How to Pay For Online College

By LeeMarie Kennedy · August 01, 2023 · 7 minute read

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How to Pay For Online College

More and more people are considering degrees from accredited schools with “distance learning” options. These prospective students might be wondering how much these colleges cost compared to in-person options, how credible these online degrees are, what steps should be taken to apply to them, and whether there are options for student loans or financial aid.

The short answer: online degrees are increasingly credible, competitively priced, have a similar application process as in-person colleges, and can be paid for with a wide range of financial aid, federal student loans, and even private student loan options. In fact, some might even pay you to attend.

A Little Bit About Distance Learning

Online college falls under the umbrella of “distance learning”—a form of education conducted outside the traditional in-person classroom and facilitated with the use of several different tools and technologies. Many distance learning programs allow students to complete courses in an “asynchronous” format, aka at their own pace and on their own schedule.

Some online colleges also incorporate “synchronous” learning methods like virtual classrooms and video conferencing for meeting during a designated class time. Depending on which format a student chooses, they can create their own online learning experience as part of their college education.

How Credible Are Online Degrees?

In previous decades, the jury may have been mixed on whether online degrees were considered as credible as their in-person counterparts. But with the advancement of global technology and the onset of digital transformation, online colleges have become more widely recognized as institutions of high-quality education.

According to Northeastern University’s Online Education survey, 61% of HR leaders believe online college credentials are equally credible as those completed in-person. This included both degrees and certificates.

How Much Does The Average Online College Cost?

According to the U.S. News & World Report, the average cost of tuition for an online bachelor’s degree program is $40,491. For in-state students attending public online colleges, the average cost for a bachelor’s degree is $38,496. For out-of-state students, the cost is $54,183. And online bachelor’s degrees from private colleges cost an average of $60,593.

This, of course, is simply the average. In some cases, online college can cost even more than in-person programs. And, in other cases, online colleges can actually pay students to attend (more on that below).

How Do I Apply For Online College?

The process of applying to an online college is similar to that of a traditional in-person college or university. Depending on which school the prospective student chooses, there should be detailed application and enrollment instructions on the website.

Each college will have its own unique admissions policies and application instructions, with some adhering to set application deadlines and others offering “rolling admissions” where students can apply at any time.

Researching deadlines and requirements in advance can be a prudent way to approach the online college application process and provide exactly what the admissions team wants.

Are There No-Cost Online Colleges?

Yes. There are a few colleges and universities that offer tuition-free online classes with a variety of work study programs, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid. A few of those institutions include:

•   Alice Lloyd College
•   Arizona State University
•   Barclay College
•   Brown University
•   City College of San Francisco
•   College of the Ozarks
•   Community College of Rhode Island
•   Curtis Institute of Music
•   Deep Springs College
•   Louisiana Free Tuition

How Do I Pay For College If I Have No Money?

There are several ways to pay for college, even if the applicant has little-to-no means of funding:

•   Applying for scholarships is one way to pay for online college without having any money. There are several resources available for prospective college students seeking scholarships and, unlike student loans, repayment is not required.
•   Financial aid helps prospective students secure funds for online college in the form of grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and federal student loans.
•   Getting an extra gig could be a great way to accumulate some extra cash to subsidize online college costs.
•   Prospective students can see if they qualify for a private student loan online. Once they’ve applied for a student loan for online college, there are many different student loan repayment options to help them tackle the tuition debt on their own terms.

Are There Student Loans For Online Schools?

When online education first began, student loans weren’t offered by the government to cover their costs. But today, federal student loans are offered for online colleges that are accredited by the US Department of Education. Contacting the university’s financial aid office prior to enrollment is the best way to check on eligibility.

Outside of federal student loans, private student loans are another way to potentially pay for online college. With private student loans, each lender will have their own eligibility requirements, terms and conditions, and borrowers must agree to these parameters and complete on-time payments to avoid any fees or penalties associated with account delinquency. Still, there are several smart ways to pay off student loans as well as student loan refinancing options if the loan’s interest rates are unreasonably high.

What About Online Colleges That Accept FAFSA?

If you’re wondering, does FAFSA® cover online classes?, the answer is yes. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) allows prospective students to apply for financial aid for online classes much like they would an in-person university. All they have to do is fill out the form online, print and mail a paper copy, or request a paper copy be sent by mail and returned.

What Types of Federal Student Loans are Available For Online College?

Prospective students might consider consulting with their online college’s financial aid office before deciding which type of federal student loan to apply for, but many students opt for one of the following types of Federal Direct student loans:

•  Federal Direct Subsidized loans help students who qualify for financial need and are attending traditional four year colleges or universities, community colleges, or technical schools. The federal government will pay the loan’s interest while the borrower is in school, during the six-month grace period after graduation, and in the event of student loan deferment.
•  Federal Direct Unsubsidized loans help undergraduate, graduate, and professional school students cover college costs without requiring a demonstration of financial need. However, borrowers are responsible for paying back all the interest accrued on the loan from the time they start attending college onward (although they aren’t required to start making payments until after they graduate).
•  Direct PLUS loans are unsubsidized loans issued for graduate or professional students as well as parents of undergraduate students who are helping them pay for college.
•  Direct Consolidation loans are a way to combine different federal student loans into one single loan so the borrower can commit to one monthly payment under one loan servicer.

How Can I Get Private Student Loans?

For prospective students seeking an alternative to federally-backed student loans, a private student loan is another way to pay for online college. Depending on the lender, there are several options for interest rates, terms, conditions. And in certain circumstances where borrowers have difficulty paying back the private student loan, negotiations might be made with the lender for deferment, forbearance and even refinancing.

With SoFi Private Student Loans, paying for online college just got a whole lot more convenient. Qualifying borrowers can get competitive rates, apply easily online, find flexible repayment options, avoid pesky fees, and get exclusive members-only rate discounts.

The Takeaway

Online college is a form of distance education that allows students to engage in self-regulated learning and acquire a degree outside the traditional in-person university setting. Degrees from online college degrees are considered increasingly credible by employers and HR leaders.

There are several student loan and financial aid options for online college attendees, including federally-backed student loans, financial aid, scholarships, work-study programs, grants and private student loans.

SoFi Private Student Loans help people pay for school with a simple online application process, no hidden fees, exclusive rate discounts and flexible repayment options that fit their budget.

Learn more about private student loans offered by SoFi.

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