Finding financial aid for online courses is not substantially different from finding financial aid for on-site courses: in both cases, you start with the school’s financial aid department. Whether it’s a brick-and-mortar building on campus, or someone with whom you speak over email, the school’s financial aid officers are best equipped to help you figure out how to pursue the best education for the least amount of money.
Government Aid: Loans and Grants
When a student is looking for financial aid for online courses or on-site courses, they are typically eligible for government-provided financial aid (loans and grants). Ask your financial aid contact for a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), to see if you qualify for government money. The FAFSA will ask you:
- Whether you are dependent or independent;
- Your parents’ income level, if you are dependent;
- You personal income level, if you are independent;
- Whether you are applying for an undergraduate or a graduate degree program;
- Your credit history; and
- The amount you or your parents will be able to contribute.
The FAFSA will also assess your private assets, to see if you qualify for a private loan.
Private Aid: Loans
Another option for financial aid for online courses is private aid. Private loans from banks or credit cards are more difficult to acquire and offered on less desirable terms. Frequently, interest rates for private loans are higher than the rate for government-subsidized loans, and the repayment schedule might not take into account underemployment or other hardship. Unless you are specifically encouraged to apply for a private loan by your financial aid contact, consider instead another form of private financial aid: scholarships.
Private Aid: Scholarships
Despite the name, scholarships are not awarded simply on the basis of academic merit. There are many types of scholarships, including:
- College-specific awards;
- Athletic scholarships;
- Departmental awards;
- Funds available from private endowments and organizations;
- Scholarships to attract workers to a certain industry or corporation;
- Funds to help people from a specific ethnic or religious group;
- Labor unions;
- Awards for alums from a specific high school or school district;
- Scholarships for those who can demonstrate financial need;
- Chambers of Commerce, to foster community betterment; and
- The Armed Forces, to attract recruits.
Many scholarships are quite small, and these kinds of financial aid for online courses are better for subsidizing living expenses than tuition.
Scholarships are awarded on a variety of bases, for a variety of reasons. Check with your financial aid contact to see about the more unusual ones for which you might qualify.
Don’t Forget the Tax Credits
Tax credits designed for anyone paying higher education bills can be used as a type of financial aid for online courses for those taking online classes. The Lifetime Learning tax credit and the Hope credit are both geared toward adults who are their family’s primary earner, and who are attending school. Many higher education tax credits give you back a large percentage of the first $10,000 you spend on your online education.