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: 09/25/2020

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:

Biggest Benefits

The biggest benefit of standard scholarships is that there are lots of them. Students in online programs should have plenty to choose from, at least compared to scholarships exclusive to online students.  You’ll likely find that award amounts are bigger as well. Major scholarship sponsors, particularly professional associations, like to keep their awards eligible to the greatest number of potential recipients.

Biggest Drawbacks

The biggest benefit of standard scholarships is that there are lots of them. Students in online programs should have plenty to choose from, at least compared to scholarships exclusive to online students.  You’ll likely find that award amounts are bigger as well. Major scholarship sponsors, particularly professional associations, like to keep their awards eligible to the greatest number of potential recipients.

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.

Biggest Benefits

The main benefits of online student-exclusive scholarships are less competition and fewer eligibility requirements. There’s less competition because there are usually fewer applicants (i.e., no on-campus students to compete with). And regarding many school-sponsored online program scholarships, applicants may face no competition whatsoever, which leads to the second benefit. In order to boost enrollment in their online programs, many schools award scholarships to all incoming online students. The only requirement is admission into the program.

Biggest Drawbacks

Scholarships exclusive to online students are harder to find, especially those that are not school-sponsored. That fact alone may make the availability of school-sponsored scholarships a consideration when choosing an online degree program. These scholarships may also come with smaller award amounts, which should reinforce the advice stated earlier: If scholarship funds are what you’re looking for, seriously consider going for both standard and online-student-only scholarship awards.

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.

CSU Global Mission Scholarship

AMOUNT

Varies

Deadline

Awards are made each trimester term, with the scholarship deadline approximately one month prior to the start of each term.

Eligibility

Available to working adults who “embody the mission of Colorado State University Global” by completing their degree programs while balancing other life obligations.

Eligibility

New students can apply by contacting their enrollment counselor. Continuing students can log in to their CSU Global email account, set up their Scholarship Universe account, and complete the application form.

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.

Maurine Allison O’Bannon Memorial Scholarship

AMOUNT

$1,000

Deadline

June 1, yearly

Eligibility

Open to students who are at least 25 years of age and returning to school to complete a previously pursued degree. A GPA of 3.25 or higher is required. The scholarship can be renewed in the spring by students who have maintained a minimum 3.25 GPA.

Eligibility

Follow the link on the scholarships webpage to fill out the online application. Students need only fill out the one application per award period to be considered for all scholarships to which the student is eligible.

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.

World Campus Student Fund Scholarships

AMOUNT

Varies

Deadline

September 30, yearly

Eligibility

Open to currently-enrolled World Campus undergrads that have completed at least 24 credits in their World Campus program with a minimum 3.2 cumulative GPA. Students must additionally demonstrate financial need.

Eligibility

Fill out and submit the application form linked on the scholarship programs webpage. Application requirements include a personal statement, brief essay, and professional reference.

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.

ASWSU Global Scholarship

AMOUNT

$1,000

Deadline

July 1 (full academic year), November 1 (spring only), March 15 (summer), yearly

Eligibility

Available to new and continuing students admitted to the WSU Global Campus. Awards based on either financial need, academic merit, or both. Full academic year recipients must complete a minimum of six semester hours during the fall and spring semesters or three semester hours during the summer semester. A minimum 3.0 GPA is required to continue to receive this award.

Eligibility

Apply online via the scholarship webpage. Application requirements include the student aid report (SAR) students receive when they fill out the FAFSA and an essay addressing the applicant’s experience in regard to seven stated categories.

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.

Master Your Future Scholarship

AMOUNT

$2,500 ($1,250 per six-month term, renewable up to two terms)

Deadline

June 30, yearly

Eligibility

Applicant must be enrolled in a master’s degree program. Awards are made based on several factors including financial need, academic record, current competency, and readiness for online study.

Eligibility

Complete the WGU admissions process and online general scholarship application. WGU will then inform the applicant of which scholarships he or she is eligible for, after which the applicant completes a supplemental application for the specific scholarship.

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

School

Columbia Southern University

Amount

Varies (covers tuition cost for up to 60 credit hours)

Deadline

September 30, yearly

Eligibility

Available to all current CSU criminal justice students and those planning to enroll in a criminal justice-related program. Award is applied directly to pay the recipient’s tuition. Textbook costs are included. Students must maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA to continue to receive the award.

How to Apply

Fill out and submit the application on the scholarship webpage.

School

Sam Houston State University

Amount

$1,500

Deadline

November 1, yearly

Eligibility

Applicant must be a full-time undergraduate or graduate student majoring in any discipline in the SHSU College of Criminal Justice and taking all courses online. Demonstrated financial need and minimum 3.0 GPA are also required.

How to Apply

Follow the link on the scholarships webpage to fill out the general scholarship application and apply for this and other recommended award opportunities.

Cyber Security Scholarships for Online Students

School

Western Governors University

Amount

Up to $5,000 ($1,250 per six-month, renewable up to four times)

Deadline

June 30, yearly

Eligibility

Open to students in WGU’s Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in cybersecurity and information assurance programs. Awards made based on several factors such as financial need, academic record, current competency, readiness for online study, and interview with a scholarship counselor.

How to Apply

Complete the general scholarship application form which is accessible on the scholarship webpage. The school will then contact the applicant with a list of available scholarships, following which the applicant submits a supplemental application for the specific scholarship.

