Financial Aid

Financial Aid Eligibility: Why Accreditation is Key

The U.S. government, the biggest source of funds for undergraduate and graduate education, provides access to money in the form of student loans, grants and need-based aid. To qualify for federal financial aid, you must enroll at an accredited college or university. In order for an institution to be considered accredited, the faculty, programs and curricula are assessed and vetted by an independent agency. The government maintains a database of all higher education institutions and their accreditation status.

In 2006, Congress decreed that students attending online schools qualify for federal financial aid as long as their online programs or schools met the same accreditation criteria as campus-based schools. If you plan to complete your degree online, it is important to make sure the school is not a “diploma mill.” This nickname refers to for-profit organizations that cite phony accreditation agencies in an effort to appear credible. These mills then take students’ money and issue them a near-worthless degree or diploma. Check the list of distance education accrediting agencies supported by the U.S. government to ensure you are not being scammed.

How Accreditation Affects School Search

Given the politics surrounding federal financial aid and accreditation, it is important to do two things before enrolling in school:

  1. Confirm with your potential school and program that they accept the sorts of financial aid you are pursuing.
  2. Confirm with the financial aid source — federal government, nonprofit, business, or any other organization — that the school you are interested in meets their criteria for providing funding.