Nontraditional Students: Discriminated Against For Scholarships?

by Judge Josh on July 1, 2010

The most common question I get around here is also the toughest to answer. It’s some variation of this: “I seem to be doing everything right, but I’m not winning any scholarships. Why?”

It’s hard to answer because, without access to each person’s scholarship application materials, it’s hard to say what kind of mistakes he/she may have made when applying (although I have written a book about some common scholarship mistakes). On top of that, if there are essays involved in a scholarship, those are judged very subjectively. You may write an immaculate essay and still not win because someone else’s essay may have pleased the judges even more.

Sometimes, when you're older, you really have to go the extra mile to compete with the younger folks.

But without going into too much detail about a very long and detailed subject, let’s hear Gail out first:

Hello,

What is wrong with me?

Gail gets right down to business. I like it.

I am a non traditional student. I am 41 and decided due to my age a science degree was my best bet since I could make good money right out of college and would not need years to work my way up to something. I decided to do geology and add chemistry courses to be able to do geochemistry. I may not complete the chemistry degree,but I am sure of the geology degree and I plan on going right into a MS program to improve my income, what’s 2 more years for 15,000 more a year, right?

Well, it’s $30,000 plus interest, so be sure to research whether you can expect enough of a salary increase with the M.S. to offset the $40-odd thousand you’ll be paying over the life of the loan. Maybe it will pay off just fine, but definitely research it, because it’d be a costly assumption if it’s incorrect.

Well I am not sure what to do to make myself stick out more for scholarships. I think my age hurts me.

I can’t rule it out, but I would just say that, generally speaking, I think the majority of scholarship committees do not discriminate against older students.


Age discrimination does exist on scholarship committees, though, and it goes both ways. Some think it isn’t fair for traditional (younger) college students to have to compete for money with non-traditionals who have had, in some cases, a couple of decades worth of time to accumulate experience of all types. This type of discriminator thinks: “Why should these kids, who have worked their tails off in every possible way at a young age, now lose scholarship money to older students who are waltzing back to school after 10 or 20 years and are just now figuring out that college is a good idea?”

Now, the other type of discriminator — the anti-traditional student — thinks, “Why should I waste money writing a check to a kid — a kid who’s probably going to change his mind 10 times before he figures out what he wants to do with his life, if he even finishes college at all (no guarantees there) — when I can give it to an older, more mature and experienced student who appreciates the money a hell of a lot more than some 19-year-old?”

And then the anti-nontraditional answers with the fact that scholarships are investments, and that it makes more sense to invest in younger people, simply because you’re going to get more lifelong mileage out of a 20-year-old than you will a 45-year-old.

I’ve heard all these arguments with my own ears. I wouldn’t say they’re always discussed during winner selection, but it’s not rare, either. Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it either way. If you’re an older student, your application should go the extra mile to assure the committee (whether it’s true or not) that you’re absolutely dedicated to putting long years into your field. If you’re a younger student, it’s the same advice — assure the committee (whether it’s true or not) that you’re absolutely dedicated to your chosen field and look to make a long career out of it.

Will those assurances allay the misgivings of those who are inclined to discount you from the beginning? Not always, no. But it’s your best shot.

At community college I got awards (recipient for community service awards, recognition as tutor and student gov rep, all USA academic team), I held office positions in the honor society and held a position in student government, I was nominated for officer of the year, and I graduated highest honors from our honors program (honor’s diploma), yet I constantly get turned down for scholarships. I can fill pages of my work, activities, honors and awards.

These are all fine things and you should be proud of them, no doubt. But remember, to win a scholarship you have to be better than — well, if there’s only one scholarship, you have to be better than every single other person applying. I’ll give you my own personal assessment of your sketch of your achievements, and I’ll give it to you as an experienced scholarship judge:

Graduating with highest honors means the most to me of what you’ve listed. It means you got the best grades possible in your academic work, which is important. On the other hand, clubs (student government, honor society officer positions, etc.), carry very little weight with me. Nothing wrong with doing them, mind you, but being an officer in or member of a club doesn’t tell me anything about what you actually accomplished there. If you did outstanding things in those clubs that are noteworthy, then by all means, include and explain them; however, lacking that, clubs don’t mean a lot to me, the scholarship judge, when I’m narrowing the field.

What more can a student do…club, officer position, campus activities, community service, peer tutor, high academic performances (in classes like calc 1 through 3, physics, chemistry, computer programming, windows server, advanced operating systems, trig, precalc, anthropology)

The academics are legit and impressive, but again, it’s going to be difficult to convince a scholarship committee that you alone are worthy of their monetary investment based on things like student government involvement and campus activities.

Community service is also good, but it’s almost expected on an application nowadays, so your description of the volunteer work you did needs to be specific and compelling. To use one of my favorite examples, don’t say that you worked a soup kitchen once a week for two years; do the math and figure out a rough estimate of how many meals you served. Then say that you “served over 12,000 meals to homeless people in Port St. Lucie.” Really try and drive home the impact you’ve made with your service.

One critical thing you haven’t mentioned at all is any type of internships or professional work related to your geology and/or chemistry major — even if it’s part-time. It’s important to understand that scholarship committees are looking at you as a monetary investment, and if you’re choosing to spend a lot of time on activities that are unrelated to your career (student government, honor society, etc.), then you do so at your peril. Remember, there just has to be one student out there who’s out-working you in order to lose that scholarship.

Let me make a sports analogy here: If you were a basketball prospect hoping to get drafted, you’d make potential coaches and general managers very happy if you were spending your free time working on the weaker areas of your game, trying to bring them up in order to excel at the next level. If you were spending your free time on other stuff, then you’d be planting doubt in their minds. Same way with scholarship committees — we want our No. 1 pick to be as much of a sure thing as possible.

these are not your simple classes like history where all you have to do is read the book and answer questions on a test based on that reading. I easily get A’s in those type of classes, all you have to do is read…open the book.

