Returning to School: The Non-Traditional Student

Amy Capps, Assistant Director of Financial Aid at the University of Utah, breaks it down for you in terms of different types of aid and programs to help you make it through.

Did you know that over one -third of the higher education population returning to school are students that are “non-traditional’ — those returning after an extended period of time. But along with the incredible rewards of getting a degree, there are several challenges you should consider in return. The reward is definitely the self-confidence that gaining a degree brings, but how will you pay for it and where do you get started?

Step #1 – Apply for admisison to the institutions you are considering.

Are you interested in starting with an associate degree or just going for a few classes to see if you can do it. Is the school you’re considering strong in the area you want to study. What are considerations in traveling to the school for classes and tuition?

Step #2 Make an appointment with an academic advisor

With your academic advisor, you should discuss your major and if you don’t know what your major will be, explore what your interests are and decide on a course of action. Map out a plan to begin the process. Be realistic in your timeframes. For example, take lighter loads if your trying to balance work and family obligations.

Step #3 Determine your financial options to help cover your expenses.

This is a big step. Make an appointment with a financial aid counselor to discuss budgeting strategies and types of funding available. There are several good options available to the non-traditional student.

Also file for the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid or FASFA to determine what federal and state programs, like Pell Grants and Stafford Loans, you might qualify for.

Apply for scholarships. There are many available. For example, low income scholarships are need based and include the Osher Re-entry Scholarship Program, the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation and more. There are also scholarships for single moms, women in science, and domestic violence survivors scholarships (Sunshine Lady Foundation). National associations also provide scholarships. Check out the American Association of University Women, the Executive Women International and Talbot Women’s Scholarship fund. Finally, there are Departmental scholarships as well.

Step #4 Utilize resources on campus

There are lots of programs and resources on various campuses to help you make the transition to university life as well as provide support while you’re there completing your degree. Check out the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Utah, the Returning to U student program (Daniel’sFoundation Scholarship), child care coordination, the counseling center and for more details on getting oriented to returning to school, go to

Step #6 Develop a social network and support system

Set aside time to talk to those close to you about changing needs and concrete ways that can be supportive. Find academic and emotional support through friends, classmates or a support group. Learn to prioritize time for study and home. Find a student organization that interests you (professional, ethnic, politcal or recreational).

For more information, go to or call your nearest university or college’s academic advising or financial advising centers for details on how you can begin the process of going back to school.

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