Best Online Master’s in Educational Leadership Programs

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A healthy school district requires strong educational leaders. Principals, superintendents and curriculum directors have difficult and important jobs, and their work requires significant experience and a thorough understanding of modern technology and teaching techniques. Top administrators are ultimately responsible for the education and welfare of hundreds, if not thousands, of kids; it’s not a job for everyone.

Those prepared to lead a school or school district will have a rewarding and challenging career. If you’re a teacher or child educator and you’ve decided you would thrive as an administrator, your first step is to get certified. The most efficient and least obtrusive form of certification is the online master’s in educational leadership.

Our best online master’s in educational leadership programs for 2016 are listed below, ranked according to our unique methodology. Read more to learn how you can earn your educational leadership degree online.

2016 Online Education Trends Report: Learn how online programs are changing the face of higher education.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description

Nova Southeastern University

 3/546.11%Fort Lauderdale, FL


Nova Southeastern’s online educational leadership program emphasizes business and entrepreneurial skills. Coursework explores a variety of themes, including ethical leadership, organizational change and leadership in the information age. The degree culminates in a series of leadership seminars and simulation courses. Graduates are prepared for leadership roles as educational advisors and administrators in academia, the military, non-profit business and human resources.

Assignments in the online master’s program are completed via real-time multimedia sessions. Students can communicate with instructors through threaded discussion boards on the exclusive NSU intranet system and have full access to electronic library and research databases. NSU uses Sharklearn, a subsidiary of the Blackboard learning management system, to foster an interactive web-classroom for distance learners.

Quick Facts

  • Six master’s credits may be transferred to the doctoral educational leadership program at NSU
  • Students must complete an uncredited course in graduate teacher education orientation
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Concordia University – Saint Paul

 2/546.45%Saint Paul, MN


Concordia's online MA in educational leadership prepares graduates for careers as principals and administrators in K-12 schools. Distance learners study educational research and legal and ethical problems in education, among other topics. This two-year accelerated cohort program requires students to complete one three-credit course every seven weeks.

Coursework is mostly asynchronous, although the program requires one mandatory synchronous session per week. Concordia emphasizes communication in its online programs through discussion platforms and live chat options. The online educational leadership degree requires no GRE or admission tests to enroll and there are no weekend classes.

Quick Facts

  • The school maintains a 15:1 student-teacher ratio
  • Concordia is affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
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Mercy College

 3/528.8%Dobbs Ferry, NY


The online school building leadership program at Mercy College grounds its curriculum in trends and contemporary discussions in American education, school law and professional school administration and supervision. Graduates are prepared for professional roles as principals, supervisors, coordinators and administrators. The program also qualifies graduates for initial certification in New York as a school building leader.

Courses can be viewed entirely online, though students need to complete an in-person internship. Distance learners communicate with each other and their instructors through an exclusive electronic portal that connects them to everything they need, including assignments, library resources, tech support, career services, tutoring and more. Mercy uses the Blackboard platform to facilitate instruction, host coursework and post grades.

Quick Facts

  • Applicants are required to have two years of teaching experience prior to matriculation
  • Mercy trains their faculty to use Blackboard, ultimately enhancing the online learning experience
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The George Washington University

 4/579.38%Washington, DC


GWU’s program in educational leadership and administration helps students develop the skills required to lead a strong K-12 educational institution. Coursework covers contemporary topics in communication, curriculum analysis, human relations and more, culminating in a required internship. The program also prepares graduates for administrative certification in the District of Columbia and other states that honor interstate compact agreements.

The program follows a session-based format. As part of the accelerated program, courses are delivered in eight-week increments; students may enroll in one or two sessions per academic term. Course content is delivered asynchronously through Blackboard, although a few on-site visits are required to fulfill internship credits for the duration of the degree.

