Studies have found that on average, college graduates earn 65% more than high school graduates. Statistics also show that college graduates historically receive better employment benefits. When you look at these numbers, it's relatively clear that a college education is an investment in one's future.
As much as you may want to complete tertiary education, the logistics can be hard – especially when you are returning to school to finish a degree.
Going to college online can make the logistics a lot easier – with online colleges, you can enjoy flexible study schedules, as well as cheaper tuition costs. Online college enrollment is also ideal if you are restricted in your choices by geographical location.
Before you begin applying, there are a few things you must know to get prepped to kickstart your education goals.
1. How to Find the Best Online Colleges
Although online colleges offer a practical and cost-effective route to a degree, online college degrees and certifications often come with a stigma – so it's important that you choose an accredited and well-acclaimed online college from which to get your degree.
Additionally, although one of the benefits of online colleges is lower fees, the cheapest options are not necessarily the best choices.
When looking for the best online college for your needs, you might want to start by using a college finder tool. From there you can research potential options and reach out to individual colleges to find out more about their programs.
2. How to Apply for an Education Grant for an Online Degree
Most of us don't have the cash to pay in full for college tuition out of pocket, even in the case of cost-effective solutions such as online colleges.
If you are looking for ways to make your college education affordable, you should first start by looking into government grants. Depending on your age, income level and location, there may be a number of grants that you can apply for, and many need not be repaid under certain circumstances.
To apply for most grants, you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. This application will determine whether or not you are eligible. It will also automatically enter you for consideration for a Pell Grant, as well as other federal grants.
You may be eligible to receive thousands of dollars, depending on various factors such as what other financial assistance you are receiving as well as your income. This grant may not need to be repaid, unless specific conditions apply, such as withdrawal from the college program.
There are also state, corporate, departmental and other grants that you can apply for. To find out more about state grants you can take a look at this grant application resource.
3. How to Get Scholarships for Online Students
Another form of financial assistance you can pursue is scholarships. Scholarships and grants are closely related, as both assist you financially with tuition costs and both do not need to be paid back in most circumstances.
The criteria for qualifying varies between the two. Grants are usually need-based, meaning your chances of qualifying increase if your income is low. Scholarships are performance-based and your chances of qualifying are largely based on your academic history.
But scholarships aren't only for straight-A students – other types of academic involvement such as leadership roles and sporting ability can also count towards the chances of being awarded a scholarship.
Some scholarship providers aren't yet willing to provide funds for online education, which means that you might need to do a little digging in order to find online-college-friendly scholarships. A great place to start is by utilizing a scholarship search engine, such as ScholarshipOwl.
Most of these tools will allow you to refine your search result criteria to find scholarship programs that are best suited to your situation.
4. Refinancing Home Loans to Fund Your Online College Education
Another option that some people use to pay for college is a home mortgage refinance.
In some instances, if your credit score is high enough, you may be able to refinance your home loan, which will then free up extra income each month to put towards your tuition.
With a "cash-out" refinance you may also receive a lump sum amount.
While refinancing can sound like an attractive option, take note that if you receive a lump sum this will erode your home equity. If you refinance for longer terms with lower payments, this can effectively increase the interest that you pay over the lifetime of the loan.
Because of this, home loan refinancing should be considered carefully when it comes to paying for college fees—unless you are not taking a lump sum and are sticking with a similar repayment term.
5. Where to Apply for a Student Loan for Online College
Like home refinancing, taking out a loan to pay for college tuition should be a last resort.
If you have to take out a loan, your first port of call should be the federal government. Federal student loans have much lower rates of interest, better terms, and better borrower protections than loans from private lenders.
Take note that you will need to fill out a FAFSA before applying for a federal student loan. Students can borrow up to $5,500, and students with heightened financial need may be eligible to borrow subsidized loans. These loans do not accrue interest until after graduation.
Now You Know How to Go to College Online, the Smart Way
College degrees are more accessible thanks to the lower fees and flexible study schedules. If you pick the right college and get smart with your education funding, making your career dreams a reality doesn't have to feel out of reach.
A college education can facilitate both a fulfilling career path and higher earning power.