Scholarships for Non-Traditional Students

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You may think you're "different," but your scholarship money won't be.

You may think you’re “different,” but your scholarship money won’t be.

When I hear the term “non-traditional student,” I’m never quite sure what it means.

On the surface, it could mean anything: an adult student, someone who took a break from school and is now returning, etc. etc.

However, when the term is used to talk about scholarships, I get nervous.


In my experience, I find that “non-traditional” doesn’t apply to scholarships in the way that many might think. I actually find that, more often than not, non-traditional students count themselves out of scholarships that they are eligible for.  Here is an example:­

Let’s say a scholarship requires a college undergraduate studying English with a 3.0 or higher GPA. If you are a 36-year-old, part-time community college student, you should apply for that scholarship if you are studying English and have at least a 3.0 GPA. The scholarship only requires someone enrolled in college with a specific GPA, studying a specific major—that’s all.

However, a non-traditional student may not apply because they assume a “college undergraduate” disqualifies community college students and returning students. That is just not the case.


If you are a returning student (i.e., someone who took time off from school and is now taking classes again), you shouldn’t be looking for scholarships for “returning students” per se. You should be looking for scholarships for college students—because a “college student” is what you are.

This goes back to one of the most important points about scholarships: consider yourself eligible for any scholarship and look for things that explicitly disqualify you. People write scholarship applications. If they didn’t want a 30+ year old applying, then they would have set an age limit as a part of their requirements.

Likewise, scholarships that do not want any returning students will mention that as well. If you are still unsure if you meet the eligibility requirements after reading an application, then you have two choices: (a) apply anyway (what’s the harm?) or (b) call/email the scholarship provider to clarify.


Here is my advice for non-traditional students: unless the scholarship specifically disqualifies you because of age, enrollment status, citizenship, or whatever else makes you identify as “non-traditional,” consider yourself eligible.

Highlight all of your non-traditional qualities in your essay because, chances are, your story will work to your advantage. You’ll be surprised by how many scholarships won’t mention citizenship status or age as an eligibility requirement.

Basically, break free of the definition of “non-traditional”! You qualify for some of the same scholarships as “traditional” students. Do another scholarship search with this new information, and I guarantee you’ll be surprised at the scholarships you’ll find.

Are you a non-traditional student with a scholarship success story? Share it in the comments.


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