I wouldn’t go trumpeting that point of view anywhere else — you never know when a history professor, or even a history major, might be one of your scholarship judges, and you’re probably not going to get far with any of them by insinuating that all you need is basic literacy to ace a history degree.

I got mostly A’s some B’s and 1 C. I don’t get it. I thought I did everything right.

Those are good grades, but again, understand that there are applicants out there with no C’s at all, and even a handful with no B’s, either. If someone has the drop on you in terms of academics, you have to make it up elsewhere in your application materials if you want to win that scholarship.

What is wrong with my profile? Is it my age? I have no resources and really could use some help here. What’s wrong with me?

Well, judging only from the sketch you’ve given me here, I’d say the biggest hole in your resume is the professional experience part. As a scholarship judge, I’d find it relatively easy to eliminate you from consideration in the latter stages of narrowing the applicants, and that’s due to the lack of any time spent in professional-type activities like internships or jobs, as I mentioned above. Those carry lots of weight.

And I can’t finish up without saying that there are tons of scholarships out there, and they all have different requirements. They all give different weight to grades, community service, work experience, and essays.

There are more scholarships available than any student can apply for, so choose carefully the ones you apply for. If you’re a weak writer, for example, I’d lay off the essay scholarships. If you’ve got a weak GPA, then you’ve got a better shot at scholarships that don’t ask for GPA, so focus on those. And so on.

—-

That’s my best advice for the day. What do you guys think — ever been screwed over for a scholarship because of your age? Is it fair to give the edge to either older or younger students? Let us know in the comments below.

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Melanie July 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Hello,

I completely agree with your response, Judge Josh. I think scholarship money should primarily go to younger students because they have the most to gain. No offense to the person who posted. But you would think at age 41, you would have a pretty nice career going and could afford to pay college without much help. Of course, there are other factors such as maybe they are single moms, and such, so they have childcare expense, one income, no husband, etc. This is in contrast to an traditional undergrad student who may not have had a job ever, or one for a few years that does not pay all that well. With age should come experience, and with that, more money to savings and better jobs. So why would someone not have money to pay for an undergrad education at this time in life? And the help doesn’t get any easier at the upper levels of education. Once you obtain a bachelors and you are going for a master’s degree, the aid drops dramatically because you are considered an independent student. But at the same time, the person who wrote in with his/her question, is already considered an independent student as well. So, if I were in this person’s shoes and had never pursued an undergrad degree, I might finish for the sake of knowing I obtained a degree, but not count on it as bringing much more opportunity or trying to use it to get scholarships.

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Sam Kelley July 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm

I can see the judges now: I have participating in scholarships, based on essays where all the entries were posted online. These generally are run by age, the max being 17 or 18, and I am the oldest in the competition.

In one, I did not make it to the finals, and everyone who did was under 10. It was based on an essay on volunteering. I guess the judges figured that, even though I had done a lot more service, I had longer to do it, as if they somehow canceled each other out.

In the other, I was declared 1 of 20 runner-ups. I was the oldest person and the winner was 10. I guess with younger competition, I don’t deserve a win.

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Brittany July 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm

I think it simply depends on the scholarship.

My mom and I are both college students (she at a community college, I’ll be transferring to a university this fall). When applying for scholarships, we’ve come across some that almost seek out ‘non-traditional students’, and others that appeal more to ‘traditional students (I put both of those terms in quotes because, with all of the different situations and backgrounds we come from these days, combined with globalization, it’s hard to lump anyone into either of those categories). It just boils down to knowing where to look and what to look for.

And of course the professional experience would be a plus, if you can! If you cannot find a job related to your field, or perhaps you’re working another well-paying job that you can’t give up, that’s in an unrelated field, I would put skills you’ve acquired that could be used in your potential career. Look at Judge Josh’s previous post, ‘Can You Pull Pranks For a Living?” for a great example! =)

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Sue Zwecker July 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Older students certainly can win scholarships. I won several, after entering college at the age of 53. I went to a local community college first, finished 2 different unrelated degrees in 3 years, and worked hard, with a 3.99 average until my last semester, when organic chemistry knocked me down to 3.86. I wanted to transfer to a major university to get a B.S. but couldn’t afford it so started applying for just about every scholarship I could find. I recieved over $30,000 in scholarship, enough to pay for one year at the university. I went, and graduated with honors after one year there with my B.S. in Biotechnology. Obviously my age didn’t hurt me. Part of my success might be that I had a real rough patch that led me to school. I’d been a housewife and mom, then my husband died from leukemia, leaving no money. I still had one child at home, and only a little social security for us to live on, which will end as soon as she graduates from high school. I needed to learn how to do something someone would pay me for. Maybe the judges felt a little sorry for me? Another part of my success in garnering scholarships would be the wonderful reference letters several of my professors wrote for me. Not so much that I’m smart or that I work hard – the committees get the transcripts and can see that for themselves. The community college was small and the professors were able to really get to know their students. I would urge those who really need scholarship money to not only work as hard as they can, but to get to know at least a few of your teachers and let them get to know you. They write much more compelling letters when they really care about helping you. Age is no barrier, but competition is stiff, and you need all the help you can get. The teachers can be your biggest “ace in the hole”, but you have to take the time to get to know them. It’s time well spent.

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Sue Zwecker July 1, 2010 at 4:07 pm

I should have proofread that post – now I see several typos I wish I could fix. Oh well, live and learn.

