Best Online Master’s in School Counseling Programs

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School counselors play a valuable role in public and private schools across the country. Some school counselors evaluate students for learning or mental health issues, and help them cope with social or behavioral problems. Others specialize in career planning, working with high school and college students to map out their professional pathway. Counselors also meet regularly with teachers, administrative staff, and parents to discuss the welfare of individual students.

A master’s degree is considered the minimum educational requirement for most school counseling positions. Earning an online master’s in school counseling allows students to complete their program requirements without disrupting their current professional obligations. Designed to mirror the curriculum found in a traditional campus format, online master’s programs cover the current tools and techniques used by counselors, the latest research in the field, and other fundamentals of school counseling. Distance learners typically choose to concentrate their studies on a particular age group, and complete supervised internships at a local school.

In this comprehensive guide, you will learn more about how you can use your master’s in school counseling degree, and what kind of career opportunities will await you upon graduation.

WILL AN ONLINE MASTER’S IN SCHOOL COUNSELING PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?

Although some school counselors choose to earn a doctorate in a related discipline, a master’s is the terminal degree in the field. Students can bolster their skills by concentrating their studies in a certain age group, or earning a degree specialization in areas like career planning or mental health counseling. Internships are another way to build real-world experience. The best online master’s in school counseling programs also prepare students to sit for licensing exams; school counselors at public schools are required to earn a license in all 50 states.

WILL AN ONLINE MASTER’S IN SCHOOL COUNSELING WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?

Online master’s programs are a flexible, cost-friendly alternative to traditional classrooms. Students can access course materials, submit assignments, take exams, and communicate with their professors from the comfort of their home computer. Current technology also enables them to study on the go using a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other Wi-Fi-compatible device. For additional convenience, distance learners can usually arrange internship accommodations close to their home, eliminating the need to commute.

WHAT JOBS CAN I GET WITH MY MASTER’S IN SCHOOL COUNSELING?

A master’s degree is a crucial step toward a successful career in school counseling, but it may not be the only requirement. Job availability will depend in part on your specialization and prior classroom experience (including internships). Additionally, some states require counselors to complete one or two years of post-degree work experience or earn a teaching license before sitting for a licensing exam.

WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE MASTER’S IN SCHOOL COUNSELING PROGRAMS?

Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school’s strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online master’s of school counseling programs in the United States. Our ranking is based on the courses schools offer, available specializations, student outcomes, career support services, and other criteria used to determine academic excellence. If you are considering an online master’s in school counseling, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific requirements and offerings.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1

Lehigh University

 5/587.39%Bethlehem, PA

campus_lehigh_university

Lehigh's online master’s in school counseling incorporates an international cultural focus. Distance learners study multicultural perspectives and therapeutic approaches, and are introduced to family counseling techniques. Students also learn about comprehensive intervention theory and methods. The degree includes a professional seminar course as part of the core requirements, and culminates with two master’s internships in the program’s final term.

Lehigh requires applicants to have earned a 3.0 undergraduate GPA or better. Courses are offered online through regular consecutive fall and spring semesters; students may enroll twice per year ahead of these bi-annual terms. Full-time students may complete the degree in as little as two years, including face-to-face summer sessions. With this school counseling program, Lehigh strives to uphold its strong commitment to cultural diversity and inclusion policies.

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2

Wake Forest University

 5/588.22%Winston Salem, NC

campus-Wake-Forest-University

Wake Forest's MAC degree is offered in a school counseling concentration. Distance learners pursuing an online master’s in school counseling take courses in elementary, middle school, and high school counseling. The master’s level curriculum prepares students for state licensure as a school or professional counselor. Requirements include a practicum course, a school counseling internship, and a capstone project.

Applicants are required to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school, and they must also have earned a 2.50 GPA or better. Courses are offered asynchronously or synchronously, depending on the course. Among the many available financial aid awards and grants, Wake Forest offers several merit-based scholarships and federally funded financial aid for military veterans.

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3

University of Missouri – Columbia

 2/569.48%Columbia, MO

campus_University_of_Missouri_Columbia

Missouri’s M.Ed. in educational, school and counseling psychology program includes an emphasis in mental health practices in schools. Distance learners study mental health issues—including delinquency, stress, and substance abuse—as they apply to adolescents and children. Students earning their online master’s in school counseling also learn communication techniques for these age groups, along with behavioral and crises management methods. Students must finish a capstone integrative paper to graduate.

