After a year in which it seems every facet of life has shifted online, we’re finally beginning to see which trends are falling by the wayside (Zoom happy hours anyone?) and which trends have accelerated. One trend that has been a long time coming is the shift to online education. There are obviously some drawbacks to an online-only education but cost certainly isn’t one of them. You’ll save on room and board and likely pay lower tuitions, but those still come with a hefty price tag that has students looking for financial aid for online school.
The good news is that most colleges and universities that are regionally accredited still offer students pathways to finding financial aid for online schools. That’s, unfortunately, not typically the case for nationally accredited schools that lack regional accreditation.
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The process of applying for financial aid for online school is generally the same as applying for aid while attending brick-and-mortar colleges and universities and typically begins with a FAFSA application. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the first step because many states and schools use the data reported on your (or your student’s) FAFSA application in determining whether to award aid separately from the federal aid.
Financial aid for online school, at the federal level, will typically come in the form of grants which generally do not need to be repaid or student loans which do. The Pell Grant, probably the most widely known of the federal grants, is available to students who demonstrate exceptional financial need. There are other grants available as well, but most of them have specific criteria for eligibility.
Federal work-study programs are also available, but those opportunities are generally limited to on-campus employment or civic work for companies that operate in the “public interest.” If you’ll be attending school remotely, that can present a significant hurdle to these programs.
Once you apply for financial aid for online school, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR), which breaks down the aid offers from schools you’ve applied to. There you’ll be able to review the aid offers from all sources (federal, state and school) in many cases, and compare them school-by-school.
Not all schools relay nonfederal student aid information through the SAR so you may want to confirm that information with the schools you’re hoping to attend.
Plus, if you’re working with your preferred school’s financial aid office, they may be able to provide information related to other scholarship or grant opportunities that fall outside the scope of the normal FAFSA process.
With more and more colleges and universities offering distance learning programs, the availability of financial aid for online school is also increasing as regionally accredited schools enter the online space. Depending on the school, distance learners may be able to take advantage of “in-state” tuition, regardless of where they’re located while also saving on room and board.
Whether the ongoing distance learning trend translates to broadly reduced secondary education expenses is yet to be seen, but that’s certainly a possibility.
However, if you’ve got younger students at home, the safer bet is to begin saving for college through investing, a 529 plan, or another vehicle rather than banking on lower tuition in the future. Attending a four-year university isn’t the only path to higher education. Earning credits at a community college or attending a trade school might be the right path for your student or a step to significantly reduce the cost of their four-year degree.
Have you applied for financial aid for online school? How was your experience?