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Financial Aid for Online Degrees

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Earlier this week we talked about whether or not distance learning is a good fit for you. Even if you passed our five-question “quiz” with flying colors, there’s another factor that any would-be student needs to consider: Cost.

The viability of financial aid is a major factor for many students in selecting a school, and online schools are no different. In fact, a new study recently revealed that at least one in five college students in America is facing a shortfall in parental support due to job loss.

Until 2006, U.S. law denied federal financial aid to any student who attended a college that enrolled more than 50 percent of its students at a distance. Fortunately, Congress saw fit to change that law and now online students at accredited schools are eligible for all forms of federal financial aid, including student loans, grants and work-study — assuming their school participates in the program. Here is a quick run-down on what you need to do to qualify for federal loans and grants, plus some tips on winning scholarships for online learning:

Student Loans
If you have been reading this blog for a while, you already know that the only way to qualify for federal student aid, including student loans, is by completing the FAFSA — that’s the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. (Review FAFSA FAQs, Common FAFSA Errors and an Essential Document Checklist). If you haven’t yet completed your FAFSA, the federal deadline is June 30 (in most states) — so get cracking! Also, be sure to check with your financial aid officer (yes, even online schools have offices of financial aid!) to make sure that your school is part of the Stafford and Perkins loan program.

Federal Grants
Just like student loans, qualifying for federal grants like the Pell Grant or the SMART Grant requires you to have completed the FAFSA. You may also be eligible for state grants, including support for former military members (did you know that more military vets are going online to get their degrees more than ever before?) Again, check with your financial aid officer to find out which federal and state grant programs you may be eligible for.

Wondering whether or not you can qualify for scholarships as an online learner? The answer is yes, most of the time. Some scholarships do unfortunately exclude students enrolled at online schools, but most scholarship opportunities are open to distance learners as long as their school is accredited. (Here’s more information on accreditation of online degrees.) And, there are even scholarships designed just for online learners, like the $1,000 Excellence in Online Education Scholarship from GetEducated.com. To learn more about winning free money to pay for your online degree, be sure to visit us every Friday when we feature three scholarships with upcoming deadlines.

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