As a returning citizen, you may face unique challenges when it comes to enrolling in school. There may be gaps in your education, difficulty accessing financial aid, you may lack digital literacy skills, or find it hard to balance being a student while meeting the conditions of your release. Don’t worry, there are many resources available to help you reach your educational goals.
Fortunately, you don’t need to attend a four-year university to gain an education. Let’s start by exploring the different opportunities available and the importance of digital skills, and finally, how to apply for financial assistance to cover your education costs.
Find Higher Education Opportunities
There are many different types of higher education opportunities available. Finding the right one for you depends on what you are looking to study, how much time you have to dedicate, and other factors. Some common options include:
- Community colleges: They often have programs designed specifically for reentrants, such as credit for prior learning and support services. Many are conveniently located near public transportation lines and offer flexible class schedules. Go here to find a community college near you.
- Trade schools: Trade schools and vocational programs offer hands-on training in specific trades, such as welding, carpentry, and cosmetology. These programs can lead to well-paying jobs with high demand.
- Technical schools: These provide training in specific skills, such as customer service, computer programming, and medical assisting. Technical school programs can help you get the skills you need to excel in a job.
Universities and colleges: Universities and colleges offer various programs, from undergraduate to graduate degrees. They often have more resources than community colleges, but they can also be more expensive. Pell Grants, which do not need to be repaid, can really help with costs. Learn more on our Financial Aid page.
- Ashland University (AU)has a program dedicated to assisting individuals reach their education goals post-incarceration. As part of this commitment, AU has established an accredited online degree option for eligible reentry students. Apply within one year of your release to complete a degree with flexible financial responsibility.
- Online programs:Whether you are looking at community colleges, trade/vocational programs, or universities, many of these offer online programs, giving you a flexible way to earn a degree. They may be a good option for individuals who have difficulty attending classes on campus. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that the number of undergraduate students exclusively enrolled in distance education courses was 186% higher in 2020 than in 2019.
Here’s where you can find free online courses and online community colleges.
Develop Your Digital Skills
There are many reasons why you should start developing your digital skills now. If you plan to enroll in an online course, you’ll need to be able to use a computer and access the internet. Plus, most jobs post-graduation will require you to have computer skills.
Our Digital Literacy page provides access to free training courses and other helpful information to help you learn or enhance your digital skills. If you are new to technology, download our Basic Computer Skills guide
Submit Your Financial Aid Application
Once you decide on what you’d like to study and which programs or schools you want to attend, it’s time to submit your application to see if you qualify for financial aid.
To apply for student aid, complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid® (FAFSA). It’s important to note that FAFSA deadlines vary at the federal, state, and school levels.
We recommend contacting the schools you’re interested in attending to find out their submission deadlines. Submitting your application early gives you a better chance of receiving a more favorable financial aid package.
Once you have completed the FAFSA and been admitted to a school, the school will provide you with a financial aid offer that may include federal loans if eligible. Read our blog post for more on financial aid eligibility for students with a prior conviction.