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Should Online Students Fill Out the FAFSA?

By Cait Williams

Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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Reviewed by Annie Trout

Annie has spent the past 18+ years educating students about college admissions opportunities and coaching them through building a financial aid package. She has worked in college access and college admissions for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission/Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, Middle Tennessee State University, and Austin Peay State University.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: November 13th, 2023
Should Online Students Fill Out the FAFSA?

Does FAFSA cover online college? The simple answer is a resounding yes! Perhaps you have a few questions about whether being an online student affects the funding you hope to receive. In this article, we will try to answer those questions and more so that you can tackle your FAFSA! 

First, what does the “FAFSA” stand for?

“FAFSA” stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is the most important part of the entire financial aid process. The FAFSA determines student eligibility for Pell Grants and Federal SEOG Grants are determined by the FAFSA. Student loans, including subsidized and unsubsidized Federal Direct Loans and PLUS Loans, are FAFSA driven. Finally, even work study awards are determined by FAFSA results. In short, all the good financial aid stuff starts with the FAFSA, so fill it out as soon as possible!

Does your college accept the FAFSA? 

First, you’ll want to be sure that the schools you hope to attend accept the FAFSA. Start by asking whether they do in fact accept the FAFSA.. If they don’t, you may want to make sure there aren’t other schools in your area who do accept the FAFSA. It’s important to note that regionally accredited schools do accept FAFSA, however, nationally accredited schools do not always accept FAFSA. Regionally accredited schools are usually universities and colleges, while nationally accredited schools are usually technical or vocational schools.  

If you’re still unsure if your college accepts FAFSA, you can start by checking their website. If you are still not sure, contact the financial aid office and ask to speak with someone about what paying for tuition may look like. Remember, the FAFSA does cover online college, so if your school does not accept it, it is not just because they are online.

Always apply for FAFSA, as you never know…

We recommend that you apply for the FAFSA whether you think the schools you apply for accept it or not. Same goes for whether you think you qualify for financial aid or not. Remember, you can apply for the FAFSA well before you accept a college offer. Also, you can add colleges to your FAFSA application after you submit it. We asked Kirsten Menigoz, the Assistant Director of Admissions at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, MI, what are the biggest mistakes students make when it comes to financial aid. She responded with the following:

“The biggest mistake students make is not filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Keep in mind, not only low-income students receive aid – explore and exhaust all options. If anything, completing the FAFSA can lead to loan offers or other avenues you may not know you have.”

So, simply put, fill out and submit your FAFSA as soon as possible. The FAFSA has various closing deadline by state, but opens on October 1st of each year. 

See also: Should you complete the FAFSA before or after acceptance?

Are you eligible for the FAFSA? 

Eligibility is an important factor for the FAFSA process. As we said above, the key factor is knowing whether your school is eligible to accept the money you may be granted via FAFSA. Being an online student does not disqualify you from using FAFSA.  

Online degree programs and classes have been a growing area of education over the past decade. A more in-depth look at the FAFSA eligibility requirements for individual students can be found on FAFSA government website.  

Related: FAFSA guide for international students

How do you fill out the FAFSA? 

Filling out the FAFSA can be challenging for some people. Several documents are required to determine how much funding you are eligible for. Tax documents, records of investments, and possibly bank statements are all needed. While this might feel like overkill, it’s important to supply all the necessary information so that you can receive all the available funding that you are eligible for. 

In the next section, we included a list of documents needed to fill out the application. Depending upon if you are an independent or dependent student will slightly affect the list of required documents.  

Related: How do you fill out the FAFSA?

Required documents for the FAFSA 

Before looking at what documents are required for the FAFSA, consider whether you are a dependent or an independent student. If your parents are not together, you will also need to determine which parent to use on the FAFSA

Social security number OR alien registration number 

You’ll need an SSN or an alien registration number to set up your FAFSA ID and fill out the FAFSA. Unfortunately, at least one of these numbers is required to be eligible for federal student aid.  

Further reading: Filling out the FAFSA without a social security number 

Federal income tax return (W-2 form) 

Your federal income tax return helps determine how much aid you receive. It shows how much money you received in the past year at a job and what taxes were taken from your paycheck during that year.  

It’s important to submit the most recent W-2 form that you have. Depending on if you are filing as an individual or a dependent will affect if you need to provide W-2 forms from your parent/guardian. 

Don’t miss: How to fill out the FAFSA is a parent did not file income tax

Bank statements and records of investments 

In addition to your income, the FAFSA also asks to look at what other sources of money may be able to help you fund your education. Be sure to be accurate with this part of the FAFSA. While filling out the application, there will be more information about what constitutes an investment and what bank records are needed.  


Your FAFSA ID is simply your login that you create before filling out the application. To create a FAFSA ID, you will need your SSN (or equivalent documentation) and a valid email address or phone number.  

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Now you know that the FAFSA does cover online college. If you are an online student, be sure to fill it out on time!
  • The FAFSA can look intimidating when you first begin filling it out, but remember, this is a system that is designed to help you in your education, not to make things harder 
  • Online degree programs and classes are real college level pursuits that continue to grow in popularity 
  • If you’re having trouble filling the FAFSA, reach out to someone in the financial aid office at your school (Hint: That’s what they are there for!) 
Key Takeaways

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Frequently asked questions about filling out the FAFSA for online students

How long does it take to fill out the FAFSA?

If you are filling out FAFSA for the first time, you should set aside at least an hour to fill out the entire application. It might not take you that long, but it’s better to set aside more time than is needed. If you are renewing your FAFSA application, it should only take about a half hour since you won’t have to answer a lot of the initial application questions and should be familiar with what documents you need.

Is the Pell Grant different from the FAFSA?

  The Pell Grant is a grant commonly awarded to undergraduate students for various amounts based on the financial need determined by the FAFSA. The only way to receive Pell Grants is through filling out the FAFSA first. So, the FAFSA and the Pell Grant are not the same thing, but you can’t have the Pell Grant without filling out the FAFSA.

Can you get a student loan for online college?

Yes, you can get loans for online college courses! Federal loans are still available to online students. This means filling out the FAFSA is important, whether you intend to apply for aid or intend to apply for a loan.

How do I pay for college if I don’t qualify for a loan?

  The good news is that loans and the FAFSA are not your only options for funding your education. Our website has pages of current and up-to-date scholarships that you can apply to! Funding your education is possible and there is no one way to go about doing so. Finances are intimidating, so staying dedicated and resilient during the process is the best thing you can do!

Are there scholarships just for online students?

While there are not as many as we would like to see, you can check out our list of scholarships for online students. We hope to add more as they come along!

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