How to Find Financial Aid for Online Classes & Degrees

There are several forms of financial aid available for online classes and degree programs. Distance learning students can apply for federal financial aid, and many schools offer financial aid and other funding options to online students.

When seeking financial aid, students in online programs can look for funding opportunities through the federal government and their college or university. Read on to learn about options and how to apply.

Finding Financial Aid for Online Classes

Students needing financial aid can get assistance from the government, educational institutions, work study programs and scholarships, among other avenues. Funds allocated can be used to pay for in-class or online courses.

Federal Financial Aid

Students completing classes online are eligible for federal financial aid. To apply for funding, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA website (www.fafsa.ed.gov) allows students to apply online, check the status of their application, make corrections to their application and view other information. Students can also apply for financial aid at multiple schools using the FAFSA college school code system.

Federal funding for online college programs is also available through the Pell Grant, a need-based program which is complemented by the ACG (Academic Competitiveness Grant) and the SMART Grant (National Science & Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant). For the 2019-2020 school year, the maximum Pell Grants award is $6,195 . None of these grants need to be repaid. Students can apply for these and other federal grants or loans through the FAFSA.

Academic Institution-Offered Financial Aid

In addition to federal funding, students should check with the financial aid offices at the academic institutions they're interested in attending for available funding options. A school's website is a good place to look for this information. Most websites will provide basic information about the aid available for distance learners, answer frequently asked questions and provide a phone number or email to contact for further information. There are also websites that offer info on scholarships at many schools, making it easy to shop around for financial aid.

Some campus-based schools do not offer financial aid or loans to students attending online degree programs, but there are many schools that do, so research is necessary. Also, schools that are based solely online almost always offer financial aid to qualifying students.

Third-Party Financial Aid

In addition to federal financial aid, students might look into third-party financial aid. Third-party financial aid typically comes from nonprofit or private organizations who want to help students afford a quality college education. Students might be able to secure grants, loans, or scholarships based on grades, athletic abilities, writing skills, etc. Other options could be available for members of a certain church or organization, because of where their parent works, or if their parent is a military member or veteran.

Payment Alternatives

There are additional options offered by some schools for students seeking financial aid for online programs. These alternative options include:

  • Work-study programs
  • Tuition reductions
  • Payment plans
  • Scholarships
  • Grants

Financial aid programs like these vary from school to school. Not all schools offer these programs for online classes, so students should check with their respective institutions.

Special Considerations

It's important to keep in mind that many grants, scholarships and financial aid come with special stipulations. Some might require students to take a set amount of hours per semester. Some might require them to maintain a specific enrollment status and others might be dependent on accreditation. If students fail to meet these prerequisites, they may lose these funds, so it's important to read and understand all requirements.

How to Look for Grants and Scholarships

Need-based grants and merit-based scholarships don't need to be paid back and can be a fantastic way to pay for college. However, there are so many of them that it can get overwhelming and confusing. Students looking for a grant or scholarship can speak with an advisor at their school or use an online-based search method to get matched with scholarships and grants that they might qualify for.

Financial aid options for online learners include grants, loans and payment plans. Availability varies by program and school, and also depends on the student's individual financial situation.


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