Financial Aid Tips for Online Degrees
Online education has come a long way in the last decade or so, and with it has come much of the respect and perks once reserved for traditional degree programs. Among the options now open to distance learners is financial aid. Until 2006, students were required to take 50 percent of their classes on campus in order to qualify for funding. Today, online students can apply and qualify for the same aid programs as on-campus students. Let’s look at what types of funding are out there for online students, as well as what you’ll need to do to make sure you qualify:
Plenty of Funding Sources: The cost per year for a four-year degree can be upwards of $30,000, depending on which school you attend. Fortunately, most students can qualify for some aid in the form of grants, scholarships, or tuition assistance. Scholarships and fellowships are merit and/or need based and awarded by private organizations, nonprofits, universities, and religious institutions. They do not need to be paid back. Grants are need-based and offered by the federal government or state governments. They also do not have to be paid back. If you work, you might also qualify for employer-sponsored tuition, which you don’t have to pay back. Other funding comes in the form of loans, either federal or private, which you will need to pay back. There are some loans and scholarships just for on-line students.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): Whether or not you think you qualify, do apply for financial aid using FAFSA if you are eligible. The basic requirements are relatively simple. You need at minimum a GED certificate or proof that you completed a homeschool program, and you must be accepted or enrolled into a qualifying program. You will need a Social Security number, though you need not be a citizen of the United States (you will have to show proof of a green card, T visa, battered immigrant status or an arrival-departure record). If you are a male between 18-25, you will need to register with the Selective Service. To maintain your funding, you will need to keep up your grades, and you can only use funding for your education.
Tips for FAFSA: First, don’t fall for expensive services to help you fill out forms. If you are struggling with the application, the school has resources to help you for free. You want to complete your FAFSA as soon as possible, as aid is limited. October 1 is when the submission period begins, and no applications are submitted past the deadline. You can fill it out online and even save your work to finish it later. You’ll want to fill in each answer, even if it’s NA or 0, to be sure that your application is processed. You should also proofread it carefully and make sure all your information is accurate. Blank answers or incorrect information can result in your application being delayed. You will need to apply every year, but thankfully, your information repopulates from year to year, so all you need to do is review and make any changes.
Distance learners can enjoy the same benefits as traditional, on-campus students, including access to funding and financial aid that will lower their tuition cost. If you’re inclined to go the online route, be sure to consider these tips and get the aid you need.