Explaining the Financial Aid Process for Online College Applicants

It is a common misconception that by attending college online, you will have a much more difficult time paying for your tuition. But it absolutely doesn’t have to be that way and with a little guidance and patience, you will soon see that the process can be simple and painless if completed properly and on time. It is important to speak to your financial aid representative by phone as soon as you are accepted into their school. They can offer excellent guidance for you in regards to their online school and their financial aid<.

Federal Financial Aid

There are generally two types of federal financial aid that get awarded; loans and grants. Loans must be paid back, where as grants do not. Even if you are an online college student, these awards are usually still very much available to you, depending on the school you choose. The three most common loans offered to students applying for aid are Stafford, Perkins, and PLUS Loans. All of these can be subsidized or unsubsidized, depending on the amount you borrow and how it is split up. Subsidized means that the interest will not begin accruing until about nine months after graduation. Unsubsidized means the loan will begin accruing interest as soon as it is received. None of the payments for the federal student loans begin until about nine months after graduating from college. However, it is recommended to make an occasional payment when you are able, to help keep the total amount owed at a minimum.

The most popular grant that is offered to students is the Federal Pell Grant. However, many states have their own grants, as well as financial aid options for their residents.


In order to receive most of these rewards, you will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). I will cover information about schools that do not accept this aid later in this article. For schools that do accept the it, the process is simplified by visiting FAFSA.ed.gov. When visiting the site, you will be walked through the whole process, step-by-step for free by simply clicking “Start a New FAFSA.” Make absolutely sure you are at FAFSA.ed.gov and never enter credit card information to fill out the application. Also, the FAFSA is simple enough that there is no need to pay a company to fill it out for you. Many of these companies are malicious. To make this whole process much simpler, it is recommended that you be prepared with the proper documents when beginning the application, although you can begin and come back to the application if needed. The following documents are required:

• Your social security card.
• Driver’s license
• The previous year’s W2 forms and other records of money earned
• You (and if married, your spouse’s) tax returns for the previous year
• IRS 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ
• Foreign Tax Return
• Tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federal States of Micronesia, or Palau
• Your parents’ Federal Income Tax Return from the previous year (if you are a dependent)
• Your untaxed income records from the previous year
• Your current bank statements
• Your current business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bond and other investment records
• Your alien registration or permanent resident card (if you are not a U.S. citizen)

Once complete, allow anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months for processing. It generally doesn’t take too long, but it’s safe to make sure and allow enough time. Online schooling processes can take a little longer sometimes than brick-and-mortal schools, simple because of the distance between you and them. Regularly check the status by calling the Financial Aid office at your school.

PIN Number

Keep in mind that to sign electronically online (which is much faster than paper), you must apply for a PIN by clicking the link to do so at the top of the FAFSA home page. It is best to complete this as soon as possible, as it will make the whole financial aid process move much quicker in the future.

Other Forms of Financial Aid

For online schools which do not accept the FAFSA, exercise caution. Schools offering degree programs that do not accept federal financial aid are generally (but not always) lacking accreditation, meaning they have not achieved a certain level of acceptance as an instructional institution and it would be safe to do your research regarding the school before attending. However, many trade and vocational schools do not accept the FAFSA and in turn require their students to pay their tuition in other ways. This is more common for these types of schools, but a fair amount of research is still recommended. Usually, these schools have scholarship programs they can walk you through, either offered by the schools themselves or by outside institutions they can recommend to you. Most schools also have affordable payment plans to help you get the education you seek. It is a good idea to check with your employer about Employee Tuition Reimbursement Programs as well. Quite a few places are offering this option to their employees these days. These programs offer a comfortable way to pay for school and although you have to pay the tuition to your online school up front yourself, it’s nice to know you will be getting it back.

Last, but not least, there is always the option of a bank loan for financial aid. Although this is usually used for excess funds on top of what the FAFSA can offer, it is not unheard of to pay smaller tuition bills – especially through smaller online schools – using bank loans, commonly referred to as Private Student Loans. It would be best to sit down with your bank representative and discuss your options with them. Many banks have a wealth of opportunity available to you.

The task of completing the financial aid process can seem quite daunting at first, especially when presented with the online obstacle. However, it can be simple if only you take the time to ensure you are taking the right steps the first time around. By following a few simple guidelines, you will be paying for school in no time.