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Certificate courses can offer quick entry to a new career field or add depth to knowledge you already posses. They are not, however, courses that lead to a degree, many times cannot transfer to another school or college and may not be eligible programs for federal financial assistance. Despite this, it may still be possible to find a way to fund your education via financial aid.
A first step in determining whether you can get financial aid for certificate courses is to establish whether your school participates in the Federal Student Aid program. In order for a school to participate and offer any form of federal financial aid, it must have accreditation credentials from an agency of which the U.S. Department of Education approves. Participation allows your school to offer financial aid such as a Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Federal Perkins Loan, Federal Subsidized or an Unsubsidized Direct Loan. If the school provides information telling you to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you can be sure it participates.
You will not be eligible for federal financial aid if you enroll in a single certificate class. However, depending on the school, you may be eligible if you enroll in a certificate program. Some schools offer no options for financial aid and require payment in full for each certificate course in which you enroll, whether part of a program or not. Others designate certain certificate programs as qualified, making them eligible for federal financial aid. The difference lies mainly in whether the school is a vocational school or college, with vocational schools more likely to exclude certificate programs from financial aid programs.
If your school participates in the federal financial aid program and your certificate classes are eligible, you must still meet individual eligibility requirements. Most often, this means you must be a United States citizen with a valid Social Security number and--if you are a male age 18 or older--registered with the Selective Service. In addition, you must maintain an enrollment status of at least half-time, keep a satisfactory grade point average (GPA) and be in good standing with any federal financial aid loans or grants you may already have.
If federal financial assistance is not available for your certificate class, investigate other financial aid options. These can include alternative education loans, a tuition reimbursement program your employer may offer or program-specific grants your school may offer. Alternative education loans are available through your bank, private loan agencies or agencies that specialize in educational loans. A drawback to private loans is a characteristically higher interest rate and eligibility rules that may require getting a cosigner in order to qualify.
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Based in Green Bay, Wisc., Jackie Lohrey has been writing professionally since 2009. In addition to writing web content and training manuals for small business clients and nonprofit organizations, including ERA Realtors and the Bay Area Humane Society, Lohrey also works as a finance data analyst for a global business outsourcing company.