Consider This Before You Pay for an Online Degree

Make sure you know the ins and outs of degree finances before you commit.

Coursera now offers roughly 100 free online education courses from 16 colleges and universities.

Coursera now offers roughly 100 free online courses from 16 colleges and universities.

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5. Loans: Online learners, like traditional students, have borrowing options. McQueary at the College of St. Scholastica, for one, uses a Stafford loan to pay for his online course materials. 

If you'll be using loans to help finance your degree, keep in mind that experts recommend you exhaust all federal loans first before turning to private options. Continue to plan carefully so you don't borrow more than you need, U.S. University's Finaly recommends. 

6. Scholarships and grants: There tend to not be as many scholarships for online learners as there are for traditional learners, but some opportunities do exist. Institutions including the University of Illinois—Springfield report to U.S. News that they offer scholarships, grants, fellowships, or assistantships to distance learners.  

Online learners with financial need are also eligible for federal grants such as the Pell, which funds up to $5,550 a year for the neediest students. Just like traditional students, distance learners must complete the FAFSA in order to receive any federal aid. The 2012-2013 version has been available since January 1. 

[Try these six ways to find more money for college.] 

7. The big picture: Though costs can add up, earning an online degree from an accredited institution may be especially worth it if allows you to achieve higher levels of education while continuing to earn a salary. 

"When you're thinking about the cost, you shouldn't only be thinking about the actual out-of-pocket costs, but the opportunity cost of pursuing one thing over another thing," NYU's Bongiovanni says. "By that calculation, I think online ed does really well. You do have a lot more flexibility." 

Trying to fund your online education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Online Education center.


Corrected on 1/10/12: An earlier version of this story misidentified the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies and Tom Finaly.