College Funding for Non-Traditional and Adult College Students

ken-resized-600By Ken O’Connor, financial aid expert and Director of Student Advocacy for Fynanz (aka:

Going back to school is a big move for adult learners, and it is becoming more and more common.

During the past decade, the rise of non-traditional student attendance has changed the way colleges operate, with expanded class schedules, focused instruction delivery, acceptance of life and work experience as college credit, even child care options. Online college programs have also exploded with popularity, as they bring educational opportunities conveniently to a working adult’s home computer. However, during this same decade the cost of education has greatly increased, leading more students to rely on financial aid resources to help pay the bill.

Here are some key areas non-traditional and adult learners need to know before they commit to a degree program.

Your age and family status plays a direct role in determining eligibility for financial aid.

When filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) you must confirm your date of birth. If you are over the age of 24, the FAFSA determines the student to be independent, meaning they do not have to submit parent tax and asset information as part of the eligibility review for financial aid. It also means the student is eligible for increased Stafford loans, even more than if they were considered a dependent student.

  • First Year/freshman $9,500 ($3,500 subsidized/$6,000 unsubsidized)
  • Second Year/sophomores $10,500 ($4,500 subsidized/$6,000 unsubsidized)
  • Third Year and Beyond/juniors and seniors $12,500 ($5,500 subsidized/$7,000 unsubsidized)
  • Lifetime aggregate limit on Stafford loans is increased for independent students to $57,500.

However, as an independent student, if you are married, you must include your spouse’s income as part of the FAFSA. This includes all income and assets of the spouse, but also any dependents are considered when determining eligibility. Just make sure the information is accurately submitted.

Is this your first bachelor’s, second bachelor’s or a master’s degree/beyond?

diploma-resized-600There is major distinction between academic goals and financial aid eligibility. Students pursuing their first bachelor’s degree have access to the largest amount of financial aid through Pell grants, state grants and school backed grants and scholarships. If pursuing a second bachelor’s degree, financial aid eligibility is restricted to federal Stafford loans only, and rarely do schools provide additional grants and scholarships in such cases. Second bachelor’s degrees are very common for students pursuing nursing, as many times they completed a prior undergraduate degree, but are surprised when they learn that this second bachelors only qualifies for financial aid in the form of student loans. Graduate degree or Ph. D students only qualify for federal Stafford loans as well, but they are increased from $20,500 per year up to $40,500 per year.

Are you using any employer backed or state backed education benefit programs?

Many of the non-traditional students entering college today are seeking new and advanced training for job skills to help become more employable. Adult learners may be eligible for additional funding from several different resources. If currently employed, look for any education benefits from your human resource department. Workers that have been laid off may be eligible for tuition assistance from state backed programs. With college as expensive as it is, adult learners need to examine their payment options carefully. Qualifying for grants can make the right educational experience affordable. Educate yourself with a comprehensive report from the Lumina foundation on adult learners and the state based resources they can use to help pay for college: Adult Learning in Focus.

Spending money and getting results are two different things; look for schools that can serve you best.

dollar-resized-600There are many school options available, but finding the right fit can be challenging for non-traditional and adult students. The very name “non-traditional” denotes something out of the ordinary for these students, but in fact they are becoming more and more the standard. Schools are changing their class schedules and programs to better serve this growing cohort, but some do a better job than others. Before committing to a school and the costs associated with it, confirm if this is the right choice for you. Investing a lot of money towards a degree does not guarantee a job so use your resources wisely. Look at the results of other adult learners that have completed programs at schools you are considering. Was it worthwhile? This will help keep focus on what’s important to the adult learner, a results oriented education for career development.

Ken O’Connor is a 10 year veteran of higher-education finance, having served thousands of students and parents during his career as a financial aid counselor. Having assisted so many families, each having their own specific financial and educational needs, Ken has gained experience in creatively solving a multitude of the financial problems that arise with attending college. Now… Follow him on Twitter. 

*First Financial is not responsible for content listed on outside websites.

