Financial Aid and Scholarships for Online Graduate Students
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The Online Masters Colleges Staff
The Online Masters Colleges Staff
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For those ready to take the next step in their career, earning a master’s degree may be the best option. Luckily, many graduate programs are available online for maximum flexibility. Often graduate students can continue working full-time while earning a master’s degree which makes it easier to pay for school.
But even with a solid job and good income, it can be tough to pay the tuition and fees associated with an online master’s program. This guide will provide background into the financial aid and scholarship process for grad students. Learn about the different types of financial aid for online graduate programs, as well as the best strategies for obtaining these financial opportunities.
Financing an Online Master’s Program: Getting Started with FAFSA®
For most prospective students, completing the FAFSA® is the first step in obtaining financial aid for school. Completing this Free Application for Federal Student Aid determines a student’s eligibility for financial aid that comes from the federal government. This includes subsidized and unsubsidized loans, as well as grants. Though many prospective students may know they must complete the FAFSA® for undergrad, many don’t realize they need to complete it for master’s programs as well.
Even though the FAFSA® is officially needed for applying for federal student aid, the vast majority of states and schools that have their own financial aid offerings will require applicants complete the FAFSA® as well, even if the applicant has no intention of obtaining any federally based financial aid.
When applying for federal financial aid, the FAFSA® must be completed by June 30 of the year the student intends to enroll in classes. If a prospective student wants to start classes in the Fall of 2023, they must complete the FAFSA® by June 30 of 2023. However, it’s strongly recommended that applicants do not use this deadline as a guide for completing the FAFSA®. This is because it is available for completion starting October 1, the year before the student intends to start classes. Using the above example, a student can complete their FAFSA® as early as Oct. 1 of the previous year.
It’s strongly recommended applicants complete the FAFSA® as soon as they can once it’s available. This is because many federal, school and state-based aid options are limited and only available on a first come, first served basis. By waiting too long, students may not have access to financial aid they would otherwise have been eligible to receive had they applied sooner.
A Note on Accreditation
When it comes to applying for financial aid, one of the most common eligibility criteria is attendance of an accredited school or program. Accreditation is the process by which an independent body reviews a school’s curriculum and makes sure it provides a minimum level of education for its students. Schools can have accreditation at the institutional or programmatic level.
For example, most schools offering graduate programs are accredited at the institutional level by a regional accrediting body that’s recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. However, individual graduate programs might also have programmatic accreditation. For example, many graduate nursing programs are accredited at the programmatic level by the CCNE or the ACEN. A searchable database of schools and their accrediting bodies can be found at the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
By attending a school that’s not accredited, finding financial aid from sources outside the school itself will be almost impossible. Even if paying for graduate school isn’t a concern, prospective graduate students should only consider accredited schools to ensure they get the most from their hard-earned education.
What are the Different Types of Financial Aid for an Online Master’s Program?
There are so many types of financial aid that it can be confusing to figure out what’s what. The following is a comprehensive list of the different terms often thrown around in the financial aid realm, as well as an explanation as to what they are or how they work.
Public student loans
When it comes to student loans, public student loans are the most common. Public student loans are funded by the state or federal government (and sometimes that government administers it). Most public student loans are from the federal government and a few of them can be broken down into two types: subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized loans don’t begin accruing interest until after the student leaves school. With unsubsidized loans, the interest begins building up immediately after the loan is taken out. Public student loans also have other benefits over private student loans, such as potentially lower interest rates, deferred payments, fixed interest rates, no need for a co-signer and plenty of income-based repayment plans. Read more about FAFSA for Graduate School.
Private student loans
Private student loans are funded by private institutions, like banks and credit unions. The terms of private student loans usually aren’t as generous as public student loans and therefore tend to be more expensive. Additionally, because it’s the financial institution funding the loan, the eligibility requirements tend to be stricter.
Grants are a form of gift-based financial aid, which means they do not need to be paid back. While the term “grant” is often used interchangeably as a “scholarship,” they are technically different. Grants are usually awarded based on an individual’s financial need, especially when the funding comes from a state or federal government. In contrast, a scholarship is given based on an individual’s specific trait or personal merit. For all practical purposes, students can think of grants and scholarships as the same thing. Read more about Grants for Graduate School.
Scholarships are another form of gift-based aid – and one of the most popular because they don’t need to be paid back. Scholarships can be awarded based on a number of criteria, with the most common being academic merit, the applicant’s traits (such as race, veteran status or membership in a particular church) or chosen field of study.
Fellowships are like grants and scholarships in that they are gift-based. However, there are other nuances that sometimes make them different from scholarships and grants, especially at the graduate level. For example, some fellowships help students fund specific pursuits related to their academic studies, such as conducting research, attending conferences or completing certain projects.
State based aid
This is financial aid that comes from state funding. Typically, it will include grants and scholarships, many of which will be based on financial need, academic performance or field of study.
Institutional based aid
This is financial aid that comes from the specific school the student is attending. Some of this money can come from private donors or from other public sources, such as the state or federal government. Regardless of the source of funding, they are only available to students attending that particular institution. The eligibility requirements will be school-specific.
Some employers will help pay for their workers to go back to school and earn an advanced degree. The specific terms of the tuition reimbursement plan will vary depending on the particular employer, such as the amount of the funding and the strings attached to it. For example, some employers might require employees to work a certain number of years for them after completing their graduate program.
Assistantships are special positions, often available to graduate students, that provide wages or a stipend in return for some assistance to the school. Two common types of assistantships include teaching assistants and research assistants. These not only allow schools and programs to save money on their labor costs, but also provide excellent learning opportunities for graduate students who get to share their knowledge and learn more about their academic field of study. Read more about Graduate Assistantships.
Work study is a program where students can work part-time jobs to help pay for school. But what makes work study different than the average part-time job is that they’re usually awarded based on the financial need of the student and the jobs tend to be tailored to the student’s area of study. Most work study programs are funded by both the school and federal government.
Examples of Financial Aid Opportunities for Online Master’s Programs
What kind of scholarships, grants and other forms of gift-based aid are out there?
Here’s a small sampling of what’s potentially available.
Offered by Suburban Hospital, this scholarship program is for nonemployees who are accepted or enrolled in an advanced practice nursing program. Employees may also apply, but only if they are studying in a field where there is an identifiable need at Suburban Hospital.
Jewish Family and Children’s Services has education grants and subsidized loans available. Applicants must be Jewish, demonstrate community involvement and be permanent residents of San Francisco or the surrounding areas.
Fastweb is one of the most popular sources of learning about paying for college, and for good reason. It also has information about choosing the right school and finding a part-time job to help pay for school.
When it comes to learning about financial aid awards, especially those offered by the federal government, the Federal Students Aid website is the number one place to get information. This also includes information on completing the FAFSA®.
Peterson’s primary goal is to help students get into the school of their dreams. That means this website is home to various entrance exam prep resources and a scholarship list with more than $10 billion in potential scholarship awards.
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