Non-traditional students include those people who are returning to college after a prolonged absence, or those students returning for specific training for career advancement. Often women returning to college after raising a family, or single parents pursuing career advancement through education will fall into this category. Non-traditional students may also refer to those students who are changing from a technical school to a four year college or university.
It can also be helpful to understand how the Federal Student Aid Office uses the information on the FAFSA to decide how much aid each student gets. The financial details are used to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This is the Federal Student Aid office’s estimate of what your family should reasonably be able to pay toward college costs, based on these factors:
Federal grant programs are driven by the congressional funding that fills the coffers. As a result, maximum grant awards and general availability change every year.  Currently, annual Pell Grant award maximums hover around $5000 per student.  Some government grants, like FSEOG are distributed on a first-come first-served rotation that continues until funding is exhausted, so time is of the essence. To maximize your access to federal grant dollars, it is essential that you file your FAFSA as early as possible.
Many grants dedicated to specific career paths are, in fact, award-for-service programs. These programs perform two functions; they give much needed financial aid to talented students pursuing careers in high need fields, and they help to secure and retain talented professionals in communities that are experiencing critical manpower shortages. Students entering into a grant-for-service program should understand that they are agreeing to a binding contract, and will be obligated to fulfill all the of the particulars of that contract. Students who fail to meet their award-for-service obligations will find that their grants will revert to standard student loans, and they will be expected to repay all monies received plus interest.
Any successful grant search begins with knowing yourself, your status as a student and your academic interests. This will help you narrow your focus, and will allow you to eliminate those grant programs for which you are not eligible. Remember, there are need-based grants, merit-based grants and career specific grants, and the first step is understanding the type of program you’re looking for. For example, if you are an Hispanic woman going to college to become an accountant, you will want to search for grant programs that are dedicated to Latin-American female students enrolled in business and accounting studies.
Few college-bound students have the financial resources to pay for their post-secondary education entirely out of pocket. Even students with substantial college savings plans typically find that they are left with sizable amounts of unmet need. The average total cost of attending a public four-year college is more than $20,000 per academic year. Students planning to attend a private college or university can expect to spend more than $30,000 per academic year. A college education is a costly proposition, and all indications are that those costs are only going to increase.

College grants are primarily awards of free money, that do not require any repayment on the part of the recipient. They can be directed toward specific educational expenses, specific types of students, or general purpose. Unlike scholarships, which are typically awarded on the basis of academic achievement or athletic, artistic or extracurricular performance, grants are awarded according to financial need. This is not to say that academic merit will not be considered, only that financial need is given greater weight in the final decision making process.
Some states use your FAFSA and your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) to determine your eligibility for state financial aid.  Other states require additional documentation, and deadlines are not always the same.  Your state’s FAFSA filing deadline might be earlier than the federal requirement, so consult with your financial aid office or guidance counselor for specifics.

Federal grant programs are driven by the congressional funding that fills the coffers. As a result, maximum grant awards and general availability change every year.  Currently, annual Pell Grant award maximums hover around $5000 per student.  Some government grants, like FSEOG are distributed on a first-come first-served rotation that continues until funding is exhausted, so time is of the essence. To maximize your access to federal grant dollars, it is essential that you file your FAFSA as early as possible.
Loan programs – Such programs need to be paid back but offer help with low interest rates.  The Stafford Guaranteed Loan offers up to $6,625 per year.  The Perkins Loan program offers up to $3,000 and $5,000 a year for undergraduate and graduate students respectively. These loan programs come at very low interest rates so it is highly recommended you apply for them if you need the money for your education. The updated 2015-2016 fixed interest rate on these loans for undergrads is 4.29%; and the combined borrowing totals for direct loans can be up to $12,500 per year depending on your school year and degree.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation is one of the best known advocates for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer. The foundation sponsors both grants and scholarships for students who have lost a parent to breast cancer. Awards of up to $10,000 are available, and are decided on a combination of scholastic achievement, community service and financial need.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants sponsors a variety of grants and scholarships for minority students pursuing a career in accounting. The AICPA Minority Doctoral Fellowship  awards $12,000 to minority students completing their doctoral program in accounting. The fellowship is open to African-American, Native-American and Hispanic students.

Private student loans: Financing from private lenders might also be listed in your financial award letter, or you can find it on your own. Using federal student loans first is often the best move, Randolph said. However, “if you still need money to bridge the gap between financial aid and the cost of attendance, you’ll have to look at private student loans.”

There is a good chance that say the equity in your home and/or some other components of your net worth and income will be held against you in the calculation of your SAR (summary of the financial aid you can expect to receive) of your FAFSA. This does not mean, however, that there are not ways to reduce the financial burdens of the college education expenses.
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