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JChaos76 July 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Age is a characteristic we simply cannot escape. We all get old. However, I do not think that age could be a drawback and reason for rejections in the scholarship arena. One thing that I have learned as a late bloomer myself (I went back to school at the age of 32, I am 34 now), is that aside from age difference, I am no different than most of my fellow students at the University, except for one thing-no one is like me and no one has done or experienced quite what I have in my life.

You ask, does that matter if it isn’t scholarly or academically linked? Of course it does! First of all, these people in the scholarship committees, not to mention prospective graduate school admissions boards want to know what the heck you have been doing for all these years before finally landing in a classroom. If it’s significant enough to keep you from school for a number of years, then make a big deal about it. I do.
Secondly, we are all individuals, we should appear and behave that way. So many people fall into the spin cycle of mediocrity because they follow trends and a path that everyone else does; but, few actually stand out and become stars.

What sets us apart and makes us unique is our own personal experiences, levels of intelligence and knowledge learned, motivation, ethics, etc. These are all the traits that individualize us. We, as individuals, have to accentuate what we know to be a part of ourselves specifically. What I mean is, everyone in college can read, write, calculate mathematical equations(or should anyway!) But what can YOU do that no one else, or very few can? What do you or have contributed that no on else has, even if it stuff from years ago?

I used to be a manager at a bank in California in a military town. We got enough resumes and applications for teller and banker positions to fill every bank in southern California. The resumes that stood out to me, and made me look harder were the REALLY BAD ones and the ones that had UNIQUE qualities. Everyone else’s resume sort of all said the same stuff. There did not seem to be anything in those resumes that stood out to me, that made me believe this person would have the energy, drive and desire to make my teller line look and run well produce quality work on the banker side. They seemed to almost be carbon copies of eachother.

Josh is right is many angles. For one, student government is a generalized and most commonly joined group in colleges; additionally, honor societies are teaming with scholarly undegrads all across the nation. Do not misunderstand me, I am in no way minimizing any effort or achievement that you may have earned. I am simply suggesting that perhaps a significant contribution or experience in your chosen field would bring your application to the forefront and look like no one else’s.

For example, grunt intern work and weird assignments from professors in your chosen field of science is always in demand. Literature searches for up and coming research studies, archival research for a new study approaching a subject in a different (and possibly, significant in understanding of a particular aspect of the field) way, or multivariate statistical procedures and calculations to assist a scientist are all needed at every University and science center everywhere. These are the jobs the scientists don’t have extra time for. They need to focus on the study itself while undergrad and graduate interns toil away a finding resources, literature and generating calculations to move the study ahead.

I personally took a non paid position in a Neuroscience center doing literature searches for a well respected doctor in an area of schizophrenia that is still misunderstood and quite significant for the field if successfully uncovered. This is a tick on my application that a good percentage of others DO NOT have. 😉

So what I am saying is, those weird, seemingly, offbeat entries in your application and essay coupled with your years of life experience is something YOU have and NO ONE else does. Your GPA, activities and so forth are important and everyone has them. What makes YOU different and important is something you have to reveal. Maybe it sounds silly coming from a Psych major; but, unique is more interesting.

Be a fingerprint, be one of a kind.

Good Luck!!

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jillybean March 26, 2011 at 8:56 pm

I really needed those words as I am feeling emotional right now.

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MJ July 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I think that sucks. Scholarships must be given to those people that need it but also that deserve it and their AGE must not matter… I mean, we all wil be old someday and ohhh Melanie, you will be old too so, what if you wanna go to a university again when you are 40 something and have no money to afford it? I think you will probably send another JUDGE JOSH a letter wondering what’s wrong with you???

I’m 23 and I’ve tried to get a scholarship for 2 years. I’m an international student and I’ve wondered the same… I don’t know if the problem is my age or what… Anyways, I will apply for a scholarship for the fall term 2010 at a small college in the US and I truly hope I can get it… I want to be a journalist (college major in English) :) and I will do my best to pursue my dream… Reach my goals :-)

By the way Josh, your blog is super cool!

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colleen July 1, 2010 at 4:52 pm

This is one of the most useful posts I have read so far on this website. Kudos!
But, I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity to mention that there are a few very use-less posts here, sorry Josh. I wish the selection would be more, umm… selective.

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perryinjax July 1, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Dear Gail,
“Some B’s and one C..”
There is your answer right there…the applicants that are beating you out have a 4.0 g.p.a. like mine, and the judges know it would be even higher, if such a thing was mathematically possible. I am often disappointed that an “A” is the best grade offered in a class.
I am also an older student, at age 42, and in community college..It does not speak to your academic achievements that you have one C at a community college even if it is in a difficult subject. All it would take is one applicant to have no C’s at a traditional University, and you would need a lot more non-academic achievements to beat him out if I were a judge. I am only trying to answer your question..which is a resounding NO…from what I read there is Nothing wrong with You personally or your age. And your work with the student government is impressive, but you simply do not have the grades to impress me for cold hard cash compared to the guy with straight A’s from an arguably more rigorous school.
Please welcome this as GOOD news, as you can change your GPA much easier than your age.
Our gracious host Judge Josh’s advice is also very good that maybe you should allocate more time towards internships or activities more applicable to your chosen field.
Good luck with your admirable effort to complete school at our age.
I wish you all the best, especially now that you know there is nothing wrong with you personally.

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Stephen Heleker July 1, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Colleen, I don’t think you’re being fair. It’s unreasonable to expect every post to be general, informative, and widely applicable. Quite often, my favorite posts are those that don’t apply to me, but deal with something you might consider “useless”, or unusually specific. After all, those interesting cases often set the bar for the rest of us (positively or negatively). Next time you have the chance to make a living off of candid advice to college students, take advantage of THAT opportunity to mention his useless posts. As for me, I’ll keep reading them.

