By law, universities that accept federal aid are required to refund students up to a certain point, experts say. The longer students postpone their decision to withdraw from a course or program, the less likely it is that they will get their money back.
Students planning to withdraw from a course or a program need to locate what is essentially the school's terms of service as fast as possible, says Phillips, of GetEducated.com. Dropout policies are typically outlined in the school's catalog, which is often online, she says.
If students can't find the right person to help, they should contact the financial services or bursar's office, she says. That person is likely to know the process for getting reimbursed.
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Once students have found the correct contact, Phillips suggests putting withdrawal requests in writing so that they can document when they started the process. Faxing is fine, she says. Emailing is not, because often the messages get lost in someone's inbox.
"People tend to think of colleges in a positive way; we tend to trust them," she says. "Students don't think the way they would if they bought a bad car, but yet they might be paying three to four times more for the degree than for the car."
Campo, of Regent University, echoes Phillips' recommendation that students feeling unsatisfied with their courses act fast. From the studies he's read, he says it seems most students can sense a poor quality class right away.
"You don't want to spend time or money in a relationship that isn't rewarding," he says. "Have an exit strategy."
Trying to fund your online education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Online Education center.