3 Tips to Prevent College Students from Getting Lost in Technology


3 Tips to Prevent College Students From Getting Lost in Technology

typewriter-resized-600In the 4th and final part of our Crash Course in Financial Aid series, Ken O’Connor, Director of Student Advocacy for Fynanz (aka: mentioned an important new factor within the college admissions process that hasn’t really been in existence until recently – technology.

“We are at the crossroads of technology in the college process,” he added.  “Many schools are converting to online paperwork services now,” he said.

3 of Ken’s tips to help prevent parents and students from getting lost in the technology transition:

1. Note how paperwork is handled – If you notice that the school requires excessive amounts of manually processed paperwork for registration, financial aid and academic records, start taking a second look at your school choices. In the modern age of technology, colleges are turning to improved solutions to settle mundane tasks like paying bills online and accessing student records through the school’s website. If your school is unable to do these things, you will continue to have a painful administrative experience all the way through graduation, O’Connor said.

2. File a FAFSA – Everyone needs to file a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). One important tip that many learn the hard way: when you are filling out the FAFSA online application, you are only going to want to use the “previous” and “next” buttons in the application to move back and forth between pages.  Using your browser’s forward and back buttons can cause you to lose all your data and consequently cause you to pull your hair out!

3. File a fifth FAFSA – Always file a fifth FAFSA during the winter of the college student’s senior year. Sometimes students may need to become a “super-senior” and complete a fifth year of college.  That could be quite the check to pay without financial aid if you assume your child will be done after four years of school, so it’s definitely worth your time and money to fill out the FAFSA just in case.

Ken O’Connor is a 10 year veteran of higher-education finance, having served thousands of students and parents during his career as a financial aid counselor. Having assisted so many families, each having their own specific financial and educational needs, Ken has gained experience in creatively solving a multitude of the financial problems that arise with attending college.


Why College Costs So Much – Info for College Students and Parents


Why College Costs So Much


If you are like many others, you are probably baffled as to why college is so expensive. Why exactly does it cost so much? Ken O’Connor, Director of Student Advocacy for Fynanz (aka:, named the following factors for college pricing:

1. Salaries for the educated: Education is, has been, and always will be a labor-intensive industry. This means that for every classroom of students, colleges still need someone to teach them. The heart and soul of the academic experience is found in the professors, and they are required to be compensated for their work accordingly.

2. Technology: You can’t stop progress! Judging by the huge molecular accelerator in a physics department, keeping up with progress isn’t exactly cheap. Learning instruments that the students love are mirrored in the giant tuition payments.

3. Facilities: You know that brand new, oversized athletic complex or rock climbing wall that enticed your child to choose his or her school? One way or another, facilities are paid for through the constant revenue stream of tuition dollars.

Ken O’Connor is a 10 year veteran of higher-education finance, having served thousands of students and parents during his career as a financial aid counselor. Having assisted so many families, each having their own specific financial and educational needs, Ken has gained experience in creatively solving a multitude of the financial problems that arise with attending college.


The Financial Timeline for College Students


The Financial Aid Timeline


Ken O’Connor mentioned how important the financial aid timeline is when filing for financial aid, and also noted that most colleges require the filling out of a FAFSA as part of the regular college admissions process even if you don’t think you need financial aid:

January 1st through February 15th: Get your FAFSA filed (it’s free!) for the upcoming school year (, and submit admissions requests. If your tax return is not ready for this deadline, then estimate your figures as best you can to reserve your spot for financial aid eligibility consideration at the schools you are applying for.  You can always go back later to make corrections online.

March through April: Admissions responses come in, as well as financial aid award letters.

May: Deposits are due and verification is selected.

June through August: College billing statements come out, payment plans and student loans are applied.

January of the following year: Back to the future – your new FAFSA is due and the process begins all over again.


Financial Aid Options for College Students




1. Grants – these are need based college funding resources awarded to students according to the financial needs demonstrated on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. They can be awarded by federal, state and institution based programs. Typically the lower the income, the more likely one qualifies.

