Scholarships for Adult Students

Contrary to popular belief there are scholarships for adult students. To find scholarships that you have the best chance of winning, you are going to need to do some detective work. There are no shortcuts. But by doing so you will be able to not only find more awards but also awards that really fit your background and goals, which will dramatically increase your odds of winning.

As an adult you'll find that there are two major types of scholarships. The first are scholarships specifically for adult students. There are a number of scholarships for "non-traditional" or "returning" students. (For example: Scholarship for Working Adults and Scholarship for Moms). These have specific requirements that exclude "traditional" students such as an age minimum or requiring that applicants have taken a break from school to raise a family or work. The second are scholarships aimed at any student who is in college regardless of whether they are "traditional" or "adult." (For example: The Phillips Foundation College Leaders Scholarship Program.) These scholarships are far more numerous and usually require that you are in a specific year of study such as a freshman in college or that you pursue a particular major. Scholarships that are open to college freshmen are also the ones that you'll apply to before you actually start school. Most of these scholarships let you apply before you actually begin so that you can use the money to pay for the first year in school. These scholarships typically don't have an age limit, which means that you will compete against not only other adult students but also traditional students.

It's this second type of scholarship that most adults don't consider because they are not specifically directed at adult students. But if you ignore these you will be leaving a ton of money on the table. The golden rule of scholarships is: Unless a scholarship specifically says that you need to be a high school student to apply then you should feel free to apply for it as long as it matches your interests and goals. Remember, a college freshman can be 17 years old or 70 years old. It doesn't make a difference for these scholarships. Consider every scholarship that does not explicitly exclude you as fair game.

Now let's roll up our sleeves and find some scholarships.

The Internet

The Internet puts the world's biggest library at your fingertips and allows you access to an unprecedented amount of information. It can also be truly frustrating. The problem with searching for scholarships online is that there is no filtering. Type in the word "scholarship" into a search engine, and you'll get more than 5,000,000 results. Only a fraction of these results will actually be useful to you. To solve this problem of too much information, there are specialized websites that let you search databases of scholarships. For the best of these, you fill out some information about yourself and with the click of a mouse are matched to scholarships that you may apply to win.

Sound too easy? In some ways it is. Don't rely on these websites to find every scholarship that's right for you. Many students make the mistake of assuming that once they do an Internet search they have exhausted all sources for scholarships. The reality is that no matter how many scholarships these websites claim to have in their database, none of them even comes close to the total number of scholarships that are available. Plus, none of these websites do a good job of listing local scholarship opportunities—which in many ways offer you some of the best chances to get free cash for college.

So without further ado here are some good places to start. Remember, these websites are just the beginning of your search for free cash for college.

moolahSPOT (

SuperCollege (

Free Financial Aid Finder (Locates aid and grants at 200+ schools)

CollegeAnswer (

The College Board (

The Princeton Review (

The Free Student Financing Guide

Scholarship Books

Even though they lack the pizzazz of the Internet, scholarship books should not be overlooked. A good book provides a huge number of awards and an index to help you find the ones that match your achievements and background. Find scholarship books at the local library or bookstore.

Community Service Organizations

Every city or town has various civic groups and public service organizations. Many of these groups spend the year fundraising to be able to award scholarships. While some may direct their awards through the local high school, others have awards open to future college students of any age.

There are also an increasing number of civic groups that are creating dedicated adult student scholarships. For example, the Chagrin Valley Junior Women's Club in Ohio offers a $1,000 scholarship to an adult female over the age of 25 who wants to return for an undergraduate education. Many local Rotary Clubs, which have long sponsored awards for high school seniors, are establishing similar awards for adult students. Since these scholarships are limited only to those who live in the community that the club serves, there are no national directories or lists of these scholarships. Even on the Internet there are no websites that offer a comprehensive list of local scholarships. Plus, new scholarships are constantly being created so any directory that you find is out of date from the first day it is published.

The best way to track down these awards is to get out your phone book and make a list of the service clubs in your community. While you're at it, why not dial the number and ask if they offer a scholarship? Keep in mind that most service clubs also belong to a national organization. Both the local and the national organization may offer their own scholarships.

