How to Afford an Online Degree
How to Afford an Online Degree
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College students everywhere tap into resources to help them fund their education, and online students can too. Ensure that the cost of attendance at your program is as low as possible. Then, you might consider applying for financial aid, including private scholarships and federal grants and loans.

Attend a nonprofit school.

The cost of an online degree program depends primarily on the school and its status as a nonprofit or for-profit institution. Nonprofits are generally much cheaper. Tuition rates can also be affected by a student’s chosen field of study and status as an in-state or out-of-state applicant (if the school is public).

Cross-check the price of your online degree with the cost of a traditional degree program.

In theory, an online degree should cost less than a traditional degree in the same field because a student’s tuition dollars do not have to go toward maintaining a campus. This isn’t the case for every student, however.

Students considering online degree programs at a brick-and-mortar university, for example, ought to compare the price of an online credit hour and a traditional credit hour. Oftentimes, the price per credit hour for an online class maybe fixed for everyone. In-person credit hours, on the other hand, may cost less for in-state students than out-of-state students. In-state students may therefore find that taking in-person classes is actually cheaper than taking online classes. For that reason, it is always advised that you check with your school (if it offers both online and traditional programs) to make sure that your online degree really is saving you money on tuition.

Drop any extraneous courses before the drop date.

There are many reasons students decide to drop a course. Maybe they don’t like the professor’s teaching style or the syllabus doesn’t appeal to them. Some students realize they don’t actually have time for a full course load, while others purposefully overenrolled so that they could drop their least favorite courses later on.

Because dropping a course is so common, most universities want to give you the option. Schools should be clear about their drop dates, which are the last days that you can drop a course without paying for it or having it appear on your transcript. If you drop a course before a drop date, you should not be charged for it. Other schools have multiple drop dates. If you drop a course by the first drop date, you will not be charged. By the second drop date, you might be charged 25% of the tuition, and so on.

It is always a good idea to write down each semester’s drop dates. By doing so, you’ll avoid paying for credits that you don’t earn.

Apply for federal financial aid.

Students who are enrolled in online degree programs at least half-time may be eligible for federal sources of financial aid. These include grants, loans, and work-study. It is important to note that federal aid is only available to students who study at accredited institutions. If you are hoping to qualify for federal financial aid, you must apply by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Check into other forms of financial aid.

  • State and regional aid: Naturally, any state- or region-based sources of financial aid will depend on the policies where you live. Every state has different grant and scholarship programs. Regions may offer tuition exchange programs. To qualify, you must attend an accredited institution.
  • Institutional aid: When you are accepted to a school, even as an online student, you may be automatically considered or urged to apply for school-based scholarships and grants. Your opportunities depend on the school you have chosen, so if you are approved for a scholarship from a school, you can only use it if you choose to attend. Because of this, school aid is offered to the most competitive applicants as a way to encourage them to matriculate. Ask an admissions representative for more information.

Apply for scholarships specifically for online students.

Your federal, state, and school aid package can help you chip away at your tuition bills for your online classes, and so can outside scholarships (free money that you don’t have to pay back). There are a few scholarships offered exclusively to online students.

  • For U.S. citizens maintaining a 3.0 GPA or higher at an accredited online degree program, the Get Educated Online College Scholarship Program gives out awards of $1,000.00 in October and March. Send this program a copy of your most recent FAFSA and transcripts, an official application, and a short essay on what your online degree means to you to apply.
  • For U.S. citizens or permanent residents enrolled in an accredited online degree program at least 80% of full-time, check out the Best Schools Online Learning Scholarship. The Best Schools organization gives out six awards of $1,000.00 annually. Winners are chosen based on their essays of 500 words or more.
  • For U.S. citizens or permanent residents enrolled in or accepted to an accredited college and pursuing their degree online, offers a $500 scholarship. Students should be working toward their associate's or bachelor's degree. Awards are based on merit and financial need is not taken into account.

This is not a comprehensive list, and you can find many more by personalizing your scholarship search to include your field of study, school, and state of residency.

Turn to private loans, if you must.

After applying for federal, state, regional, and institutional aid and private scholarships, you still might need extra help. You can fund part of your education with private loans, but they should be treated as a last resort. Private loans tend to have strict repayment plans and high interest. (Federal student loans, which may be included in your financial aid package, are the wiser loan choice.)

Page last updated: 10/2018