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The Facts on Financing Your Distance Education

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The number of students following the distance education path is increasing every year. It's easy to understand why: No commute, no mysterious four-hour "labs", flexible scheduling, self-paced learning, and specialized training courses are just a few perks of the distance education model.

But for the distance learning newcomer, it's not always easy to figure out how the getting-started process works. And for many, one pressing question in particular looms large:

How do you finance a distance education? What options are available to you?

Our aim here is to eliminate confusion and give you a firm grasp on how to finance your off-campus venture.

Depending on the course of study you choose, there are three ways to cover your distance education needs:

1. Federal and State Grants & Loans for Accredited Schools

If you're taking online courses through a traditional college campus, you're in luck: most institutions grant equal financing priveleges to online learners and campus-based students. Contact the financial aid office at your school to discuss your options or check the school's website. If you get the green light, you'll be required to file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid - or FAFSA - on the web at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov to determine your financial aid eligibility. The FAFSA is the application for federal and state grants, loans, or work-study.

You can file your FAFSA electronically by securing a Deparment of Education PIN number at http://www.pin.ed.gov/PINWebApp/pinindex.jsp. You can also file online without a PIN number and print, sign, and mail the signature page to your school's admissions office. Alternatively, you may file electronically without a PIN number, and the Department of Education will send you a Student Aid Report (SAR) to sign and return.

Once your FAFSA is filled out and processed, you'll receive a letter in the mail or via email detailing your financial aid breakdown. Part of it may be awarded through state grants that do not need to be repaid. The remaining balance may be covered by students loans. Student loans typically offer a very low interest rate and offer you the flexibility to postpone payments until after you've completed your study program.

If you're attending an accredited school, you can also take advantage of the many local and nationwide grants and scholarships available to any campus-based student. Check out the free Fastweb Scholarship Search at http://www.fastweb.com

2. Scholarships For Non-Accredited Schools

Many distance education programs are not accredited by the state or federal government. They may, however, be accredited by private institutions that fulfill the personal credibility or licensing needs of course graduates. For example:

- An interior decorating course accredited by the New York Board of Education and meriting an Interior Decorating Certificate upon completion.

- A specialized holistic medicine program offering B.A., N.D., or PhD degrees, accredited by the American Naturopathic Medical Certification and Accreditation Board.

Because state-funded grant and loan programs don't recognize schools not accredited by the state government, the "free money" from the FAFSA program is not available to cover the coursework.

However, many non-accredited distance learning programs offer scholarships exclusive to enrolled students. Check out your school's website or request a free catalog for information on private scholarship competitions.

3. Pay Out of Pocket

Your final option for distance learning funding is to pay for course and book expenses out-of-pocket. You'll likely find that this solution will only be necessary when enrolling in a private program not accredited by the state. Always check the school catalog, brochures, or admissions advisor to ensure you're not overlooking scholarship opportunities.

If none are available, check the website or talk with an admissions counselor about a monthly payment option. Most distance education programs make a great effort to be flexible in helping you achieve your goals.

Now that you clearly understand your financing options, you're free to move ahead into making it happen.

Whether your financing situation seems like a brightly-lit path or an overwhelming predicament, continue to pursue your educational goals if they're important to you! Where there's a will, there's always a way. Do what must be done to achieve your aspirations. The cost and effort will seem insignificant when you're holding a much-deserved diploma in your hand.
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