Things to Know about Financial Aid for Online College

To on-campus and online students alike, a college or graduate school education may be expensive. Still, there are ways to alleviate the pressure of a huge price tag. As the volume of students taking online classes continues to grow, so does the online students' demand for financial aid

According to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of, a website that links students to colleges and scholarships, prospective online students, like regular students, should first see to it that the Department of Education accredited a program to ensure eligibility for federal funding.


The federal government offers annual grants of hundreds of millions of dollars to students to assist them with their college finances. Learn about these things to keep in mind when applying for online college financial aid.

Things to Know about Financial Aid for Online College

Applying for Financial Aid as an Online Student

The only way of determining whether you qualify as an online student for federal aid is by Completing the FAFSA®. FAFSA® stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Filling out the form is relatively quick.

FAFSA® is a form that must be filled out annually by current and prospective online college students to assess individual eligibility for student financial aid. Get to know FASFA because you will fill it out not only at the beginning of your college career but also for each year after that.


It is the catch-all application for all types of federal financial assistance, including grants and work-study opportunities. Most colleges often look at details from FAFSA® applicants when evaluating financial aid packages based on the school.

The Department of Education has made FAFSA accessible. All students needing assistance for undergraduate or graduate studies are entitled to fill it out. In fact, even if you don't think you'll be eligible for a need-based loan, you should complete your FAFSA. 

Basic Eligibility Requirements

Both online and traditional students have the right to seek federal student assistance, but first, they have to meet some basic requirements. According to the ED's Federal Student Aid Office, students must meet the following criteria to qualify for federal assistance.


You need to have a high school diploma or recognized equivalent, you must demonstrate financial need, be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen (for example, hold a green card, or permanent residency).

You must have a valid Social Security Number, be registered with Selective Service if you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25, and be admitted to or enrolled in an eligible degree or certificate program as a regular student.

You also must complete and sign the FAFSA, and be enrolled at least half-time to qualify for direct loan funds.

Consider Your Enrollment Status

Whether a student is enrolling in an online program on a part-time or full-time arrangement may impact the amount of financial assistance he or she is receiving, experts say. It's the same for traditional students.

Online learners need to bear that in mind as many work full-time as they study. The choice can have a significant effect on an already-busy daily schedule. 

For example, in several online programs, it is required for students to fulfill the credit-hour criteria to obtain specific amounts or forms of assistance.

Hesitance on Online Education

Things to Know about Financial Aid for Online College

Most scholarships in accredited programs are available to online learners, but this varies depending on the provider, says Kantrowitz. 

Many scholarship providers, Kantrowitz notes, view online education as a lower-quality education and will not admit online students to scholarships.

Students can do research in advance to see whether they are qualified for certain scholarships, experts recommend. 

For instance, many scholarship search engines allow potential students to clearly state their individual situations and discover scholarships that satisfy their unique needs.

Bottom Line

"Get that FAFSA done as soon as possible", Marti Demarest, manager of academic support at Colorado State University Online, says. Many financial aid awards are given on an as-available basis, so "students have to start the process earlier than they think".

Most online students are already overwhelmed with jobs and other commitments, so it's crucial not to wait to get started until the last minute.

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