Taking online classes or attending an online college can be a great way to further your education—especially if you’re juggling other obligations, like parenting, a full-time job, or caring for a loved one.
If you need help covering the cost of attendance for your online classes, there are many options for financial aid, including grants, scholarships, and federal and private loans. The exact types of aid for which you’ll be eligible will depend on the school you’re attending and the academic program in which you’re enrolled.
The following steps can help you pinpoint the aid for which you might be eligible to address your specific financial need.
- See if your school is eligible for federal financial aid
- Look for a private student loan lender
- Consider alternatives if you aren’t eligible for student loans
1. See if your school is eligible for federal financial aid
Prior to 2006, at least half of a school’s classes had to be live and in-person in order for students to qualify for financial aid from the federal government. Fortunately, this rule no longer exists, and many online colleges and their students are now eligible to receive federal assistance.
To be eligible, your school must first be accredited by a federal accrediting agency. Schools that receive accreditation are given a unique Federal School Code by the U.S. Department of Education (find your school’s code here) and can be found in the FAFSA database. You should also check to see that your specific degree program is covered using this tool.
If your school is eligible, you should:
- Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application is used to determine eligibility for all federal student loans and grants.
- Use any federal aid awards before considering private options. Federal student loans typically have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment terms than private loans do.
- Max out your Direct Subsidized Loans first. These result in less interest paid than on Direct Unsubsidized loans. Once you’ve maxed out these two options, you can consider PLUS Loans.
Keep in mind that there are federal student loan limits to which you’ll need to adhere. If you need more than is available via federal loans, you may need to turn to other financing options.
2) Look for a private student loan lender
Once you’ve maxed out the federal aid that’s available to you, private student loans may be an option. These are offered by various banks and lenders and are not backed by the Department of Education.
Eligibility for private loans largely hinges on your credit score. If you don’t have a credit history or your credit score is low, you may need to add a cosigner with a high score to your application to help you qualify for a loan. If you can’t find someone to cosign for you, there are some loans designed for college students without cosigners that you can consider.
Make sure you shop around when looking for a private student loan, as rates, terms, and repayment options vary greatly. Additionally, many lenders will only loan to students enrolled in specific schools and programs, so check your online college’s eligibility before filling out an application.
Once you’re ready to start your search, our guide to the best private student loans can help. You can also compare the lenders below.
|Company||LendEDU Rating||Rates (APR)||Loan Amounts|
|College Ave||4.8/5||1.79% – 11.98%||$1,000 – 100% of cost|
|Earnest||4.3/5||2.74% – 12.78%||$1,000 – 100% of cost|
3) Consider alternatives if you aren’t eligible for federal and private student loans
Some online schools and other educational institutions may not be eligible for federal or private student loans. Many times, this is the case with for-profit colleges.
If you find your school is ineligible for either type of loan, you still have options. First, talk to your school’s financial aid office. They can point you toward any loan, grant, or scholarship programs specific to your college.
You can also look to one of these options:
- Student loans for trade school & career training
- Student loans for certificate programs
- Part-time student loans
- Types of student loans
Repaying student loans for online college
Keep in mind that student loans are not free money. You’ll need a plan for how you’ll repay your aid long before you borrow the money.
When considering a loan, always make sure you:
- Understand the payment terms. When do you need to start repaying the loan? Some loans offer grace periods that allow you to skip loan payments during school and up to six months after graduation. Others allow for interest-only payments as long as you’re enrolled a certain number of hours. Study up on how your repayment will work, and estimate how much your monthly payment will be with our student loan payment calculator.
- Know how long repayment will take. What’s the repayment term on your loan? Student loan terms vary, ranging anywhere from a few years to a few decades. Make sure you understand how long it will take you to pay down your loan.
- Ask about hardship options. You can’t predict the future, so it’s important to know what options your lender offers should you face financial hardship down the line. Is there deferment or forbearance plans? Could you have your loan balance forgiven? Here’s a look at the full range of hardship options about which you might want to ask.
Don’t forget that refinancing is an option later on, too. It could help you lower your interest rate, reduce your monthly payment, or extend your loan term. Here are some of our top-rated student loan refinancing options to get you started.
Online students have aid options
Regardless of whether your education is done online or off, you have options when it comes to covering that tuition. Check out our guides to federal student loans and private student loans to get started.