How to Get Student Loans, Grants, and More for Adult Learners

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Whether you’re going to school for the first time or going back to school for another degree, it can be stressful to figure out how to pay for college as a nontraditional student — typically students who are 24 or older and have dependents other than a spouse.

The good news is there are several options available to help older students pay for school, including student loans for adults and other aid alternatives.

If you need to pay for college as a nontraditional adult student, follow these steps:

  1. Start with the FAFSA
  2. Apply for scholarships and grants
  3. Take advantage of federal student loans
  4. Use private student loans to cover the rest

1. Start with the FAFSA

If you need money for school, your first step should be completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your school will use your FAFSA results to determine your eligibility for federal student aid — including federal grants, loans, and work-study programs.

The FAFSA asks questions about your finances and personal circumstances. Be prepared to share documentation that shows proof of income and financial need, such as:

  • Tax returns
  • Bank statements
  • Investment statements

Tip: There’s also an IRS tool available that you can use to pull your tax return information directly into the FAFSA. You’ll be given the option to access this tool while filling out the FAFSA.

Learn More: 7 Student Loans for Community College

2. Apply for scholarships and grants

Unlike student loans, college scholarships and grants don’t have to be repaid — which makes them a great way to pay for school. There are a wide variety of scholarships and grants available from:

  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Local and national businesses
  • Professional associations in assorted career fields

Your FAFSA results might also qualify you for school-based scholarships.

There are also some scholarships and grants designed specifically to help nontraditional adult students pay for school:

Check Out: How Long Does It Take to Get a Student Loan?

3. Take advantage of federal student loans

If you need to borrow for school, it’s usually a good idea to start with federal student loans. This is mainly because these loans come with federal benefits and protections, such as access to income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness programs.

Tip: After you submit the FAFSA, your school will send you a financial aid award letter detailing the federal student loans and other federal aid you qualify for. You can then decide which aid you’d like to accept.

Here are the main types of federal student loans you might be eligible for:

Loan type Who qualifies?
Interest rates
(2021-22)
Loan limits
Direct Subsidized Loans Undergrad students with financial need 3.73%* $3,500 to $5,500 per year
Direct Unsubsidized Loans Undergrad, graduate, and professional students Undergrad: 3.73%*

Graduate and professional: 5.28%*

Dependent undergrad: $5,500 to $7,500 per year ($31,000 total limit)

Independent undergrad: $9,500 to $12,500 per school year ($57,500 total limit)

Graduate and professional: $20,500 per year
($138,500 total limit)

Direct PLUS Loans Parents, graduate students, and professional students 6.28%* Cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received
*Federal student loan rates for the 2021-22 academic school year.

Learn More: Student Loan Limits: How Much in Student Loans You Can Get

4. Use private student loans to cover the rest

After you’ve exhausted your scholarship, grant, and federal student loan options, private student loans could help fill any financial gaps left over. These loans are offered by private lenders, such as online lenders as well as traditional banks and credit unions.

While private student loans don’t come with federal protections, they do provide some benefits of their own, such as:

  • Higher loan amounts: You might be able to borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance, depending on the lender.
  • No application deadlines: Unlike federal student loans that require you to submit the FAFSA by a certain date, private student loans can be applied for at any time.

If you decide to take out a private student loan, be sure to consider as many lenders as possible to find the right loan for you. Credible makes this easy — you can compare your prequalified rates from our partner lenders in the table below in two minutes.

