Pay For College

Once you decide to go back to school to get a certificate or degree, you will need to plan how to pay for it.

There are many options available to help you. While figuring out how to pay for college can feel overwhelming, being informed and prepared will assist you in the process. Use these resources and tips to get ready.

Research Your Federal Financial Aid Options.

Federal financial aid comes in the form of grants, work-study, and loans. Grants are funds that do not have to be repaid. Work-study are funds earned through a student-friendly job on or near campus while attending school. Loans are borrowed funds that must be repaid with interest. For more helpful resources and tips:

Check out the Federal Student Aid for Adults informational guide

Federal Pell Grants

This grant provides varying amounts (maximum is $5,775) based on your demonstrated financial need. Close to 60% of adults attending college in Tennessee are Pell eligible. The Department of Education calculates your Pell eligibility based on several factors, including your financial need, the cost of attendance, and how many courses you will take.


  • Must be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Undergraduates who have not earned a bachelors or professional degree

*Students are ineligible if they have defaulted on a loan, not registered for selective service, or incarcerated. You may not receive Federal Pell Grant funds from more than one school at a time.

Discover resources here in Tennessee that will help you pay for college.

TN HOPE Scholarship for Non-traditional Students

TN Hope provides $1750 per semester to attend a four year school. In order to be eligible for HOPE funds, you must file your FAFSA by September 1 for fall term, and by February 1 for spring and summer terms.


  • Have been a Tennessee resident for one year by September 1 of the application date. For students beginning spring and summer terms, residency is determined by February 1 as of application date
  • Be age 25 or older and:
    • Be an entering freshman in an eligible postsecondary institution; or
    • Have not been enrolled for at least two (2) years after last attending any postsecondary institution and is now enrolled at an eligible postsecondary institution
  • Must have student’s and spouse’s adjusted gross income of $36,000 or less on IRS tax form
  • Be continuously enrolled at an eligible postsecondary institution in the fall and spring semesters and maintain satisfactory academic progress
  • Have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.75 after 12 attempted semester hours or required GPA at subsequent benchmark. (Attempted hours and college grades prior to re-enrollment at an eligible postsecondary institution after at least a two year break in enrollment are not considered.)
  • Enroll in one of the Tennessee public colleges, universities, or private colleges

Tennessee Student Assistance Award (TSAA)

Established as a non-repayable financial aid program which may provide up to $4,000 per year to financially-needy residents of Tennessee. You must file the FAFSA in order to apply for this award. Please note awards are given on a first-come, first served basis, and due to limited funding students are encouraged to submit the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1 to receive priority consideration.


  • Tennessee resident, U.S. Citizen
  • Undergraduate Student pursuing their first degree and enrolled at least half time at an eligible Tennessee postsecondary institution
  • Demonstrate financial need, as determined by the FAFSA

Tennessee Reconnect Grant

The Tennessee Reconnect Grant is a “last dollar” grant that pays the remaining balance of tuition and mandatory fees after other state financial aid and Pell Grants have been applied. This grant is available for students who want to pursue technical certificates or associate degrees.

Using the Tennessee Reconnect Grant to Earn a Technical Certificate

The Reconnect Grant can be used at Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology to pay for tuition and mandatory fees. Read more about the TCATs here.

For more information check out Reconnect at a TCAT.

Using the Reconnect Grant to Earn an Associate Degree

The Reconnect Grant can also be used at Tennessee community colleges and some four-year institutions to pay for tuition while earning a two-year associate degree. This grant pays the remaining balance after other state financial aid and Pell Grants have been applied towards tuition and mandatory fees at the community college. At a four year institution, the Tennessee Reconnect Grant will not be last-dollar, meaning it will not cover all tuition and fees. The amount of funding you may receive will be based on the average amount of tuition and fees at a community college.

For eligibility requirements and how to apply, check out Reconnect for an Associate Degree.

Use Tennessee College Pays to find information on financial aid available in Tennessee. The site includes links to scholarship applications and lists requirements.

If you have questions, contact the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) help desk toll free at 1.800.342.1663.

Check with your school to learn about institutional scholarships.

Find out if your institution offers institutional scholarships and if you qualify for any of them.

Search for scholarships free

If you are a Veteran or Service Member, learn about the benefits and grants available to you.

Veterans and service members have many options available to help them pay for college. To learn about these options, visit Education Benefits for Veterans and Active Duty Military.

Find out if your employer will help support your education.

Some employers offer tuition reimbursement programs, flextime, and college savings plans, among other resources. If applicable, check with your current employer to see if you may receive any such education benefits or support in scheduling work around your classes.

Learn about the tax benefits for continuing education.

You might benefit from federal income tax benefits for education expenses. Visit this page to learn more.

Apply for Aid

Federal and many State financial aid programs rely on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility. This form is the starting and ending point for many of the programs you may qualify for. It is both how you apply for financial aid and how the college knows you are eligible for aid. The FAFSA is available online at or in paper form by calling 1-800-433-3243. The easiest way to fill out the FAFSA is online using the Department of Education’s step by step guide.

You’ll be able to fill out the FAFSA quicker if you gather these documents.

  • Your Social Security Number
  • Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
  • Your most recent federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
  • Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
  • Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
  • An FSA ID to sign electronically: The FSA ID provides a method for you to electronically sign your FAFSA. Go to to establish your FSA ID. Note that establishing your ID may require some time (1-3 days) to allow processing.

You can apply for federal aid through the FAFSA between January 1 and June 30 every year. You will likely receive a better financial aid package the earlier you apply. Also, many schools have deadlines for FAFSA completion, so make sure you are aware of any additional deadlines. Schools may use information on the FAFSA to determine eligibility for other scholarships or aid. For example, in order to be eligible for TSAA funds, you must file your FAFSA by March 1. In order to be eligible for HOPE funds, you must apply by September 1 for fall term, and by February 1 for spring and summer terms.

Key resources