Applicants to UM should have earned at least a 3.0 GPA in college. Courses are delivered through Blackboard and, like on-campus courses, are generally offered once per year. Online courses covering mental health practices in schools are semester-long sessions. Transfer credits are considered on a case-by-case basis.

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4

Seton Hall University

 5/566.45%South Orange, NJ

campus_Seton_Hall

Seton Hall's online master’s degree in school counseling emphasizes an ethnically diverse, global perspective in the field. Distance learners leave school prepared to work as counselors in elementary, middle, or high schools. Seton Hall also offers a dual degree option in school and professional counseling. In addition to online coursework, the degree requires students to complete a supervised experience comprising a practicum and two internship courses.

Applicants must have earned a GPA of 3.0 or better to be admitted into the master’s program. Courses are delivered online through Blackboard. Seton Hall requires distance students to attend a one-time, on-campus residency as they start the program.

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5

University of Massachusetts – Boston

 5/542.08%Boston, MA

campus_university_of_massachusetts_boston

UMass Boston’s M.Ed program prepares students to pursue licensure as a school counselor in the state. Distance learners in the school counseling program study abnormal psychology, family therapy theories, and collaborative consultation in schools. Students pursuing an online master’s in school counseling are encouraged to follow a schedule that allows them to graduate in six semesters, spanning two years, including summer terms. As part of the program, they must complete a practicum in their first year and two internships in their second.

UMass requires applicants to have worked or interned in human services for at least one year. Prospective students should also have completed their undergraduate studies with a 3.0 GPA or better. Students must attend a one-time on-campus residency during their first term.

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6

Gallaudet University

 3/545.81%Washington, DC

Gallaudet's online master’s in school counseling promotes multiculturalism and ethical counseling practices in diverse school environments. Distance learners are trained to counsel students with hearing impairments. Courses cover forward-thinking topics including play therapy, lifespan development, helping skills, and simulated society. Students are required to complete advanced internships and a practicum experience to complete the degree.

Applicants must have completed an undergraduate degree from an accredited university with a 3.9 GPA or higher. Students should also have taken a minimum of nine credit hours in psychology, and have at least two years of work experience with children or teens. Online courses are delivered through Blackboard, though students are required to attend three consecutive summer sessions on campus in between six semesters of distance coursework. Students typically complete the degree in three years.

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7

Oregon State University

 2/563.07%Corvallis, OR

Oregon State's counseling program emphasizes developing the comprehensive counseling skills that allows graduates to work effectively with both children and young adults. Courses explore lifespan development and cultural diversity concepts from a global perspective. To graduate, distance learners earning an online master’s in school counseling must complete a practicum.

Applicants must hold a baccalaureate degree with a cumulative B-grade average; the university offers 12 spots per year in its cohort program. Courses are delivered synchronously in Canvas as part of a 50/50 hybrid schedule—meaning that students are required to attend some classes in Salem, Oregon.

The graduate school application fee is $75.

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8

University of North Dakota

 2/555.49%Grand Forks, ND

UND offers an emphasis in K-12 school counseling within its online counseling program. Distance learners pursuing an online master’s in school counseling learn how to develop programs for K-12 students while helping them build critical thinking skills and other cognitive abilities. Graduates are eligible to pursue school counselor licensure in North Dakota. Students are required to complete a practicum, supervised internship experience, and independent research project to graduate.

To apply, candidates must have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, with an overall GPA of at least 2.75 (or a 3.0 over their last two years of undergraduate courses). Classes are offered in Blackboard to full-time online learners; the degree can usually be completed in three years. Though most classes are held online, students are required to attend four brief on-campus sessions held over two summer semesters. UND offers in-state tuition to all distance students.

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9

Concordia University – Wisconsin

 4/561.19%Mequon, WI

Concordia’s online master’s in school counseling offers a K-12 school counselor track, leading to state licensure in Wisconsin. Distance learners take courses in human development, tests, and measurement and consultation strategies. Students may also pursue optional electives in psychopharmacology and family counseling, among other choices. Mandatory coursework includes two practicums, totaling 600 professional hours, and a professional portfolio.

Applicants should have earned a 3.0 GPA or better in college. Courses are offered both synchronously and asynchronously in Blackboard, and online students may choose a convenient location near their residence to complete required practicum courses. As a Lutheran school, Concordia strives to integrate faith-based learning into all of its online programs.

