Financial Aid 101 for Adult Learners


by Lisa Thompson

Navigating the college financial aid process can seem daunting if you’re an adult learner enrolling in college for the first time or heading back to get more training or finish a degree. A key point to keep in mind is that there is no age limit for federal and state financial aid. There are, however, other things that affect how much and which financial aid you might be eligible to receive:

  • household income and assets
  • the number of people in your household enrolled in college
  • the number of credits you’ve already earned (if any)
  • if you are an undergraduate or graduate student
  • if you are a dependent or independent student
  • if you are enrolled full time or part time
  • if you are an online student

You must be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen to qualify for most state and federal aid. For financial aid from the state of Minnesota, you also must be a Minnesota resident.

Types of Financial Aid

Financial aid can be broken down into three basic types:

If you have been out of high school for seven or more years, do not have a bachelor’s degree, and are considering a Minnesota community college, find out more about the Alliss Opportunity Grant Program. The grant covers the cost of one course (up to five credits) and books. Other restrictions and fees may apply, and it’s not available from all Minnesota community colleges.

Other Ways to Pay for College

If you are currently employed, check to see whether your employer has a policy to pay or reimburse you for some of the cost of tuition. Not all companies do this, but the federal government allows you to receive up to $5,250 in tax-free education benefits from your employer each year. Your employer may also offer scholarships to employees as well as the employee’s spouse or children.

When you file your federal taxes, you may be eligible for education tax credits and deductions that decrease the amount of taxes you owe:

  • American Opportunity Tax Credit
  • Lifetime Learning Tax Credit
  • Student Loan Interest Deduction
  • Student Loan Cancellations and Repayment Assistance
  • Tuition and Fees Deduction

Where to Go with Questions

The best place to get your questions answered is at the college or university you are considering attending. Use this list to find contact information for the financial aid office. Be sure to ask if they have any other aid programs for adult learners.

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