Financial Aid for Your Online Degree Program: How Does It Work?

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Category: Value of Education

By Matt Rowley
Posted on

Pursuing an academic degree is an important life decision. It’s a significant investment in time and money, and knowing how to get the most value out of your college experience can go a long way.

If you’re weighing the pros and cons of attending an online school, you may be wondering if financial aid is available.  The answer is yes. In this article, we provide a breakdown of financial aid for degrees earned online, including the application process, different types of aid, and more.

Getting Started

Paying for school, and everything that goes along with it, can certainly be stressful for any student. In the ninth annual Online College Students research report published by Wiley Education Services in 2020, survey respondents reported that completing financial aid forms and determining how to pay for school were the two most difficult parts of the enrollment process.

When picking a college, research how helpful a school is when guiding students through the financial aid process. Here at Columbia Southern University, we take great care in helping students navigate how to apply for federal aid and accessing our many other ways to save.

Understanding the FAFSA

To qualify for many types of aid – whether you attend a school online or in-person – you’ll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, commonly known as the FAFSA.

You can begin filling out your FAFSA on October 1 of the year prior to enrollment. Federal student aid is available for everyone, not just recent high school graduates. Your answers on the FAFSA form will determine whether you are considered a dependent or independent student, which will impact whose financial information you’ll need to provide and, ultimately, the amount of aid you’ll receive.

  • If you are considered a dependent student for FAFSA purposes, you’ll need to provide your parents’ financial information.
  • If you are considered an independent student, you won’t need to include your parents’ financial information.
  • If you are married, you’ll need to provide your spouse’s financial information.

Types of Financial Aid

The FAFSA is only one tool for finding financial aid. There are plenty of other opportunities available, including grants, scholarships, loans and more. Here's a quick breakdown of some of the most common types:


Think of grants as an investment in your future on behalf of an organization providing the funds. Grants normally don't require repayment. If you withdraw or fail to meet a requirement, however, you may have to pay back the grant.

To check your eligibility and requirements for various grants, check out the grant programs available from the Department of Education.


Most schools offer unique scholarships to current and prospective students. For example, here at CSU, we offer the Hero Behind the Hero Scholarship for family members of active-duty military, National Guard or public safety personnel. Be sure to research scholarships offered by your school of choice to find one that matches your eligibility.

Related: 5 CSU Scholarships for Online College Students


When you receive a student loan, you are agreeing to repay the amount with interest in the future. While rumored legislation may discuss widespread student loan forgiveness, there’s nothing in the way of certainty around the matter, so don’t take any loans you won’t be able to pay back.

Subsidized loans are available for students demonstrating financial need. Unsubsidized loans can be given to any eligible student regardless of their financial situation. Interest rates vary by loan type and amount, so pay attention to the details before agreeing to a student loan.


In addition to the traditional types of financial aid, online schools often use creative ways to add more savings for their students. At CSU, textbooks are included, and we can ship them to Army Post Office or Fleet Post Office locations. We’re also proud of our Learning Partner program that provides discounts and other benefits to employees of specific organizations.

To learn more about our online degree programs at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels, visit our website.

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