Online colleges have grown more popular in recent years. In 2015, more than 6 million people were enrolled in at least one online college course. The ability to take classes at home on a flexible schedule is no doubt responsible for the popularity of these courses. Tuition is usually cheaper, too.
While online courses are convenient, learning from your computer might not be as effective as taking classes in-person. Studies suggest that online students have a lower course completion rate than students who take their classes offline.
Student loans can make this picture even scarier. Two-thirds of the people who default on student loans never finished their college degree. If you want to reduce the chances that you’ll end up as a statistic like this, you’ll definitely want to reduce your reliance on student loans. Here are some ways to cut costs and gain additional financial assistance to complete your online education.
GRANTS AND SCHOLARSHIPS
You’re still eligible for scholarships as an online student. This means you can apply for any grant or scholarship you think you qualify for. Before you go too crazy, however, it’s important to cover your basics.
The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the first step on the road to financing your education with grants and scholarships. This form calculates the amount of money that your family should be able to afford to pay for you to go to college. If this number (called the EFC or expected family contribution) is low enough, you could be eligible for a Pell Grant. This means you could receive $606 to $5,920 each year to spend on your education.
Next, be sure to check with your school’s financial aid office and any community organizations in your neck of the woods. You’ll want to check in with the Rotary Club, the Knights of Columbus, and the Elks Club for starters. They’ll often offer smaller local scholarships with a lot less competition than any big national contests you find online. They might not save you as much money, but every dollar counts!
Your school’s financial aid office may also be brimming with smaller scholarships that are ripe for you to claim. Even though you attend your classes online, you’re still eligible for many of these. Be sure to visit and see what opportunities you can find.
Online students aren’t eligible for work study at every campus, but it’s definitely an avenue worth pursuing if the option is available. You don’t necessarily have to work on-campus either. Work study can be secured through any employer as long as your employer has an agreement with your college and the work you do is for the public interest.
FOR DEGREES ONLY
Pell Grants, some scholarships, and work-study programs are only available to students who are pursuing a degree or certificate. If you’re just taking a few classes, you won’t be able to use any of these resources. You still may be eligible for some private scholarships, however, so be sure to check in with local clubs and your school’s financial aid office to see what you can dig up.
PAY AS YOU GO (alt: NOT ALL AT ONCE)
Online classes give you a lot more freedom with your schedule than in-person courses. One of the big advantages of this is that it’s easier to work a part- or full-time job. This means you can use your income to offset the cost of college as you learn.
Additionally, online classes tend to be a bit cheaper and have shorter payment periods. This lends itself well to a pay-as-you-go approach. Paying for eight weeks of classes every eight weeks is a lot easier than paying for a year’s worth of classes once a year. If you budget well and have a good job, you may even be able to avoid borrowing altogether.
AVOID LOANS TO SAVE FUTURE HASSLE
Not everyone can avoid student loans altogether. If you’re diligent and you budget well, however, you can significantly reduce the amount you have to borrow in order to pay for your online classes. By taking advantage of scholarships, work-study programs, and grants, you can gain additional revenue that you can use to pay for college. You can also use take advantage of the flexible schedule of your online courses to work while you learn. The lower cost of online classes and the lower, more frequent payments makes this an especially viable option. By taking advantage of all of these resources, you’ll be able to minimize your debt and avoid becoming a statistic.