A college student with senior-citizen parents might not be able to rely on her parents to help pay her tuition and other educational expenses, especially if the parents have already retired or live on limited incomes. Furthermore, a student who cares for an elderly parent may not have time to work and attend school concurrently. Grants and scholarships for non-traditional students, returning students who resume their studies after leaves of absence and students with demonstrated financial need can provide much-needed support.
Extraordinary Financial Commitments
Some grants and scholarship programs include financial need in their criteria for funding applicants. A grant-making organization or financial aid office may prefer to support a student with "extraordinary financial commitments" that lessen the student's ability to pay for college on his own. Extraordinary financial commitments often describe financial burdens not experienced by traditional students, whose parents can contribute to their college costs. Some grant programs, including the Continuing Education (CE) Grant at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, specifically include care and financial support for elderly parents as an extraordinary financial commitment. Each student should contact his own college's financial aid office to ask for information regarding institution-specific grants for students based on family circumstances.
Grants and scholarships for non-traditional students may include students who have senior-citizen parents. Though each student's circumstances may vary, schools often identify non-traditional students as individuals older than 25, those who are independent or heads of household and those with caregiver responsibilities for minor children or elderly parents. To support themselves and their dependents, non-traditional students may also have full-time jobs. The student's own institution, private foundations and local organizations may provide financial aid to support a non-traditional student. For example, the American Legion Auxiliary gives the Non-Traditional Student Scholarship to encourage non-traditional students who may otherwise not pursue higher education due to personal circumstances and responsibilities.
Some students with senior-citizen parents must take leaves from their colleges to provide care during an elderly parent's illness or incapacity. The leave may last months or even years. After the elderly parent recovers or passes away, the student may wish to continue in school. Some grants and scholarship programs specifically give financial support to returning students who plan to resume their studies after a number of years away. The student may need to have been away for a minimum number of years to qualify. For example, the Bernard Osher Foundation offers the Osher Reentry Scholarship Program to support students who have taken at least five years off before resuming their degree program. Students should contact their own universities' financial aid offices for information on policies and support for students reentering school after time away.
Grants Based on FAFSA
When a college student comes from a household with senior-citizen parents, his parents' ages may affect his eligibility for federal grants based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). A student with older parents may be older himself; older students may qualify as independent students who do not need to submit their parents' financial information on the FAFSA. Without parental income, the FAFSA may show greater financial need. Additionally, the FAFSA considers the number of household members who financially depend on the student himself. Federal grants for college, including the Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), go to eligible students who demonstrate the requisite levels of financial need through the FAFSA.