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Perryinjax July 1, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Dear Melanie,
Regarding your comment;
“So why would someone not have money to pay for an undergrad education at this time in life?”
You are obviously blissfully ignorant when it comes to the cost of living, raising kids like you, etc…

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Audra Smith July 1, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Judge Josh –

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for all aspects that you presented when looking at a scholarship application. At 30, I find myself somewhere on the outer edges, and yes, I am seeking my undergrad. I am a full time student, a single mother, an active volunteer both school and community related… and I apply for EVERY scholarship I could be POTENTIALLY eligible for. When I write essays, I try to put emphasis not only on my academic accomplishments, but also on anything that could pertain to my course of study… that’s what I want the money for in the end, right?

I’ve been told, from a previous scholarship judge regarding my winning essay, that being an older student is not synonymous with being ineligible. Most younger students take for granted that their extracurricular activities in high school make them shoe-ins for scholarships. His words. Not mine. When I asked for clarification, he told me that my ability to look at what I wanted in life, go after it, balance it with having a child, maintain a job, and MORE! were what sold the committee. Many students in high school have the luxury of not having to worry about the responsibilities that being an adult entail. Their parents provide the roof over their heads, the food on the table, etc. To say an older student “should have known better” or should have plenty saved up and be in an excellent career is not right. Every scholarship applicant has a different story and should be considered on an individual basis… you just have to hope your story is more compelling than the rest. Again, I thank you for the other points, because it’s nice to know what else is going through your minds as you read through our applications and essays.

To the original poster: I try, if at all possible, to leave out my age. Yes, it says to put your date of birth on the application. But if I need to write an essay, I try not to mention how many years make me a non-traditional student… I use my “non-traditional” characteristics to help me stick out from the rest.

Good luck! And happy applications!

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Christa July 1, 2010 at 5:47 pm

I am an undergrad in my thirties. I went back to college, and find myself to be much luckier than friends with degrees who wish they could go back with the same kind of financial aid. My advice is to stay in school and pick up internships. Once you are out of school, it’s much harder to find those experiences. I think staying a longer time in college and filling my time with internships is the best use of my time and money. I won’t get this opportunity again, and am old enough to appreciate it.

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Leeja July 1, 2010 at 7:37 pm

I’m 37, a single mother with a deadbeat ex-husband, have 19 years of experience in accounting, a 3.89 GPA (only 2 B’s), I commute an hour each way to work and still help with my son’s high school marching band, yet I still have never even been notified I was a finalist. Whether the scholarship application requires short answers or an essay, nobody bites…or even nibbles. I completely know how frustrated Gail feels. I even wondered in the beginning if it was because I was working on my associates degree, but now that I’m in the bachelor’s program it’s not any better. I’ve even wondered how much it has to do with what school I’m going to, since University of Phoenix seems to be looked at as the redheaded stepchild of the education wold by some people.

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Allie July 1, 2010 at 7:56 pm

I don’t receive a lot of scholarships (admittedly I only apply for a few of them, and don’t get most of the ones I apply for), but I don’t think there’s any way a person could definitely say that there was any one reason (i.e., age) that causes them to lose out on them. I’m also a non-traditional student, and while I don’t get many scholarships, they do come my way from time to time.

The reality is that if she’s losing out on scholarships, it’s probably not due to age. It’s simply due to other students being more in line with what the judges are seeking. Taking an ageist standpoint on why someone doesn’t get aid is simply an excuse to not keep applying, not a reason why nothing was received.

Josh, you’ve given her your analysis of what the judges are looking for (i.e, professional experience), so that’s what she should work on if she wants to beef up her qualifications.

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Bridget July 1, 2010 at 9:33 pm

I’ve received plenty of rejection notices and I am a non-traditional student in my mid thirties. The only scholarship I won was one for the local Lions club and that is because I live in a really small town and not too many people know about it. Three of us applied and we all won. My GPA is a 3.85 but just about everyone applying for these scholarships has a 4.0. After reading some of the winning essays about their accomplishments, now I know why mine doesn’t stand out. To the poster….there is just so much competition out there and a lot of these kids who live at home are able to dedicate all of their spare time to founding organizations and saving the world. If you haven’t already, try Lions club, Kiwanis, and those kinds of places.

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James July 1, 2010 at 10:58 pm

perryinjax, Grades as a guide these days are worthless. Many schools use grade inflation and GPA’s can reach 4.25 at some institutions. In those instances, showing up for class, or even just signing up, guarantees an A. I’ve seen students who turned in blank Word docs get A’s. As a nontrad student, health issues killed my GPA back in the early 80s. After plenty of A’s over the last 50 courses, it is back up to 3.2. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to have 4.0 GPA. GPA is probably one of the worst measures to use.

Many employers look down on a 4.0 GPA because it can show either grade inflation or having an inbalance in life with too much focus on education.

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James July 1, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Judge, many judges discriminate against nontraditional students. The easiest way is by limiting applicants to 24- or H.S. students.

@Melanie, I agree with Perryinjax. When you get old enough, you should understand why. It takes several $100K to raise one child to age 17. Throw in housing related expenses, you may be surprised at how little money even an above average salary leaves you. I made $40 – 50K for several years, and after expenses, I had $1 – 2K left over and I was not spending very much on nonessential items.

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Scott July 2, 2010 at 10:13 am

I am forty-four and am going for my BBA degree. I can tell you right now that private schools are more apt to give older students scholarships based on their GPA before a transfer. I had a 3.95 GPA at my two-year school (only one B in two years while working up to 50 hours a week as well), so I was offered up to $14,000 a year in scholarships from many private schools, and nearly a full-ride from others. I was still working at the time, so I chose to stay local (20 minute commute). Many of us cannot just up and leave to go to another state or city farther away as we have house payments, cars, etc. that younger people may not have.

