Can Online College Students Get Financial Aid?

Financial Aid for Online StudentsThe convenience of online degree programs is widely known and appreciated, but many students considering such a program have one question more important than all the rest: Can online college students get financial aid? In an ideal world, the answer would be a simple “yes.” However, online programs vary in terms of their quality and accreditation and this can directly impact which forms of financial aid, if any, are available to students. Before applying to any online degree program, be sure to understand the unique requirements for receiving federal aid as a student of any university. These requirements can be found at the U.S. Department of Education website.

Accreditation is a Key Factor in Financial Aid Decisions

To ensure the quality and rigor of all higher education programs, the United States Department of Education enforces a “soft requirement” that all institutions seek accreditation through one of its approved regional or national bodies. These include entities like the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the Higher Learning Commission, and others. Recognized national accreditation comes from organizations like the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, the Distance Education and Training Council, and some faith-based accreditation groups.

If an online college or university has earned this essential accreditation, then it is allowed to award federal and state financial aid funds to students who are pursuing a degree through one of its many programs. If a school does not offer any accreditation approved by the United States Department of Education or the Council of Higher Education Accreditation, then it will not be able to offer any traditional federal funds to support a student’s education. Instead, students will be forced to finance their own degree through personal funds, private loans, and other sources.

Availability of Financial Aid Programs Varies Slightly

Even if a college or university has the right accreditation and offers students the full support of federal financial aid programs, they’re likely to give students slightly different options after the submission of a FAFSA. To understand how and why a financial aid award might vary between online institutions, consider the different options available:

– Stafford Loans and Pell Grants

These two programs are almost universal in terms of their application to student tuition, and that’s because they’re fully funded by federal money. Schools simply offer students the maximum aid package they’re allowed, transmit that data to the government, and credit funds to the student’s account at the start of a term. Acquisition and disbursement of these funds is governed by Title IX regulations on the national level.

– Perkins Loans

The Perkins Loan, designed to cover the added expenses incurred by low-income students, is not nearly as universal as its Stafford Loan counterpart. Since this loan is funded by both federal and institutional funds, some schools opt not to take the risk. Furthermore, since this loan is originated from the school and not from the federal government, some schools simply decline to take on the responsibility of servicing, updating, and disbursing this type of loan.

– State Aid

Some states don’t allow their grant and loan programs to be used for online programs, while others don’t allow these funds to be used on out-of-state degree programs. Check state regulations in order to determine whether or not such funds will be usable when pursuing distance education.

Related Resource: Federal Work Study Program

Aid is Generally Widely Available for Online Programs

As long as an online school is accredited by an approved national or regional body, its ability to offer federal financial aid should not be in question. Students simply have to wait for their award letter to determine which funds will be made available to them for their studies. Indeed, the question is most often not “can college students get financial aid,” but rather, “which financial aid programs will be offered by my online program?”