Quick Facts

  • Applicants are admitted on a rolling basis and prospective students are encouraged to apply early
  • Graduates are prepared for principal, assistant principal and instructional supervision positions
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Concordia University – Portland

 3/555%Portland, OR


The online master’s in educational leadership at Concordia University-Portland is specifically designed for experienced teachers looking to become school administrators. Coursework reflects a changing educational environment: core themes include integrating technology into faculty training, building a collaborative environment and developing a modern curriculum. Students are required to complete a research or thesis-based capstone project to graduate.

Concordia's degree is a yearlong, accelerated cohort program. Coursework is delivered through Blackboard and is typically asynchronous. The university offers several perks to qualifying distance learners, including complimentary iPads, textbooks and partial scholarships.


"While I have been eager to get my M.Ed. in Educational Leadership for some time now, I was waiting for an online program that allows me to manage my time to best suit the needs of my family and me. Concordia's accelerated program and its consecutive five-week classes is rigorous, but doable. This program will allow me to reach my goals of moving into a leadership position within the next school year." – Kathy Pondy, M.Ed. in educational leadership

Quick Facts

  • Alumni of any Lutheran college or university receive a 20% discount on tuition
  • The program does not include state licensure or certification training
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Dallas Baptist University

 3/554.6%Dallas, TX

Dallas Baptist University’s online master's in educational leadership trains graduates for administrative positions in a variety of school types. The program also prepares enrollees for principal certification in Texas. DBU offers dual-degree options that combine the M.Ed. with available concentrations in business, special education, ESL and more.

DBU’s online educational leadership program offers the same faith-based curriculum that residential students receive. Online students complete assignments asynchronously, although synchronous chat sessions are occasionally required. Both online and on-campus courses are taught by the same instructors, most of whom are seasoned professionals in the field.

Quick Facts

  • Students are permitted transfer up to 12 hours of graduate credit
  • DBU holds a 92% online student course completion rate
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University of Dayton

 4/576.02%Dayton, OH

Distance learners in Dayton’s online master's in educational leadership program can tailor the curriculum to suit their interests and have the option to concentrate in Catholic school leadership. Students in the program may also pursue principal certification by completing 12 additional semester hours and two years of teaching experience. Graduates are prepared for principal or administrator roles in a variety of K-12 settings.

Assignments in the program are delivered asynchronously, but instructors encourage students to collaborate online. The curriculum is offered entirely online through Blackboard Collaborate and Sakai, Dayton's online web platforms. On Blackboard, students can make powerpoints, communicate quickly and easily and access their grades.

Quick Facts

  • Almost 20% of Ohio's recently licensed principals are graduates of the University of Dayton
  • Dayton's Department of Educational Administration offers seven comprehensive degree programs
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University of West Florida

 2/551.46%Pensacola, FL

The online M.Ed. in educational leadership at UWF is designed for students seeking administrative positions in the K-12 school system. An optional subspecialty is available in education and training management, catering to students who want to work in military or business schools. Students are required to pass the Florida Educational Leadership Examination to receive their degree and pursue principal certification.

The program comprises 33-36 credit hours of core classes. UWF offers several support tools through MyUWF, the school's e-learning portal. West Florida's help desk is multifaceted, offering students access to step-by-step virtual tutorials, weekly workshops, training sessions and interactive learning guides. Students can also download the MyUWF app on their phone or other mobile device.

Quick Facts

  • Online out-of-state students can apply for a waiver to reduce tuition costs
  • Students who do not have a teaching certificate are eligible to apply but must complete additional prerequisites prior to matriculation
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Wilkes University

 4/555.64%Wilkes-Barre, PA

The online educational leadership program at Wilkes University is tailored for students pursuing principal certification in K-12 schools. Students interested in Wilkes's Master of Science in Educational Leadership must complete nine additional credits.

Online educational leadership students at Wilkes are offered a "low-residency" opportunity before coursework begins: here, online students meet with their virtual classmates and learn about the school's online tools and resources in a one-day orientation session. As part of the program, students must partake in field training in local school districts; field work is supervised by both a course instructor and mentoring principal.

