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Financial Aid and Scholarships for Online Students by

Discover ways to finance your online degree. Investigate financial aid opportunities and scholarships available to college students.
  • Online students qualify for much of the same financial aid as on-campus learners.
  • Students must complete the FAFSA to determine their eligibility.
  • Scholarships and grants include a variety of need-based and merit-based aid opportunities.
Universities throughout the United States are increasingly offering online programs to accommodate the needs of remote learners.

With advantages such as flexible scheduling, online programs provide a convenient educational choice for students balancing existing work and family commitments. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 61% of students took at least one distance learning course in fall 2021.

Financial aid is essential for most college students pursuing their degrees, whether they attend classes in person or online. Distance learners may qualify for the same need-based financial aid available to on-campus students, in addition to specialized scholarships and grants specifically for online education.

The following comprehensive guide delves into various financial aid options for attending a leading online university.

Financial Aid for Online Students


Loans are typically viewed as a last resort for financial aid among online college students. Unlike scholarships and grants, loans require repayment. The Department of Education provides direct subsidized or unsubsidized loans, as well as indirect loans. Additionally, there are Direct PLUS Loans available for parents, along with private loans.


Scholarships do not need to be repaid and can be awarded based on merit or other criteria unrelated to financial need. It is up to students to conduct their own research to discover and apply for scholarships. Often, scholarships have requirements such as maintaining a minimum GPA to remain eligible for renewal each period.


Grants are mostly awarded based on financial need, although some are also granted based on merit. Similar to scholarships, grants do not require repayment once the student finishes their program. The Department of Education (ED) is the main source of student grants, such as the Federal Pell Grant. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) automatically assesses students for federal grant eligibility based on their financial need.


Fellowships are commonly granted to graduate students based on merit. These awards are typically given for advanced or specialized postgraduate study within the student's field of expertise. Candidates for fellowships often need to showcase their potential to make significant contributions to their profession after completing their studies in order to qualify for the award.


The Federal Work-Study Program allows schools to compensate students for part-time employment. While job availability differs, schools strive to match students with positions relevant to their academic pursuits. Work-study positions can be located either on-campus or off-campus, offering hourly or salaried compensation. Both undergraduate and graduate students demonstrating financial need qualify for this program.

How to Complete the FAFSA

Many applicants mistakenly think that financial aid options are restricted for online students compared to those studying on campus. However, distance learners generally qualify for the same financial aid opportunities as their on-campus counterparts. The first crucial step for online students is completing the FAFSA to assess their eligibility for financial assistance.

Prospective students can submit the FAFSA electronically from October 1 to June 30. To complete the process, learners need to provide their federal tax details and verify their identity using documents such as a driver's license and Social Security number.

How to Apply for Scholarships

Applying for scholarships can feel overwhelming, but establishing a structured approach can simplify the process. By following a systematic method—starting early, conducting thorough research, and adhering closely to application instructions—you can reduce stress and enhance productivity.

Here are some strategies to streamline your scholarship application journey:

Plan Ahead: Begin searching for scholarships well in advance. Allocate more time than you think you'll need for each application. Consider setting an earlier "mock deadline" to ensure you have ample time for revisions.
Stay Organized: Whether applying for a few or many scholarships, organization is crucial. Create a checklist with deadlines and required materials to avoid confusion and duplication of effort.
Conduct Thorough Research: Explore scholarship opportunities from your school, online databases, and community organizations. Categorize potential scholarships promptly as suitable ("yes") or not ("no"), and thoroughly understand the eligibility criteria for each.
Follow Instructions Precisely: Pay close attention to application guidelines. Failure to follow instructions or submit required materials can lead to disqualification.
Refine Your Essays: For scholarships that require essays, leverage this opportunity to highlight your strengths and distinguish yourself. Craft tailored responses for each application, ensuring they are polished and free of errors through thorough proofreading.

By implementing these tips, you can navigate the scholarship application process efficiently and effectively, maximizing your chances of securing financial support for your education.

Scholarships for Online Students Distance Learning Scholarship

Eligibility: Candidates must be enrolled in an accredited online degree or certificate program with a minimum GPA of 3.0. Awards consider both academic merit and financial need.
Award Amount: $1,000 Undergraduate Distance Learning Degrees Academic Scholarship

Eligibility: Applicants must be enrolled in an accredited distance learning program and intend to remain enrolled for the following year, with at least 30 semester credits or 45 quarter credits still to be completed.
Award Amount: $1,000
Deadline: November

The University of Alabama College of Continuing Studies Scholarships

Eligibility: Applicants must be enrolled in either an undergraduate or graduate distance education program at the University of Alabama. Specific scholarship criteria may vary.
Award Amount: Amount varies
Deadline: June

Scholarships for Nontraditional Online Students

Fully Bloomed Scholarship

Eligibility: Applicants must be mothers pursuing postsecondary education, holding a high school diploma, and coming from households with a combined annual income below $45,000.
Award Amount: $500
Deadline: June

Colwell Law Group Single Parent Scholarship

Eligibility: Applicants must be single parents currently enrolled in or intending to enroll in an undergraduate, graduate, or law program in the United States. Candidates must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0.
Award Amount: $1,000
Deadline: May

Can I get a student loan for online courses?

Yes, students can secure loans for online courses. Those enrolled in online college degree programs are eligible for financial aid, including federal student loans or other private loan options.

Before committing to a student loan, carefully consider your choices. Student loans typically involve long-term obligations, so it's wise to explore alternative financial aid options or consult with a financial advisor regarding loan alternatives.

How can I get money for college without student loans?

Students have numerous avenues for financial aid beyond student loans, such as scholarships, grants, and tuition assistance offered by the university. Many of these options necessitate completing an application and meeting specific academic criteria.

Start by completing the FAFSA application to assess your eligibility for financial aid from both the federal government and the university. Additionally, explore scholarship opportunities offered by the university itself and by independent organizations.

Does the FAFSA cover online colleges?

The majority of accredited online programs qualify for federal aid, enabling students to access federal financial assistance. It's important for students to verify their school's accreditation status and consult with an advisor to confirm eligibility for aid.

To ensure timely processing, submit your FAFSA by the June deadline. The FAFSA application requires comprehensive financial details, so allocate sufficient time to complete it accurately.

What is the cheapest online college?

Among the most cost-effective online colleges are the University of Florida-Online and Golden Gate University-San Francisco, both of which provide online programs accessible nationwide. Tuition rates may differ based on the specific degree program and whether students reside in-state or out-of-state.

Students can offset tuition expenses through various financial aid and scholarship options. To explore available opportunities, students should contact the admissions office of their prospective school.