Lender Fixed Rates From (APR) Variable Rates From (APR) Loan amounts Loan terms (years)


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

3.19%+ 1.83%+ $2,001 to $200,000 7 to 20
  • Fixed APR:
    3.19%+
  • Variable APR:
    1.83%+
  • Min. credit score:
    540
  • Loan amount:
    $2,001 to $200,000
  • Loan terms (years):
    5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 20
  • Repayment options:
    Full deferral, fixed/flat repayment, interest only, academic deferment, military deferment, forbearance, loans discharged upon death or disability
  • Fees:
    None
  • Discounts:
    0.25% to 1.00% automatic payment discount, 1% cash back graduation reward
  • Eligibility:
    Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or DACA student enrolled at least half-time in a degree-seeking program
  • Customer service:
    Email, phone
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    After 24 months
  • Loan servicer:
    Launch Servicing, LLC


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

3.23%+1 1.03%+1 $1,000 to $350,000 (depending on degree) 5, 10, 15
  • Fixed APR:
    3.23%+1
  • Variable APR:
    1.03%+1
  • Min. credit score:
    720
  • Loan amount:
    $1,000 to $350,000
  • Loan terms (years):
    5, 10, 15
  • Loan types:
    Any private or federal student loan
  • Repayment options:
    Full deferral, full monthly payment, interest only, immediate repayment, academic deferment, military deferment, forbearance, loans discharged upon death or disability
  • Fees:
    Late fee
  • Discounts:
    Autopay, loyalty
  • Eligibility:
    Available in all 50 states (international students can apply with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident cosigner)
  • Customer service:
    Email, phone, chat
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    After 36 months
  • Loan servicer:
    Firstmark Services


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

2.99%+2,3 0.99%+2,3 $1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance 5, 8, 10, 15
  • Fixed APR:
    2.99%+2,3
  • Variable APR:
    0.99%+2,3
  • Min. credit score:
    Does not disclose
  • Loan amount:
    $1,000 up to cost of attendance
  • Loan terms (years):
    5, 8, 10, 15
  • Repayment options:
    Full deferral, full monthly payment, fixed/flat repayment, interest only, immediate repayment, academic deferment, forbearance, loans discharged upon death or disability
  • Fees:
    Late fee
  • Discounts:
    Autopay
  • Eligibility:
    Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and be making satisfactory academic progress.
  • Customer service:
    Email, phone
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    After 24 months
  • Loan servicer:
    College Ave Servicing LLC


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

3.75%+ 1.08%+ $1,000 to $99,999 annually
($180,000 aggregate limit)
7, 10, 15
  • Fixed APR:
    3.75%+
  • Variable APR:
    1.08%+
  • Min. credit score:
    Does not disclose
  • Loan amount:
    $1,000 to $99,999 annually
    ($180,000 aggregate limit)
  • Loan terms (years):
    7, 10, 15
  • Repayment options:
    Full deferral, immediate repayment, interest-only repayment, flat/full repayment, academic deferment, military deferment, forbearance, loans discharged upon death or disability
  • Fees:
    None
  • Discounts:
    Autopay
  • Eligibility:
    Not available to residents of AZ, IA, or WI
  • Customer service:
    Phone, email
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    After 36 months
  • Loan servicer:
    American Education Services
  • Min. income:
    Does not disclose


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

3.00%+7 2.17%+7 $1,000 to $200,000 7, 10, 15
  • Fixed APR:
    3.00%+7
  • Variable APR:
    2.17%+7
  • Min. credit score:
    750
  • Loan amount:
    $1,000 to $200,000
  • Loan terms (years):
    7, 10, 15
  • Repayment options:
    Full deferral, full monthly payment, interest only, immediate repayment, academic deferment, loans discharged upon death or disability
  • Fees:
    Late fee
  • Discounts:
    Autopay
  • Eligibility:
    Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and have a minimum income of $30,000.
  • Customer service:
    Email, phone
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    After 36 months
  • Loan servicer:
    Granite State Management & Resources (GSM&R)


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

3.83%+8 1.56%+8 $1,001 up to 100% of school certified cost of attendance 5, 10, 15
  • Fixed APR:
    3.83%+8
  • Variable APR:
    1.56%+8
  • Min. credit score:
    670
  • Loan amount:
    $1,001 up to cost of attendance
  • Loan terms (years):
    5, 10, 15
  • Repayment options:
    Full deferral, full monthly payment, interest only, immediate repayment, academic deferment, forbearance
  • Fees:
    Late fee
  • Discounts:
    Autopay, reward for on-time graduation
  • Eligibility:
    Must be an Indiana resident or a U.S. citizen attending an eligible Indiana school
  • Customer service:
    Email, phone, chat
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    After 48 months
  • Loan servicer:
    American Education Services