In addition to the phone book, visit your community center. The people who work there should know the names of most of the service clubs in your community. Your local public librarian can also help you track down these organizations.

To make sure you haven't missed any groups, get in your car and drive to the city limit. Usually on the same sign that welcomes visitors to your city is a modern day totem pole with the plaques of the various civic groups that are active in your community.

Non-Profit Organizations and Charities

One of the growing sources of scholarship dollars is from local charities and non-profit foundations. These organizations often raise money for specific causes, and education is usually one of them. Many of the scholarships given by charities are aimed at students who otherwise could not afford to go back to school. Another common focus of these organizations is to help adults pay for training in specific vocational skills to help them re-enter the workforce or advance their careers.

For example, the Midland Area Foundation in Michigan ( offers the Dr. Shailer L. Bass Memorial Scholarship for non-traditional students. This $2,000 award is for Midland County adults pursuing post-high school studies at a college or university.

Similarly the San Diego Foundation ( administers a variety of scholarships for its residents including the Dorothy M. Bolyard Memorial Scholarship, which is open to residents over the age of 24 who are pursuing a degree at a two- or four-year university in San Diego County. The foundation also offers the Herman H. Derksen Scholarship, which is open to any resident who is pursuing a trade or vocational program. If you visit the website of the San Diego Foundation you'll find that the adult student scholarships are mixed in with the high school student scholarships. In fact, to apply for one of the adult scholarships you use the same application that high school students use for their awards. This underscores the importance of being thorough in your research and to not assume that just because a foundation sponsors a lot of scholarships for high school students that it doesn't also have some for adult students.

To find the charities and foundations in your area, visit your local public library and ask the reference librarian for a directory of local charities and foundations. Also, every time you speak to a charity to ask about scholarships, make sure you also ask if they know of other groups that you may contact.

Professional Associations

Whether you want to be a computer scientist or certified fraud examiner, there is a professional organization to support your profession. In fact, in the U.S. alone there are more than 135,000 professional associations. One of the missions of these organizations is to support students who want to enter the field. Many of them accomplish this by offering scholarships.

One way to find professional associations is to talk to the people who are already in these careers. If you're studying to be a dental assistant, spend some time talking to dental assistants and learn which associations they belong to. You can also go to the library and read the trade journals for the profession. Associations often advertise in these publications.

Once you've found professional associations for your career field, contact them to see if they offer awards. If they don't, they may be able to direct you to other groups that do.


If you belong to a union or plan to enter a field that has one, be sure to check with the union for any potential scholarships. Many unions offer education benefits to their members. The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), which has 64 member unions, maintains a nice directory of scholarships. In fact, their directory lists over $4 million in union-sponsored scholarships. You can search their list at If your union is not a part of the AFL-CIO, then go directly to your union representative and ask about their educational benefits.

Local Businesses—Big and Small

As a way to say "thank you" to customers, many businesses offer scholarships for students in their community. Take a look at all of the retail businesses, services and any corporate home offices that are in your area. The supermarket chain Fred Meyer, for example, offers scholarships through Portland State University to undergraduate students. In San Diego, Anheuser-Busch sponsors the Eagle Achievement-Adult Scholarship through the League of United Latin American Citizens.

To find businesses in your area, check with your local chamber of commerce. You can visit the national chamber of commerce online at and from there you can find your local chamber. Most chambers maintain a directory of member companies that you can view. Be sure to ask the people who work at the chamber if they are aware of any companies that award scholarships.

Whenever you are shopping, be on the lookout for awards. Many students have stumbled across scholarships by picking up a brochure at the cash register. If your city is the headquarters for any large company, investigate if that company offers a scholarship.

Most large companies offer scholarships through their own foundations. For example, Wal-Mart has the Sam Walton Foundation, while Bank of America has the Bank of America Foundation. These foundations are separate entities, and you need to speak to someone who works for the foundation (not the company) to find out what specific scholarships may be available.

By searching in all of these places, you will track down many sources of scholarships and be well on your way toward paying for your education.