10 Facts About Financial Aid for Non-Traditional Students

Money for College Is Available for Everyone

Money for college is available for everyone, but not everyone knows where to start. Non traditional students—those older than 25—are especially 

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Every Student Is Eligible for Financial Aid for College

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Digital Vision - Getty Images

Every student attending a public or private institution of higher learning in the U.S. is eligible to apply for federal financial aid. It doesn't matter how old you are or how long you've been out of school.

Applying for financial aid is your first step in returning to school.

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It Doesn't Cost Anything

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Barry Yee - Getty Images

Do not pay anybody to help you find financial aid. Free help is available at www.fafsa.ed.gov or from any college or university financial aid office. All you have to do is ask. It's free.

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It's Important to Start Early

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Looking for financial aid is your first step in the college admissions process. Start early. Applications take time to process. The paper version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application takes four to six weeks to process.

Katherine Coates of the Awareness and Outreach Department at the U.S. Department of Education says, "If a student completes the paper FAFSA, they can receive their Student Aid Report (SAR) after four to six weeks of processing time.

"However, if they complete the FAFSA via the Web, they can receive their SAR in three to five days and so will the school or schools listed on the FAFSA, and their home state."

Either way, start early.

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Your School's Financial Aid Office Is There to Help You

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Every college or university has a financial aid office. Call, make an appointment, and go in to see how they can help you return to school. Their services are free. They're very experienced. They want you to succeed.

Ask to talk with a financial aid officer. Tell them what you want, and they'll help you get it.

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You'll Need Your Tax Statements

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Mel Svenson - Getty Images

Most aid is based on financial need. Your tax statements tell the people with the money how much you make and how much money you'll need to make school a reality. If you haven't filed taxes, you'll need to prove how you manage to make a living.

If you're reading this, you're likely a nontraditional student older than 25 and are no longer dependent on your parents. If you are dependent on your parents, you'll need to take a copy of your parent's tax statement.

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The FAFSA Must Be Filled Out Online at Many Universities

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Cavan Images - Getty Images

The days of paper applications are gone at many universities. The best way to apply for FAFSA is online. You can do it yourself at www.fafsa.ed.gov or get help from the financial aid office at your school. You'll probably have to fill it out online there, too, but they'll be there to help if you get stuck or have questions.

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Some Scholarships Don't Have Applicants

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Woman smiling with laptop by Jupiterimages - Getty Images

Believe it or not, there are scholarships available every year that nobody applies for. What a shame. Apply for every scholarship you can find, even if they're worth small amounts. Scholarships add up, and they don't have to be paid back.

Some students don't apply for scholarships because they think they can't compete. Apply anyway. You might just be the only applicant, and if so, the scholarship is likely to be yours.

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It Pays to Be Persistent

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You know the adage: the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Be persistent. If you have asked the financial aid office for help and haven't heard back, call. Keep calling. They're not ignoring you, they're just very busy. If you keep your name in front of them, you'll get the help you need.

You don't have to be rude. Be nice. Just don't let go until you get the financial help you need. Be a squeaky wheel.

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Financial Aid Pays for All Kinds of Expenses

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Financial aid is intended to pay for tuition, school fees, and books. But after that, you can use it to pay for anything else --- tutoring, transportation, child care, utilities, whatever expenses you have. Food. You need to eat. See how helpful financial aid can be?

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Pell Grants and Scholarships Don't Need to Be Repaid

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Pell grants from the U.S. government, gotten through FAFSA, don't need to be paid back. Neither do scholarships. Those two forms of financial aid should be your first choices. Free is good, right?

Student loans, on the other hand, do need to be repaid. Student loans also are gotten through FAFSA, but take a loan only if you can't get other financial aid. Student loans can pile up quickly and be daunting when suddenly due.