A clear understanding of available financial aid and scholarship avenues is crucial for individuals eager to advance their careers through further education. Read along to gain the financial knowledge needed to successfully chart the course toward professional advancement through online graduate studies.


Piloting the financial landscape of pursuing an online graduate degree can be daunting. Understanding the avenues of financial aid and scholarships becomes crucial for those aspiring to advance their careers through further education.

In this guide, we delve into “Financial Aid and Scholarships for Online Graduate Students,” offering insights and strategies to help individuals overcome the challenges of funding their advanced studies. Whether juggling a full-time job or seeking flexibility in your educational pursuits, this exploration aims to illuminate the path toward securing the financial support needed for a successful online graduate journey.

financial aid for online graduate programs

Table Of Contents

Financing an Online Master’s Program: Getting Started with FAFSA®

Getting on board to finance an online master’s program typically begins with the FAFSA®. This Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the gateway to federal financial assistance, encompassing subsidized and unsubsidized loans and grants for prospective students. While the FAFSA® is commonly associated with undergraduate studies, it is equally imperative for those pursuing master’s programs.

It’s worth noting that beyond federal requirements, many states and individual educational institutions mandate FAFSA® completion for their specific financial aid programs, even if federal aid is not sought. The application deadline for federal financial aid is June 30 of the enrollment year, but students aiming to commence classes in the Fall of 2023 can start their FAFSA® application as early as October 1, the preceding year.

Applicants are strongly advised to complete the FAFSA® promptly upon availability to maximize opportunities. It is pivotal because numerous federal, state, and institutional aid options operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Waiting until the last minute might result in missed opportunities for financial aid that could significantly support the pursuit of an online master’s degree.

Understanding Accreditation: An Important Factor in Financial Aid

One crucial eligibility criterion often stands out when venturing into financial aid: attending an accredited school or program. Accreditation is the rigorous process wherein an independent body reviews a school’s curriculum to ensure it meets a minimum standard of education for its students. 

Accreditation can occur at both the institutional and programmatic levels. For instance, many schools offering graduate programs garner institutional accreditation from a recognized regional and national accrediting body sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Education. Moreover, specific graduate programs might also boast programmatic accreditation. Consider graduate nursing programs, often accredited at the programmatic level by reputable bodies such as the CCNE or the ACEN

A helpful resource is the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to identify accredited institutions and programs. Choosing a school lacking accreditation hampers the possibility of securing financial aid from external sources. Even for those not overly concerned about covering graduate school costs, it is paramount for prospective students to opt for accredited schools. Doing so ensures they reap the full benefits of their hard-earned education. Explore our FAFSA appeals or details about Free Application for Federal Student Aid for further information,

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 financial assistance and an explanation of what they are or how they work.

Public student loans

  • Public student loans are the most common form of student loans, typically funded by the state or federal government. They can be subsidized, with no interest accrual until after graduation, or unsubsidized, with immediate interest accrual.
  • Key Features: Potential benefits include lower interest rates, deferred payments, fixed interest rates, no co-signer requirement, and various income-based repayment plans.

Private student loans

  • Funded by private institutions like banks and credit unions, private student loans often have less favorable terms than public student loans.
  • Key Features: Terms may be less generous, and eligibility requirements are typically stricter.
  • Due to potentially higher costs, weighing the pros and cons when considering private student loans is crucial.

Grants

  • Grants are gift-based financial aid that does not require repayment. They are often awarded based on financial need, mainly when funded by state or federal governments.
  • Note: While “grant” is sometimes used interchangeably with “scholarship,” they technically differ, with grants often focusing on financial need.

*Read our Grants for Graduate School resource for more information on grants.

Scholarships

  • Scholarships, another form of gift-based aid, do not require repayment. They can be awarded based on various criteria, including academic merit, personal traits, or chosen field of study.
  • Scholarships are highly popular and widely accessible, making them a valuable resource for financial assistance.

