The population of nontraditional students (students who are 25+ years old) has steadily grown over the last 10 years. We typically think of a college student as being under the age of 25; however, the National Center for Education Statistics actually projects the enrollment of students over the age of 25 to grow by 20% from 2012 to 2023—8% more than for students under age 25.
As this population of students grows, so has their demand for scholarships and financial aid. While lots of scholarships are available for them, nontraditional students may have more trouble finding opportunities than traditional students do. However, you can overcome this by adopting the following methodology.
Lie About Your Age … To Search Engines
If you are having a hard time finding scholarships for older students on scholarship search engines, it doesn't mean they don't exist. In fact, many search engines fundamentally do a poor job categorizing scholarships.
This is especially true with age requirements. Scholarships use words like "must be at least" or "must be under the age of 25 at the time of application." Unfortunately, it's hard to capture the true spirit of those requirements in an inflexible search algorithm.
To prevent this, try listing your age/date of birth as being 18 years old. Then, check the results to see if the scholarships actually have age requirements. This should open up more options for you.
Apply For Scholarships Strategically
Statistically speaking, the majority of undergraduate college students are between the ages of 16 and 30 years old. Many scholarships are created with these students in mind.
There are, however, scholarships that specifically target nontraditional students. Adult students can apply for and win "traditional" scholarships without a doubt; however, I suggest they focus much of their effort on nontraditional scholarships.
When a donor creates a scholarship, they have a student archetype in mind, and the scholarship judges' job is to find the person who best matches that archetype. The closer you are to it, the better chance you have of winning that scholarship. This is true for a variety of eligibility requirements (not just age).
For example, if a scholarship has a strong preference for Hispanic students—even if that scholarship is open to students of other heritages—you know that your chances of winning as a non-Hispanic are lower than that of a Hispanic student. So, apply for every scholarship that you are eligible for, but pay extra attention to scholarships specifically for nontraditional students.
Highlight Your Nontraditional Status
Adult students may try to hide their age and nontraditional status when applying for traditional undergraduate scholarships, seeing it as a weakness. This is a mistake.
In fact, being an older student is exactly what makes your story inspirational! When telling that story in your scholarship essay, be sure to do the following:
- Don't be defensive: Try not to assume that you have to defend your age. Keep your story positive and inspirational.
- Talk about the past: What life circumstances compelled you to return to or start college? Give the scholarship provider some context.
- Talk about the present and future: Why college now? What do you hope to accomplish (both personally and professionally) after obtaining your degree?
Foster A Competitive Spirit
As a nontraditional student, you'll be competing against the typical college student (age 17–25) when applying for scholarships. You might think of yourself as an underdog, as traditional college students may have more time on their hands to find or apply for scholarships. However, remember all the advantages you have over them.
For starters, older undergraduate students have far more interesting/colorful stories to write about in their scholarship essay. Always keep in mind that scholarship providers want to award the student who they think will be the best representative for the organization—regardless of their age.
Remember This One Thing
A scholarship doesn't have to be explicitly designed for you in order for you to win it. Broaden your search beyond age, and apply for any scholarship for which you meet the basic eligibility requirements. You'll be glad you did.