFSA wiz in no time. When it comes to money and planning for college, it’s good to know all you can about all your potential funding sources.  

2. Pick the Best College or Career School For Your Budget

Imagine this… you’re spending your Saturday, shopping at the mall. You come across two pairs of jeans. The first pair are designer and gorgeous, but cost the same as your rent. 

The second pair is also of quality, not made by a known designer, but much more cost-friendly. 

Which pair do you pick? If you answered the affordable, quality jeans then you are a savvy shopper. You understand what it means to be ballin’ on a budget. 

This is the same logic you should apply when picking your future college. A school may have a great reputation, but it doesn’t mean that it’s the school for you. 

You’re a grown adult and you have things to pay for, other priorities in life. Make sure you don’t go broke taking out unnecessary loans for a name-brand school. Picking the right school for your budget is what’s most important.

Yea, it would be great to apply to some prestigious university. But do you know what’s better? Completing your CORE classes at a community college for a much better price.

Then, if you choose after getting your associate’s, you can transfer to a 4-year college or university to complete your bachelor’s degree.  

3. Apply for Scholarships and Grants

Do you love free money? I mean… who doesn’t?! 

Scholarships and grants are exactly that: free money to put towards your education. There are so many resources and untapped pots of money out there.

Make space to include in your college plan plenty of time to research grants and scholarships, especially geared to nontraditional students.

Read through this list of always up-to-date Scholarships and Grants.

Grants

While not everyone will qualify for grants, there are still some that may. Check out this list from Student Loan Hero to see what federal grants you may qualify for. 

Scholarships

Scholarship research helped me find a $500 scholarship open to everyone.  What did they want to know? Why I love cats. 🙃

It may sound crazy, but those insanely funny scholarship opportunities are there and available to you. Use them to secure free money with no strings attached. 

To get started, check out these scholarships site:

4. College-Level Examination Program (CLEP Testing)

Are you a fluent Spanish speaker and know you could ace an introductory course, no problem? If so, the College Board’s College-Level Examination Program, or CLEP test, is for you. 

CLEP Testing offers 34 exams that cover intro or 101 college course material. If you pass a CLEP exam, you could earn three or more college credits at over 2,900 U.S. colleges and universities. 

It’s so much cheaper to take a CLEP exam than to pay for a semester of a class or 2. This option also helps you save time and pushes you closer to your end goal.   

5. Your Job May Help Pay for College

There are jobs that may directly or indirectly help employees get a leg up in the college education race.

Take a look at two examples below, of programs that may benefit by way of your job.

Tuition Reimbursement Programs

What is a Tuition Reimbursement Program? Great question.

Employers use this program to help their employees pay for a portion of their college credits.

Interested in finding out if your company offers this? Reach out to your Human Resources Representative for help.

Learning Evaluation Programs

Ever take training at work towards a certain subject? That training may qualify towards college credits.

ACE National Guide is a membership organization that supports the higher education community. They offer an awesome program that translates your training hours into college credits. 

6. Save! Save! Save!

Saving is always the #1 recommended best practice when planning for higher education.

As an adult learner, it may be difficult to pinpoint where in your budget you can make cuts. That’s okay. Whatever you’re able to save can help you out of a tight jam while you are working and going to school. 

There are many FDIC-approved online savings accounts that offer high-yielding interest rates. Use those. 

Another hot tip? Plan out your tax return ahead of time. Take a chunk of your tax return and dedicate it to investing in your education.

7. Maintain a Work/Life/School Balance

Trying to maintain a work/life balance is tough. Adding college to the mix is that much harder. There is no shame in taking your time. Make time to honor yourself.

If you can only take one class a semester, then take one class a semester.  Your mental health is a crucial component of your success.

Working to pay bills isn’t enough, that’s what made me want to go back to school. Wanting more for yourself and DESERVING more has no age limits.

At the same time, I know I have a very full life.  Going to school as a full-time student is not an option for me, and that’s okay.  We’re multidimensional and I’m in this for the long haul. 

This extra planning time allows me the opportunity to research, save, and budget for college in a realistic way.  A way that won’t leave me broke in terms of money, my personal life, or happiness.

All of which I value and are very important to me.

Final Thoughts

Now that you have the tips you need to help you plan for your future, it’s time to take that next step.

Start by signing up for Inversant’s Learning Circle.  Our FAFSA course is the perfect place to begin your non-traditional student journey.

In it, you’ll find the knowledge, skills, and tools needed to save on and for higher education. Once you finish that, take our Financial Aid course to keep pushing towards your goal.

We’re here to support you from the beginning to the end of your higher education journey!

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