5 Tips to Receive Financial Aid for an Online Program

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Online learning programs range from career-boosting skills advancement to graduate degrees. The distance format works wonderfully for people who want a flexible schedule, but finding financial aid can be tricky. The following offers five ways to get help paying for an online program.

Find the Funds

Online programs are a boon to busy people who want to expand their professional skills or get a degree on their own schedule. The convenience of online learning comes at a price, however, as many accredited degree programs can cost as much as the brick and mortar experience. The good news is, the mega-popularity of distance learning has opened the door to more financials aid options. Here are five tips to fund your education.

Money Fan

Fill Out the Forms

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your starting point for financing a degree at an accredited program. It is the gateway for eligibility for a Federal Pell Grant, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH), military service grants, and state government aid. FAFSA is also a federal loan application, but we're talking here about paying less out-of-pocket, not about borrowing with interest. Still, delayed payments can be considered a type of financial aid, and federal loans are usually a better deal than private ones.

Two other sources for money are the Distance Learning Scholarship from GetEducated.com and the SR Education Group. The latter offers four scholarships for distance learners:

  • Military Scholarship
  • Women's scholarship
  • Community College Scholarship
  • Single-Parent Scholarship

Research Individual Programs

According to US News & World Report, dozens of scholarships are available directly from schools. Walden University, National University, Western Governors University, and Pennsylvania State University–World Campus are just some of the institutions that earmark thousands of dollars of financial aid specifically for distance learners.

Financial aid seekers should absolutely seek out advising services from the schools they are considering. An advisor can offer advice about what classes to take, what aid might be available, and how you can transfer credit or get credit for non-academic learning.

Smiling high school student

Speed It Up

A fantastic way to cut costs and reduce your online learning costs is to take advantage of programs such as College Accelerator from Study.com. The American Council on Education (ACE) recommends online courses for transfer credit. For a fraction of college tuition, you can earn transferable credit in every major subject. This is a great option for high school students looking to get a jump on their college careers, as well. Paying less for general education courses saves more money to put toward your true area of interest.

The National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS) exists to acknowledge learning achievement in non-academic environments. When you take an online course evaluated by NCCRS, it will meet or exceed the learning outcomes of equivalent offerings at an accredited school and may be considered for transfer credit. It will also cost you far less.

Piggy bank & mouse

Let's Talk About Textbooks

Think of saving on textbooks and learning materials as a kind of backdoor financial aid resource. It would be easy to assume that online classes incorporate all their learning materials into the platform, but that isn't always the case. Here are a few ways to beat the textbook buying blues:

  • Rent instead of purchasing—the difference can be significant.
  • Go to the onsite library. You'll likely pay a technology fee, so use it. The library is chock full of free databases and resources. It may even have textbooks on retainer you can borrow at no cost.
  • Ask about open educational resources. Many schools have adopted means of information sharing to reduce or eliminate textbook costs.

If you must purchase that textbook, do a little research to get the best deal on a buy-back. You are free to resell your textbook to the company that offers the best price.

Happy grad with pricetag

Employee Assistance Programs

Companies often have programs in place to help smart, ambitious people improve their skills. For many employers, an employee who takes the time and energy to deepen their knowledge is an asset worthy of investment. In some cases, a company may go beyond financing professional improvement, and offer financial assistance toward an undergraduate or graduate degree.

When it comes to online learning, saving time often goes hand in hand with saving money. It pays, however, to invest some time into researching your options. With alternative credit, scholarships, grants, and smart use of your resources, you can accrue the financial aid you need to complete your online program.

By Irene Cooper
November 2017
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