2. Federal aid options – these are the options you want to exhaust first, prior to looking into private student loan funding options.  Federal aid options include Stafford Loans, Pell Grants, Perkins Loans, and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOGs).  Virtually everyone that files the FAFSA will be qualified for a federal Stafford loan, but not everyone will be qualified for grant funding.

3. Private student loans – additional funding to help pay for school once federal options have been used and funding is still needed for college.

4. Merit based scholarships – received from the college or an outside organization. They are awarded to students considering achievements, qualities, characteristics, academic performance and extra-curricular activities.

5. Work study programs – this is need based and you have to file a FAFSA to qualify.

6. Student employee – a possible option if you don’t qualify for work study.

Tips for College Students: What Every College Student Needs to Know

collegestudents-resized-600-1Getting a handle on personal finances always feels more complicated than it really is, especially for college students. That’s because many students get intimidated by a subject that they are not familiar with. However, when it comes to money what you don’t know CAN hurt you.

College is great because it exposes students to a wide variety of subjects and materials, but after graduation many students forget much of the details as they progress into their life. This sets poor learning precedence, as there are certain subjects that teach lessons worthy of a lifetime. Learning about how money works is one of those subjects, but much of the high level theory taught in class is hard to connect to the daily wallet concerns most students have. They need financial literacy simplification for understanding, and application for proof of relevance. A great place to start is the rule of 72, a simple idea with a powerful and useful message.

What is the rule of 72?: The rule of 72 is a rule of thumb used to estimate the time-value of money. It’s an effective way to calculate the value of an investment, or an outstanding loan balance over time using a specific interest rate. Best part is that it’s simple enough to calculate in your own head without a calculator!

Here is an example: Take the number 72. Divide it by an interest rate, like 6%. 72 / 6 = 12 The answer represents the number of years it takes for the balance to double; in this case 12 years. So let’s say there is an outstanding loan balance of $10,000 carrying 9%. 72 / 9 = 8 If no payments were made on the loan, and the balance continued to grow and compound normally it would take 8 years for the balance to grow to $20,000.

Unlock the power of The Rule of 72: The rule of 72 is but a humble rule of thumb made powerful through it’s daily usefullness. The real strength of the rule is found through it’s applicability and the thoughtfulness of the individual. Learning fundamental rules like this will help to unlock the power of true financial literacy; the ability to improve your decision making process involving money.


It helps with purchasing decisions: When you make purchases with a credit card, the interest that accrues adds to additional costs beyond the sticker price. Credit card companies make their money through interest charged, and rely on consumers to make purchases that would normally be unaffordable. The resulting payments toward debt include the interest generated by the original purchase. If you have a well tuned financial mind, you think twice before making a credit card purchase because of the additional costs. If making a big ticket purchase on a credit card, use the rule of 72 to estimate how quickly interest can pile on. Then reconsider your purchase and find a way to save money and buy with cash, or use a combination of credit and cash to reduce overall costs.

It helps with long term savings: The rule of 72 can help estimate long term savings. For example, how long would it take $20,000 to grow to $40,000 using a 12% rate of return? 72/12 = 6 years. What about if it’s at 2%? 72/2 = 36 years. Once the impact of rate is made clear, the next logical question is “where do I get a 12% rate of return?” and this leads to an investigation of business and investment options. The simple acknowledgement of these options can help a student learn about the importance of saving and the options used to help savings grow.

It helps with personal budgeting: Q: Why do some people carry revolving credit card balances and student loan debt while consistently keeping extra money in the bank? A: Because they don’t know any better. When you learn to appreciate the Rule of 72, you begin to question some everyday financial habits you may have. A financial habit that’s detrimental to many is being “cash rich” and and full of debt. This is when someone runs credit card balances month after month and/or has lot’s of student loan debt, but only makes the minimum monthly payment to each, leaving extra cash on hand. Every month there is more than enough cash available to spend now, but the debt balances are not reducing fast enough. The logic behind this stems from the fear of over-withdrawing from the checking account for current expenses. More often, what is required in this situation is personal austerity. Instead of worrying about paying for current expenses, think of ways to cut current expenses and forward the excess towards debt payments. It’s the only effective way to eliminate long term debt beyond radically increasing income.