Best Online Bachelor’s in Counseling Programs

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Badge (Online) with 2-Line TitleBachelor'sin Counseling2017
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Professional counselors see clients who are struggling with various interpersonal issues and help them overcome them through different therapy techniques. This rewarding field includes many subdivisions, and counselors typically specialize in niche areas of their profession. These specializations include school and career counseling, addiction counseling, marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling and rehabilitation counseling. Counselors also vary in their preferred methods of therapy delivery. Some primarily counsel clients in a one-on-one setting, while others provide therapy to couples, families and large groups.

A master’s degree in counseling is the minimum education level for most counseling jobs, and counselors who offer services in private practices or public schools must also earn full licensure in all 50 states. However, a bachelor’s degree in counseling is a critical first step for those who aspire to a career in this profession. Programs typically include degree specialization or concentration options, as well internship or residency courses. Many of today’s students are choosing to earn their bachelor’s degree in counseling online. The best online bachelor’s in counseling programs follow the same rigorous curriculum as brick-and-mortar options, and the self-paced schedule of most online degrees is ideal for students with part-time jobs, childcare duties and other commitments that may interfere with campus-based learning.

Learn more about what you can do with an online bachelor’s degree in counseling and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.


An online bachelor’s degree in counseling will introduce the fundamental theories and methods that currently guide the counseling profession. Courses will cover topics like psychology, mental health and behavioral disorders, human growth and development and empirical research methods, as well as laws and ethics for licensed counselors. Internship and residency courses also enable students to visit active worksites and receive supervised training from experienced professionals. The best online bachelor’s in counseling programs will also prepare students for post-graduation requirements, such as licensing exams.


Online counseling bachelor’s programs offer a flexible alternative to traditional classroom learning. Students can access course readings and lectures, submit written assignments, take exams and communicate with their professors at the click of a mouse. Current technology also enables them to study away from the home computer using a laptop, tablet, smartphone and other Wi-Fi-compatible devices. For added convenience, online counseling students can usually coordinate internships, residencies and any other onsite courses at locations near their current address.


Although some entry-level jobs at counseling centers may be available, a bachelor’s degree will not be sufficient for most counseling careers. Many counselors earn a master’s degree ― and in some cases, a Ph.D. ― before entering the workforce, and those who plan to offer private practice services must complete all licensure prerequisites for the state where they plan to work. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that a bachelor’s degree may be adequate for those with career plans in substance abuse counseling. College graduates with a bachelor’s in counseling may also be able to land jobs in fields related to counseling, such as social work or human resources.


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 bachelor’s degree in counseling programs in the United States. If you are considering an online bachelor’s in counseling, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific bachelor’s degree requirements and offerings.

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Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Location Description
1 John Wesley University 76.64 High Point, NC

John Wesley University is located in High Point, North Carolina and offers an online counseling program. The university was founded in 1993 and is an interdenominational Christian university. It is one of the best online counseling programs because of its low student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1 and the lowest tuition of any private liberal arts college in North Carolina.

John Wesley offers a high-quality Christian counseling major. Their online writing lab provides editing tips and tutoring on the writing process via Skype and FaceTime. Students earning a counseling degree online from John Wesley University will graduate with the skills and knowledge to help others heal and grow through personal counseling.

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2 Johnson University 69.25 Knoxville, TN

Johnson University is a Christian University with campuses in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Kissimmee, Florida. Its pastoral care and counseling major teaches cultural sensitivity, counseling through ministry and pastoral services, and family, conflict, and community counseling. For students interested in an online counseling degree with a scriptural emphasis, Johnson University is a great option.

Besides earning your counseling degree online, you can grow personally and professionally through Johnson’s online courses. The university offers forums for community discussion and internships for real-world experience. It’s ranked in the top 20% of all colleges and universities nationwide as a military-friendly school.

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3 Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion 67.49 Marion, IN

While around 3,000 students attend classes on campus at Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion in Marion, Indiana, more than 10,000 study online. Its online counseling program in addictions counseling is a 22-month degree completion program that is completed entirely online, except for the practicum during your senior year. IWU is one of the best online counseling programs because of its online flexibility combined with real-world experience in the practicum.