For those that say we older students do not deserve help, and all should go to the younger traditional students, I think that is very unfair. I am disabled from my job of 22 years, and the only work I can do now is office work. My disability payments only barely pay my bills, and it will be ending this November, leaving me with NO income (I cannot even get unemployment as I have been off work longer than a year). I had to default on a 401k loan because of my disability, so now I owe taxes and penalties on that. In addition, many of us were in industries hard-hit by the recession, especially manufacturing jobs. Those jobs are gone, and most are not coming back. Do you younger people really want to support us on welfare because we have no education to get a job? I have applied for well over 120 jobs, and none will hire me as I do not have a four-year degree. It is hell right now to get a job, and if you do get one it most likely part-time will not pay the bills. It is a “hiring” market right now, and the employers can pick and chose who they want; I have been turned down for jobs that I know I would have gotten three years ago with my Associate Degree. My cousin was laid off from her job at Marathon Oil, but they kept younger people with degrees. The employers are beginning to weed-out those that do not have degrees in favor of those that do, and it is very hard to prove discrimination in most of the cases.

Just remember, older single income, or no income people may be in worse shape than you when it comes to school financing as we most often do not have parents to pay our way or even help.

Scott

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Grey_GirlPTK July 2, 2010 at 12:22 pm

The assumption that older students have financial resources is a major falsehood. The assumption that older students chose late to wonder back and get an education is often a flat out lie.

I dropped out of college in my twenties to take care of my disabled mother. Never would have dropped out if there had been any other options. I am now in my 40s and work full time–make several thousand below poverty line for my county–still taking care of my mother. Full time student.

I am to old to have parents pay my bills, rent, books, tuition, etc… I do not have a car, never had one. I don’t own any property. What I have is debt, lots of it. Mostly loans since most state they are for just out of high school or under 24 years old. By most I mean out of 157 scholarships that a supposedly fit only 7 give to students that are over 24 years old.

True some companies offer scholarships/grants, or do matching funds for college. However, the State of Washington does not for homecare workers. But being over 40 means very limited funding, if any, since the assumption by committees is like those that have posted.

Assumptions:
If older than 24 you can pay your own way.
Older students have huge savings–401Ks, IRAs, etc…
Older students should have gone to college when…(Parents were paying your way)
Older students have other resources.

The Realities:
Non-traditional students don’t always have resources like IRAs, 401Ks, well paying jobs.
Older students don’t have parents to pick up even part of the tab. (No free rent, free food, free car)
Older students are already working full time. Some times with second job to make ends meet, while making over a 3.0 GPA.
Older students are often times going to college to make a career change.
Older students yes have experience, but experience does not guarantee future income.
Older students have the life experience to know what they will, not just want to, but will actually do. (Sorry young ones, but you often start out one way, get the degree and then choose to go do something else unrelated needing more college…)

FYI, many of the young students that think they will get a degree in their major and work in that field all their lives are confused or misinformed. Only a few people never change careers over their lives–average worker has 7-10 careers over their life time these days. So you will also be going back to college later in life. Be it to update your skill set, change careers, or just to learn more and you want too.
Extra-curriculars are often required by scholarship committees, along with high GPA, community service, and yes work experience if any. Unfortunately those of us over 40 don’t benefit from our experience, but are penalized for it by most committees.

I have over a 3.0 GPA, am a member of Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society, have made Dean’s List and President’s List (which give scholarship funds if you are under 24 when you win them), volunteer in my community, and work full time. But I get very little scholarship money. The state need based scholarships are for high school students only, so yes you do get discriminated for being older. Don’t let Josh fool you.

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Angelic July 6, 2010 at 3:14 am

Well, I could understand that the younger generation may need some help, however; I think all students should be able to qualify for scholarship equally for two main reasons:

First, being a non-traditional student is extremely hard work especially if you have a family and may be the only wage earner. For it to be assumed that because one has professional experience one should have an easier time paying for college is ridiculous with all of the job losses due to the economy. Not only that, but now people are getting laid off in professional fields that used to yield stability towards retirement which has forced many to have to be re-educated in other fields in order for them to survive and feed their families (which by the way, may include the parent/s of that young high school graduate looking to enter college). Many parents are having to attend college alongside their children because of economic demands.

Secondly, I am currently a non-traditional student and though there are many focused and scholastic minded youth attending college, there are many other youths that I have personally encountered who are taking their college education for granted. They get financial aid via grants and loans and make minimal effort to excel in their fields of study and figure that making a 2.0 is enough to get them to a Bachelor’s degree. Now, for programs such as Nursing, they may have difficulty getting accepted but, in fields such as Business and Accounting there is not usually a requisite gpa so they skate by and get a degree with the help of scholarships and sympathetic educators who just want to increase their graduate rates. Yet, these individuals hold a degree and know little of how they got it or how to use it to be successful in their fields. I do feel, however; that if the student has a 3.0 or better (non-traditional or traditional) they should equally be considered for any scholarships available to them (merit-based).

So, my point is this… a 45 year old single parent with 3 kids and is the only wage earner who happens to have a 4.0 is applying for a scholarship and a 19 year old single adult with no children who has a 2.8 are applying for the exact same scholarship. Would it be fair to give the scholarship to the 19 year old whose only responsibility may be to attend school and work in the work-study program and not consider that hard work and adversities that the 45 year old single parent with the responsibility of 3 children and works full-time yet maintains a perfect gpa? That makes no sense at all to me. If the 19 year old wants to be chosen then he/she needs to step his/her game up and make the gpa and the responsibility level to meet the requirement.

