Whether your college plans were put on hold to raise a family or you never had the opportunity to get your education in the first place, if you are considering going back to school as a woman over 40 you are far from alone. Older students now make up millions of those across the United States earning degrees and 60% of all college students are now female. There is nothing odd about going back to school late in life and you are never too old to earn an education.
The reasons to do so are numerous. Having a degree can position you to get a much better job. And if you are already employed, earning that degree can make you eligible for higher salary across most fields. Entering the workforce with a college education can earn you on average around $15,000 more per year than those that only have a high school diploma.
Attending school can be a costly experience, but there is a lot of financial help out there specifically for women considering going back to school. Funding is available from a number of sources including the same federal grant and loan programs available to younger students and from privately offered scholarships and grants that target and empower older women to earn a college education.
Federal Education Grants and Loans
The federal government offers an assortment of grants and student loan programs that help students of all ages get a higher education. The granddaddy of them all is the Pell Grant and is a need-based grant that is available to those earning their first undergraduate degree. It pays up to $5,645 per year towards educational costs like tuition, fees and books. For those ineligible for education grants, the federal government also offers several major student loan programs to fund college. You should always start your search for this federal funding at the financial aid office of the school you plan to attend. The financial aid office will assist you through this process and may have additional grant information for you to consider from state or school-specific sources. For information about all student grants and loans offered by the Department of Education, check out our article on federal student grants.
Private Grants and Scholarship Programs
The other place to search for education funding is from non-profit and for-profit organizations that offer college money specifically for older women seeking an education. These can be described as grants, awards or scholarships, but are basically the same thing. These groups offer funds specifically for women returning to school that do not need to be repaid.
American Association of University Women
It is the overall mission of the AAUW to promote equity for women in education, philanthropy and research. It offers fellowship and grant opportunities that provide funding for education for women especially in male dominated fields. It provides around $4.3 million in funding annually through its fellowships and grants.
Displaced Homemaker Scholarships
The Association of American Indian Affairs offers this $1,500 award to those who have not been able to complete their education due to raising a family. This opportunity is open to parents now wishing to either enter school for the first time or complete a degree put on hold while raising children.
Go Girl! Grant
These grants are available to women 25 years or older who are planning to attend school in the Coachella Valley, San Francisco or Port Angeles, WA area. The Girlfriend Factor is a California-based non-profit started by two female friends and business associates with the mission of providing educational grants to older women to attend school.
Jeanette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund
Open to women who are United States citizens, 35 or older, who come from low-income backgrounds and are enrolled or accepted to accredited vocational or undergraduate programs.
Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation
Named after the former Hawaii congresswoman, this foundation offers 5 yearly education support awards of $3,000 each. Applicants must be low-income mothers with minor children. The funding can be used to pursue any degree from a GED to a Doctorate.
Renate W. Chasman Scholarship
The Brookhaven National Laboratory offers this $2,000 one-time award. It is open to female residents of Long Island who are returning to school after a break in education and are pursuing a degree in natural sciences, engineering or mathematics.
Soroptimist Women’s Opportunity Awards
This grant program offers educational funding to women who are the primary breadwinners for their families, awarding over $1.5 million annually to around 1,000 women. The cash award can be used to pay for any costs of pursuing higher education. To apply, you must be enrolled or accepted to a vocational or undergraduate program and demonstrate financial need.
Talbots Women’s Scholarship
The Talbots Charitable Foundation offers scholastic awards from $10,000 to $30,000 to women going back to school later in life. To apply, it must be at least 10 years since you earned your GED or high school diploma and you must be enrolled or plan to enroll in a 2 to 4 year accredited college or university program.