Quick Facts

  • Students have six years to complete the degree
  • Library resources are available to online students through their MyWilkes portal
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Concordia University – Ann Arbor

 3/536.45%Ann Arbor, MI

Concordia-Ann Arbor’s online master's in educational leadership is designed for professional educators looking to obtain certification as a principal or school administrator. The degree comprises 32 course credits in funding and financing schools, research methods, curriculum development and more.

Coursework is offered entirely online, though students are required to complete an internship as part of the program. Courses are delivered asynchronously through the Blackboard virtual classroom. Students have access to several multimedia tools through the platform and can participate in comprehensive Blackboard training and interactive on-demand chat sessions with instructors and peers.


"The MSEL program through Concordia works with my schedule. By spending my days in school teaching and then going home to my husband and two year old twins, time well spent is of the essence and this program is worth every second!" –Allison L. Davis-Dollison, 4th/5th Grade Teacher

Quick Facts

  • Graduates from the program are recommended for Michigan's Building Administrator Certificate
  • All coursework follows faith-based concepts and learning models
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Stephen F. Austin State University

 2/543.71%Nacogdoches, TX

Stephen F. Austin’s online educational leadership program incorporates a scholar-practitioner approach to its curriculum. The program is comprised of core classes, an internship and field experience. Students are also prepared to pursue principal certification. Course topics include data-driven decision-making, school law and community leadership. The program is ideal for students looking to obtain principalship certification alongside the skills needed to succeed in school administration.

Assignments in the online master’s program are completed through Desire2Learn (D2L). Coursework is typically asynchronous, though instructors encourage inter-student collaboration, and D2L's platform makes it easy for students to talk, share work and meet with teachers. Students must finish an internship to complete the degree.

Quick Facts

  • Applicants must have an undergraduate GPA above 2.50
  • Students have a pass rate of over 90% on the Texas Examination of Educator Standards
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Arizona State University – Skysong

 2/5N/AScottsdale, AZ

ASU Skysong's educational leadership program features a principalship concentration. Applicants should hold a bachelor’s degree and have at least two years of PreK-12 teaching experience. The M.Ed. comprises 36 course credits, including either a portfolio or an applied project.

ASU offers their program on an accelerated schedule. Courses are seven weeks long and the school offers multiple enrollment sessions per year. The curriculum prepares students to meet Arizona's principal certification requirements; distance learners in other states should check to see if ASU's program is compatible with their state's requirements.

Quick Facts

  • Arizona State has partnered with Google to provide students with Apps for Education through their myASU portal
  • Students are paired with academic advisors and personal mentors to enhance their educational experience
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St. John’s University

 4/558.75%Queens, NY

The online master's in school building leadership at St. John’s offers students the chance to tailor the curriculum to suit their interests. In addition to core classes, students take specialized courses in an administration-based concentration of the student’s choice. Students must also complete an internship and finish a capstone project to graduate. As the culmination of the program, the capstone encompasses a general review of the material and prepares students for exams.

The degree is offered entirely online. Courses are typically delivered asynchronously, and the university prides itself on creating a fully supportive learning environment for its online student body. Small class sizes encourage student-faculty interaction; student services, including academic advising, financial aid, career services and tech support are available at any time to distance learners.

Quick Facts

  • St. John's had one of the nation's first online programs in school building leadership
  • The program qualifies students for both a permanent teaching certification as well as a building-level administrative certification
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University of Texas at Arlington

 2/541.88%Arlington, TX

UT Arlington’s online master’s in educational leadership and policy studies develops the skills students need to become principals in K-12 schools. The 18-month program includes coursework in curriculum design, educational research and evaluation and leadership theory. Though students can customize their course schedules, all distance learners are required to begin the program with an internship and conclude with a capstone project. The degree also prepares students for principal certification in Texas.