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Bradley July 7, 2010 at 11:45 am

I am an older, non-traditional student due to my disability. There are disability scholarships that expect this, but mental illness is the red headed stepchild of disabilities as far as I can tell. I’ve been looking for weeks and I’ve only found two. It probably has to do with the stigma and the difficulty justifying an investment. So that’s a wash. I guess I have to stick to the essays. It seems like a lot of these scholarships are only for people straight out of high school, so in terms of sheer numbers I guess I don’t have a great chance. If I’ve learned anything from reading the articles on this website it’s that I have no way of knowing what the scholarship judges want to hear and that I’m going to have to guess no matter what. Anything short of personally meeting the scholarship judges and seeing for myself feels like overanalysis.

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Gail Amalfitano July 12, 2010 at 8:29 am

Hi, Thanks for answering my post. I see your points. Let me clarify a few things. First I have a 3.86 GPA in my AA in arts and next semester a 3.78 in AS degree. (The C was in Physics with calculus).Also, I have 100 credits due to the 2 degrees, AA in Engineering, and AS in Computer Information.
I have done an Intership with the UF research and education center studying an insect (Asian Citrus Psyllid) that causes citrus greening. I will however, seek more internships now and list all the events I organized as an officer.
Now for those wondering why I am in college at 41….I was making 120,000 dollars a year before the economy went bust, I enjoyed life, my kids enjoyed security and I ran my own online retail business…most successfully. However, when the economy went bust my business went bust my home lost 125,000 in valus so I owe more than it is worth. Now I had to decide how to provide security for my family and myself. School was the answer, it is not easy to return to school after being a successful small business owner. I built it up with my husband and we had everything we wanted. Now we struggle to pay the electric bill. So the next time you kids wonder why an older student is in school, try to have a little vision about what’s happening in the world around you…ever watch the news? I don’t have ‘mommy’, daddy, or grandparents to pay my way. I am “mommy” so I have to find a way to keep my family afloat. Many of us in America are struggling to find a new way to survive, people lost jobs, homes, savings, and their life’s security.
I recieved 2 in house scholarships at the community college but now that I have transferred to the university I seem to have run out of support and no one knows me at the school.
Anyway, thanks for your replies, and thanks so much for addressing this issue as many of us return to school to provide a better life for ourselves and our families. It is a hard choice to go back to school after years without it, and it is hard to hang around with kids who refuse to accept you, so older students have an uphill battle.

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Gail July 12, 2010 at 9:45 am

Thank you so much for all your stories and advice. It is nice to know I am not alone. I read all your posts and I see where I can improve.
However, those that think older means more money it is obvious you guys must not have a clue of what is happening in the world outside your own. You must not see the news in which the “adults” are losing our jobs, spending our life savings to get by, losing our homes, watching our families struggle due to a loss of financial security, and trying to find a way to bring back security and stability to our lives.
How can anyone be so oblivious to the suffering of millions of Americans due to lost jobs and income? I am shocked that people still live in a box.
Well thanks so much guys. I will keep it all in mind.
Gail

Well you older students keep working at it, we will make it! Thanks for your inspiring stories.
I will try to keep your advice and stories in mind as I try to compete for scholarships.
Note: my 5 B’s and 1 C is along with over 100 credits. I too did two associate degrees and during my internship discovered science

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Joanna July 14, 2010 at 11:34 pm

Yes, if I could afford the gas to pump into my time machine and jump back to my early adult years I’d have gone into the Navy to become an architect on their dime after seeing the world. However, some of us older students naively listened to bad advice from our parents who said they “knew best” and ended up clinging to a metaphoric life raft in the form of scholarships that could finally put us on the course to success. We’ve drifted through jobs only to realize now that being confident about our abilities and pursuing our goals isn’t vain or selfish, it’s a way to keep the economy afloat. And, after all, we older folks have been a part of the circulating process that allows there to be funds available for scholarships so when one comes to us, it’s really appreciated.

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Sarah July 20, 2010 at 11:09 am

I am an older student who is being discriminated by a teacher. I haven’t applied for any financial help. I am paying for the classes I am taking myself from my savings. This is my third time around. I have a bachelor Degree and a Assoc. I am back in school now because I gave up some of my years to be there for others. When I was finally able to rejoin the workforce I was told my previous experience and education were irrelevant, because I didn’t have 6 months recent experience. (that is a verbatum quote from several interviewers) So now after all I have accomplished in my life up to now (including running my own business for several years) I am having to start all over again. It’s very difficult to deal with the kind of discrimination I am reading here. Not all, but some of my teachers treat me like a complete idiot. They give all sorts of breaks and perks to the 20 year old that has one year of high school and a GED, and a couple of illegitimate kids, and i get just the opposite. I will make it through this because that is who I am, but i do hope some of you will give some thought to how little you know about me. I not only did all of this when I was younger, but now I am having to do it again.

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Deb July 20, 2010 at 5:34 pm

I am 56 and have been studying art for 2 years. It something so very new to me and I found it a frightening experience. I was afraid that I could not keep up with the younger recent high school grads (who studied art prior to college entry). I have raised children who have attended college and fallen through all of the cracks for student funding.
I now apply for bursaries and more recently have begun to apply for scholarships (after I missed the deadline for a scholarship of $5000 and a bursary of $1000 that were offered (from the college I will be entering Sept) based on my graduating marks from an art program (I graduated from in April) because I had not understood the difference in how the schools work. What a culture shock!

I spend time talking with a technical assistant from the college I am now leaving. She recalls her years of applying for funding and competitions. I am thinking her summary is worth considering. THE PEOPLE WHO GET THE MOST AWARDS HAVE WON THE MOST BASIC COMPETITION–THEY ARE THE ONES WHO GET THE PAPERWORK CORRECT IN EVERY WAY!

