The Transfer Student’s Guide to Financial Aid

Few of today's undergraduate students are lucky enough to be attending college on their parents' dime; nearly all receive some form of financial assistance. Putting a workable financial aid package together can be a daunting task, especially for students seeking to transfer to a new online school. This resource should alleviate your concerns by providing a thorough overview of your aid options as an online transfer student.

As with every other academic institution, tuition costs at online institutions vary as widely as the choice of majors. Aside from the obvious lack of room-and-board fees, students who are transferring from a traditional brick-and-mortar school to an online school can expect some consistency among financial variables.

All postsecondary schools charge tuition rates by the credit hour; a standard associate degree requires 30 hours of classes, while a bachelor's degree requires 120. Online programs affiliated with brick-and-mortar universities usually cost about the same amount as their corresponding on-campus programs.

For example, the University of Minnesota charges $463.85 per credit hour for residents and $665.77 for out-of-state students. Distance learning programs are billed at the in-state hourly rate, regardless where the student resides. Extra fees for technology, texts, and study materials are not included.

For-profit online schools, which are not affiliated with brick-and-mortar universities, are often more expensive per credit hour. It's important to remember, though, that these are not apples-to-apples comparisons. A for-profit school usually has a different fee structure than a traditional university; for example, some might include the cost of study materials and textbooks in their fees.

A common mistake that students make is to focus only on the cost per hour for any school, but there are numerous other fees attached to every tuition bill. Calculating the net price of a completed degree program provides a much clearer comparison among schools.

Any student enrolled in a properly accredited online degree program is entitled to the same financial aid options as students who attend classes on a traditional campus. Common sources of financial aid for undergraduates include:

  • Federal Student Aid: Every family should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for each family member in college. This application is need-based, and will be used to award federal grants such as the Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant, and the Academic Competitiveness Grant. Individual states may also award grant funding based on the FAFSA. The FAFSA also qualifies families for government-backed loan funding at a federal or state level. This allows families to take out loans that are partially subsidized by the government and repaid at a lower interest rate than personal loans.
  • Scholarships: Individual schools offer scholarships to students based on financial need, academic performance or commitment to athletics. University scholarships are awarded by the school's predetermined criteria and do not have to be paid back. Private scholarships are also available to students who are willing to take the time to research and apply for them. Many students take advantage of small scholarships provided by local groups to help make ends meet. Professional organizations, private companies and large service associations also offer private scholarships.
  • Private Loans: These are funds borrowed at a competitive interest rate from financial institutions that are partnered with colleges and universities. Students or their parents may take out these loans, which will be paid at a higher interest rate than federally subsidized loans.

Other methods of tuition reduction are available. Employer tuition reimbursement, tax credits, veterans and active military benefits, and proficiency exams that grant credit hours are all viable ways to reduce the cost of your education.

Researching financial aid can be overwhelming. The Open Education Database (OEDb) financial aid portal is a comprehensive one-stop shopping financial aid resource. Providing information on grants, scholarships, and loans, the website offers great detail about eligibility requirements, usage, and application information. Financial aid information is sorted by degree level, major, ethnicity and location; it even contains information pertinent to specialty groups like single mothers.

The key to getting the best financial aid package is research. Put in the time now to find every scholarship, grant and loan available to you, and you'll save money and time in the long run.