Online master’s coursework is delivered via streaming multimedia. Students and instructors are encouraged to use Blackboard and the school's social media tools to communicate. Though coursework is typically asynchronous, students are occasionally required to participate in synchronous sessions. Through the university’s intranet system, distance learners have access to the same academic and tech support resources as residential students.

Quick Facts

  • Courses take five weeks to complete
  • Though not an admission requirement at UTA, students must have two years of teaching experience to become licensed principals in Texas
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George Mason University

 3/566.88%Fairfax, VA

George Mason's online education leadership program offers students a well-rounded foundation in school leadership and meets Virginia’s standards for PK-12 administration and supervision licensure. The degree's licensure component includes courses in education law, financial and human resource management and organizational theory and leadership; an internship is also required. Students must take six additional credits in contemporary educational leadership topics to fulfill the program's requirements.

Most students complete the degree in two years. Conveniently for working professionals, courses are delivered asynchronously. Part-time students take one course at a time; distance learners on an accelerated track may take two. Courses are generally hosted on Blackboard.

Quick Facts

  • Applicants must have at least three years of full time teaching experience prior to matriculation at GMU
  • Students may transfer up to 12 credits of degree work and nine credits of licensure courses
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Canisius College

 3/567.91%Buffalo, NY

The online master's in educational leadership and supervision at Canisius is ideal for teachers who want to become K-12 principals or school administrators. Students in the program may also work toward a New York school building leadership certification. In addition to core classes and an internship, students may choose to concentrate in one of four elective options.

Coursework in the online master’s is taught by working professionals in the field of educational leadership, most of whom hold terminal degrees in their respective field. Online students are afforded the same amenities as their on-campus counterparts, including academic support, financial advising and career services. Prospective students may test their readiness for this program through Canisius' Readiness for Online Learning subsite.


"The online Educational Leadership program at Canisius College is top notch. I selected Canisius College because the Educational Leadership program is CAEP approved and provided the flexibility of being completely online…" – Paul Cone, MS 2011

Quick Facts

  • Students are not required to pursue a concentration
  • Each online course is individually designed and developed by instructors
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Pennsylvania State University

 3/586.11%University Park, PA

Penn State’s master's in educational leadership program provides students with the leadership skills they need to inspire reform within school systems. Students in the program choose from one of three concentrations: there's a Teacher Leader and two School Leader concentrations, one for students pursuing a principal certificate and one for those who aren't.

Assignments in the online master’s program are completed through real-time multimedia sessions. Students can communicate with instructors through threaded discussion boards on the exclusive PSU intranet system and can view electronic library and research databases through their web access portal.

Quick Facts

  • Penn State has over 15 years experience in online education
  • Courses typically last between 12 and 15 weeks
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Saint Leo University

 2/544.89%Saint Leo, FL

Saint Leo University’s online master's in educational leadership program helps students build school leadership and community collaboration skills. Coursework explores curriculum development, public school law and school budgets, among other topics. Graduates are prepared for roles as principals or school administrators and are qualified for level 1 Florida education leadership certification.

Saint Leo offers a variety of course delivery options, including a blended format and classes over video conferencing software. Beyond the required curriculum, the school encourages students to pursue professional development opportunities, including through internships and placement in Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society for Educators.

Quick Facts

  • Saint Leo's is a private school affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church
  • The degree may be completed in two years
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University of Florida

 3/587.51%Gainesville, FL

The University of Florida’s online master's in educational leadership fosters leadership skills and guides students towards Florida principal certification. In addition to completing 36 core credits and a supervised internship, students are required to participate in an ESOL district-in-service training requirement; Florida requires prospective administrators to complete at least 150 hours of field training prior to certification.

The degree brings creative thinking and collaborative learning techniques into the virtual classroom. Experienced faculty members deliver lectures asynchronously through both Canvas and Moodle; students can view their schedule and transcripts through their personal myUFL portal. Distance learners are afforded the same comprehensive academic support as on-campus students and have access to office hours, tutoring and the university's career services resources.

