Applying for college financial assistance begins with the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also called FAFSA, available through the U.S. Department of Education or a high education institution's financial aid office. The completed application automatically matches the student, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or marital status, to a variety of funding options including grants and scholarships. Private grants are available that do not require a FAFSA but also require income qualification. Grants, which are financial awards that do not have to be repaid, can be tremendously helpful for single women over the age of 40 to afford to go back to school.

Federal Grants

The Pell Grant, a widely used need-based grant, was previously called the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant. Eligibility for the Pell Grant applies to any individual, including single women over 40, enrolled in an undergraduate or vocational program at a qualifying school. Generally the recipient cannot have a previous bachelor's degree, though in certain circumstances, candidates that are enrolled in post-baccalaureate programs that lead to teaching certification may qualify for this type of grant. Pell grants are assigned via the information collected from the FAFSA application. Contact the U.S. Department of Education or the financial aid office of your school for more information on the Pell Grant.

State Grants

Every state has a department dedicated to funding higher education, where grants are typically awarded based on need established by the FAFSA application. Most reserve monies for single mothers and women choosing to return to school after 40. For example, New Mexico offers a College Affordability Grant that includes single women over 40 attending a public university or college and residing in New Mexico. See the Resources section of this article for a list of links to state agencies.

AAUW Grant

The American Association for University Women (AAUW) offers a Career Development Grant for women who hold a bachelor's degree but would like to return to school to earn an advanced degree, re-enter the work force or change careers. The grant includes assistance for technical or professional careers that require specialized training. Grant awards range between $2,000 and $12,000 and are awarded once a year. Contact AAUW, Dept. 60, 301 ACT Drive, Iowa City, IA, 52243-4030, or call (319) 337-1716, ext. 60. See the Resources section of this article for a website link.

Jeannette Rankin Foundation

Educational grants can also be found through the Jeannette Rankin Foundation, an organization providing funding to women over the age of 35 wishing to begin or return to college. Low-income and the desire to obtain vocational or technical training, an associate's degree or a first-time bachelor's degree are required. In addition, the applicant must either be enrolled in or have been accepted to an accredited school. Low income is based on the student's estimated income for the upcoming school year. Contact the foundation at (706) 208-1211 for further information. See Resources for more information.