If you're considering starting college but you'd like to go to school online, you may have run across the name Penn Foster. This school offers a wide variety of online programs, making it an attractive option for online students.
But you may be wondering if Penn Foster is a good school that will allow you to enjoy the full benefits of your financial investment in your education. While lots of people have positive experiences at the school, any new student should carefully look at two things before enrolling: accreditation and lack of federal financial aid.
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Let’s take a look at some background info about Penn Foster and then follow up with student reviews about the institution.
Penn Foster College: the basics
Penn Foster College is located in Scottsdale, AZ. It also has a career school and high school, which are headquartered in Scranton, PA. For this article, we are focusing only on the college programs.
Penn Foster College is 100% online—there is no physical campus. This is one of the main reasons that online-only schools may be more affordable. Without overhead from grounds and buildings, schools can contain costs and offer lower tuition rates.
In terms of college programs, the school offers a wide range of programs for people hoping to earn an associate's degree. Those programs include:
- Business Management
- Computer Information Systems
- Construction Technology
- Criminal Justice
- Early Childhood Education
- Engineering Technology
- Fashion Merchandising
- Graphic Design
- Health Care Management
- Human Resources Management
- Industrial Electronics and Electrical Maintenance Technology
- Industrial Supervision
- Interior Design
- Medical Assistant
- Paralegal Studies
- PC Maintenance Technology
- Retail Management
- Veterinary Technician
The school also offers bachelor's degrees in Business Management and Criminal Justice.
In addition, Penn Foster College offers career diplomas in two fields: Pharmacy Technician Professional and Veterinary Assistant.
Penn Foster is accredited, but not in the same way that many other colleges are. Let's take a moment to talk about why that's important.
The first thing to know is that Penn Foster's accreditation is through the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), a national accrediting body that evaluates online-only and distance-education institutions. Penn Foster has been accredited since 1974, and the current accreditation is good through the end of 2020.
What's different about Penn Foster's accreditation is that most traditional colleges and many online-only institutions are generally evaluated and accredited by regional accrediting commissions.
These bodies provide peer review of degree programs to ensure that they meet the minimum standards required for students to graduate with a certain level of competence for their chosen area of study. Accreditation from a regional body is recognized as a legitimate accreditation.
But national accreditation doesn’t always carry the same weight. Why that matters to you as a student:
- It may be hard to transfer your credits if you decide to study elsewhere.
- Your degree may not be recognized as valid in certain fields.
On the plus side, nationally accredited schools may have less-stringent admission requirements and may be more affordable.
Tip: Carefully consider your educational and career goals. If you’d like to enter a field that doesn’t necessarily require a degree, a nationally accredited school may be a great choice. If people in your chosen field generally need a degree, or if you expect to eventually go on to a master's degree or higher, you might be better off with a regionally accredited school.
See also: Are Online Colleges Legit? How to Avoid Scams and Find Reputable Online Schools
Does Penn Foster accept Pell Grants or FAFSA?
No, Penn Foster does not accept financial aid, such as Pell Grants or any other aid distributed through the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
That means that even with low tuition rates, the lack of financial aid may mean that you'll end up paying more out-of-pocket than you really need to.
Consider that many college students get "free money" for college in the form of federal grants. For example, the Pell Grant could be worth up to $6,095 per school year. If you have exceptional need, you could qualify for an additional $4,000 per year in the form of the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). If you qualify for both, that's a $10,000/year discount on your college tuition. That's a lot of money to leave on the table.
Beyond federal aid, many colleges and universities also accept state student aid, and may even offer their own grants and scholarships.
At Penn Foster, you'll pay sticker price for you tuition, which may be fine if it's affordable to you and you don't qualify for financial aid elsewhere. But it would be a shame to miss out on free money that you may have been entitled to.
Tip: It's definitely worth filling out the FAFSA to see what kind of aid you could get at a school that accepts financial aid.
Online student reviews
Now let’s find out what Penn Foster’s students and graduates have to say.
Before we dive in, remember two things:
- It’s important to keep in mind that people are more likely to leave a review after a negative experience. Many schools have more negative than positive sentiments.
- With any school, you get out of it what you put into it. Late payments or incomplete assignments will definitely result in a negative experience.
In any case, it's wise to pay attention to complaints that crop up in multiple reviews.
Pro: Lots of happy students
In general, there are many student and grad reviews that are entirely positive. People reported challenging and useful course material, easy transactions in terms of billing, and over satisfaction with the entire experience.
Pro: You can graduate debt-free
Because of Penn Foster's financial policies and payment plans, it's possible to graduate without student loans if you stay current on your payments while you're in school.However, as we noted above, even with a low tuition price, you may still be paying more than you would if you were able to take advantage of federal financial aid.
Pro: The Vet Tech program is accredited through AVMA
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has accredited Penn Foster's Vet Tech Program. This is not always a given with other online schools, according to multiple reviewers.
This designation is extremely important when trying to get a job in the veterinary industry.
In general, Vet Tech students reported positive experiences, although there was one complaint from a person who wanted to specialize in large animals who had a hard time finding an internship.
Con: It can be hard to get refunds
Multiple reviewers mentioned that they paid in full in advance and then were unable to get refunds when their circumstances changed or they decided to discontinue their studies.
Tip: Even if you have all your tuition money and are able to pay in advance, it might be wise to park that money in separate savings account and pay as you go. Bonus: You'll be able to earn interest on the money in the meantime.
Con: Can be hard to connect with professors
A common complaint was that it was challenging to get extra help because most of Penn Foster's courses are self-taught. Students said they had to email a professor and then wait several days before hearing back on curriculum questions.
Pro: Work at your own pace
Penn Foster's programs do not require you to be online at any specific times. There are no group projects or class discussions, which, believe it or not, does happen at some online schools. Self-paced learning can be an important perk for people who are already working full-time, or who have childcare responsibilities.
This can also allow you to graduate faster. Several reviewers noted that they enjoyed being able to work through the course material as fast as they liked.
Pro: Can help working professionals get ahead
People who are already in the working world and looking to advance in their current fields seemed to report positive experiences. In general, most of these reviewers were not working in positions that required college degrees at the entry point. Rather, the reviewers seemed to earning associate's degrees or professional program certificates.
Con: Not all employers recognize the degree
While some employers had no problem with a Penn Foster degree, other reviewers complained that potential employers did not see their degrees as legit.
Tip: See the section above on accreditation.
Con: It's still hard to get into competitive fields, even with a degree or diploma
Several billing and coding students lamented that having a certificate in this field will not help you get a job unless you already have experience. While that doesn't pertain to the quality of the school's instruction, it's something to keep in mind if you're considering entering a highly-competitive field.
Note: Multiple students praised the program content that dealt with medical codes.
If you're looking for a professional program that doesn't require a college degree, Penn Foster could be a solid option.
However, if a degree is important for your chosen field, Penn Foster may not be the best choice because it doesn't hold the regional accreditation held by most traditional colleges. That could also be problematic if you want to transfer schools or get an advanced degree in the future.
The lack of federal financial aid is also concerning, because it means that you could be overpaying for your education. Even though Penn Foster is relatively affordable, why leave "free money" on the table if it could save you thousands of dollars out of pocket?
Tip: Many community colleges now offer online options. Transferring from a community college to an online program at a state school is one of the most-affordable ways to earn a bachelor's degree.
Remember, since college is such a big investment, it's always smart to comparison shop before enrolling anywhere. With so many online education programs popping up these days, you'll certainly have plenty of options to choose from.
See also: 20 Most-Affordable Online Bachelor Degree Programs