Financial Advice for Those Pursuing an Online Education 

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Online learning, from middle to graduate school, is a bigger topic right now than ever before. As institutions work to offer online options for traditionally in-person programs, many students are experiencing distance learning for the first time. There are many factors to consider when evaluating the costs of pursuing an online advanced education. 

 

Students returning to school as adults have become more commonplace, as online learning has become increasingly accessible. Many return to pursue a new career path, with the flexibility to work around family and other commitments. For some, the convenience of distance learning is enough. 

 

As you decide which path is best for you, there are many financial factors to consider. Many universities offer lower tuition rates for online students, making some online degrees more accessible. However, there are other costs associated with distance learning. 

Consider All of Your Costs

A growing public concern has been the availability of high-quality internet connections. This has gained more visibility as universities go remote in response to COVID-19. The availability of consistent, high-speed internet is necessary for online learning. Without it, you will be unable to access lectures and materials or connect with classmates. Another potential cost to consider is the technology necessary for distance learning. 

 

As an online student, you are expected to keep your computer and related equipment at a certain standard. This includes everything from your webcam to specialized programs necessary for your line of study. The future applications virtual reality in education may raise these costs even more while reducing expenses of in-person labs, field trips, and experiences. If you are interested in pursuing a technical degree, consider any costs associated with upgrading equipment and acquiring specialized software.

 

Make sure that you are considering all the necessary supplies, as these tools may usually be supplied by the school for in-residence students. As an online student, the school may cover these expenses, or provide a stipend for you to acquire necessary materials. Even with these additional costs, there are options for financial aid.  

Options for Financial Aid and Loans

For any student seeking financial aid, make sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible. For students beginning college immediately after high school, your parents will fill out the information regarding income and taxes. If you are returning to school as an adult, you will fill it out with your information. The results from this application will determine the amount of federal aid you are entitled to, and what other forms of aid you can receive. 

 

The FAFSA can dictate whether you are eligible for certain scholarships, federal work-study, and loans. By filing the FAFSA out as soon as possible, you will be able to determine the best course of action for your financial situation. Begin looking for scholarships, work-study, and evaluate any unmet financial needs once you have the determination. If there are unmet costs, many students look to loans.

 

Students may be eligible for a certain amount of loans, both federal and private. Federal loans are dispersed through the Department of Education, and educational loans do not have to be paid back until after you graduate. If you do not yet have a credit score, or your credit score is low, you can still qualify for these loans. They have the benefit of flexibility. You can apply them to living expenses, tuition, necessary technology, or any other costs. Before taking out loans, you will want to look into the possibility of school or employment-related assistance. 

Tuition Assistance 

There are many opportunities for tuition assistance, both at graduate and undergraduate levels. Dictated by the FAFSA, undergraduate students may qualify for Federal Work-Study (FWS), a form of aid where a certain amount of tuition is covered, and in return, the student works for the university. These positions are often secretarial or assisting certain professors. While they are pay can vary, the resulting drop intuition can often be worth the hours worked. 

 

At a graduate level, evaluate the general student aid package and graduate assistantships. Teaching assistantships may be guaranteed to graduate students, and even be a requirement of a degree. In graduate assistantships, students assist a specific professor, sometimes in research, other times as a teaching assistant. They are paid a stipend to grade assignments, assist in research, and may lecture in place of the professor.

 

If you are currently employed, you should also look into the tuition assistance offered by your company. Some companies provide student tuition assistance programs and hold specific roles with limited hours for university students. Some companies will help pay tuition based on the number of hours you work, while others will provide an allocation for education within their industry.

 

Whether it is your first time in school, you are returning to further your career, online learning may be a way to soften the blow of a tuition bill. When considering if online learning is right for you, be sure to consider all of the costs that you will be responsible for and your options for financial aid. By starting early, and considering everything from scholarships and federal work-study, to student loans and employment assistance, you can make sure that when you begin school you are focused on your education. 

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