Going back to school is among the bravest and most important steps you may ever take. One of the most frequently cited barriers to making the final decision is the question of how to pay for college. That’s especially true for non-traditional students. Take a deep breath. It may seem overwhelming, but as hundreds of thousands of students prove every year, it’s doable! Student financial aid comes in many forms, and all options should be thoroughly explored. In particular, adult students often overlook the many scholarship opportunities available to them. Unlike loans, scholarships and grants do not need to be repaid. Don’t miss these opportunities. There are billions of scholarship dollars available, some specifically earmarked for single parents, working adults, moms, minorities, military families and other non-traditional students and underrepresented groups. The more specific the scholarship criteria and the better you match that criteria, the lower the competition. Whatever narrows the field of applicants increases your chances. Are you a low-income, single mother over the age of 35 looking to pursue an education in order to better yourself, your family, and your community? There’s a scholarship for that. Are you a student who is a Farmers Union member from North Dakota? There’s a scholarship for that, too. Do you love the art of vacuum coating? The Society of Vacuum Coaters Foundation has a $2,500 scholarship for you. Maybe you’re aiming towards a particular field of study or are a cancer survivor or a veteran. There are likely at least a few scholarships appropriate for nearly every student. The trick is finding them and applying for as many as you can. But be true to yourself: if you don’t meet the requirements, don’t apply. Give yourself the best chance. There are several free websites (avoid fee-based sites) dedicated to matching applicants with programs. You can browse over $3 billion worth of scholarships that could cover anything from thousands in tuition to a couple of hundred for expenses. It’s also worthwhile researching local scholarships in your community, region, or state. Those may be less competitive than national programs. Also be sure to check with any organization that you are, or have been associated with to find out about available scholarships. Private companies, professional associations, and religious, nonprofit, and community organizations often offer scholarship programs that are less likely to have a high volume of candidates. Look behind every door. And regardless of whether you’re applying for scholarships for non-traditional students specifically, or scholarships based on merit or financial need, make sure to: • Follow directions carefully and leave nothing out. • Research the funding organization, so you can directly appeal to its mission. • Meet, or better yet, beat the deadline. Scholarships for nontraditional students are out there, and someone’s going to get them. Why shouldn’t it be you?