Getting Financial Aid
Continuing your education is a great way to hone your career skills, work towards a degree, or just expand your knowledge. And with the vast number of online schools and distance learning opportunities, continuing your education is more convenient than ever before. However, heading back to school can be a frightening prospect for some people. Not only does school require tough schedule adjustments, but it can also be quite expensive. Yet, there are ways to manage the financial cost of heading back to school: there is now a variety of financial aid plans designed specifically for those who intend to further their education.
What is Financial Aid?
If you have been out of the school world for a while, you may be unfamiliar with this term. Financial aid refers to any amount of money that can be used to pay for school tuition or related expenses (such as books, supplies, and living expenses). Financial aid is available in a variety of forms and may cover the complete cost of your school experience, or partial costs related to your education. Financial aid can come from a variety of different sources and is usually given out based on a set of criteria.
Will I Qualify?
Most financial aid programs are based on meeting a particular set of qualifications. In order to receive financial aid you may have to:
- show financial need
- show educational competence (in the form of grade point average)
- have a special skill, talent, or ability
A few types of financial aid however, do not require you to meet any particular criteria.
Types of Financial Aid
There are four traditional types of financial aid that you may want to consider when applying to an online degree or a distance learning course:
Grants are a gift of money given to students in order to pay for their school-related expenses. Grants are usually given out based on financial need or merit, and do not need to be repaid unless you withdraw from school for some reason. Federal, state, and university institutions should have grants available to their students.
Loans are a type of financial aid that is borrowed from a specific institution to pay off school expenses. Once you leave school, your student loans must be repaid with interest. Federal, state, and private institutions offer loans, which may be distributed based upon need.
Scholarships are also a gift of money to help pay off tuition expenses. A scholarship is often based on academic ability, special talents, or personal merit. What makes scholarships so great is that they do not need to be repaid. Scholarships are available from private institutions, various online colleges and universities, and a number of charitable organizations.
Work-study programs are available from the federal government to help you pay off part of your tuition expenses. These programs provide you with a job to work at while you are studying. The money that you make at this job is then used to help pay off your student loan. Work-study opportunities are usually awarded based on financial need.
Sources of Financial Aid
If you are considering getting financial aid to help pay for various types of schooling, there are a number of sources to check out:
The federal government has a number of large programs designed to provide students with financial aid. The federal government gives out grants, loans, and work-study opportunities to thousands of students every year. Loans are often given out at very low interest rates, and many are tax deductible. In order to receive federally funded financial aid, such as government grants, you must first apply by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This can be done in person or online. Approval is usually based on financial need or academic achievement.
Individual state governments offer a wide range of grants, loans, and work-study opportunities. As with the federal government, financial aid is usually distributed based on financial need or academic merit. In order to receive state aid, you must apply in writing to your state’s funding organization.
Online Colleges and Universities:
Numerous online colleges and universities now offer scholarships and grants to students based on academic potential or achievement. All you need to do is contact your school’s Financial Aid office for an application. Because many traditional schools offer online courses, the scholarships and grants available to traditional students may also be available to online students.
Thousands of scholarships are given out every year by private organizations, including charities, clubs, and community outreach centers. Call around to these organizations to see if you can find out more information about any financial aid they may offer. Private banks are also an option when it comes to taking out a student loan. However, personal loans tend to be offered at higher interest rates than those offered by the federal government.
Other Financial Aid Options
If you have been unsuccessful in securing government or private financial aid, there are a few other options that you may want to pursue.
- Ask Your Employer: Many employers will consider paying for courses that are related to your work responsibilities. So, if you are taking a course to upgrade your skills or if you are planning on pursuing a related degree, ask your employer about financial aid.
- Enroll in a Contest: There are thousands of contests held every year throughout the United States in which scholarships are the grand prize. Many of these scholarships involve essay or poetry writing, however contests based on other skills also exist. Be sure to find a contest held by a reputable organization though. They should provide you with their telephone number and address, along with all contest details, ahead of time. And if they ask you for an application or "publishing" fee, the contest probably isn’t legitimate.
- Continue to Work: If you had considered taking time off of work to go back to school, consider working part-time or from home to help pay the bills. Many students find that working part-time actually helps them to stay on task and perform better in school.