As the saying goes, a good education is an investment in your future. However, it’s the “investment” part that can sometimes make a prospective college student reluctant. An investment is a long-term commitment, one that stays with you long after college in the form of monthly payments and credit checks. College can cost a pretty penny, but by investigating all of the financial assistance that is available you may be able to drastically reduce your part of the bill.

If you have already decided to pursue an online degree, you are probably aware of the financial benefits of your decision. By attending an online university you can expect to save the cost of textbooks, housing, a meal plan and transportation. Add to that the already lower tuition costs of an online university and you have a tremendous savings. However, the cost of higher education is not cheap… even online. So, if you’re like most prospective students you’re probably interested in attaining whatever financial aid may be available to you.

There are countless articles available about how to save for college or how to structure your finances in order to receive the maximum amount of financial assistance. More than likely, though, if you’re reading this it’s already too late for most of those ideas. Instead, let’s focus on how to find and apply for the financial aid for college that you need today.

Where to Find Financial Assistance

Federal Aid: Your financial aid search should begin with the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA). Most universities will have you fill this out prior to qualifying you for their financial assistance. If you’re way ahead of the game you can get an early estimate of your eligibility for federal student aid with FAFSA4caster. To learn how to fill out a FAFSA form, check out our video untitled “FAFSA application How-to”.

Federal student aid is financial assistance that is available through the U.S. government and covers school expenses such as tuition and fees, room and board, books, supplies, and transportation. There are three types of federal student aid that you may qualify for:
– grants (which you don’t have to pay back)
– work-study (working your way through college)
– loans (which you obviously need to repay)

To be eligible for federal financial assistance, you must meet certain criteria and demonstrate a financial need. Your school’s financial aid office will use your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), your year in school, your enrollment status, and the cost of attendance to determine how much financial assistance you will be offered.

Your State Government: Most states offer their own versions of financial aid for college including grants, scholarships, and loan programs. Check with your state’s Higher Education Agency or your university to see what your state may offer.

Your Online University: Consider the financial aid package you receive from your university of choice. Once you are accepted to a school, they should send you a breakdown of tuition fees and any scholarships or assistance that they are willing to provide. What you may not realize is that this offer may have a little room for negotiation. It never hurts to contact the enrollment or financial aid office to ask if you may be eligible for additional financial assistance.

Scholarships and Grants: There are thousands of scholarships and grants available for students looking to continue their education. Eligibility requirements and application deadlines vary greatly, so it is best to begin your search early. Scholarships and grants are basically “free money” in that you don’t have to repay them, and they can range from enough to pay for textbooks to fully covering your tuition. The research and application process may take some effort, but it will definitely pay off in the long run if you receive any financial aid for college from one!

Other Tips to Help You Save on College Costs

Many online universities offer tuition installment plans helping to make your education more affordable. Check with your enrollment or financial aid office to see if this is available for you.

Pay close attention to application deadlines. If you send in an application late, even if you are eligible for what’s being offered, you will most likely be denied. Missing a deadline could quite literally cost you thousands!

Besides those offered by the federal or state government, you can find local banks and credit unions that are willing to offer student loans. Often these loans are offered at a reduced rate and with minimal equity.

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