If you are considering a graduate degree, you may look into online programs as a way to mitigate the cost of your education. After all, with an online program you can study on your own time while working and earning money. Plus, online degrees allow you to study without moving or living on campus. However, before you commit to an online degree, it is important to know the in’s and out’s about qualifying for financial aid. Though virtual degrees are generally cheaper than traditional degrees, you want to be certain that the FAFSA can help fund your online graduate program.
Only accredited Graduate Schools qualify for FAFSA
This may seem obvious, but you need to make sure that you are enrolling in an accredited program in order to qualify for federal aid. Accredited schools must follow specific sets of standards in order to be officially recognized by the government. In the United States, colleges and universities are presided over by six regional accrediting agencies: the North Central Association, the New England Association, the Middle States Association, the Western Association, the Northwest Commission, and the Southern Association. Each of these agencies evaluates a school based on its mission, admission processes, student services, quality of education, and faculty.
If you are enrolling in an online program that is offered by a traditional university (such as the University of Michigan or UC Berkeley), then you can rest assured that your school is accredited. If you are unsure whether or not your desired school is accredited, poke around the university website or directly contact the school.
Your enrollment status is a huge factor
Many students pursue online graduate degrees because they want to work full-time while studying part-time. However, enrolling as a part-time student may reduce the amount of federal aid you receive. In fact, many online programs require students to meet credit-hour requirements to receive certain amounts or types of financial aid. Check with your university admissions office and ask how your schedule will impact your financial aid – this will be different for every school. Be sure to understand these requirements before filling out the FAFSA, as this will dictate some of your answers within the form.
Online graduate programs may not qualify for all kinds of federal aid
When you fill out the FAFSA, you are essentially applying to multiple formats of federal aid, including loans, scholarships, grants, and work study. When you fill out the FAFSA for an online graduate degree, however, you may not be eligible for federal work study. Because of the nature of the degree program, it is sometimes difficult to negotiate a work study schedule with an online student. As mentioned previously, most online students work full-time, and they often live far from the physical campus. As a result, many online degree programs have eliminated the work-study option from their financial aid offerings. If you are interested in an online graduate program that offers federal work study, then contact your admissions office to understand the possibilities at your school.
In conclusion, it is best to contact your university admissions office before filling out the FAFSA for your online graduate program. In most cases you will qualify for federal aid, but you should understand the details of aid eligibility to ensure that you make informed decisions about your school, enrollment status, and specific degree program.