Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Finding Financial Aid for Online Courses...

The reason that I haven't blogged about my classes lately is that I have been searching for some kind of financial aid for my certificate program. I'm on a tight budget – and as I'm probably not the only one, I thought I'd share what I found out on my frustrating search for financial aid.

First, the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit is available for U.S. Students who are taking professional learning courses, including those to improve job skills. If you paid for such courses in 2009, don't forget to file Form 8863 with your tax return to claim this credit. You can learn more about this credit, as well as others, at this page on the IRS website.
If you're a U.S. student taking courses at an accredited institution, you can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine your eligibility for federal grants and loans. Have a copy of your tax return ready and go here to do so. However, the National Institute of Genealogical Studies does not fall under this category. There's only one such institution that I know of that does, Brigham Young University in Utah. This requires you to live on campus – not an option for me.
I've been told to go to FastWeb, but the site could not find me any relevant matching scholarships. This is because my school and major were not listed – there was no close match that I could find in their list. I wish that I could search the site for key terms, but the only option seems to be to let FastWeb match scholarships to your profile.
I found one loan online that would allow me to borrow for a certificate program: The Sallie Mae Smart Option Loan. Although it says that those pursuing a certificate program can apply, NIGS and St. Michael's College weren't on their list of eligible schools, and I'm not sure that selecting the University of Toronto is entirely correct. It didn't matter for me, anyway – I was denied for the loan. This loan does have a relatively high interest rate, and requires interest payments during school.
After investigating all of these options with no success, I was frustrated. I decided to give Louise St Denis, Managing Director of NIGS, a call and ask for her advice. She's very busy, and so somewhat difficult to get ahold of, but she was very helpful and pleasant. She helped me set up a payment plan with NIGS. I had the option to split my payments over a period of months – 3 months to pay for a smaller course package, or 6 months to pay for a larger one. These plans could also include the cost of course materials for all courses in the package, which saves a great deal of money, because course materials do not have to be split up into several small shipments.
What a relief! I can finally afford to pay for my classes. I think I may have found my calling here; it would have been very disappointing to have to defer these classes. I really wish that there more options for financial aid for certificate programs, specifically those attended online.
So, soon I'll be taking Methodology: Part 2 as well as Electronic Resources: Using the Internet. I'll let you know how they go!


  1. Sarah

    Good information. I enrolled in the Boston University Online Genealogical Research certificate program and paid in full in 2009 ($2495 with 10% NEHGS or NGS discount).

    I did file for the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit and this did help with my 2009 US Federal income taxes which I just filed.

    Also, since I had to cash in an IRA in 2009 to cover various expenses, I was able to diminish the sting of the 10% penalty by stating that a portion went to cover my education. I don't think many realize that more and more of us who've been "funemployed" since the Great Recession have had to cash in retirement money. It helps to be able to lessen the impact of the 10% early withdrawal penalty.

  2. That's a good point - I had to do the same thing with my 401k.