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10

University of the Cumberlands

 3/535.56%Williamsburg, KY

UC's online MA offers a concentration in P-12 school counseling. While the degree does not directly lead to state licensure, the program does offer additional certification options for prospective counselors. Distance learners study multicultural counseling and advanced clinical assessment techniques, while also learning how to teach students with disabilities. Students earning their online master’s in school counseling are required to complete either a practicum—for teachers—or an internship—non-teachers—to finish the degree. Students must maintain a 3.0 GPA to graduate.

Students must have earned a 2.75 GPA or better in their bachelor’s program in order to be admitted into UC. Online graduate students may take up to two courses during each eight-week term, and full-time students can complete the degree in just 10 months. Enrollment for the school counseling degree is open during six eight-week terms per year; two-each in every fall, spring, and summer term at UC.

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11

Our Lady of the Lake University

 4/537.58%San Antonio, TX

OLLU's online master’s in school counseling focuses on primary and secondary school students. Distance learners study ethics and multicultural issues in schools, disabilities training, and vocational and aptitude assessment techniques. The degree prepares graduates to sit for the TExES school counseling exam, and to pursue national school counselor licensure and certification. Students must complete two practicums and a seminar in school counseling to complete the degree.

Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. They should have earned a 2.75 cumulative GPA or better, or have finished their final 60 credits with at least a 3.0 GPA. All courses are offered asynchronously. The M.Ed. degree can be completed in just two years, or eight semesters. OLLU offers a 10% tuition discount to military students, and also extends additional benefits to veterans as part of the post-9/11 GI Bill.

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12

University of Central Arkansas

 2/544.67%Conway, AR

UCA's online master’s in school counseling program helps students build professional skills and experience in the field. Distance learners may choose either an initial licensure track or an add-on licensure track, depending on whether they already have an Arkansas teaching license. School counseling students at UCA learn how to develop and implement counseling programs appropriate for students from a variety of backgrounds. Master’s students must complete a practicum and field internship to graduate.

Applicants must have earned a 2.70 or a GPA or better as undergraduates, or obtained a 3.0 over their final 60 hours of coursework. Courses are offered synchronously over an online learning platform, though occasional asynchronous sessions and on-campus meetings may be required.

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13

University of Tennessee – Martin

 2/547.04%Martin, TN

UT Martin's online master’s degree in school counseling prepares students for licensure in school counseling. As part of the program, distance learners may pursue a concentration in school counseling or student affairs and college counseling. Innovative course offerings include:

  • Helping Relationships
  • Social and Cultural Diversity
  • Career Development

Student affairs and college counseling students must complete a practicum and two internship experiences to graduate.

Admission into the school counseling program at UT Martin may be conditional or unconditional. Unconditional admission requires students to have obtained at least a 2.70 cumulative GPA as undergraduates, while conditional admission applicants must have earned a GPA of at least 2.5 or a 3.0 GPA during their senior year. A one-time, four-day residency is required on campus for all students.

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14

Missouri Baptist University

 4/544.22%Saint Louis, MO

MBU's online master’s in school counseling program meets certification standards in Missouri for counselors in elementary and secondary schools. Students may choose one of three concentrations: K-8, 7-12, or combined K-8 and 7-12 counseling. Regardless of specialty, distance learners study child and adolescent therapy, teaching methods, and inclusion for cross-categorical disabilities and multicultural counseling. Students are required to complete a practicum, an internship, or both to graduate.

Applicants to MBU’s K-8 and 7-12 school counseling programs must be certified teachers prior to admission, whereas combined K-12 applicants do not need to be certified. All students are required to maintain a GPA of at least 3.0 throughout their time in school and are encouraged to study at their own pace, either part-time or full-time.

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15

Regent University

 3/550%Virginia Beach, VA

Regent's school counseling degree combines biblical perspectives with modern counseling techniques. Courses teach students to diagnose and treat psychological disorders, and prepare distance learners to work with students from all backgrounds. Graduates with an online master’s degree in school counseling are also prepared to pursue school counselor certification in Virginia. Required coursework includes a practicum, an internship, and three annual one-week residencies on campus. Regent also offers a school counseling certificate for students who already have their degree.

