If you’re thinking about going to college online but you’re worried that you won’t be eligible for the same of type of financial aid that you’d get at a traditional school, rest easy.
Most accredited online colleges and universities accept the same federal financial aid as brick-and-mortar schools. That means that students at many online schools will generally be eligible for aid from FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. However, some online schools, such as Penn Foster, have a different type of accreditation and do not accept federal financial aid.
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Online schools that accept FAFSA
Some popular online schools that accept FAFSA include:
How do I know if the school I'm interested in accepts FAFSA?
Here's the fast answer: A visit to a school's web site can turn usually up this information quickly. Just go to the financial aid page. Or, just call the financial aid department.
Here's the more in-depth answer: Most online schools that hold a regional accreditation - which is the same accreditation held by traditional, brick-and-mortar colleges - accept federal financial aid. Online schools that hold a national accreditation generally do NOT accept FAFSA.
With any online learning option, it's always wise to check that the school has an appropriate accreditation. Accreditation is important not only because of financial aid, but because it ensures that the program you’re enrolling in meets the minimum standards set by the U.S. Department of Education.
If your school is not accredited, you may end up spending a lot of money on a degree that few employers recognize as legitimate.
To ensure that your school is accredited, go to the U.S. Department of Education's database for accreditation and type in your school name.
You can then view accreditation status for all of the school's locations. Here's an example for Ashford University.
Click on your desired campus to view its accreditation. If the school is online-only, click on its main location or headquarters. Here is the result for Ashford.
Accreditations for schools that accept federal financial aid are generally issued from regional commissions. (You can click on the accreditor name to learn more about them.)
What kind of financial aid can I get for online college?
FAFSA, otherwise known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the main way to get federal student education aid for any online schools with regional accreditation. Your FAFSA application will qualify you for federal grants, such as the Pell Grant, and federal student loans.
FAFSA is also often used to determine state- or school-based aid, such as scholarships, so you should fill it out even if you think you won't qualify for federal aid.
You can also apply for scholarships and grants for online colleges. Be sure to speak to the financial aid department to find out about all of your options. Remember, it's always smart to get all the "free money" you can before you resort taking out student loans.
And if you do need student loans, it's wise to max out your federal student loans before taking out private loans. Federal loans are generally at a lower interest rate and come with more-generous protections if you find that you're unable to make your monthly payments after graduation.
Trish Sammer is Nitro's managing editor. Her work has appeared in Woman’s Day, Redbook, Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and Forbes. She has also written for various corporate clients, including the tech giant SAP, The Franklin Institute, and PSE&G. When Trish isn’t busy acting as a writing ninja for other people, you can find her … well, writing about other stuff, like divorce and blended family life. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband, their combined brood, and the world’s laziest dog. Read more by Trish Sammer