Every year, thousands of women apply for the Live Your Dream: Education and Training Awards for Women hoping to receive financial support for their dream of attaining a degree.
They are often single mothers and survivors of domestic or sexual violence, trying to rebuild a life for their families. They have overcome great obstacles that forced them to put their education on hold for years.
Their daily lives are an extreme juggling act—full-time work, full-time studies, full-time parenting and full-time managing their finances.
They are what’s called “nontraditional students.”
Unlike recent high school graduates, their circumstances present unique barriers when it comes to applying for college financial aid. Nontraditional students may find it more difficult to navigate the application process because of complex personal financial situations, because they fear they are ineligible, or because they lack the support and mentorship to guide them through the process.
Additionally, financial aid forms often ask questions that pose stumbling blocks for nontraditional students. For example, a question like “How many people are in your household?” might seem straightforward to most. But for adults students who are homeless or have unique family situations, it could trip them up. And if they keep encountering these sorts of unclear questions, they may give up on applying altogether.
“No student should miss out on available financial assistance because they’re unsure how to answer a question on a form or don’t know what options are available to them. We encourage students and families to use all available resources to better educate themselves about their financial aid eligibility and options.”
Where Can Nontraditional Students Get Answers to Financial Aid Questions?
In response to the growing numbers of nontraditional students and the need to support them during the financial aid process, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators recently published a set of four online tip sheets.
“The goal is to try to address some of the situations that are a bit outside the norm … to smooth the way, so that the process is more manageable for people who might have special circumstances,” said Karen McCarthy, director of policy analysis as NASFAA.
The NASFAA Tip Sheet for Adult Learners answers such common questions as:
- I am a single parent and have children. I can’t afford daycare to attend school – how can I make this work?
- I am having a difficult time paying rent. Are there any programs that can help me pay my rent?
- My income tax return shows that I made more money than what I will be making if I go to school. Can my current income be used to determine my financial aid?
The NASFAA Tip Sheet for Students in Unique Situations address concerns of foster youth, single parents and more:
- I have a child who will be living with me and I will receive assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Are TANF or welfare benefits considered to be earned income?
- If I was in foster care, do I list the income of my legal guardians and/or foster parents when filling out the FAFSA?
- How many people are in your household?
NASFAA policy experts and financial aid administrators can discuss the challenges unique student populations face, and how to best serve them in your area. For more information, contact us at 202-785-6959 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an interview.