How to Get Online School Financial Aid

By Dana Hinders , last updated December 22, 2011

Online classes can be a good way to further your education, but the process for obtaining online school financial aid is a little different than it is for students attending a traditional brick-and-mortar college or university.

General Rules

Typically, you need to be attending school at least half time in order to qualify for financial aid. This means that students taking one or two classes aren't going to be eligible for most forms of assistance.

It is also common for financial aid programs to require that you be enrolled in a course of study leading to a degree. Continuing education classes are usually not eligible for financial assistance.

Federal Student Aid

You can receive federal student aid such as Stafford Loans and Pell Grants if you are attending an online school that is properly accredited. This information can often be found on the school's website, but you can always ask an admissions representative if you're not sure whether or not the program is accredited.

To apply for federal student aid, you'll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form evaluates your income and assets using information from the previous year's tax return. You'll need to have information for both you and your parents, unless you are married, have a child, are over the age of 24, or meet other eligibility criteria for being named an independent student.

Federal student aid is awarded based on financial need, not academic merit. Credit checks are not necessary for federal student loans.


Most private scholarships do not specifically exclude students attending online schools. Scholarships are generally awarded with academic merit as the primary criteria, but may also consider factors such as community involvement, references from previous instructors, and the student's career goals. Awards can range from $100 to the full cost of tuition at the school of your choice. Use an online search engine such as FastWeb to find out what scholarships you might be eligible to receive.

Military Benefits

Military tuition assistance benefits can be used to pay for online schooling as long as the college or university is properly accredited. In addition, some online schools offer their own discounts for military veterans. For example, Capella University has reduced tuition rates for active duty members and their immediate family, as well as veterans, members of the National Guard and Reserves, civilian employees of the Department of Defense, members of the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service and NOAA, and survivors or dependents who receive Chapter 35 (DEA) VA benefits.

Employer Tuition Assistance

Many employers offer tuition assistance as part of their benefits package. If your course of study is related to your current career, you could be able to use this benefit to pay for your online school costs. Ask a human resources representative from your company for details.

School-Sponsored Financial Aid

Online schools, just like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, typically offer their own specific financial aid programs. They may have scholarships based on academic merit and/or financial need. There may also be private loans available to help bridge the gap between your other financial aid and your actual cost of attendance. Ask an admissions counselor for details.

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