Applicants should hold a bachelor’s degree with a 3.0 GPA or better. Regent offers rolling admission and, once accepted, students may begin coursework in the fall or spring semesters. Online courses are taught synchronously and asynchronously depending on the class, and are offered in a cohort format in Blackboard.

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16

Angelo State University

 2/529.75%San Angelo, TX

Angelo State's online master’s in school counseling degree prepares students to sit for the TExES certification exam and to pursue a career in school or college counseling. Distance learners study social and cultural influences, lifespan development, and the latest curriculum and methodology trends in the field. They must also complete a comprehensive program review to graduate; those planning to pursue the TExES certification process are required to complete an additional practicum in school counseling.

Applicants should have a bachelor’s degree, a Texas Teacher Certificate, and two years of teaching experience. They should also have earned a GPA of at least 2.75 over their last 60 hours of undergraduate coursework. Courses are eight weeks long and are taught in an accelerated format; full-time students can graduate in just two years.

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17

University of West Alabama

 2/532.9%Livingston, AL

UWA's school counseling degree offers certification and non-certification options online. Distance learners in both concentrations study educational statistics, strategies for crisis intervention, and multicultural counseling techniques. Certification students must complete a practicum and two internships. Non-certification students must also complete two practicum courses, with no internship requirement. All students earning an online master’s in school counseling have to maintain a 3.0 GPA to graduate. Applicants are also required to hold a valid teaching certificate and to have taught full-time for two years.

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18

Fort Hays State University

 1/543.01%Hays, KS

Fort Hays State's online master’s in school counseling degree emphasizes contemporary issues in school counseling. Courses cover social and cultural foundations, counseling appraisal, and managing counseling programs. Students are required to complete a practicum, internship, and three four-day courses on campus. The curriculum trains students to provide practical counseling experience in a diverse school environment.

Applicants must have obtained a bachelor’s degree and earned a 3.0 GPA or better in their final 60 credit hours. Courses are offered both asynchronously and synchronously. Fort Hays offers rolling admission for fall, spring, and summer semesters. In an effort to cater to active-duty military and veterans, the university extends financial aid and student discounts to qualifying military servicemen and their spouses.

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19

Indiana Wesleyan University

 4/562.53%Marion, IN

IWU's online master’s in school counseling degree applies a service-based, Christian perspective to contemporary counseling theory and practice. Students take courses that integrate Christian principles into school counseling, while also studying the legal, ethical, and professional issues inherent in human growth and development. Distance learners must complete a supervised practicum and two internships. Graduates are prepared for licensure or certification exams in their state.

Applicants must have already earned a baccalaureate degree, and graduated with a 3.0 GPA or better. Students also have to meet prerequisites in psychology and Bible studies to begin the program. Courses are offered online, though all distance learners must attend one four-day, on-campus intensive each semester.

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20

Southwestern Assemblies of God University

 3/541.03%Waxahachie, TX

SAGU's online master’s in school counseling program integrates a research-based curriculum into its courses. Distance learners take innovative classes in research literature and technology, differentiated learning strategies, and classroom management. All coursework is grounded in traditional Christian values and principles. Students must complete an internship in school counseling to complete their degree.

Applicants should have evidence of a born again spiritual experience. They are required to have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord and adhere to a virtuous Christian lifestyle. A Christian character reference is also required for admission. Online courses are offered through Blackboard.

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How Long Is a Master’s in School Counseling Program?
2 to 3 years
Program Costs
$8,000 to $20,000 in annual tuition
Concentrations
Elementary Education, Middle School or High School Counseling, Postsecondary Counseling, Career Planning, Special Education
Accreditation
Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
Additional Considerations
Completion of a supervised internship is required for most state-issued school counselor licenses, so students should ensure their program offers internship opportunities or some sort of practicum-based equivalent.

Job Placement: Master’s vs Bachelor’s of School Counseling

According to a recent survey by U.S. News & World Report, school counselors in the United States have a relatively low unemployment rate, at 3.3%. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the profession is projected to grow by 8% — roughly 22,500 jobs — between 2014 and 2024. This rate is higher than the projected 5% growth for all industries during the same timeframe. However, education budget cuts at both the state and federal levels could mitigate any projected growth.

Additional BLS data reveals that professional counselors who hold a master’s degree outnumber their bachelor’s-holding counterparts by nearly two to one. The high number of master’s-holders has created a competitive job market for school counselors. Students who earn master’s degrees from top online programs will be well-positioned against other candidates.