The largest private college in Indiana, IWU campus has beautiful buildings that were mostly constructed in the last 25 years. For online students wanting to visit or take some courses on-campus, its location is only an hour from Fort Wayne or Indianapolis. Its excellent student experiences both on-campus and online make IWU a great place to earn your online counseling degree.

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4 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus 62.01 Cincinnati, OH

The University of Cincinnati provides one of the best online counseling programs for students wanting to pursue a career as chemical dependency counselors. Its online counseling program is focused on substance abuse counseling; upon graduation, students are qualified for Ohio licensure and national certification. Students earning an online counseling degree can expect to learn from nationally-recognized faculty and experienced practitioners.

Courses range from Group Skills to Case Management; UC students can expect a high caliber of education. U.S. News & World Report ranked UC among the “top tier of Best National Universities”. The school is known as the global birthplace for co-operative education, an educational model which alternates semesters of traditional education with semesters working full-time in their professional field.

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5 University of South Dakota 59.59 Vermillion, SD

One of the best online counseling programs is offered by the University of South Dakota. Its addiction studies degree is an online counseling program that often qualifies to meet standards for state, national, and international certification. USD’s competitive tuition is offered to all students, whether in-state or out-of-state, on-campus, or online. The same prestigious faculty who teach on campus also teach their online courses.

In addition to learning online, students can participate in intramural sports, sororities and fraternities, and a variety of clubs all offered at the beautiful campus in Vermillion, South Dakota. The university has a 97% job or graduate school placement and more than 10,000 students enrolled.

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6 Crown College 59.20 Saint Bonifacius, MN

Crown College offers two online counseling programs in alcohol and drug counseling and psychology/counseling. These are some of the best online counseling programs because of the unique curriculum that many other schools do not cover until the master’s degree level. Crown College’s online counseling degrees focus on skills-based training from a Christian perspective, with focuses in human behavior and development, addiction response, ministry, social work, and other topics.

Tuition is significantly lower than at other universities, with 98% of students receiving student loans, scholarships, and financial aid. On campus students participate in the local community on campus and in the town of Saint Bonifacius, Minnesota, just west of Minneapolis. The college was ranked in MONEY Magazine’s list of 50 Colleges that add the most value and placed in the top 15% of their “Best Colleges” list.

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7 Northwestern State University of Louisiana 56.86 Natchitoches, LA

Northwestern State University of Louisiana offers two online counseling programs in psychology with a concentration in prevention specialist and psychology with a concentration in substance abuse. While they require the same base psychology courses, the different concentrations include four required electives specific to each emphasis. The university also has an online counseling degree in addiction studies. Upon graduating in their emphases, qualified students can apply for state certification or licensure as an addiction professional.

NSU is located in Natchitoches, Louisiana and was established in 1884 in an old mansion. Three columns remain from the original structure, making it the oldest continually occupied site for higher education in Louisiana. Its online program eNSU is the state’s first and largest electronic campus. Online students are not charged out-of-state fees; that’s one reason NSU was ranked the fourth most affordable online college for 2016.

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8 Oral Roberts University 56.16 Tulsa, OK

Located in beautiful Tulsa, Oklahoma, Oral Roberts offers 13 online degree programs, including an online counseling program focused on Christian caregiving. This counseling degree online prepares students for counseling within local churches and ministries, helping others focus on wholeness in every area of their life: spirit, mind, and body. Students can choose electives within the major that apply to their professional interests; the program finishes with a senior practicum or paper.

ORU has a high retention rate, with 80% of students returning to continue their studies. Its student base represents all 50 states and 89 countries, and hundreds of students participate in short-term mission trips to five different continents.

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9 Grace College and Theological Seminary 54.43 Winona Lake, IN

Grace College is an evangelical Christian college located in Winona Lake, Indiana with an online counseling program. Grace emphasizes putting Christ above all and focuses on individual growth as a preparation for service and careers. Its campus has clubs focused on service, intramural sports, music, and international cultural awareness.

Grace College's online program offers an online counseling degree in human services. It’s a degree completion program that can be finished in as little as 16 months. Students can start in fall, spring, or summer and have specific curriculum maps tailored to their chosen start date. The counseling degree online features adult assessments instead of traditional examinations. It is also part of the college’s GOAL (Grace Opportunities for Adult Learners) program, which is designed for adult students balancing other commitments, and has a lower tuition rate than other degree completion programs.