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

3.75%+ N/A $1,500 up to school’s certified cost of attendance less aid 15
  • Fixed APR:
    3.75%+
  • Variable APR:
    N/A
  • Min. credit score:
    670
  • Loan amount:
    $1,500 up to cost of attendance less aid
  • Loan terms (years):
    10, 15
  • Repayment options:
    Full deferral, interest only, immediate repayment, academic deferral, forbearance
  • Fees:
    None
  • Discounts:
    None
  • Eligibility:
    Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and be making satisfactory academic progress.
  • Customer service:
    Email, phone
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    After 48 months
  • Loan servicer:
    American Education Services (AES)


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

3.50%+ 1.13%+ Up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance 15
  • Fixed APR:
    3.50%+
  • Variable APR:
    1.13%+
  • Min. credit score:
    Does not disclose
  • Loan amount:
    $1,000 up to cost of attendance
  • Loan terms (years):
    10 to 15
  • Repayment options:
    Full deferral, fixed/flat repayment, interest only, academic deferment, forbearance, loans discharged upon death or disability
  • Fees:
    Late fee
  • Discounts:
    Autopay
  • Eligibility:
    Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Also available to non-U.S. citizen students (including DACA students) attending a school located in the U.S. who apply with a qualifying cosigner.
  • Customer service:
    Phone, chat
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    After 12 consecutive on-time payments
  • Loan servicer:
    Sallie Mae
Compare private student loan rates without affecting
your credit score. 100% free!
Compare Private Loans Now


Check Out: Federal vs. Private Student Loans: 5 Differences

How to pay for college as an adult with bad credit

There are several potential ways to pay for college if you have bad credit — usually considered to be a credit score below 700. Here are a few options to consider:

Use scholarships and grants

Scholarships and grants are generally awarded based on merit or financial need. This means you can apply for them regardless of your credit history. There’s also no limit to how many scholarships and grants you can get, so it’s a good idea to apply for as many as you can.

Tip: You can use sites like Fastweb and Scholarships.com to search for scholarships and grants that you might be eligible for.

Check Out: Fixed or Variable Student Loan: Which is Right for You?

Take out federal student loans

Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans don’t require a credit check. This means you could still be eligible for them even if you have poor credit so long as you meet their eligibility criteria.

Additionally, while you have to undergo a credit check to apply for a Direct PLUS Loan, you don’t have to meet a minimum credit score requirement to qualify. Instead, you can’t have an adverse credit history — meaning you must not have any foreclosures, bankruptcies, or other negative items listed in your credit report for the past five years.

Tip: If you’d like to take out a Direct PLUS Loan but have an adverse credit history, you might be able to qualify if you can find an endorser for your loan. An endorser is someone who agrees to repay your loan if you don’t make your payments.

Learn More: How to Get a Student Loan With No Credit Check

Apply for a private student loan with a cosigner

You’ll generally need good to excellent credit to qualify for a private student loan. There are also several lenders that offer student loans for bad credit — however, these loans typically come with higher interest rates compared to good credit loans.

If you’re struggling to get approved, consider applying with a creditworthy cosigner to improve your chances. Even if you don’t need a cosigner to qualify, having one could get you a lower interest rate than you’d get on your own.

Tip: A cosigner can be anyone with good credit — such as a parent, other relative, or trusted friend — who is willing to share responsibility for the loan.

Keep in mind that this means your cosigner will be on the hook for the loan if you can’t make your payments.

Check Out: Taking Out Student Loans Without a Cosigner

Other ways to pay for college as an adult

Here are a couple of additional options that could help you pay for school:

529 education savings plans

If you’re planning to go to school a few months or years from now, you could consider stashing away money in a 529 plan — a type of college savings account that offers tax breaks if you use the funds to cover qualifying school-related expenses.

