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Pursuing a certificate or degree can cost a lot of money, but it’s usually money well spent. On average, people with undergraduate and graduate degrees make more money than those without them. However, getting back into school may seem like an insurmountable task — especially when you consider the costs involved.

How do you do it? Most adult students tackle this problem by balancing a job, a family, and personal obligations with part-time college classes funded wholly or in part with federal student aid. And thanks to computer technology and changing regulations, many of them are able to attend classes via the Internet without ever having to leave the house.

Federal financial aid as an online student

Even as an online student, most of your financial aid will probably come from the federal government in the form of need-based aid such as: grants, which may include the federal Pell grant, FSEOG, or other grant options; federal work-study programs; and loans.

You can access up-to-date information about federal financial aid programs at the U.S. Department of Education’s Web site, www.studentaid.ed.gov, or by calling 1-800-4-FEDAID. You’ll see that much of what is available to non-traditional students is similar, if not identical, to the resources available to traditional students.

Are you eligible for federal student aid?

Financial need is just one criterion used to determine whether or not you are eligible to receive federal aid from the government. You must also:

  • Have a high school diploma or GED (or pass a test approved by the Department of Education)
  • Be enrolled in a degree or certificate program
  • Be enrolled in an eligible institution (see below)
  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Have a Social Security number
  • Register with the Selective Service, if required
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress once you are in school

Is the school eligible for federal student aid?

In order to receive federal financial aid for their students, online learning programs must meet criteria established by Congress and be accredited as a legitimate recipient of these funds. Fortunately, the number of eligible online and distance learning schools recently got a boost from Congress when it dissolved what was known as the “50-percent rule.” By doing so, schools that have more than 50 percent of their classes online may now be able to receive federal student aid as long as they receive their accreditation. This ruling increases the educational opportunities available to non-traditional students by making federal aid available to schools that previously were not eligible.

To make sure that the school you’re interested in is eligible to participate in federal financial aid programs, just call them and ask. Be specific about your proposed course of study when you make your inquiries — schools have the discretion to exclude specific programs so make sure the school disperses federal aid to students enrolled in the one that interests you.

Find the aid you need

If you’ve been considering getting your degree via Internet classes, chances are now better than ever that there is financial aid available to help you do it! You may be eligible for a federal Pell grant, an FSEOG, or federal work-study programs, so be sure to explore all your options. The federal government recognizes both the validity of distance learning programs and the increasing number of students in need of them.