Using BLS figures, the table below features the top employing industries for professional school counselors in the United States. As the table indicates, elementary and secondary school counselors represent more employees than the other four industries combined.

Industry Number of Professional Counselors Employed in the Industry (U.S.)
Elementary and Secondary Schools 127,100
Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools 54,980
Junior Colleges 20,160
Educational Support Services 4,060
Technical and Trade Schools 3,110

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Earning a Living

In addition to more favorable job placement rates, school counselors with a master’s degree enjoy higher earning potential. The BLS notes that the median annual salary for professional counselors with a master’s is $50,000. Compared to the median salary of $37,000 for counselors with a bachelor’s, master’s-holders outearn their peers with lesser degrees by 35%.

According to U.S. News & World Report, the median annual salary for school counselors in the U.S. (regardless of degree level) is $53,370. A thorough salary breakdown for school counselors is listed in the table below.

Median Annual Salary
Lowest-Paid $31,960
25th Percentile $40,900
Median $69,250
75th Percentile $69,250
Highest-Paid $86,610

Source: U.S. News & World Report

School counselor salaries vary depending on their area of specialization and work experience level. The next table uses PayScale data to show the salary expectations for different school counseling roles at four career benchmarks.

Occupation Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years) Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years) Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ Years)
High School Counselor $42,000 $52,000 $59,000 $68,000
School Counselor $42,692 $48,012 $56,140 $62,343
College Career Counselor $42,000 $49,000 $57,000 $69,000
Admissions Counselor (College/University) $34,795 $40,703 $46,119 $42,854

Source: PayScale

The table reveals that high school counselors and college career counselors have a nearly identical career trajectory, with the same salary at the entry-level mark and very similar salaries throughout their career. Also, it’s important to note that the salary for admission counselors at colleges and universities actually begins to decline after the 10-20 year mark. PayScale does not currently have career salary data for elementary school counselors.

Career Opportunities

Graduates who leave school with a master’s degree will qualify for dozens of school counseling jobs, although individual eligibility will depend on the candidate’s specialization, licensure status, and other specific criteria. Below you’ll find details on some of the most common career pathways for school counseling master’s graduates.

Elementary School Counselors: At the elementary level (typically kindergarten through grade 6), counselors focus on fundamental learning and social skills. They routinely evaluate individual students for learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, and other issues that may hinder their education and development.

Middle School Counselors: In middle schools (grades 7 and 8, as well as grade 9 in some cases), counselors often help students address some of the physical and emotional issues related to early adolescence. They often collaborate with teachers, administrators, and other faculty and staff to foster a supportive, positive learning environment for students as they enter their teenage years.

High School Counselors: In high schools, counselors typically divide their energy between students who need support for emotional or social issues, and those seeking advice about college and/or career planning. Larger high schools may hire separate counselors who specialize in each area, while these roles may be combined at smaller schools with a limited counseling staff.

College Counselors: Most colleges and universities have large counseling departments with personnel that specializes in different niche areas of the field. Some offer mental health counseling and support for emotional or social issues. Others provide career guidance or assist applicants with the admissions process.

Licensure requirements vary by grade level and type of institution. Counselors must receive licensure in all 50 state in order to practice at public elementary and secondary schools. In order to sit for the licensing exam, candidates in most states must complete a set number of supervised clinical hours; master’s program internships usually satisfy this requirement. In some states, one or two years of work experience or a teaching license will also be required. There is no licensing requirement for counselors at private schools or college-level career counselors.

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to school counseling is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you’ll find three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for school counselors. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates. Resources like these often prove invaluable as you complete your degree requirements and prepare to enter the job market.

  • American School Counselor Association: The ASCA is a national association for school counselors working at all education levels, from elementary to college. Member benefits include discounts on professional development courses, complimentary liability insurance and a free subscription to two online publications.
  • American Counseling Association: Founded in 1952, the ACA has more than 56,000 members and is the largest organization representing professional counselors in the world. The website includes a vast online resource library, government publications, a career center, and links to continuing education opportunities.
  • International School Counselor Association: The ISCA is dedicated to counselors who work in international schools across the globe. Individual and organizational memberships are available, and the association hosts an annual conference in a different major world city each year.
Despite the relative affordability of online school counseling master’s programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.

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 you can use to reduce your overall student debt.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several 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, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR WOMEN

Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We’ve curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family’s financial future. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.