Fellowships

  • Similar to grants and scholarships, fellowships are gift-based aid. At the graduate level, they may support specific academic pursuits such as research, conference attendance, or project completion.
  • Fellowships often have unique aspects that differentiate them from traditional scholarships and grants.

State based aid

  • Definition: Financial aid provided by state funding, including grants and scholarships. Eligibility criteria may be based on financial need, academic performance, or field of study.
  • State-based aid is vital, with various opportunities tailored to residents or students studying within the state.

Institutional based aid

  • Financial aid is specific to the institution the student is attending. Funding may come from private donors and state or federal sources, but it’s exclusive to students at that institution.

Note: Eligibility requirements are institution-specific, reflecting each school’s unique offerings.

Tuition reimbursement

  • Some employers offer financial assistance for employees pursuing advanced degrees. The terms vary, including the amount of funding and post-graduate employment commitments.
  • Prospective students should review employer-specific reimbursement plans before completing a graduate program.

Assistantships

  • Special positions are often available to graduate students, providing wages or stipends in exchange for assistance to the school. Common types include teaching and research assistantships.
  • Assistantships offer financial support while providing valuable learning opportunities within the student’s academic field.

Work Study

  • Work-study programs allow students to work part-time jobs to help cover educational expenses. Jobs are usually awarded based on financial need and tailored to the student’s study area.
  • Typically funded by the school and federal government, work-study programs provide unique opportunities for students to gain work experience related to their academic pursuits.

Examples of Financial Aid Opportunities for Online Master’s Programs

AAUW International Fellowships

Sponsored by the American Association of University Women, the AAUW International Fellowships provide significant funding, offering up to $30,000 for graduate students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents. These fellowships aim to support and empower international scholars in pursuing advanced education.

AGBU Scholarship Program

Administered by the American Association of University Women, the AGBU Scholarship Program is a noteworthy opportunity for non-U.S. citizen or permanent resident graduate students. With a commitment to fostering global education, this program provides financial support of up to $30,000 to aid students in their academic endeavors.

Agnes Jones Jackson Scholarship

The Agnes Jones Jackson Scholarship targets NAACP members under 25, providing up to $2,000 in financial assistance. Emphasizing financial need, this scholarship aims to support young scholars committed to academic excellence and the mission of the NAACP.

American Nuclear Society Scholarship Program

Exclusive to members, the American Nuclear Society Scholarship Program recognizes and rewards graduate students who exhibit outstanding academic achievements, leadership, and service in nuclear science. This program underscores the importance of contributing to the advancement of nuclear-related studies.

Casey Scholars Program

Suburban Hospital offers the Casey Scholars Program, which focuses on nonemployees accepted or enrolled in advanced practice nursing programs. While employees may also apply, eligibility is contingent upon studying in fields with an identified need at Suburban Hospital. This program aligns with the hospital’s commitment to fostering healthcare professionals in critical areas.

David H. Clift Scholarship

Administered by the American Library Association (ALA), the David H. Clift Scholarship provides a financial boost of $3,000 to students pursuing their MLS degree from an ALA-accredited program. This scholarship emphasizes the importance of education in library sciences and supports aspiring librarians in their academic journey.

Feeding Tomorrow Graduate Scholarships

Sponsored by the Institute of Food Technologists, the Feeding Tomorrow Graduate Scholarships cater to students with a keen interest in the science of food. This scholarship program encourages and supports individuals planning a career in the dynamic field of food science.

JFCS Educational Loans and Grants

Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) offers education grants and subsidized loans for Jewish students who demonstrate community involvement. Applicants must also be permanent residents of San Francisco or the surrounding areas, aligning with JFCS’s commitment to supporting the local Jewish community.

Trent R. Dames and William W. Moore Fellowship

Established in 1990, the Trent R. Dames and William W. Moore Fellowship is designed to assist student members of the American Society of Civil Engineers in financing their graduate study research. This fellowship reflects a commitment to advancing civil engineering through academic support.

