Financial Aid for Online Colleges

17 Mar 2020

Achieving a degree becomes harder with every year since the cost of studying changes due to rising tuition fees. Even though such solutions as distant learning provides more opportunities to save one’s money, being enrolled in online studying programs is not enough for a modern student. There are different ways to offset the rising costs and the best one is by obtaining financial aid.

Why Applying for Financial Aid is Worth It

Both prospective and current students should check all the available financial aid options and disregard the thought of being not eligible. Millions of dollars are offered as financial aid for students and one can find the program he or she will qualify for.

  • The average total financial aid in grants for undergraduate students rose by approximately 60% during the last decade since 2009 and by 23% for graduate students during the same period.
  • Average grant aid in 2018-2019 was $9.520 per student for those enrolled in undergraduate programs and $8.920 per graduate student.
  • The total amount of grant aid for both undergraduate and graduate full-time students reached $135.6 billion in 2018-2019, including federal grant aid ($41.3 billion), aid from educational institutions (approximately $64.7 billion), and state grants (amount varies from state to state).

Online Colleges that Accept FAFSA

Choosing the right school requires one’s full attention since the FAFSA application has a limited number of school codes to enter. It is always a good idea to choose a school that will be the best fit for you and also participates in federal student aid programs using tools designed by the U.S. Department of Education to make college search easier.

Types of Financial Aid


This type of aid is usually granted by federal or state government but there are also grants provided by specific institutions. Grants are usually need-based that is why a student will have to prove his or her eligibility and that the family cannot cover college tuition fees due to insufficient financial resources. Usually, the amount of different grants varies and one can count on the partial covering of studying expenditures, for example, the maximum Pell Grant which equaled to $6.095 in 2018-2019, may cover up to 59% of the average tuition fee at public four-year college. Here are some of the possible opportunities:

Federal Pell Grants: Only undergraduate students are eligible for this grant once they fill out the FAFSA form and prove that their families cannot cope with the financial burden of college tuition fees and needs help.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants: They are available for students who do not meet the Expected Family Contribution criteria of Federal Pell Grant but still meet other criteria and have a parent who died during the military service in mentioned countries.

Fulbright Foreign Student Program: Both international students that want to study in the USA and have this program in their home country and US students who want to study abroad may apply for one of 8.000 merit-based grants.

State-based grant programs: California, for example, offers multiple grants students can apply for apart from federal aid programs. Every state has its specific grants; thus, it is better to check governmental websites for available opportunities.


Another possibility to get financial help without the need to repay it later is applying for scholarships. Students can check available criteria and requirements and choose the most suitable scholarship, whether it is merit-based, designed for minorities, or based on financial need. They are usually provided by non-profit organizations, companies, or specific communities. Amounts vary from a few hundred dollars to full coverage of tuition fees and housing expenses.

The Gates Millennium Scholars Program: This merit-based scholarship program is designed to help African American, Hispanic American, and American Native students in completing their undergraduate education. The average award is more than $12.000.

William H. Cooper Leadership Scholarship: A $5.000 scholarship is available for those who want to pursue a business-related career and obtain a degree in an accredited Missouri institution.

Obama Foundation Scholars Program: This scholarship program at Columbia University is worth applying for as it might be a good start for a future leader. It covers full tuition fees for up to four courses in addition to a monthly stipend to cover living expenses and provides a furnished apartment for a student to live in.

CWIT Scholars: Undergraduate female students enrolled in computer science-related studies at the University of Maryland should check this opportunity to receive a $5.000 - $22.000 scholarship granted by the Center for Women In Technology (CWIT).


Student loans are different from other types of loans as they are intended to be spent on post-secondary education only including not only tuition fees but also textbooks and other supplies. Interest rate is either lower or paid by the government, but unlike grants and scholarships, student loans need to be repaid. This type of financial aid requires careful planning to avoid the development of unbearable debt.

The Income-Based Repayment Plan: This option should be considered by those who obtained a federal student loan and want to repay it on the income-driven basis. This plan is not available for students who took private loans.

PAYE and REPAYE Programs: Both plans are based on the “pay as you earn” basis and differ in the percentage of income to be repaid for a student loan as well as other specific qualification standards. However, the aim is identical: they are developed to help students cope with financial struggles.

Student Loans’ Types and Associated Fees: Students and their parents who decided to borrow money for college must understand how this option works and what are the fees one must be aware of, such as origination fees and interest rates, and also how loan forgiveness works.

Federal Student Loans: All eligibility criteria, as well as information relevant for those who already have the loan, are gathered on the website of the U.S. Department of Education.

Tuition Provided by Employers

Approximately half of companies, especially well-known brands, offer assistance with both undergraduate and graduate studies. This may be an opportunity for both employees themselves and their children. Amounts vary significantly, thus, each employer must be checked separately.

