How Financial Aid for Online Degrees Works

That’s not Colby, the pseudo college-going cat, but still, that feline looks pretty smart. See more investing pictures.

In 2004, Colby Nolan was awarded an online master's degree in business administration (MBA) from Trinity Southern University. That same year, Wayne Botha earned his MBA online through the University of Phoenix. Colby's degree cost $399, while Wayne's degree cost approximately $655 per credit hour [source: University of Phoenix].

Colby didn't get a great college financial aid package or a great education; in fact, his degree is worthless. Colby is a cat who was used by Pennsylvania Attorney General Jerry Pappert as a decoy to expose a scheme to sell fake, online academic degrees [source: University Business]. Wayne, on the other hand, is a consultant who earned his MBA while working full time, traveling and raising a family [source: Balderrama].

From convenience to cost, earning an online degree is a popular option for students, and like traditional accredited colleges (not Trinity Southern University), paying the tuition isn't always easy. Although we should mention that while tuition rates may not change for online or on-ground students at the same school, distance learners obviously can eliminate some of the costs incurred when attending a traditional college, such as room and board, transportation and activity fees.

Earning a degree online may sound like a piece of cake, but at an accredited online college, the work and time commitment are the same as heading to campus for classes. As it turns out, so is the process for obtaining financial aid. In this article, we'll explore how to get the funds for the online education you want. (You may want to read How Online Degrees Work for more information as well.)

Before you can get your college cash, you'll need to think about accreditation, the key not only to a solid education, but also to obtaining aid to finance the cost. Keep reading to learn how to determine if an online program is legitimate.