What do adult learners and other “non-traditional” students need to know about the FAFSA?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), traditional (or ‘typical’) college students “earn a high school diploma, enroll full time immediately after finishing high school, depend on parents for financial support, and either do not work during the school year or work part time.” But evening and weekend classes, online courses and economic twists and turns have changed the landscape of higher education, and the majority of students currently enrolled in college can now be classified as ‘non-traditional’ students. Common characteristics of non-traditional students are:

  • Graduated high school at least one year ago
  • May have a GED
  • Often have dependents other than a spouse
  • Financially independent from their parents

If you’re an adult who has been out of high school for more than a year and you’ve been thinking about enrolling in college for the first time or returning to college to complete your degree, you’re definitely not alone. Here are a few steps you can take while trying to decide what’s best for you.

  • Create an account at StudentAid.gov. If you’ve submitted a FAFSA before, you may already have an account with a username and password, called a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID); this replaced the four-digit PIN several years ago. It’s important that you create your account at least one week before you start your FAFSA. The information you use to create your account will be run through a matching process with the Social Security Administration, which can take a few days.
  • Research your options by using tools such as OKcollegestart.org and NCES.ed.gov/CollegeNavigator to find schools that have the program and/or major you’re looking for.
  • Submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is simply a snapshot of your family’s financial situation used to help technology centers, career schools, colleges and universities determine your eligibility for various types of student financial aid. The vast majority of FAFSAs are now done online, and you can begin your 2024-25 FAFSA at FAFSA.gov. You’ll need the FSA ID that you created several days ago (see Step 1). You’ll have the opportunity to put up to 20 college choices on your FAFSA. Each college you add to the form will receive the data from your FAFSA, which will enable you to compare college costs and federal aid eligibility at each institution.

The college you wish to attend will have someone you can talk to who works with non-traditional students who want to finish their degrees, just like you. Contact the college(s) of your choice for more information, and be sure to visit ReachHigherOK.org to see more valuable resources.