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10 University of Central Arkansas 54.16 Conway, AR

The University of Central Arkansas is the only university in the state to offer a program focused on Addiction Studies. Offered on campus and as an online counseling program, the addiction studies program prepares students to work in hospitals, clinics, schools, assistance programs, government agencies, criminal justice, or drug courts. The online counseling degree offers both a treatment and prevention track; both require a capstone specific to the different tracks.

Located in Conway, Arkansas, 30 miles north of Little Rock, UCA has a 350-acre campus with more than 11,000 students enrolled. Students participate in Division 1 athletics or cheer from the Bear Den, an organized student cheer section. There are also 13 fraternities and 10 sororities on campus.

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11 Southwestern Assemblies of God University 53.01 Waxahachie, TX

Southwestern Assemblies of God in Waxahachie, Texas (south of Dallas) offers chapel worship services Tuesday through Friday, which also streams on SaguTV on demand for students who cannot attend. Sports, student cinema, and seminars are all streamed on SaguTV for students and faculty to benefit from.

SAGU also offers two excellent online counseling programs in community care and counseling, or counseling with an optional minor. Community care and counseling includes internship opportunities in pastoral leadership or field practicum, while the counseling major offers traditional counseling courses for working outside of the ministry. SAGU online counseling degrees offer credit for experience; any students who enroll in three-hour experiential learning credit course have the opportunity to earn up to 45 hours of credits for knowledge and work experience. This can save you thousands annually and increase your return on your educational investment.

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12 Lee University 52.91 Cleveland, TN

At Lee University, students can learn from the online program in ministry leadership, with a counseling emphasis. This online counseling degree includes the religion and general education cores, along with advanced theology classes and eight courses in counseling and psychology to complete the emphasis. Undergraduate ministry students receive a tuition discount of $202 per semester hour.

Lee is located in Cleveland, Tennessee -- less than 30 minutes from Chattanooga and 20 minutes from the Ocoee River. It was ranked “Best in the Southeast” by the Princeton Review. Its campus has more than 100 clubs and dozens of study abroad programs worldwide. The university is known for its flexible learning with online learning, adult learning, and satellite campus options for students.

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13 Eastern Washington University 52.12 Cheney, WA

EWU’s online counseling program is a degree completion program in addiction studies, offering the required course to become a certified Chemical Dependency Professional in the state of Washington. Courses like relapse prevention and adolescent addiction assessment & treatment focus on issues of substance use disorders to help students learn how to help others improve their lives. Additional areas of study include a minor in addiction studies counseling and prevention, and a certificate in suicide assessment, treatment & management. Graduate programs include two graduate certificates, and a master’s of addiction counseling will be offered soon.

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14 Tiffin University 51.36 Tiffin, OH

Tiffin University offers an online counseling program in psychology with a concentration in applied-human services. This online counseling degree is designed for individuals who want to work in caregiving or social work. Studies include building knowledge and skills, a psychology core, the concentration of human services, and elective courses. While the degree does not provide licensure, it trains students for either immediate employment or graduate school.

Tiffin is located in Tiffin, Ohio and was founded in 1888 and has enrollment of more than 4,200. The university offers a unique art gallery from artists local to Ohio, a career development office for counseling and recruitment, and club sports ranging from paintball to bowling to cheerleading.

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15 Ohio Christian University 49.41 Circleville, OH

Ohio Christian University helps students make a lasting impact with an online counseling program in substance abuse counseling. OCU’s online and onsite formats, relevant coursework, and affordable tuition make it easy to reach your dreams of helping others. The online counseling degree is designed to meet the necessary 180 hours of chemical dependency education for Ohio state licensure. Upon graduation, many students participate in supervised counseling at a treatment facility and take the licensure test to receive their license.

OCU is located in Circleville, Ohio, but it has additional locations throughout Ohio and Georgia. Its student-to-faculty ratio is a low 10:1, with undergraduate, graduate, adult, online, and high school students. On-campus activities include athletics through the NAIA division, gospel concert series, and golf tournaments.

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16 University of the Cumberlands 47.93 Williamsburg, KY

At University of the Cumberlands, online counseling program students earn their bachelor’s in human services, a field of study which strengthens your own values and self awareness as you learn about appreciating and helping others. Students in the counseling degree online program learn about professional helping skills, behavioral theories, and ethical practices, and will be prepared for a career as a counselor or probation officer.

