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College Scholarships for Online Students
Learn about scholarship opportunities for online students, top schools that offer them, and how to maximize your chances of winning.
Last Updated: 02/06/2022
You’ve done the research, weighed your options, ran it by friends and family (and a few internet strangers), and have finally come to a decision: You’re going to earn your dream college degree or credential, and you’re going to do it online. The next step is figuring out which colleges to apply to and, just as importantly, how you’re going to pay for it. Online programs often come out cheaper than traditional degrees when all is said and done, but you’ll still need to have a solid plan in place for funding your education.
And while you may end up needing to fall back on student loans or other financial aid, your first step should be looking and applying for scholarships. As an online student, you’re eligible for more scholarships than you might think, and there are more and more scholarships being specifically created for students enrolled in distance-learning programs. In this guide, you’ll learn where to find online student scholarships (including those in public service fields where you can make a difference), how to successfully apply for them, and much more. Start your scholarship search below and get the help you deserve paying for college.
Types of Scholarships for Online College Students
When you start searching for scholarships, you’ll find two main types for online students. The first type is scholarships open to students in both online and traditional on-campus degree programs. The second type is scholarships available to students in online programs only. It may not seem like much of a distinction, but there are pros and cons to each type, which is why it’s an excellent idea to apply to a mixture of both.
Standard Scholarships Online Students May Be Eligible For
Standard scholarships are open, but not exclusive, to online students. These types of scholarships are the most plentiful, as they are offered by a wide range of sponsors including professional associations, nonprofit organizations, special interest groups, and individual benefactors. Standard scholarships are typically awarded based on distinct requirements such as specific major, academic merit, financial need, and other precise applicant demographics. But as long as they meet all award eligibility requirements, online students can apply for them. There are some scholarships out there that specifically exclude students in online programs. Be sure to read the fine print regarding eligibility carefully.
Here are some of the main benefits and drawbacks of standard scholarships:
Learn more about scholarship opportunities you may be eligible for as an online student below:
Scholarships Exclusively for Online Students
Scholarships offered exclusively to online students are fewer in number and usually (but not always) limited to students at a particular college or in a specific major field of study at that college. These scholarships are almost always school-sponsored and offered as a way to promote online programs and boost enrollment figures.
Top Colleges Offering Scholarships for Their Online Students
Many colleges with online degree programs offer institutional scholarships for which their online and on-campus students are eligible. Some online colleges and schools with particularly large online programs sponsor scholarship opportunities that are exclusive to their online students. This is valuable to those pursuing their degrees online since scholarships sponsored by outside organizations rarely limit their programs to distance learners. Below are five major online schools offering such scholarship opportunities to their students, along with examples of some of the scholarships available.
Colorado State University Global
As part of the Colorado State University System, CSU Global offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in over a dozen majors that can be earned 100% online. To provide financial support to its students, CSU Global sponsors eight exclusive scholarships, each with its own purpose (continuing education, career enhancement), emphasis (academic excellence, community leadership ), or specific student base (military personnel and their families, students with financial hardship). Here’s a closer look at one of the school’s standout scholarships.
Kansas State Global Campus
Kansas State University’s online program, known as the K-State Global Campus, offers over 100 degree (associate through doctoral) and certificate programs in 16 major areas of study. In addition, K-State currently offers 16 different scholarships specifically designated for its Global Campus students. Most of these scholarships are exclusive to students in particular degree programs, colleges, and departments. A few others are open to all K-State Global Campus students meeting some other stated criteria such as academic merit, degree completion, military spouse, etc. Here’s a detailed look at one of the school’s top scholarships for online students.
Penn State World Campus
Founded in 1998, the Penn State World Campus boasts one of the largest online postsecondary education presences in the world, with over 150 undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs in more than a dozen in-demand fields. Scholarships are available exclusively for first-time and returning World Campus undergraduate students through both the World Campus Student Fund and World Campus Scholarships programs. There are currently no scholarships offered by the World Campus exclusively for its graduate-level students, but scholarship opportunities for World Campus grad students may be found through the Penn State Graduate School or the specific degree program’s office.
Washington State University Global Campus
Another school with a strong online footprint, the Washington State University Global Campus currently offers 21 undergraduate and 13 graduate degrees, the majority of which can be completed 100% online. Online undergraduate and graduate certificates, as well as special education and reading teaching endorsements, are also available. WSU Global Campus students are eligible to apply for numerous WSU university-wide scholarships, as well as Global Campus-exclusive scholarships through two programs: the ASWSU Global Scholarships and the ASWSU Global Internship Scholarships.