Another thing I have learned based on the experience of watching my own children and then from re-entering the school system. GO TO THE SCHOOL OF YOUR CHOICE AND MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE FINANCIAL ADVISOR WHO WILL BE ASSIGNED TO YOUR FILE (mine was based on the first letter of my last name). That woman explained (quite patiently) many of the pitfalls of not understanding the application process for student loans.
Sometimes, the same rules apply to bursaries as well as scholarships. She often went to bat for me to explain some information I included which would be used against me (until I understood the question better). We discovered that some information I submitted was erroneously duplicated which changed the figures drastically. Trying to be so honest, I answered question without realizing how it affected their decisions. This is not about lying to the I was claiming income I could not count on (for example) or income that was actually not my income (but that of my former husband). As I said, I was merely trying to be honest and did not realize how it would be interpreted.
I was really very lucky because I swore the woman would be sitting there at 7:30 am each day waiting for me to ask her something. She would respond so quickly, I used to tease that she must have slept at her desk.

Now that I am changing from one to school to another, it is taking me a bit of time to familiarize myself with the different people who influence my fate. I have already been turned down for Communications course exemption. My response to that is: I cannot afford to get hung up on the small stuff. An exemption would have made life in first semester a bit easier. When I call or write the school to clear up some of the problems, I keep track of the names. Some of the people are students, also. I check to see what program they are in and arrange to meet them during orientation. Some are staff and I have begun to introduce myself as I arrive for testing or those tours, etc. It helps me to prepare for the other unknowns–such as supplies I will need to find at the beginning of term–that no one thought to mention. Until my student loan arrive, I cannot even afford to sneeze without planning. And I will be hours from home (in a strange high-priced City). Without a safety net.
I have made many mistakes in my youth. One day at the beginning of my glass course, I called my former husband and screamed at him, “What was I thinking to be in this course? And why did you even let me have children? Why didn’t you stop me?” Then I called my children and whined, “I am such a whimp. I don’t even think I can do this!”
Here I am, broke, feeling orphaned and abandoned AND attempting to re-create a life that will support me into my final seniour years.
I don’t know how often there is a discriminatory process through which I am being left out. I struggle. I often run out of food. My car breaks down because it is old. In a snow storm, I cannot look for public transit (we don’t even have stoplights in the town in which I live). I cannot afford the hydro to turn on the furnace, if the wood-stove won’t keep the house I own warm. I cannot borrow against my home–the house I bought after repairing my credit from a bankruptcy of a divorce and so it is fully mortgaged. I can’t ask my parents because they have died. I have maxed out my credit cards, trying to help my 2 college age daughters, because my former husband suffered a stroke and can’t help them as he planned. My older, more settled, and married son was out of work for a year and has only recently found a new job. I have been told by friends that I have been passed over for invitations to join committees (who might be short-handed) because I am black. I am a rather friendly person who is known for my cheerful disposition and willingness to help others. I am also a volunteer fire-fighter in this town where I have lived and raised my children for more than 11 years. I photograph many of the fire dept functions and will allow my pictures to be used for free (although they know that photography will be part of how I earn a living as my skills develop). So I am good enough to help in emergencies; but not good enough to sit on some committees? My children daughters each spend several years helping the same Community Care cancer client. They hadn’t wanted to hire my girls, because the hiring staff just knew that young students would never be reliable. A woman had to threaten to quit to get them hired, as they could find no one else suitable at the time.
Sometimes, many of my classmates are too tired (from partying the night before to stay focused on helping me at the glass furnace when I fumble).

My former husband (who now considers me his best friend) cannot speak very well since his stroke. He merely laughed at me. My children told me that I would be o.k. and sent me back to class. The goals I have achieved are worth every moment of uncertainty and setback. Maybe the best advice I can give is to suck it up and not lose sight of your goals while you are working through the crap.

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Ashley Johnson August 27, 2010 at 6:28 pm

I do not agree with discrimination on either end of the ages. No one should be judged by age. I know, from experience, there are many situations that make it nearly impossible to go to college directly after high school. Because your life took a nontraditional turn at a young age does not mean that you did not value a college eduation. It just wasn’t possible at that time. On the other side, because a person is young and may not know what they want, does not mean they will waste the money.

I am 24 years old and just began college because of family situations in high school and the couple of years after. I was a great student in high school and went on to be a great employee at a great company. I do worry that my age will be a factor in scholarships, but I put my faith in the judges to not discrimnate. I know I write college-level essays, and I’ve keep learning what the judges look for in essays. I do all I can do, the best I can do it.

The only advice I can add to yours, Judge Josh, is to search out scholarships that are more specific to the author’s situation, as well as grants. An example of one that apply’s to myself is scholarships for children of deceased parent(s). I know there are far fewer of them when they are specific, but there may also be less competition.

Another note for anyone facing any specific hardship or situation: in the future, we have the option to create our own scholarships. It takes a need to fill a need. It may be difficult for us now, but we have the option to one day make a difference in a person’s life that is facing the same obstacles as we are.

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Suzann December 10, 2010 at 11:39 am

I think the fact that less than 30 percent of Americans have, at any time in our history, and sometimes it has been as low as 10 percent, completed a college degree. That has profound implications for the nation’s ability to live up to the ideals upon which it is founded. To Thomas Jefferson, education was paramount to the proper functioning of our democracy. And yet we have educators deliberately devising ways to eliminate the larger proportion of people of all kinds from the halls and classrooms of higher learning. Small wonder that America is a nation that has for several decades, made foolish voting decisions and is now descending into chaos. Two situations collide here, a nation that purports to rule itself by the majority while actually educating a small minority. America, in the present, is a nation of uneducated people whose ability to vote and make consumer choices in the nation’s best interest to say less of in one’s OWN interest is severely crippled by this deficiency, lacks the capacity for self-government.