University of the Cumberlands is located in the green rolling hills of Williamsburg, Kentucky. It offers 27 sports, campus ministries, and unique intramurals and clubs. Online students can enjoy flexible learning, eight-week accelerated programs, multiple start dates per year, and refined curriculum designed for a smooth transition to the workplace.

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17 Dallas Christian College 45.91 Dallas, TX

Dallas Christian College offers FLEXCampus for distance learning students who want to learn through an online counseling program. Majors include psychology or psychology and the Bible; both include a heavy emphasis on pastoral counseling and counseling methods. These counseling degree online programs are designed for incorporating psychology theories into pastoral counseling.

DCC is located in Dallas and offers its students athletics, chapel services, Kingdom Week (which emphasizes mission trips to other cities and countries), a day of service instead of classes, and residence hall devotions. Student clubs include government, flag football, ministry, drama, and the urban team, which serves impoverished neighborhoods in urban Dallas. Online students can access the career database, interact with students and professors through web conferences, and customize their classes for the schedule that works best for them.

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18 Tennessee Temple University 40.68 Chattanooga, TN

Tennessee Temple University recently merged with Piedmont University, increasing its number of online programs. At Piedmont, an online counseling program is possible for students majoring in Bible Studies with a minor in counseling. The minor requires 18 additional semester hours in counseling. Combining these courses with the Bible studies, online counseling degree students graduate with skills in Christian ministry to help serve their local churches through counseling.

Tennessee Temple University provides a Christ-centered education in Chattanooga, Tennessee, while Piedmont is located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Its athletics, courses, and programs will be under the Piedmont International University name going forward.

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19 Arlington Baptist College 40.66 Arlington, TX

Arlington Baptist College in Arlington, Texas (part of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex) offers a program in biblical counseling online. The online counseling degree courses include biblical conflict resolution, essential qualities of a biblical counselor, Christian service, and others. The program is designed for students who want to learn about counseling in a ministry context. Its online campus is designed for online collaboration and come in eight-week terms for accelerated graduation.

Arlington Baptist College offers exciting student life opportunities, conferences and seminars, nine competitive sports, and fun events like mission trips, Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. The college offers 12 undergraduate and four master’s degrees; its goal is to help students become “world changers.”

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20 Trinity College of Florida 35.87 Trinity, FL

Trinity College of Florida is located in the city of Trinity, a growing city that is part of the greater Tampa area and minutes away from the Gulf Coast beaches. On-campus students get to enjoy the nearby 35,000 square foot YMCA, chapel services twice a week, and student groups like student government, missionary fellowship, and prayer group. Students also get involved with Christian service by helping at local churches, with a minimum of 20 service hours required per semester.

The online counseling program at Trinity College of Florida awards a bachelor's degree in counseling. The program can be completed on-campus or as a counseling degree online through TrinityQuest, the college’s distance learning platform. Graduates leave Trinity prepared to work as a counselor in ministry and community settings, human services, social welfare case management, and child and family services.

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4 to 5 years
Program Costs
$15,000 to $32,000 in annual tuition
Popular Minors and Dual Areas of Study
Psychology, Education, Behavioral Science, Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy, School and Career Counseling, Substance Abuse Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling
Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)

Job Placement

The counseling profession as a whole is expected to grow by a substantial margin between 2014 and 2024. This increase is due in part to the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA); according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, roughly 20 million previously uninsured Americans now have medical coverage. Under the ACA, mental health issues are to evaluated and treated the same way as other chronic diseases. An aging baby boomer population is also contributing to the demand for licensed counselors, particularly those specialized in clients with dementia and other mental health issues associated with elderly populations.

According to BLS projections, more than 80,000 counseling jobs will be added over the next decade. The following table breaks down these BLS estimates for four of the most common counseling professions.

Profession Number of Jobs in the Industry (2014) Projected Growth Rate for Jobs (2014-24) Projected Increase in Number of Jobs (2014-24)
Mental Health Counselors and Marriage/Family Therapists 168,200 19% 31,400
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors 94,900 22% 21,200
Rehabilitation Counselors 120,100 9% 10,800
School and Career Counselors 273,400 8% 22,500

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

These healthy job growth predictions have already translated into low unemployment rates for licensed counselors. The latest estimates from U.S. News & World Report found that substance abuse and behavioral counselors, marriage and family therapists and school counselors all face an unemployment rate of 3.3%. By comparison, the national unemployment rate for all occupations is currently set at 4.9%.

