Let's try a thought experiment: You are over 50 and thinking about additional schooling — maybe to burnish your credentials, maybe to pivot careers and pursue a second act, or maybe because a pandemic-related layoff has given you little choice.
Do you think you are eligible for student aid?
Student aid is so associated with young kids coming straight out of high school that you might write it off as a possibility. But that's a mistake — because you are absolutely eligible.
"One piece of advice is universal: You should not assume that you are ineligible, or think that there is nothing out there for you,” says Kalman Chany, author of The Princeton Review's Paying For College and president of Campus Consultants. “That's just not true."
As a result, you should start where every other college student does: Filling out the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (fafsa.gov) is the master key that helps unlock loans and grants at the federal, state and institutional levels.
Here's why that's so important: Those 50 and over in America are already struggling with a huge student debt load. They are carrying $349 billion as of the fourth quarter of 2020, or roughly 20 percent of the national total.
At an age when you should be starting to throttle back and enjoy life a little more, extra debt can be a heavy burden to bear. So any strategies to minimize those debt loads become even more critical.
As you consider how much you can take on, here's a handy way to think about it: “If total student loan debt is less than annual income, they can afford to repay their student loans in 10 years or less,” says Mark Kantrowitz, student loan expert and author of How To Appeal for More College Financial Aid. “If they plan on retiring in less than 10 years, they should borrow proportionately less."