Financial Aid for
Online Colleges

FIND PROGRAMS is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Meet the Experts

Robert Friedman University Director of Student Finance
Scott Seibring Director of Financial Aid
Linda Parker Financial Aid Director

Financial Aid, FAFSA, & the Online College Landscape

The cost of education should not stop people from pursuing their dreams. Scholarships can help ease the financial burden. Thanks to affordable online tuition rates and financial aid, many individuals can further their education while avoiding life-crippling debt.

Typically, schools allow students pursuing degrees both on campus and online to seek financial aid. Similarly, students attending accredited fully online schools also qualify for funds from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Provided their institution is properly accredited, online students should have access to the same aid as on-campus students. For this reason, individuals should verify a school's accreditation status using the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs

Keep reading to learn more about online colleges that accept financial aid, types of financial aid, and how to apply.

A Short List: Online Colleges that Accept FAFSA for 2021

  • Utica College
  • St. John's University
  • Lewis University
  • Seton Hall University
  • Benedictine University
  • Bradley University
  • Widener University

It doesn’t have to be a chore to secure financial aid for online colleges and degrees. Start here, ask questions, find answers, and make the right moves for your education.


Accreditation benefits prospective students in many ways. Primarily, it ensures that institutions maintain certain standards to provide quality education. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee third-party accrediting agencies.

These agencies receive permission to grant regional or national accreditation. Typically, employers and graduate schools prefer graduates from regionally accredited institutions. Community colleges and trade schools usually earn national accreditation.

Specific programs can also earn accreditation. The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs oversees programmatic accreditation for business and marketing programs, while the Liaison Committee on Medical Education provides accreditation for medical programs. You can quickly verify a program or school's accreditation through the ED website.

Types of Financial Aid

Prospective students can apply for multiple types of financial aid, including grants, loans, work-study programs, and scholarships.

Filling out the FAFSA allows students to apply for multiple grants and loans. Grants serve as a type of financial aid that does not require repayment. The government provides subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Recipients do not need to pay interest on subsidized loans until after graduation. Unsubsidized loans begin accruing interest immediately. Students can also apply for private loans.

Some schools use information from the FAFSA to determine work-study and need-based scholarship eligibility. Work studies require students to spend a set number of hours completing tasks. Rather than receiving a salary, students receive tuition credit.

Both schools and private organizations offer scholarships, which do not require repayment. Scholarships typically feature specific academic, procedural, or life requirements.

In 2018-19, undergraduate and graduate students received a total of $246.0 billion in student aid. The chart below illustrates the various financial aid sources and how much assistance they provided in 2017-2018.

Total Student Aid, 2017-2018
Aid Type Total Amount (In Billions)
Federal Aid $154
State Government $11
Private $16
Institutional $60

Source: College Board

Scholarships for Online Students

In addition to need-based grants and loans, students can lower their tuition bills even further with scholarships. Scholarships can be highly competitive, and distance learners can increase their chances by focusing on applying for funds exclusively available for online students. Below, we have highlighted five scholarships for online students pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees.

Get Educated Online College Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: Students attending class online can apply for this scholarship by writing a 500-word essay. Applicants must also submit their transcripts and FAFSA information.
Amount: $1,000

For more information, go here Online Associate Degree Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Online students pursuing an associate degree in any field may apply for this scholarship by submitting an online application.
Amount: $500

For more information, go here Online Bachelor's Degree Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Full- or part-time online bachelor's degree students majoring in any subject can apply for this scholarship. Applicants must submit an online application form.
Amount: $500

For more information, go here Online Master's Degree Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Individuals earning a master's degree online may qualify for this scholarship. Applicants can be majoring in any field at an accredited university.
Amount: $500

For more information, go here

Undergrad. Dist. Learning Deg. Academic Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Online learners pursuing a degree in any subject may apply for this scholarship. reserves this scholarship for associate and bachelor's students.
Amount: $500

For more information, go here

The Financial Benefits of Studying Online

Earning a degree online presents many financial benefits, with flexibility chief among them. Online students can complete their studies from any location with reliable internet access. In fact, many online learners balance a full- or part-time job while earning their degree.

Online programs follow two main formats: asynchronous and synchronous learning. Asynchronous programs allow students to watch recorded lectures and participate in online discussion boards at their own pace.

Synchronous learning provides more structure. Students remotely attend live lectures and engage in chats with peers in real time. Some online programs even progress in an accelerated or self-paced format. With multiple formats to choose from, students can find one that fits around their work schedule.

Distance learning can also save students money on living and transportation costs. Many schools are located in areas with high-costs of living. Thanks to online learning, students can live anywhere while pursuing education from a university located in a large city. Studying from home also eliminates the need for commuting costs, like gas or public transportation fees.

One last benefit worth noting is that online tuition often costs less than in-person tuition. In fact, many schools offer a comparable, affordable tuition rate to both in-state and online learners.

Take the next step towards your future with online learning.

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.

Woman working at desk