If you think you will need financial help to pay for your degree, you’re not alone. According to the most recent National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), about 66% of all undergraduates in the US are receiving some type of student financial aid in the form of loans, scholarships or other help for college (about 79% of students are also working while enrolled in college).
Loans and The Distance Learner
Online degree students often don’t get the same help from mom and dad as those who attend traditional brick and mortar schools. That’s because most of them are working grownups themselves, many of whom already have kids of their own. But that doesn’t mean they can’t get financial help to pay for school. Many of the same grants for college offered to on-campus students are available to students in online degree programs as well. In fact, in 2006 the Congress made financial aid much more available to online learning students by passing the Higher Education Reconciliation Act (HERA). Until then, if a college that gave more than 50% of its classes online, it’s students were excluded from many government financial aid programs for education. Since the passage of HERA, however, students at online schools are on a more even footing with campus students when it comes to getting grants and loans.
Every student’s financial situation is different – which is why there is no “one size fits all” solution to getting financial help to pay for college. The first step, obviously, is picking a school and a degree program that makes sense as an investment for you. That doesn’t necessarily mean choosing the lowest priced school, but it does mean giving some thought to which degree from which college will position you best on your particular career path.
Start With A Quality School
Whether you’re financing an online bachelors or masters degree you’ll be in the best position if you choose a school that is respected by scholarship committees and various lenders, and you pursue a degree that’s likely to increase your earnings after school. Make sure you enroll in a school that is properly accredited (see our article on accreditation).
Some government agencies and private lenders are actually prohibited from giving grants to a college student if his or her school is not accredited by a national recognized accreditation agency (though some degree programs do get accreditation from less-traditional, more specialized accreditation groups). Beyond getting financing, your choice of an accredited school will also get you a lot more respect from employers when you graduate.
Up the Financing Ladder
Students with a financial need just about always start by looking for scholarships and grants. They don’t need to be paid back in many cases, and they are available from a huge number of different sources. The next step up the financing ladder for most students is to try for a government loan, which is not free but is generally available at a lower interest rate than anything from a bank or other private lender. Military education benefits are also available to former or current service people.
An option that can work particularly well for online learners, who are out in the world and working already, is to get an employer to pay for your degree. It’s become tougher to get employer education grants in the current economy, but they have definitely not vanished completely. Finally, if these options either don’t pan out or simply don’t produce enough aid to cover your full tuition costs, there are still ways you to use private education loans to cover your costs. Borrowing from private groups can be expensive, so it needs to be done carefully.
An Online Advantage
Online colleges and universities tend to be designed for adult learners. Many are also run by for-profit schools that need to complete very hard for students in order to stay in business. As a result, they tend to work very hard to get lots of financial aid for their students. Many, in fact, have close relationships with major scholarship groups and can make it easier for you to apply to them for aid. Capella University, for example, reports that 75% of its students get some form of financial aid to pay for school. DeVry University offers several of its own private scholarships to students, some of which pay up to 50% of total tuition.
Once you have honed in on one school or on several schools you like, your best move is to contact each school’s financial aid office have them draw up a grant or scholarship program that can help you get your online degree. Depending on what the school’s enrollment goals, you may be surprised to find that one college will offer you a great deal more in financial help than another. The people in the school financial aid office will also usually be willing to give you lots of help when you start to apply for scholarships to pay for your degree.
Getting Financial Aid For Your Online Degree
Finding A Scholarship – where to start your search for the “free money.”
Getting Your Employer To Pay For School
Government Loans – they’re definitely available for online learners.
Smart Grants and Perkins Loans – some programs you may never have heard of can help you pay for school.
Private Loans For College