Earning a Living

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for all occupations in ‘community and social service occupations’ (including counselors) is $42,010. However, earning potential for counselors will vary by their career specialization, as well as other factors like educational attainment, licensure status and city/state of employment. The next table looks at salary expectations for common counseling careers at four different 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)
Marriage and Family Therapist $46,671 $50,213 $60,632 $65,918
School Counselor $42,692 $48,012 $56,140 $62,343
Career Counselor $40,183 $42,607 $47,962 $55,407
Substance Abuse Counselor $33,577 $37,850 $40,422 $43,796
Mental Health Counselor $37,230 $40,294 $45,048 $48,676

Source: PayScale

Of the five careers listed, school counselors experience the highest rate of career salary growth: 46.0% between the entry-level and late-career stages. However, the rate of growth was comparable between all five professions; the remaining four ranged between 30% and 42% salary growth after 20 years in the workforce.

Career and Further Education Opportunities

Although a graduate degree and full licensure will be required for most counseling careers, college graduates with a bachelor’s degree in counseling will be qualified for numerous entry-level jobs in the field. Four common career pathways for counseling degree majors are outlined below.

School and Career Counselors: Found in public and private schools at all grade levels, school counselors work with students to address and overcome personal issues related to their academics and home life. Elementary and middle school counselors primarily help students build fundamental learning skills and provide them with emotional support. At the high school and postsecondary levels, counselors generally support students through career and college planning advice. While most of these counselors work in school offices, some may find employment through companies that provide after-school counseling services.

Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists: These counseling professionals help clients cope with a wide range of emotional and behavioral issues. They often observe and diagnose clients, and then provide the appropriate level of therapy. Mental health counselors specialize in various interpersonal issues, while marriage and family therapists mainly help clients tackle domestic issues.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor: These counselors (also referred to as ‘addiction counselors’) help patients who struggle with alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling and other potentially destructive behaviors. Addiction counselors first help clients pinpoint ‘triggers’, or aspects of their life (such as work or family) that can lead to addictive spirals. They also support clients during the treatment and recovery phases.

Rehabilitation Counselors: Rehabilitation (or ‘rehab’) counselors help clients who live with physical and/or emotional disabilities. These counselors support clients by helping them seek employment, take care of day-to-day tasks and otherwise maintain an independent lifestyle. Many rehab counselors specialize in niche groups, such as children/students or military veterans who have been wounded in action.

Occupation Median Annual Salary Degree and Licensure Requirements
Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists $43,190 Minimum master’s degree; State-issued license required; 2,000 to 4,000 post-degree supervised hours required for licensure (varies by state); Annual continuing education required for licensed counselors
Rehabilitation Counselors $34,390 Minimum master’s degree; State-issued license required for those who work with patients or clients; 2,000 to 4,000 post-degree supervised hours required for licensure (varies by state); Annual continuing education required for licensed counselors
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors $39,980 Minimum bachelor’s degree; State-issued license required for those in private practice; 2,000 to 4,000 post-degree supervised hours required for licensure (varies by state); Annual continuing education required for licensed counselors
School and Career Counselors $53,660 Minimum master’s degree; State-issued certification, license or other teaching credential; 1 to 2 years of classroom experience; Criminal background check

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to 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 professional counselors. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.

  • American Counseling Association: Founded in 1952, the ACA is considered the world’s largest professional organization for professional counselors, and has more than 52,000 current members. The ACA website features an extensive virtual knowledge center that contains information about licensure requirements, diagnostics, ethics, and other important areas of the field. Continuing education opportunities, journal publications, and an online job board are also available.
  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT): The leading professional organization for counselors specializing in marriage and family counseling, the AAMFT represents more than 50,000 licensed counselors worldwide. The website features a job board and licensure links, an online information library, and a virtual networking center.
  • This global organization (NAADAC for short) represents roughly 85,000 counselors, educators and other addiction-related personnel in the U.S., Canada and overseas. Member benefits include reduced rates on professional development courses, complimentary journal subscriptions and discounts for malpractice and liability insurance.

Despite the relative affordability of online 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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.