Financial Aid for Online Learning

If you’re wondering if you can get financial aid for an online learning program, you’ll be glad to know the process is no different from getting financial aid for a traditional college program.

iStock_000006140971XSM_money-laptopThese days, with well over 3 million students enrolled in online education, the same rules, recommendations, and procedures apply to financial aid eligibility whether you’re taking your classes online or on campus. Federal financial aid for both online learning and campus-based programs begin with accreditation and the FAFSA.

Legitimate Regional or National Accreditation Required

Under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, any higher education institution that wants to be able to provide federal financial aid to its students must be accredited by an authorized, legitimate accrediting agency. When schools with online degree programs began asking to participate in the federal financial aid program, the Department of Education decided to require the same accreditation standards of online learning programs that it already requires of traditional “bricks and mortar” schools.

So now, the focus is on the quality and accreditation of an online learning program, rather than its computer vs. campus classroom. Higher education experts have agreed that if the quality of a school and its online degree program(s) are high enough to earn the same legitimate accreditation as campus schools, they should be allowed to provide federal financial to their students.

5 Tips for Getting Financial Aid for an Online Learning Program

1. Look for legitimate accreditation. Confirm that your school and online degree program are accredited by an authorized accrediting agency. Check the Department of Education site for authorized accreditors and the Council of Higher Education for your school’s accreditor.

2. Choose a school in your state. Online or campus, college programs are usually much less expensive for state residents than for out-of-state students. Even if you’re choosing an online degree program to avoid the hassle of having to get to a campus, your online learning course will probably cost less if you enroll in a school in your state. You’ll have the convenience of an online learning program and you’ll save money on tuition.

3. Choose an online learning program offered by a traditional “bricks-and-mortar” school. A reputable school that’s been around a long time, with a traditional campus, is usually accredited by one of the 6 regional accrediting agencies, and regional accreditation pretty much guarantees federal financial aid. What’s more, after you complete your online learning degree, your school’s name and reputation will serve as “brand recognition” when you’re job-hunting. (The oldest and best-known national accreditor specifically of online schools and degree programs is the Distance Education and Training Council.)

4. Ask about extra fees, state grants, and school scholarships. When you’ve found an online learning program that you like, ask the school’s admissions office for an explanation of all the fees and expenses they’re going to charge you in addition to tuition. Schools consider some fees and expenses as extras even if they’re directly related to the class and seem as though they ought to be included in tuition. Also ask the admissions office where you can apply for state education grants and special school scholarships that you may qualify for.

5. File a FAFSA as soon as you can after January 1st for financial aid to cover online learning programs from July 1st of the same year through June 30th of the year after.

Online Learning vs. Campus Costs

Tuition for online degree programs is not necessarily cheaper than that of their on-campus counterparts, especially at well-known colleges and universities. But the convenience of your personal classroom at home could save you transportation money, and doing your classwork on your own schedule may prevent you from having to cut into your hours at work. And if your school is legitimately accredited, then you should be able to get in-state residency discounts and federal financial aid for your online learning program just as you could for any similar campus class.

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