Quick Facts

  • Online student enrollment totals almost 4,000
  • Students typically enroll in two courses per semester
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University of North Texas

 2/550.2%Denton, TX

The online master’s in educational leadership at UNT prepares graduates for a career in campus or district-level administration. Students may pursue their degree and principal certification at the same time; master's degree holders may take courses for certification only. Coursework comprises 30 credits in core competencies, and students are required to complete a professional portfolio as part of their final class.

The program is offered entirely online, though students pursuing principal certification must also complete an internship course. Each class in the accelerated program lasts for eight weeks, allowing students to finish the program in one year. Distance learners are paired with an advisor who guides them through the process of meeting degree and certification requirements while helping them learn UNT's web tools.

Quick Facts

  • Faculty members work closely with school districts and educational organizations to sponsor partnership activities for students
  • Students are required to have two years of classroom teaching experience prior to matriculating
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Western Governors University

 2/516.74%Salt Lake City, UT

Western Governors University’s online master's in educational leadership program prepares students to lead their own school as a principal or vice principal. Coursework combines financial and strategic planning, data-analysis and comprehensive educational leadership with a practicum in the field. The program culminates with a capstone project in which students develop a proposed solution to a real-world problem in educational leadership.

Online classes are self-paced and taught asynchronously. While students must complete at least eight course units per term, they may add more as part of this accelerated online program. Most students graduate in two years. Each distance learner is assigned a mentor; mentors guide students through the program and help them acclimate to WGU's online tools.


"Whether you're looking for a career change with your bachelor's degree or continuing your education with a master's degree, WGU's Teacher College is a quality choice." – Mrs. Karen Pence, First Lady of Indiana

Quick Facts

  • The program prepares students to pursue certification in their home state
  • WGU does not use the cohort model; students may sign up for full-time or part-time coursework
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

 3/584.16%Champaign, IL

The online master’s in education policy, organization and leadership at Illinois requires students to complete foundational courses in educational psychology and educational policy studies. Though not required, students may specialize in one of four optional concentrations, including educational administration and leadership. Joint programs combining educational leadership training with business or medicine majors are also available.

Coursework can be synchronous or asynchronous, depending on individual instructors. Illinois is a Blackboard school, and instructors use the platform to host lectures, discussion forums and class materials. UI’s Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning offers online support for distance learners.

Quick Facts

  • Online courses may incorporate blogging, wiki-authoring and video conferencing
  • Instructors develop Web-based Q&A forums for students as part of the curriculum
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Rowan University

 3/566.7%Glassboro, NJ

Rowan’s online teacher leadership program is geared towards teachers who plan to continue working in the classroom. Coursework comprises 33-36 semester hours in core and content-area competencies, focused on curriculum development, mentorship-building and other skills that improve teaching practices.

Rowan's accelerated schedule is comprised of six eight-week modules. The school's user-friendly online learning environment features interactive slide presentations and video-based media to deliver courses to distance learners. Online students have the same access to support services as residential students, and they also have access to discussion forums and 24/7 tech support.

Quick Facts

    Students can specialize in one of ten available concentration programs
  • Rowan allows students to register during summer, fall and spring semesters
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Arkansas State University

 2/539.3%Jonesboro, AR

Arkansas State University’s online educational leadership program emphasizes the skills that prospective administrators need to become effective managers and leaders. Coursework covers curriculum design, research-based instructional strategies and learning assessment techniques. The program combines theory and practice-based requirements with a final capstone project. Students must select elementary, middle or secondary school as their specialty for the curriculum-focused course requirements.

Assignments in the online master’s program are completed through the Blackboard learning management system. Students enrolled in this accelerated program may complete the 36-credit program in just 20 months.

Quick Facts

  • Tech support is available to online students 24/7
  • The school offers an additional class for non-Arkansas residents who need to obtain an in-state teaching license
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University of Northern Colorado

 2/546.35%Greeley, CO

Northern Colorado’s online educational leadership and policy studies program incorporates higher education leadership skills into the degree’s traditional PreK-12 focus. In the program, students develop leadership skills and explore relevant topics in contemporary education and classroom management. UNC also helps students obtain a Colorado principal certificate.