Western Governors University
The fully online Western Governors University offers dozens of bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the fields of business, healthcare, IT, and teaching, along with WGU-exclusive scholarships to match. Awards are competitive and open to new WGU students and returning WGU graduates. In some cases, WGU has partnered with outside organizations such as the Red Cross, AmeriCorps, and the Western Association of Food Chains and other educational institutions such as Brigham Young University, Harper College, and partner community colleges to sponsor these scholarships. Award amounts vary by scholarship but are typically between $2,000 and $5,000 each.
Scholarships for Online Students in Popular Public Service Majors
There are two categories of scholarships that online public service students should be looking for. The first is made up of scholarships offered to students pursuing a degree in a particular public service field, like criminal justice, social work, public health, public administration, or teaching. These public service scholarships are sponsored by a wide range of sources, most commonly professional associations or service organizations directly connected to a specific public service field, and are typically not exclusive to students in online programs.
The second category consists of institutional scholarships awarded by colleges and universities themselves or in partnership with an outside organization specifically for their online students but also designated for students enrolled in a public service field degree program. Schools sponsor such scholarships to encourage and increase enrollment and to demonstrate their dedication to their online programs and students. Scholarships of this type are less common but may be easier to secure due to fewer applicants competing for them.
Criminal Justice Scholarships for Online Students
Cyber Security Scholarships for Online Students
Emergency Management/Fire Science Scholarships for Online Students
Public Administration Scholarships for Online Students
Public Health Scholarships for Online Students
Social Work Scholarships for Online Students
Teaching/Education Scholarships for Online Students
How to Win a Scholarship Step-by-Step as an Online Student
There are a limited number of cases where scholarships are not competitive, but those programs are few and far between. It’s essential that you put all your efforts into applying for the scholarships that can make the most substantial impact on your college education. That doesn’t mean getting burnt out by applying to any and every scholarship program you run into. In fact, it’s best to develop an effective strategy for locating and applying to the scholarships you have the best chance of winning. Here are six steps you can take to help you do just that.
Put Together Your Plan
Not just for scholarships, but one that encompasses all financial aid options, including student loans, internships, work-study, and others. Unless you’re independently wealthy, you’re going to need to put together a package of funding resources to pay for your degree program.See below for more on additional sources to help pay for college.
Fill Out Your FAFSA
FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. If you intend to apply for any form of government student aid — federal or state — you’ll definitely be submitting a FAFSA application. What you might not know is that many scholarship programs, especially school-sponsored ones, use your FAFSA information to help determine your award eligibility. To learn more aboutFAFSA and other financial aid options, check out theGetting Financial Aid for Your Public Service Degree guide.
Get Going and Check Everywhere
Hunting for scholarships is going to take effort and patience. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources for locating great scholarship opportunities, including online search engines dedicated to helping you find them. Be sure to take advantage of any one-on-one help you have access to, such as high school and college financial aid counselors. If you or your family have any affiliations with clubs, groups, employers, religious organizations, etc., check to see if they offer scholarships to their members. And remember: the earlier you start the hunt, the better.
Clean Up Your Online Presence
If you’re active on social media, there’s bound to be information on you out there that’s accessible to practically everyone, including scholarship selection committees. Go over your accounts carefully to remove any posts that may be offensive or less than flattering. But remember, even if you delete something, it stays on the internet forever.
Scholarships are competitive and you must find a way to set yourself apart from your competition. You probably won’t be able to do that with the application form itself, but you can with exceptional personal statements and essays. Put a real effort into their content and make sure your spelling and grammar are perfect. Have a trusted person who knows you read them over. It’s always good to have another set of eyes looking at your applications. Most importantly, use your statements and essays to show your passion for your major subject and for building a successful career.
Treat the Application Process Seriously
Keep a spreadsheet of each scholarship you’re applying for. Include deadlines, make a column for each item required, and check off items as you complete them. Compile your application materials in advance and submit them on time. Better yet, submit them early. If you’re not a detail-oriented person, now is the time to start. Be sure you’ve read all application instructions carefully and properly met every submittal requirement. Finally — and this can’t be stressed enough — do not miss an application deadline.
Additional Financial Aid Options for Online Students
Scholarships are the best way to fund your college costs, because you don’t have to pay them back. Many students, even with scholarships, find that they need to tap other resources to fund their degree programs. Student loans are the most common and accessible form of student financial aid. The biggest source of student loans in the U.S., by far, is the federal government. Federal student loans are offered through a number of programs sponsored by the Department of Education and available for both undergraduate and graduate students meeting the eligibility requirements. Student loans are also available from some state and local governments, and through private lenders.
Other common sources of college funding include:
· Employer Tuition Reimbursement
· Fellowships and Assistantships
· The G.I. Bill (For active military and veterans)
Additionally, qualifying borrowers who have received financial aid for their public service degrees may be able to have their student loan debts reduced or eliminated by completing a public service obligation through any of a number of student loan forgiveness programs.