Your Financial Aid Guide
Once you have made the decision to go to an online college, you will need to immediately work towards a college or university to attend and work on your financial options for that particular school. As outlined in the MatchCollege Complete Guide to the College Admission Process eBook, there is a defined process to follow to get the most out of your college experience. In this article, we will cover a few suggestions that may have the biggest impact on your financial aid package: timing, planning, and geographic location.
Submit Your Financial Aid Application Early
Starting your college application and financial aid process early will ensure you have the best options available. Students who wait to apply for financial aid until the date of the deadline often miss out on most grants and scholarship opportunities as they are awarded on a first-come first-served basis. Likewise, not applying for financial aid will ensure no monies will be allocated towards your higher education. Even if you think it is not worth the time, work with your college admission office to determine the most likely opportunities for scholarships and grants to help with your college aspirations.
Your first step towards securing a solid financial aid package is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA prior to the deadline. The FAFSA is administered by the Federal Student Aid which is part of the U.S. Department of Education. In addition to disbursing, reconciling, and accounting for all federal student aid funds to colleges across the country, your FAFSA application may be used by your college and state agencies to determine additional financial aid options. More specifically, the applicable state agencies will ascertain if you qualify for a wide variety of state-based financial aid while the college or university will determine what institutional financial aid is available to you.
As you know, online college classes can start at varying times throughout the year which may cause confusion to some students on when to apply for the FAFSA. For the sake of financial aid, the earliest you can complete your FAFSA application is October 1st for the coming school year. This means you will need to complete your FAFSA very early in the calendar year as federal and state deadlines for financial aid will approach quickly and potentially limit the financial aid options available to you. If you are unable to complete your FAFSA form early in the year, make it a point to get it out of the way early the following calendar year to make the most of the federal, state, and institutional financial aid options.
We recommend you run a parallel track immediately after completing your FAFSA to seek out the best options available through private scholarships. To put private scholarships into perspective, the latest data available reveals there were 1.5 million scholarships issued to undergraduate and graduate students for a total near $5 billion. This fact in and of itself is a source of motivation while you are writing applications, assembling transcripts, asking for letters of recommendation, writing essays, and gathering a variety of work samples. Finding private scholarships to pair with federal and state aid will surely be a better recipe than taking on student loans for the full cost of your college experience.
Financial Aid Begins with Proper Planning
It is intuitive for most online college students to plan for a financial aid package that includes help to cover the cost of tuition but all aspects need to be considered to get a full view of the costs involved. Let’s step through a few of the most common costs associated with your online college to consider further.
- College Admissions Application & School Fees: Virtually every college and university charges an application fee to process your admission application. If a team of administrators needs to physically read and review your application, a fee will surely be required. On the other hand, there are online colleges and universities that have automated the process and may allow you to bypass the application fee.
A variety of other fees may come into play depending on your situation that may include: transfer credit fees, technology fees, student service fees, athletic fees, lab fees, background check, exam proctoring, and course-level placement assessments.
- Computer Hardware & Software: Taking an online course may require you to upgrade or replace your existing computer. During the enrollment process, ask the college administrative team to provide examples of acceptable computers to ensure you have the requisite processing power and memory to easily navigate the array of online courses you will soon be taking. Likewise, if the college requires you to purchase a particular type of software to effectively interface with the school it will be important to learn that information in advance.
- Textbooks & Course Materials: According to the National Association of College Stores, the average spent on textbooks, course materials, and technology per semester is $672. It is incumbent upon you to plan on building this into your college budget semester over semester as you march towards the college degree of your choosing.
The Best Online College May Be Right Next Door
While students from around the world have access to fantastic higher education programs through online learning, the best program for you may be close to your place of residence. As you work on gathering information from a variety of colleges and universities that offer online programs, it is important to consider the degree options at the college coupled with state-based financial aid programs.
Specific to state-based financial aid, it is important to distinguish in-state from out-of-state tuition at the school along with any/all scholarships and grants available specifically for residents of your state. Make sure to ask the admissions office for a full list of state-specific scholarships and grants available for your consideration at the time of application. We know dozens of cases where the in-state programs made a substantive difference to students electing one school over another. For additional resources, make sure to visit MatchCollege and subscribe to our blog for the latest in college information.