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Does Financial Aid Cover Online Certificate Programs?

Online learning has come a long way in a short amount of time. In the past few years, the number of certificate and degree programs has exploded with a wide range of offerings. But any educational program has a price tag so it's important to research your financial aid options carefully.

One question you might have is whether federal financial aid covers certificate programs. The answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no. Eligibility depends on a few factors. Let's discuss what they are. 

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Two types of certificate programs

A certificate program can refer to two different things in today's educational landscape. Those are:

  • Career training certificates: These programs are intended to provide job training for fields that generally do not require a degree. Some examples might include medical assistant programs, massage therapy, or culinary arts.
  • Graduate certificates: These programs cater to people who already have a bachelor's degree or higher, who want to expand their skill set within a specific niche of their industry. For example, Harvard offers a wide range of graduate certificates in programs such as Organizational Behavior, Back-end Web Development, and Social Justice. 

Financial aid for job training

Many (but not all) schools that issue career training certificates also participate in federal financial aid programs. The key is finding a school that participates in the Federal Student Aid Program. Schools that participate in this program generally accept the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is gateway to federal grants (such as the Pell Grant) and low-interest loans through the U.S. Department of Education.

To find out if the school you're interested in participates, click here and download the searchable Federal School Code List. You can also search on the school's website or call their financial aid department.

See also: Online Colleges That Accept FAFSA

Financial aid for graduate certificate programs

As for graduate certificate training programs, it's unlikely (but not impossible) that you'll be able to find one that will allow you to use federal financial aid. That's true for online-only institutions, as well as brick-and-mortar schools that offer distance learning programs.

Even if a school accepts FAFSA for degree programs, it may not do so for certificate programs. That's because the school would need to have each program individually reviewed by the Department of Education, which can be labor-intensive.

The good news is that most graduate certificate programs are designed to be much more cost-effective than degree programs. These programs can also generally be completed in a fraction of the time.

Your best bet: Talk to you employer about reimbursement programs. Some schools may also offer payment plans that will allow you to break up the cost over several installments.  

You can also apply for private student loans to cover the cost of a graduate certificate program. 

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