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Online Degree Programs and Financial Aid: Where Do You Begin?

Online Degree Programs and Financial Aid: Where Do You Begin?

by Shannon Lee
November 22, 2010

You've looked over all the online degree programs that interest you, and you've narrowed it down to a few online schools that suit your needs. Now it's time to start planning for that education you crave, and that preparation starts with financial aid.

Financial Aid: Where to Begin

The best place to begin when searching for financial assistance is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This application determines what assistance you might be eligible for through the U.S. Department of Education: grants, loans, work-study -- or all three.

Grants are the most desirable of the three options, because they do not have to be repaid. There are numerous grants available, and while some of them are specialized, many of them are basic grants that any student might be eligible for, regardless of their field of study.

Some grants to consider include:

  • Federal Pell Grants
  • Academic Competitiveness Grant
  • SMART Grant (National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent)
  • TEACH Grant (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education)
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant

You might also be eligible for federal student loans. The most common loans include:

  • Federal Stafford Loan. If you can demonstrate financial need, your Federal Stafford loan can be subsidized, meaning no interest accrues while you are a student.
  • Federal PLUS Loan. Available to parents of dependent undergraduate students, as well as those in graduate programs, the PLUS Loan is not based on financial need.
  • Federal Perkins Loan. The Federal Perkins loan is a very low-interest loan with a cap on how much a student can borrow during their education.

But that's not the end of your opportunities for financial aid. Federal Work-Study provides jobs to students while they pursue their education, while campus-based programs might offer incentives to those who attend certain online schools.

Other Sources of Funding

Don't discount other sources of funding. Scholarships, private loans, financial aid through your state, and grant opportunities through your school or civic organizations are all great ways to help finance your degree.