More than 40% of 21st-century college students are 25 years of age or olderThe adult learner, or nontraditional learner, is today’s primary college student. More than 40% of 21st-century college students are 25 years of age or older, and approximately 13% are single parents. Most need financial aid to cover education costs. If you’ve always thought college scholarships were only for high school seniors, you’ll be glad to know there are adult learning scholarships to help nontraditional learners return to school. Here are some tips on where to look for them.

Federal aid first
Fill out the FAFSA immediately. Federal financial aid is determined by family income, not by age. The amount of federal aid you can get depends on whether you’re a full-, half-, or part-time student, but as long as you’re working toward an accredited degree or certificate/diploma, there is no age restriction on federal financial aid.

Federal adult learning scholarships include Pell Grants, the FSEOG, the Work-Study program, and TEACH Grants. Congress just increased maximum Pell Grants to $5,350 in 2009 and $5,550 in 2010. The number of Pell Grants was also increased by 800,000 grants. Your FAFSA is your Pell Grant application. If your income qualifies you for a Pell Grant, you’ll automatically get one.

The FAFSA is also used by individual states to determine your eligibility for state-sponsored adult learning scholarships and grants. With the 2009 economic stimulus bill funds they received, many states are working with their community colleges to provide new career education and retraining programs as quickly as possible.

Your school’s scholarships
If you’re already enrolled, or thinking of enrolling, in a school, talk to a financial aid counselor there. Many adult learning scholarships and grants are provided by individual colleges and universities to help nontraditional students begin or stay in school.

Also ask whether your school has an Alpha Sigma Lambda Chapter. Alpha Sigma Lambda is the national honor society for nontraditional adult students, which offers a number of adult learning scholarships and grants.

If your school doesn’t have any adult learning scholarships appropriate for you, they may be able to provide you with the names of alumni associations and local organizations or foundations that do.

Your employer or HR department: tuition reimbursement
Your employer may not seem like an obvious scholarship source, but many companies offer benefits that employees never hear about. Even small businesses sometimes offer tuition reimbursement for higher education, advanced training, and retraining programs that increase the value of your contribution to the company, and employers associated with large national industries may have access to adult learning scholarships through trade organizations.

Your union or professional association’s scholarships
If you belong to a union, professional association, or trade association, contact your local representative and ask if the group provides any adult learning scholarships and grants. A good example is the Union Plus Scholarship Program, which has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to labor union members and their families. Another example is the Two Ten Footwear Foundation, which provides college scholarships to students affiliated with the footwear, leather, or allied industries.

National organizations and foundations
Many national organizations, philanthropic societies, charitable foundations, and private companies are sources of adult learning scholarships and grants. For example, the retail clothing store Talbot’s awards 55 scholarships per year to women who are returning to school to complete their first undergraduate degree and Coca-Cola provides 150 adult learning scholarships a year for students enrolled in community college.

Your local Chamber of Commerce may also know of local or national scholarships.