Are online students eligible for financial aid?

A driving factor in the increasing popularity of online courses is the cost. Federal financial aid is available to students attending any regionally accredited school, including accredited online programs. To be considered for this federal aid, students need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Most aid is awarded in the form of loans, such as Stafford loans, which can be subsidized or unsubsidized, or Perkins loans. Stafford loans are fixed-rate loans available to all students enrolled at least part-time. In the case of subsidized Stafford loans, the government will make interest payments on your behalf while you are still in school. However, with unsubsidized loans, you will have to make your own interest payments while you are still attending school.

Perkins loans are low-interest loans offered to students who are enrolled at least part-time and show great financial need. Students with Perkins loans will not need to make payments while they are still in school at least half-time. In addition, federal grants, such as Pell grants, are also available for those who demonstrate financial need. Unlike a loan, grants do not need to be repaid.

Students enrolled in online courses may also qualify for a number of non-federal student loans, as well as scholarships and grants. In fact, most students who attend online colleges receive some form of financial aid to help fund their education. For example, more than 75% of students at Capella University receive federal financial aid, student loans, and/or scholarships, according to the school's website.

Even without financial aid, online programs can be less expensive than campus programs. Though the price difference between online and campus-based tuition may seem minimal at first, the difference becomes clear after considering the additional fees associated with campus learning. While online learners only pay for their courses, campus-based learners must often also pay for housing, dining, and parking fees. For instance, out-of-state tuition at the University of Michigan is about $34,937 per year, according to College Navigator. Students must then add on the cost of housing, which is an additional $8,924 on average, as well as a meal plan, which is about another $2,000. This pushes the cost of attendance to about $45,861 for the academic year.

In addition, dormitories will need to be furnished and those who wish to attend out-of-state schools must factor in the cost of relocating. In the end, attending a campus-based program could end up costing students more than $10,000 on top of tuition. However, do factor in how much Internet service, a computer, and rent would cost as well if you are doing your online class at home, as this could also influence how much your online course will cost.

Compare that to the base cost of online programs, and it is easy to see why online education is typically considered more affordable, especially if a student can also take advantage of various financial aid options available.

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