The most common way students pay for their education is by taking out loans. Online students who attend accredited schools can apply for the same types of loans as traditional students. Loans will be taken out in the name of the parent or student, and the borrower will be required to pay back the money, with interest, over a long period of time. There are loans from the federal government and private lenders. Students should opt for government loans first, as the interest rates are usually lower and repayment plans more flexible.
Online students can search for federal financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships and loans. Federal Stafford loans are provided to many students, and the government pays the interest, so students need pay back only the original amounts. Other types of grants and programs include Federal Pell Grants, which are awarded based on need; Federal Work-Study, which allows students to work for their schools and have the amount they earn matched by the federal government and put toward loans; and Federal PLUS Loans, which allow parents to apply for student loans at a lower rate.
To apply for federal financial aid, students must complete and submit the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. All incoming students should submit a FAFSA. Even if they do not receive "free" money—such as grants and scholarships—from the government, many students are eligible to receive federal subsidized loans, which are much more beneficial than private loans. To submit a FAFSA, go to Fafsa.ed.gov.
Many students also receive scholarships, awards of free money that must be used for education and do not need to be paid back. Scholarships are provided by individuals, organizations and educational institutions. Students can sometimes be awarded scholarships just by applying for financial aid with their schools. Other students seek out scholarships and apply for them independently.