Despite the cost of tuition, a college degree continues to pay huge dividends for professionals. The U.S. Department of Treasury notes that a degree provides an impressive 80 percent chance of improving your economic status over the course of your career.

But if you count yourself among the 46 percent of American students unable to complete a degree within six years, you are far more likely to struggle with unemployment and low-paying jobs, according to research conducted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The research maintains that returning to school is in your best interest, but is it financially feasible? It all depends on your ability to take advantage of various programs and incentives set aside for adult students. Be sure to keep the following financial resources in mind as you contemplate your return to the world of academics:

Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Yes, you probably filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid at, the first time you attended college, and yes, it’s in your best interest to do so again. This annual form is made available to both current and prospective students, including those attending school full-time or on a more gradual part-time basis. Your FAFSA application will determine whether you are eligible for federal grants and student loans, both of which are easier to score for adults living with dependants or in the midst of significant financial struggles. The application is eligible for acceptance beginning the Jan. 1 prior to the upcoming school year. Be sure to fill the form out earlier, as it will improve your chances of scoring need-based grants and subsidized loans.

Non-traditional Student Scholarships and Grants

FAFSA is the best place to begin your hunt for financial aid, but don’t end that search once the federal application has been sent in. Government programs, charitable organizations and colleges all make a point of encouraging college attendance for non-traditional students through the funding of generous scholarship programs. Start by applying for a $1,000 grant from the Imagine America Foundation or, if you’re a single mom, varying scholarships of up to $5,000 through Raise the Nation.

Program-Based Scholarships & On-line Savings

If you have a particular college or academic program in mind, you might be able to win a scholarship or grant targeted to students within your field of study. For example, students pursuing accounting and finance degrees on-line may be eligible for a number of scholarships provided through the American Institute of CPAs. Official organizations related to your degree program tend to offer the most generous scholarships, but it’s also worth checking with your college to see whether any program-specific awards are available. If you finally find a way to finance your education, there are also ways to save money on college materials. Always opt for used text books at physical or on-line student book stores or look for lower cost alternatives through e-book stores like, which offers many free career and education-related eBook downloads.

Employer Tuition Assistance

Many adult students continue to work on a part- or full-time basis while attending college. If you count yourself among this group, ask your employer’s human resources representative whether tuition assistance is available. Business leaders recognize the benefits of sending their employees back to school and may be willing to provide financial support, assuming the chosen degree program relates to the student’s current profession.