Andy Grove Scholarship for Intel Employees' and Retirees’ Children: Approximately 400 one-time scholarships up to $4.000 can be awarded to help Intel employees’ children with obtaining higher education.

Coca-Cola Scholars Program Scholarship: Each year 150 graduating high school students are chosen to receive $20,000 as educational support.

Blacks at Microsoft Scholarship: High school seniors of African American descent who showed outstanding achievements in their studies and aim at pursuing a degree in computer science, engineering, business administration, or finance have the chance to obtain one of two $5.000 scholarships.

McDonald’s® HACER® National Scholarship: Five persons will be chosen as winners among high school seniors who apply for this $100.000 scholarship that is awarded for 4 years. One must not only be a U.S. citizen of Hispanic heritage and plan to finish full courses of study but also disclose any other scholarship program.

Federal Work-Study Programs

This type of federal student aid presupposes programs that ensure part-time employment for part-time and full-time students to help them cope with educational expenses. The availability of the employment options needs to be checked directly at a certain school's financial aid office. Usually, they are related to community service or student’s field of study.

Explaining Federal Work-Study: Basic questions related to the specific eligibility and working requirements can be checked at the official Federal Student Aid website.

University of California Santa Cruz Career Center: This list can serve as an example of available job listings that will differ from university to university.

FAFSA Financial Aid Eligibility

  1. U.S. citizens can freely check if they meet other criteria. Non-U.S. citizens must prove their eligibility for financial aid and they can do so if they belong to the following groups:
    • U.S. permanent residents.
    • Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Republic of Palau.
    • Cuban-Haitian entrants.
    • U.S. nationals.
    • Refugees and people who were granted asylum.
    • Holders of a T nonimmigrant status (people who are victims of human trafficking).
    • Those who were paroled into the United States and intend to become citizens.
  2. Social Security Number is the must for everyone with just a few exceptions.
  3. Applicants must possess a high school diploma or the equivalent document (such as the GED).
  4. They must be enrolled full-time or half-time in the degree program eligible for financial aid.
  5. Applicants must not owe money in terms of a federal student grant’s refund and being in default on a federal student loan.
  6. Male applicants must register with the Selective Service System between the ages of 18 and 25 and prove that they are not on active duty with the U.S. Armed Forces.
  7. Maintaining satisfactory progress in studies.

Losing FAFSA Eligibility & Gaining it Back

It is possible to lose eligibility for federal financial aid. Check what can make a student ineligible to avoid these issues:

  1. The FAFSA form needs to be filled every year to prove that the student meets the basic eligibility criteria listed above.
  2. Failure to meet criteria for satisfactory academic progress: both goods grades and an appropriate number of credit hours are needed to keep FAFSA eligibility. Those who earn bad grades and do not have enough classes to be enrolled at least half-time lose their right to have federal financial aid.
  3. Default on a student loan.
  4. Being convicted of drug offenses or not providing proofs of attending relevant rehabilitation program in case of past drag conviction.
  5. Being incarcerated in a detention facility.

Regaining FAFSA eligibility is possible is a student completes the following:

  1. Complete the FAFSA form every year. Use the Renewal FAFSA form to make the process easier.
  2. Get out of default on the student loan by paying it back or applying rehabilitation or consolidation options.
  3. In case of insufficient credit hours or low grades, a student will need to discuss the problem with the school’s officials.
  4. The lost status of eligible non-U.S. citizen needs to be reinstated for the student to receive federal financial aid.
  5. FAFSA eligibility suspended due to drug conviction can be regained if the student completes a drug rehabilitation program and passes two drug tests.
  6. Incarcerated applicants need to be released before they can apply for financial aid.

Frequently Asked Financial Aid Questions

Do I need to have a high school diploma?

Yes, either this or the General Educational Development (GED) certificate is obligatory. If your high school diploma appears to be not valid, you need to contact the financial aid office at your school.

Do I need a Social Security Number to apply?

Yes, you do need this unless you are a citizen of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau or Federated States of Micronesia.

Are good grades important for remaining eligible?

Students eligible for federal financial aid must maintain good grades throughout the entire studying period since the form needs to be renewed annually.

Can I use federal student aid for anything else?

No, since you must certify that you will use the provided financial aid for educational purposes only in addition to proving that you are not in default on the student loan.

Does any college accept federal student aid?

No, you must check the list of approved colleges and be enrolled only in the accepted program.

What should students know about filling out the FAFSA® online?

You don’t have to wait until October 1 to get an FSA ID, start the process earlier. Note that you’ll need to have access to your email to finish the process of obtaining an FSA ID. It is an electronic signature and should be shared with nobody.