Every student has their own needs when it comes to their educational experience. Many people opt for online education over traditional in-person classes for a variety of reasons, whether it’s working while in school, family circumstances, or other responsibilities.
Regardless of how they receive their education, affordability is one of the most important factors for many students when choosing which college they want to attend. When it comes to financing the cost, many online students aren’t sure about financial aid. But rest assured, online students can apply for and use both federal and private loans to cover the costs of their education.
How to Get Student Loans as an Online Student
Students who want to work towards a degree online can apply for and receive student loans in the same way a student would if they were planning to attend classes in the traditional in-person format.
The Federal Student Aid website has an easy-to-use tool for students to determine whether their school will accept federal loans to pay for an online degree program. Simply search the school you plan to attend and review the information from the government resource.
If you’re looking to find loans to finance your online education, follow the steps outlined below.
1. Fill out the FAFSA
The FAFSA is a free federal application for students to apply for grants and loans directly from the government. Create an FSA ID and apply through the StudentAid website here.
The FAFSA application will ask you for demographic information (who you are, your family makeup, etc.) and financial information (how much you and your family made in the appropriate tax year).
Once the FAFSA is completed, it will determine how much money you are being offered in Pell Grant (free money from the government), work-study (being paid to work on campus), and Federal Loans (called Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, all money you will have to pay back). For the 2023-2024 school year, the maximum Pell Grant award is $7,395 per year, and the maximum Federal Loan award is $12,500 per year, depending on your dependency status and year in school.
2. See if other funding options are available
Before jumping into a loan application, many students will review other funding opportunities for their program, including scholarship and grant opportunities.
Many states offer their own state grant program for students living in and attending school in their state. Examples of this include the New York State TAP application, the Texas TAFSA, and the California State CalGrant. Free money from your state is often a way to cover a chunk of your college costs.
Students can also look for scholarships to cover costs. Scholarships can be offered to students directly from the college they plan to attend. Students can also apply for scholarships offered by corporations, non-profit organizations, and independent donors. There are even scholarships available specifically for students completing online courses. Students can reach out directly to their school’s financial aid and admissions office to see what scholarships they may qualify for that are offered by the school.
To find more scholarships and information, students can visit websites such as Niche, ScholarshipOwl, Bold, and Scholarships.com.
3. Apply for loans
While loans aren’t the ideal option for many students, they may be necessary to afford your educational program. Federal loans are generally the best option for loans due to their fixed interest rates, payment options, and loan forgiveness programs. If additional funds are still needed to cover the cost of attendance, private loans are the next step.
There are many different student loan companies. Although they often offer the same or similar products, each company has its own application process, interest rates, requirements, and sometimes even promotions to entice borrowers.
To view which companies offer private student loans, check out the NerdWallet comparison chart. Students can view what each company currently offers, and can be directed to their website for pre-authorization. Additionally, students may find great private loan rates with their own local bank or credit union, so both are worth checking out before making a commitment.
Tips for Reducing Your Student Loan Debt
Borrowing money can be scary, especially when you don’t fully understand what it entails. Check out these important tips to reduce how much can ultimately be owed in loans and the stress that can easily come along with student loans.
- Only borrow what you need. Borrowing more than what you need in a student loan situation can lead to more accrued interest, more loan payments, and a longer period of time when a student is paying back their loans.
- Autopay is your friend. Just like many people have for other monthly bills, autopay will automatically withdraw the correct amount required to pay your monthly loan statement from your bank account. This is a great way to ensure your loans are paid off, especially if you’re forgetful.
- Start paying back while you’re still in school. While federal and some private loans may not require you to start paying back loans until after graduation, you can always start paying off those loans while still taking classes. This can significantly impact the total cost paid to the student loan companies and decrease the overall interest accrued.
- Consider starting your college career at a community college and transferring credits. Since the pandemic shook the world, most colleges (including community colleges) have continued to offer in-person, online, and hybrid courses for students to choose what is most convenient for them. To save some major money, enroll in general education classes at a community college, then transfer the credits to your four-year school of choice.
Review any loan-forgiveness programs that you may qualify for after graduating. Many people qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Those who work in public service roles at qualifying organizations can have their federal student loans forgiven after 120 completed payments.