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Financial aid myths, busted

Judi Sandall, May 7, 2007

So you're working full-time and you want to go back to school- online- to finish your bachelor's degree or start your master's degree. Or maybe you've been thinking about getting your Java certification and applying for a promotion. You know an online education is going to cost you- and you've heard that you won't be able to get any financial assistance. Not true. Let's debunk some of the myths surrounding financial aid.

Myth: I Earn Too Much to Get Financial Aid

It's true that the bulk of federal and institutional financial aid goes to students from low-income families. That doesn't mean that as a non-traditional student already in the work force, you are not eligible for any aid.

Eligibility for aid is based on income and asset information you submit on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), how many people are in your household, and the cost of your online educational program. You might just be eligible for an educational loan with a low interest rate and more favorable loan forgiveness, consolidation, and repayment options than a private loan. You can apply free online, and it's certainly worth your time to find out if you might be eligible for other types of aid. Contact your financial aid office to learn more.

Myth: I Can't Get Financial Aid for Online Education

More schools are offering degree and certificate programs online and more non-traditional students are taking advantage of the convenience of this online education. In response to this changing educational trend, the federal government recently enacted legislation that makes more federal aid available for online programs and more online programs eligible for funding. Some types of aid do have specific enrollment requirements- enrollment in a degree or certificate program or enrollment at least half time- but aid is available to study online.

Myth: I Can't Get Financial Aid if I Don't Attend Full-Time

Aid is definitely available for part-time study. Grant aid is generally prorated for enrolling less than full-time, but part-time students can obtain full educational loan funding if they are attending at least half time. Some private lending institutions also have continuing education loans for students attending less than half time.

In additional to applying for need-based aid and educational loans, you may want to research merit-based scholarships for which you might be eligible, or Internal Revenue Service tax benefits for education. Your employer may also offer a tuition reimbursement program that can help defray your online educational costs.

Sources
Department of Education Federal Student Aid
FAFSA on the Web

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