Warren/Sanders/McNaughton Oceanographic Scholarship

Sponsored by the Woman’s National Farm and Garden Association, the Warren/Sanders/McNaughton Oceanographic Scholarship provides financial assistance for graduate study in oceanography or a related field. This scholarship underscores the importance of promoting education and research in marine sciences.

Online Masters Colleges (OMC) Scholarships

The Online Masters Colleges (OMC) Scholarships, offered twice a year, include both and Diversity Scholarships. Administered by OMC, these scholarships aim to support a diverse range of graduate students pursuing online master’s programs, emphasizing accessibility and inclusivity in higher education. Explore more about OMC Scholarships for additional details.

Resources for Finding Financial Aid and Scholarships for Grad School

To learn more about the types of financial aid and eligibility for gift-based assistance and scholarships, check out the following list of financial aid resources.

Many of these websites with special financial aid and scholarship search tools will also have advice on applying for them.

CareerOneStop

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, CareerOneStop is an excellent resource for all things career related, including getting an education and finding scholarships.

Cappex

Cappex is a primary online resource for post-secondary education. One of their resources includes a search scholarship database.

Chegg

Chegg.com has a special section for scholarships, primarily for undergraduate programs, but there are some for graduate-level students.

College Board

 The College Board is well-known for the SAT but has excellent resources for finding colleges and financial aid.

College Resource Network

College Resource Network has various resources for parents and students interested in college and graduate school, including a scholarship database with more than $8 billion in available aid.

CollegeScholarships.com

While not as well-known as its .org namesake, CollegeScholarhsips.com has numerous scholarships available for students at any level, from high school to the doctorate.

CollegeScholarships.org

CollegeScholarships.org is one of the most significant online sources of scholarships. Despite its name, this scholarship database has plenty of help for graduate students.

CollegeXpress.com

Students interested in college or graduate school will appreciate CollegeXpress.com’s scholarship and school search tools.

Fastweb

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.

Federal Student Aid

When 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. It also includes information on completing the FAFSA®.

FinAid

FinAid does more than allow users to search for scholarships. It also explains the various forms of financial aid available and offers several financial aid calculators.

GoCollege.com

Most of the advice found on GoCollege.com is tailored for students looking to earn a bachelor’s degree, but their financial aid search tool has a variety of graduate scholarships available.

moolahSPOT

MoolahSPOT has more than $3 million in scholarships and grants available for all levels of post-secondary schooling.

NICHE

NICHE has several search tools to help users find a school, a place to live, or a company to work for. They also have an extensive database of scholarships.

Peterson’s

Peterson’s primary goal is to help students get into the school of their dreams. This website has various entrance exam prep resources and a list of more than $10 billion in potential scholarship awards.

Sallie Mae

SallieMae primarily provides school loans, but that doesn’t stop them from helping students find scholarships with its online search scholarship tool.

Scholarships.com

Scholarships.com is a notable online source of finding scholarships with an extensive and current list of more than $3.7 million in grants and scholarships.

Scholarship Library

The Scholarship Library has a thorough online search tool that allows users to find scholarships based on traits, school, area of study, state, etc.

Unigo

Unigo has a massive online database of scholarships. It allows users to search for scholarships on particular parameters, including only scholarships for graduate students.

US News and World Report (USNWR)

When it comes to colleges and universities, USNWR is famous for its rankings. But it’s also an excellent resource for finding schools and learning more about financial aid.

Scholarships For Women

A list of scholarships that are available for women from several sources.

Scholarships For Disabled Students

A list of scholarships that are available for students with disabilities, along with a list of colleges that are disability friendly.

African American Scholarships

A list of scholarships for African American students.

Graduate Assistantships

Find out all about Graduate Assistantships.

FAFSA for Graduate School

Discover that graduate school students are eligible to apply for FAFSA! Explore our School guide to understand the application details in-depth.

Grants for Graduate School

There are plenty of Grants available for Graduate School. Read our guide about Graduate School Grants.

While looking for financial aid or scholarships, it is essential to know that there are a lot of scholarship scams. Read our resources on scholarship scams to understand how to avoid them

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