While these accounts are often opened by parents looking to cover their child’s education costs, you also have the option to open a 529 account for yourself.

Unlike a regular savings account, a 529 plan allows you to invest the funds into mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, or individual stocks — depending on the plan. Additionally, some states provide tax deductions for contributions you make to a 529 plan.

How to open a 529 plan: All 50 states as well as some private colleges offer 529 plans. Most state plans are available online — you’ll just need to visit the appropriate state website. To learn more about 529 plans offered by private colleges, visit Private College 529 Plan here.

Learn More: Best Private Student Loans – Objectively Reviewed

Employer benefits

Many employers offer tuition assistance or reimbursement programs that help their employees pay for college. These programs provide tax breaks for employers while also improving employee retention and skills as well as reducing recruitment expenses.

In many cases, you’ll be expected to work for a company for a certain amount of time before you can take advantage of a tuition program. Be sure to reach out to your human resources office to see if a program is available and how to apply.

Tip: If your company doesn’t offer a tuition assistance program, consider discussing the idea with your boss or HR manager. Be prepared with specifics regarding the degree or certificate you want to pursue, the courses you want to attend, and the ways this could benefit your company.

Check Out: Private Student Loans and COVID-19: What You Need to Know

What student loans can pay for

Student loans can be used to cover almost any education-related expense, including:

  • Tuition
  • Fees
  • Room and board
  • Meals
  • Transportation
  • Books and equipment

However, while student loans can be used for many expenses, there are limits to keep in mind. For example, you shouldn’t use your student loan funds to pay for:

  • A new car
  • Vacations or travel
  • Entertainment
  • Other debt

Tip: Be sure to borrow only what you need in student loans — and only spend the funds on those necessities. This way, you can keep your future costs as low as possible.

Learn More: How to Use Student Loans for College Living Expenses

Frequently asked questions about student loans for adults

Here are the answers to a few commonly asked questions regarding student loans for adults:

Is there an age limit for receiving federal student aid?

No, there’s no age limit for receiving federal student aid. To be eligible for federal aid, you must have demonstrable financial need and must be enrolled at least half time at a school that participates in the federal financial aid program. You’ll also need to fill out the FAFSA.

Check Out: Best Graduate Student Loans

Is there financial aid specifically for single parents with children?

No, there isn’t a specific type of federal aid for single parents. However, you might qualify for federal aid based on your financial need — for example, if you’re an undergraduate student with exceptional financial need, you might be eligible for a Pell Grant.

Also remember that there are private scholarships and grants available for people from many backgrounds — including some designed for single parents with children.

Learn More: How to Get Into College With a GED

Is there an age limit for taking out a student loan?

No, there’s no age limit for taking out a student loan. But keep in mind that some loans can only be used by certain types of students.

For example, Direct Subsidized Loans are only available to undergraduate students with financial need while Direct Unsubsidized Loans can be used for undergraduate or graduate studies regardless of financial need.

Check Out: Student Loans for Part-Time Learners

What is the income limit for the FAFSA in 2021?

There’s no income limit for the FAFSA. Instead, both your income and family size are taken into account to determine what aid you might qualify for.

Tip: Be sure to complete the FAFSA, even if you think you won’t qualify for financial aid. You might be surprised to find that you qualify for aid you didn’t know about.

If you decide to take out a private student loan, remember to consider as many lenders as you can to find the right loan for you. Credible makes this easy: You can compare your prequalified rates from multiple lenders in two minutes — without affecting your credit score.

Compare student loan rates from top lenders
  • Multiple lenders compete to get you the best rate
  • Get actual rates, not estimated ones
  • Finance almost any degree

See Your Rates
Checking rates will not affect your credit

About the author

Taylor Medine

Taylor Medine

Taylor Medine is a Credible authority on personal finance. Her work has been featured on Bankrate, Experian, The Balance, Business Insider, Credit Karma, and more. She’s also the author of The 60-Minute Money Plan, a self-published intro to budgeting guide for people who hate budgeting.

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