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ALLIE December 23, 2010 at 1:25 am

AGE DISCRIMINATION IS A FACT !!!! FILE A COMPLAINT THEN LET THE LAWYERS SORT IT OUT. GIVING PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT OR A BREAK TO OLDER STUDENTS IS LEGAL. REMEMBER THAT AND ASK FOR IT…… FILE THE COMPLAINT, GO TO:
http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/howto.html

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lilian njambi Kunyiha April 16, 2011 at 4:13 am

I do think that age is a number but the most important thing that should be considered is the determination of somebody . also when one decides to go back to school at 41 years it means that the person is so determined and has enough experience in life so he/she goes for it with a passion and a purpose of becoming prosporous in life and attaining his/her goals in life thus aged people should always be given the first periority .

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Cyndi June 24, 2011 at 11:59 am

Age should not be a determining factor. When I entered the work force in the early 1980’s college degrees were not required to get a good job. Now it seems employers want degrees for even entry level positions. There are some employers that will accept experience in lieu of a degree, but most won’t even talk to you if you don’t have the degree. There are a lot of excellent experienced people who are unable to get jobs because of no degree. There are millions of things we can do better than a recent grad with no real world experience, but we are being forced back to school at what some consider to be a late age. Not because we didn’t care when we were younger, but because when we were younger it didn’t really matter very much. Not like it does now.
Judges that discriminate against older students thinking they didn’t care when they were younger are obviously not taking in to consideration the social and cultural difference that have evolved in our country over the last 20-30 years. Don’t assume that older students are dumb, lazy, or just didn’t care. What is now considered to be the “basic standards” were very different when older students were younger. Since society can’t be retro-fitted, older people are having to go back to school to comply with new standards and to stay competitive.

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nu August 13, 2011 at 9:37 pm

I have all of the campus activities, clubs, community services that she mentioned above. I study full time and work more than 20 hours a week as a Math tutor and have a GPA of 3.9. No Cs or Bs, only As ( the courses I took also included those course she took Cal 1-3, Physics, Computer Programming since I am a computer science major). I have been turned down by scholarship many times that I couldn’t remmember. I simply think that there’re other people out there who need it more than I do. It just sound arrogant and naive when someone think they deserve scholarships b/c they do something that everyone can.

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Grey_GirlPTK October 8, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Thanks first to Judge Josh for the interesting articles.

As for age discrimination it happens just as often to younger students as older for many of the reasons gaver, plus others that people can come with when pressed. But whinnying about it won’t get you a scholarship.

I’m 42, almost 43, and have been passed over for scholarships–but I’ve also won some. Scholarships, more than anything else, are about numbers. I don’t mean just numbers of students you’re competing against but the number you apply too. Apply to every scholarship you can. Yes, I have found scholarships that only apply to high school kids, and non-traditionals won’t get anything. But there are scholarships for merit (Community service/volunteering, etc), for GPA (the higher yours the better), for affiliations (clubs, organizations, unions, etc), for ethnic groups, religion, sex (male or female only), and so on. Everytime I find one I check carefully that it is not for younger students, but for any student and then apply. Yes, it is time consuming–I work as a full time caregiver, am a full time student (3.14 GPA), am doing an internship (13 hrs week), and looking for a second job to cover the bills. Yet I still make time for applying to every scholarship I can find. I am a Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society student, multiracial, female. I finished my AA with a 3.56 GPA and got scholarships for my GPA, for need based (caregiving pays below poverty level), my program of study (back then was Business, now History), and for writing a lovely essay. Of course for every scholarship I earned there were probably 20-30 that didn’t give me a cent. So a big part of it is not applying to 5-10 scholarships, but applying to as many as possible. It greatly improves your odds.

Leeja, you might also want to check the attitude. If you appraoch your applications with the attitude you do for History majors it could be getting in your way. No one, and I’d imagine it goes for scholarship judges too, likes to give money to someone with a chip on there shoulder. Also many Humanities majors run scholarship commitees, or so I’ve found, and I can’t imagine telling them that you think things like History or English majors are easy. Or imply that people that get them do so because they’re easy, and only lazy, stupid people pursue them. Why? Read below.

As for ONLY needing to open a book and parrot back info is not true at the college level. It is for elementry and high school but at the university level a History major must do tons of research (4-8 books a term, plus outside readings), critically analyze data,statistics, etc., write as well or better than an English major (depending on the prof), be able to think independently, organize time and data, make a clear, well thought out argument in a well written/organized, paper with all other work cited in proper Humanities style format–and yes you loose lots of points for getting it wrong; not to mention kicked out of the program if you miss on for plagerising. This doesn’t cover the other non-History course you take to round out your degree. Or include the foreign language requirement. Or to get/keep aid funds of maintaining a decent GPA.

So YES, there is a lot more work being a History major than a Business major, or a chem major as far as reading load goes. I was maintaining a high GPA as a Buisness major but my heat wasn’t in it so I switched because for me the History program was more intersting. I’ve found that the Humanities require a more challanging level of discourse than others. But they are also more fun, and boarden your brain a bit. But that might just be me.

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JUAN CARLOS August 26, 2015 at 6:48 pm

MY SITUATION IS DIFERENT, BECAUSE I WAS GRANTED FOR THE FAFSA SUCCESFULLY…, BUT THE FINANCIAL AID OFFICE A THE COLLEGES THAT I AM ATTENDING IS MY PRINCIPAL OBSTACLE FOR MY NEXT STEP…, THE AWARD WAS GRANTED TO ME ON MARCH 13, UP TO THIS DAY THIS OFFICE KEEP REQUESTING FOR PAPERS, WHEN LONG TIME AGO, I WAS TOLD THAT I DID NOT NEED ANYTHING ELSE….; I STILL OWE THE SCHOLL THE CLASSES FROM THE SUMMMER SESSION AND I DID GET THE MONEY FOR THE BOOKS AND ANY OTHER MATERIALS

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