Northern Colorado allows ongoing enrollment during the fall, spring and summer terms. The school encourages students to collaborate on classwork and projects: many courses in the program are shared jointly with other master's curriculums, offering students the opportunity to share ideas and questions with a diverse body of students. Distance learners complete assignments and communicate with instructors and peers through synchronous live sessions; courses and assignments are hosted on Blackboard.

Quick Facts

  • Students may pursue their principal's license alongside their degree or licensure only
  • Most students complete the program within a year and a half
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Completing a master’s in educational leadership demonstrates that you have the general knowledge required to be an effective school administrator and the dedication to complete challenging work. Your program will prepare you to develop age-appropriate curriculums and to provide direction and guidance for teachers and students. You will also have direct experience in the field through internships and practicums.

In a typical master’s program, you can expect to take a variety of courses. All students learn how to develop a curriculum, manage a budget and measure academic performance. Beyond general courses, instruction varies from program and by area of focus. When considering multiple schools, be sure to browse each program’s course catalog. This research can help you find classes and subjects that appeal to your interests.

Graduates of educational leadership programs may want to consider joining a professional organization, such as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Membership in a nationally recognized organization provides access to industry journals and publications and helps students monitor recent developments in the field. Members may also connect with other professionals through online video blogs and iTunes University Webinars.

A master’s degree is a prerequisite for most educational leadership positions. Principals, instructional coordinators and post-secondary education administrators are all required to have specific skills and specialities, and these abilities are honed in educational leadership programs. Additionally, public school principals are generally required to earn a school administrator license in their state.

Prospective administrators pursuing their master’s may also want to consider a dual-degree option, or a program that allows you to concentrate in an educational subfield. Schools offering dual certification combining educational leadership with another program, such as business or special education, prepare administrators for specialized work. Those with a degree and a focus in a particular subject make themselves eligible for employment in alternative learning institutions, education-based non-profit organizations and specialized teacher training programs.

Employment Outlook for Educational Leadership Graduates

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that most elementary, middle and high school principals hold at least a master’s degree in the field and that principal jobs are expected to grow 6% by the year 2022. The BLS projects student enrollment to increase in the aggregate, though regional estimates are contingent on individual state and school district budgets, which fluctuate over time. Principals earned an annual salary of $87,760 as of May 2012, according to the BLS.

Earning a master’s degree online allows you to pursue an administrative position without disrupting your professional or family life. It’s important to remember that distance learners don’t sacrifice a quality education for the convenience of online study: web-based learning combines relevant coursework and multimedia technologies to create an interactive virtual classroom, encouraging the same level of communication and engagement found in a traditional on-campus course. Students interested in educational leadership should at least consider an online program: the format ultimately provides the same training and certification residential students receive in an equally rewarding but far more flexible package.

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, the need for financial aid is still a reality for most students. But rest assured, loans aren’t your only option. Explore our collection of financial aid resources or dig into one of the following guides to read more about financing your education.

Scholarships for Education Majors

We’ve curated a list of 43 scholarships and grants specifically for education students. With over $170,000 in available rewards, take the time to learn how you can access free money for your online educational leadership degree.

An Overview of Financial Aid

Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options savvy students can use to reduce the total costs of their education.

Understanding the FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first and most crucial step for any student seeking financial aid. Follow our step-by-step guide for answers to frequently asked questions.

Financial Aid for Online College Students

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place and funding opportunities for online students.

Scholarships for Single Parents

Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for single parents looking for a more secure financial future for their children. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships for these hard-working parents.

Financial Aid for Veterans and Active Military

Millions in education benefits are available for veterans and active members of the military. Unfortunately, much of this goes unused. Find out if you’re entitled to help with college and start planning for your future.