The rising cost of college tuition is a common concern among both traditional and non-traditional students, with financial need being cited as a primary barrier to initial enrollment, and a contributor to student attrition rates. For prospective non-traditional students, financial instability may be one of the obstacles that led them to postpone their education, and the availability of financial aid may play a significant role in whether they ultimately decide to pursue degree-completion.
When researching degree programs, "sticker shock" is not an uncommon experience. However, what prospective students may fail to realize is that the tuition “sticker price” is not an absolute: there are resources available to help ease the financial burden. Many schools will offer applicants a financial aid package, and students may also independently pursue other forms of financial assistance.
The college financial aid system can be quite complex - with its many types, terms, and eligibility requirements - and significant research may be required in order to fully understand what is available.
Below, we have provided a basic overview of the financial resources available to non-traditional students, many of which are administered through the College of Charleston Office of Financial Assistance and Veteran’s Affairs. We hope that this information will illuminate the possibilities for obtaining an affordable education.
Financial Aid Overview
“Financial aid” is an umbrella term that refers to the five main types of financial assistance offered to college students: scholarships, grants, loans, work study programs, and veteran’s benefits.
A scholarship is a sum of money awarded to students on the basis of financial need, academic merit, community service, group-affiliation, or special talent. Funding may be provided by a particular university/department, a private corporation, a privately-funded endowment, a non-profit organization, or a government entity - and does not require repayment.
Grants are sums of money awarded to students - typically on the basis of financial need. These awards may be offered by the federal government, the student’s home state, the college of attendance, nonprofit organizations, or private organizations. Grants do not require repayment.
Student loans are borrowed funds - obtained from the federal government or private organizations - that must be repaid with interest. Student eligibility and terms will vary depending on the source of the loan.
Federal Work Study
Work study programs provide part-time jobs for students who have exhibited financial need, allowing students to contribute toward their education. This option is not available for students who intend to maintain their current full-time employment.
Students who have previously served - or who are currently enlisted - in the US military may be eligible for GI Bill benefits, military scholarships or other veteran’s benefits. Benefits may also be awarded to Veteran’s dependents.
Initiating the Financial Aid Process
When applying to the College of Charleston, it is recommended that students complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA collects information about a student's financial status in order to determine the level of financial need, and eligibility for federal/state assistance (including student loans) and other need-based scholarships and grants. Completing the FAFSA application is optional, and students are not obligated to accept any form of financial aid, if offered.
For traditional students', the ability to fund their education is often determined based on parental income, however, once a student is 24 years of age, his or her eligibility for financial assistance is based on personal earnings and assets.
The FAFSA must be completed each year in which the student hopes to receive financial aid, as the award amount is dependent upon income earned in the previous year. If a student has experienced life changes (unemployment, divorce, etc), his or her financial aid award may be adjusted. Likewise, changes to one's academic plan (i.e, reduced course load) can alter the award issued.
The FAFSA for a given academic year becomes available on January 1st, and is often submitted as part of the enrollment package. To ensure consideration for scholarships and grants, students are advised to complete the FAFSA prior to the March 1 priority date; however students may still apply for financial assistance at a later point in the academic year
To complete the FAFSA, students must first apply for a PIN from Federal Student Aid. This unique identifier will be signed to the FAFSA, ensuring quick and accurate processing. As the FAFSA requires information from the previous year’s federal personal income tax return, using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) can help to simplify the application process.
For more information, please visit the CofC Office of Financial Assistance and Veteran's Affairs, or studentaid.ed.gov.
Pursuing Scholarship Opportunities
In addition to considering federal/state aid, students should research available scholarship opportunities - including both scholarships offered by the institution they plan to attend, and those offered by private entities. Adult students may be disheartened to find that many scholarships are limited to students of traditional college age, however scholarships tailored to non-traditional students do exist.
The College of Charleston School of Professional Studies (SPS) offers two endowed scholarships specifically established for degree-completion candidates. Additional scholarships for adult students may be offered by philanthropic organizations, community groups, and corporations.
The SPS maintains a list of institutional scholarships established specifically for non-traditional students, and the CofC Office of Financial Assistance and Veteran’s Affairs lists a variety of speciality scholarships that may be available to non-traditional students.
The Office of Financial Assistance and Veterans Affairs also maintains a small catalog of outside scholarships (accessible in the office lobby), and also provides a detailed list of outside scholarship resources on their website.
Standard tuition rates often incorporate fees for student extra-curricular programs and services; however, many of these services are not frequently utilized by non-traditional students. As a result, some academic institutions offer special services tailored to adult students, or may offer adult students a tuition discount.
The College of Charleston leadership recognized the discrepancy between the needs of adult students and the fees being assessed, and approved a reduced tuition rate for all candidates in the Bachelor of Professional Studies program. Students in the BPS program now pay approximately 20% less in tuition, when compared to their traditionally-aged counterparts.
The tuition reduction, which became effective in August 2016, applies to all students enrolled in the BPS program, and is automatically applied to their tuition bill. The tuition per 3-hour course is $1,197: approximately $250 less than the previous rate.
The decision to complete one's degree can present a range of challenges, and the SPS strives to help students ease these burdens.
For more information about our undergraduate programs, and the financial aid, scholarships, and tuition reduction available to non-traditional students, please contact the SPS.
We hope that our students will earn more and owe less - obtaining a quality education with an afforable cost.