Financial Aid for Distance Learners: How Does IT Work?

Distance learners follow the same steps for receiving financial aid as on-campus learners. Federally funded and locally funded scholarships, grants and loans are available to distance learners based on financial need and academic excellence.

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The financial aid options for distance learners include government loans, grants, private loans and scholarships. Some programs are based on financial need, while others are given to all who qualify; many scholarships are merit-based or aimed at specific groups of students.

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Financial Aid Overview

Undergraduate and graduate distance learners apply for financial aid in a distance-learning program the same way they would with an on-site program. Students will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and any scholarship forms for the college or university they are considering. They will receive a FAFSA award letter detailing the government grants and loans available. Scholarships and private loans have additional forms that students must provide if interested.

Government Loans

Government loans come in two types: subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are given to students with financial need, while unsubsidized loans are given to all students. Some federal student loan options include:

  • Stafford Loans
  • Perkins loans
  • Direct PLUS loans
  • Direct Consolidation loans
  • Direct subsidized loans
  • Direct unsubsidized loans


There are several requirements that students must meet in order to apply for federal financial aid. These include:

  • Holding a high school diploma or GED
  • Being enrolled in an eligible postsecondary educational program
  • Being registered for the Selective Service (males age 18 to 25)
  • Having a valid Social Security number, or demonstrate permanent residency status

Filling out the FAFSA

In order to apply for federal student loans, it is necessary to fill out the Federal Application For Student Aid (FAFSA). Along with the overall cost of attendance at the student's school, the information provided on the FAFSA form is used to determine how much financial aid the student is eligible for. When filling out the FAFSA, students typically need the following information for themselves and their parents:

  • Social security number or Alien Registration number
  • Tax documents
  • Documentation of current financial assets
  • Records of untaxed income


Online learners can qualify for Federal Pell Grants, as well as specialized work grants. Federal Pell Grants are only given to students demonstrating financial need. However, distance learners may also qualify for other grant opportunities if they meet specific criteria, such as profession grants or state-sponsored grants. Many schools also offer grants for students with financial need. Often, the information on the FAFSA is used to determine grant eligibility.

Private Loans

Private loans are loans that distance learners can obtain through financial institutions. They typically require students to make payments while attending school. Private loans can be found through several local and national banks.


There are several academic scholarships available specifically for distance learners. These sources of financial aid are given to students based on academic excellence, financial need or other criteria. They do not need to be paid back. They are made available through private donors, schools and departments.

For instance, a school may have a donor who sets aside money each year to one or more students meeting certain criteria within a given major. The criteria often include a high GPA and leadership skills. The student must maintain GPA requirements to keep scholarships. Students must also contact the school's scholarship committee before applying for a specific scholarship.

Financial aid for distance learners is available through many different resources. The application process is typically the same as for on-campus learners; students must fill out the FAFSA form to be considered for many types of need-based aid.

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