Emergency Management/Fire Science Scholarships for Online Students

School

Waldorf University

Amount

Varies (pays tuition costs of up to 60 credit hours)

Deadline

November 15, yearly

Eligibility

Available to Mississippi fire chiefs and firefighter association members enrolled in an online fire science, emergency management, or related online program at Waldorf. The recipient must maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA to continue receiving the award.

How to Apply

Fill out and submit the application form on the scholarship webpage. Application requirements include a personal reference, personal essay, and proof of active membership in the Mississippi Fire Chiefs and Firefighters Association.

Public Administration Scholarships for Online Students

School

Hamline University

Amount

$1,000 (renewable for up to $2,000)

Deadline

January 15, yearly

Eligibility

Open to new and continuing students in the online Master of Public Administration program.

How to Apply

Follow the application link on the scholarship webpage for the list of required application materials, which includes a cover letter, resume, and personal statement. Submit all materials to the Scholarship Committee at the address provided.

School

American University

Amount

Up to $10,000 (in waived tuition)

Deadline

Ongoing

Eligibility

Available to students entering AU’s Online Master of Public Administration and Policy degree program with excellent academic standards and demonstrated exceptional leadership skills. Applicants must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.2 or higher in their undergraduate coursework.

How to Apply

All students admitted are considered. No further application is required.

School

University of Southern California

Amount

Varies

Deadline

March 30 (summer), July 15 (fall), yearly

Eligibility

Available to students beginning the online Master of Public Administration program.

How to Apply

Submit a 200-word essay explaining your previous experience related to county or city management, local government, or public policy; potential for a successful career in the public administration field; and how the scholarship will assist the applicant in meeting your career goals.

Public Health Scholarships for Online Students

School

University of California Berkeley

Amount

Varies (equivalent to the cost of one unit per semester for a maximum of seven semesters.

Deadline

March 30, yearly

Eligibility

Open to all Cal Berkeley online Master of Public Health students with demonstrated achievements and contributions to public service.

How to Apply

Complete the online application linked on the scholarship webpage. Application requirements include written statements describing the applicant’s personal history and overcoming challenges, capacity to work with diverse and underrepresented communities, and how they envision their impact on public health.

School

Texas Tech University

Amount

$4,000

Deadline

July 31, yearly

Eligibility

Non-competitive award available to new Master of Public Health students who are Texas residents and working in a rural setting. Awardees must agree to adhere to several requirements, including completion of a rural service-related course project in their first semester, and completing their applied practice experience in a rural area.

How to Apply

Complete and email the application form linked on the scholarship webpage.

School

Johns Hopkins University

Amount

Varies (pays for tuition costs and is dispersed incrementally per course credit (up to 80 credits)

Deadline

None

Eligibility

This is a non-competitive award given to all new online/part-time Master of Public Health degree students.

How to Apply

No scholarship application is required.

Social Work Scholarships for Online Students

School

University of Southern California

Amount

$15,000 (renewable for second year)

Deadline

Varies

Eligibility

One award is given per cohort start date to an incoming full-time online Master of Social Work student who has performed a year of service to underprivileged communities through the City Year – Give a Year program. Demonstrated academic merit is also a requirement.

How to Apply

Apply to the online MSW program and request and submit a City Year letter verifying the required public service. Additional application information is available on the scholarship webpage.

Teaching/Education Scholarships for Online Students

School

Western Governors University

Amount

$2,500 (paid out at $625 per six-month term, up to four terms)

Deadline

December 31, yearly

Eligibility

Open to WGU Teacher College students pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree leading to teaching licensure.

How to Apply

Follow the link on the scholarship webpage to fill out and submit the online general scholarship application. WGU will follow up with a list of scholarships to which the student is eligible. The student then completes the online supplemental application for the specific scholarship.

School

Kansas State University

Amount

$1,000

Deadline

June 1 (fall), November 1 (spring), April 1 (summer), yearly

Eligibility

Open to KSU’s K-State Global Campus students enrolled in a variety of College of Education degree programs. A 3.0 or higher GPA and financial need (demonstrated through applicant’s FAFSA) additionally require.

How to Apply

Complete the K-State Global Campus scholarship application linked on the scholarship website.

School

University of West Alabama

Amount

Up to $50 per credit hour

Deadline

Varies (approximately 10 weeks prior to the class start date for each online term)

Eligibility

Open to students in all UWA online undergraduate and graduate education programs leading to certification that are currently or will be working for a program partner school (see school systems list on scholarship webpage).

How to Apply

Apply and be accepted to UWA, and then complete and submit the Teacher Connect Verification form (linked on the scholarship webpage).

School

Western Governors University

Amount

$2,500 (paid out at $625 per six-month term, up to four terms)

Deadline

December 31, yearly

Eligibility

Available to graduates of the Teachers of Tomorrow program who are returning to school to earn a master’s degree online through WGU’s Teachers College.

How to Apply

Complete the general scholarship application by following the application link on the scholarship webpage. After eligibility is determined, the student submits a supplemental application for the specific degree program.

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.

Step 1

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.

Step 2

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.

Step 3

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.  

Step 4

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.

Step 5

Be Passionate

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.

Step 6

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

·    Work-Study

·    The G.I. Bill (For active military and veterans)

·    Crowdfunding

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.