Financial Aid for Online Students

It used to be that online colleges in need of federal aid had to deliver more than 50 percent of their courses in traditional classrooms to be eligible. In 2006, the U.S. Congress gave students and colleges a break by dropping the “50 percent rule.” Now students can apply for aid regardless of their school’s medium of content delivery. This marked progress for online colleges. The New York Times described the measure as “a sign of how an industry that once had a dubious reputation had gained new influence.”

The law was initially adopted as a means to deter “diploma mills” from absorbing funds typically reserved for legitimate schools. Prior to the “50 percent rule,” counterfeit colleges were luring students with attractive federal aid packages. Unfortunately, these counterfeit schools handed out worthless degrees with one hand and kept the other hand dipped in the federal cookie jar. The “50 percent” rule made it difficult for “diploma mills” to continue their scam. As an unintended consequence, it also placed a barrier to education.

Now that the rule is history, students at legitimate online institutions can now enjoy financial aid, as long as they meet certain eligibility requirements. But government aid is only one way to fund a college education. Here are a few others :

Student Loans

Student loans come in a Forrest Gump-approved variety box. Unlike Gump’s box of chocolates, you do know what you’re getting into when you apply for student loans. Read the guidelines carefully, and make sure you understand the terms and re-payment options. Also, beware of predatory loans.

Employee Benefits

Another funding source may be right under your nose. If you’re currently employed, it never hurts to find out if your job has opportunities in place for employees who are enrolled in school. Some companies offer tuition reimbursement, while others will give a discount up to a certain percentage. A few organizations offer military discounts. Contact your company’s Human Resources department to find out what’s available to you. That one phone call could make a difference in your academic pursuit.

Scholarships

Believe it or not, these are also available to online students. Don’t hesitate to explore the web for scholarship opportunities in your field. You can search scholarships based on location, career, or school. For instance, career-based scholarships will allow you to apply in an area related to your major.

Savings

If you’re gainfully employed, you should consider saving some money and paying your way through college. It’s not always a convenient option, but with a little savings and some determination, you could see yourself graduating with less debt than, say, those with student loans. Wait, it gets better. The federal government also awards tax breaks to college students. Some of your education costs (e.g. books, tuition) are tax-deductible. So, you pay for college, write off the costs, and keep your credit intact.

Finally, before you decide that a college education is too expensive, research your tuition options extensively and select the one that the best suits your needs. The rising cost of education is a wind in the vicinity of most students’ candle of ambition. Don’t let it extinguish your flame.

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