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How to Get Financial Aid from edX and Coursera

By Denton Zhou | Published June 9, 2020

edX and Coursera are home to many of the web’s highest quality courses. Working with top universities and, on occasion, companies, they help create content designed to build skills and knowledge. With most of their courses priced between $40 and $79, their offerings are competitively priced.

Being inexpensive, however, doesn’t necessarily mean these courses are affordable. Indeed, that there’s a price tag at all means that some learners are precluded from enrolling. Thankfully, that doesn’t need to be the case. Both edX and Coursera have generous Financial Aid programs so that those who need assistance can enroll.

What is Financial Aid?

Financial Aid provides learners the ability to enroll in a paid course either for free or at a steep discount. To qualify, you’ll need to demonstrate that paying course fees would cause economic hardship. This means that you may qualify even if you’re able to pay the course fees at their full list price.

Financial Aid is available on most courses. Receiving Financial Aid allows you to earn a Verified Certificate. Contrast this to taking a course for free on an audit track where you receive no certificate on completion.

Coursera grants access to courses for which you receive Financial Aid for free. edX on the other hand offers a discount that can be as high as 90% off the list price of the course.

What about Financial Aid for Specializations and MicroMasters?

Coursera Specializations and edX MicroMasters are names given to a series of courses. When you apply for Financial Aid to these programs, you must apply once for each course in the series. 

For example, if a Coursera Specialization includes five courses, you’ll need to submit an application five separate times. If a edX MicroMasters has 7 courses, you’ll need to eventually submit 7 applications.

Getting started with your application

Applying to Financial Aid requires that you have an account first. You’ll need an edX account to apply for Financial Aid for a course on edX, a Coursera account for a Coursera course. Creating an account on either platform is easy and free, much like signing up for any other digital service.

To see the Financial Aid form on Coursera, you may need to log in on a computer. The Financial Aid application may not be available on mobile devices (like a smartphone or tablet).

edX Financial Aid Application Instructions

1. Begin by filling out your profile information if you haven’t yet—ensure that edX has your full name, email address, and country of residence 

2. Visit the financial assistance page on edX and carefully read the messages, including “A Note to Learners”), before clicking “Apply for Financial Assistance”

3. On the Financial Assistance Application form, select the course for which you’d like to apply for Financial Aid

Note: If you do not see your course listed, make sure that you’re enrolled and have elected to take the course on an “audit” track

4. On the same form, choose your annual income range from the dropdown menu

5. Complete the remainder of the form by answering the prompts (see tips and advice below)

Once you’ve submitted your application, you should expect a response or a decision within 2-4 business days.

Coursera Financial Aid Instructions

1.From your Coursera home page, navigate to a course you wish to receive Financial Aid for

2. Click the “Financial Aid available” link next to or near the Enroll button

3. A modal will appear prompting you to continue to the Financial Aid application—click “Continue to the application” to proceed

4. Carefully read the Financial Aid terms and acknowledge them to continue

5. Populate the Financial Aid application form with your educational background, annual income, employment status, and provide a value for how much you are able to afford

6. Complete the remainder of the form by answering the prompts (see tips and advice below) 

NOTE: Do NOT begin a free trial after submitting an application. Doing so will cancel all pending applications. Applications take roughly two weeks to process. If you are taking a course that has a set start date, consider submitting your application two weeks in advance of the start date.

Tackling the questions: Tips and Advice

The Financial Aid application forms are reasonably short. As of this writing, each poses three questions. These questions are fairly simple, but require thoughtful written responses. How you answer these questions will depend on the following:

  • Your current financial situation
  • Your intentions for taking the course—what do you want to gain from it? 
  • Your plan for completing the course
  • Your personal and career goals for completing it

You might already have an answer for these. You might not. If you don’t, now’s the time to take stock of these points. Without them, it’ll be impossible to complete your application (or have an application that’s likely to receive approval).

Your application reviewer mainly wants to ascertain three things:

  1. Whether your financial situation qualifies you for aid
  2. That you’d be someone who could make the most of financial assistance
  3. You’ll complete the course and put what you’ve learned to good use

The specific questions in the form may change over time, but they will invariably relate to these three points.

Question #1: Why are you applying for Financial Aid?

The first long-form question both edX and Coursera pose asks why you’re applying for Financial Aid. Your response should help the reviewer understand why you need Financial Aid.

One way to structure your response is to describe your present financial circumstances. Perhaps you’re still a student without much in the way of income. Or maybe you’re unemployed, underemployed, or employed and facing hardships.

Example: I’m seeking aid because {{ current financial situation }} makes it difficult for me to purchase this course…

{{ current financial situation }} is specific to you, but it helps to provide details. For example, you may wish to explain other expenses you incur in daily life that make paying for the course yourself difficult. You may also wish to highlight circumstances related to your income that limit your ability to pay.

If your income range is relatively high, this is also your opportunity to explain how paying would still present economic hardships for you.

Question #2: How will the course you’re planning on taking help your career?

Question two asks how the course you’re hoping to take with assistance will help with your career goals. If you’re introspective about your aspirations and career goals, this response should come easily. Otherwise, now is the time to really dig in and find out what you’re hoping to get out of this course.

Example: I’m seeking a role in {{ career function }}. After reviewing the course syllabus and details, I believe that it will help me learn {{ learning objectives }} that {{ career function }} demands.

Your response to this question could determine whether you receive aid. You may be in the most dire of financial straits. However, if completing the course won’t improve your medium- to long-term situation, your reviewer will be more inclined to reject it.

Take this opportunity to explain your career path up to now and where you wish to take it. Then, underscore how exactly the course you plan on factors into the trajectory you hope to set yourself on.

You may also wish to discuss trends around you. For example, you may work in an industry that’s rapidly changing or seeking to move into a newly formed industry. In many ways, the online course you hope to take with assistance can help you adapt and stay competitive. Mention any of these kinds of details that apply. They’ll help show that you’ve done your research and have a gameplan for pressing forward.

Question #3: What are your plans for completing the course? (edX Only)

Question three is to ensure that you’ll complete the course for which you receive financial assistance. Both edX and Coursera want to know that their Financial Aid programs are making a real impact. For that to happen, learners who receive aid must strive to complete a course.

Coursera asks you to pledge yourself to completing a course before you begin the application form. edX asks that you outline a detailed plan for how you’ll do so. Everyone is different so there’s no “one size fits all” answer. However, we suggest that you commit to setting aside time each week.

Example: Based on the course details, which estimates {{ # of hours }} required each week, I plan on setting aside {{ # of hours + 2-3 hours }} to ensure that I complete all of the lectures and course materials.

Completion also depends on you completing all assignments, quizzes, and exams. Almost all courses issue grades. Earning a passing grade will require significant time and effort. Given this, you may also wish to outline details about your study plans. If you’re not exactly sure what this entails yet, review our guide on study tips, which offers possible suggestions.

Example: To improve my chances of earning a strong grade, I’ve created a brief outline for how I’ll approach my studies...

While you wait for a response

Both edX and Coursera allow you to begin taking a course in audit or free mode. During this time, you’ll have access to course materials like lectures. You won’t, however, be able to complete homework assignments, quizzes, or exams. There may also be other restrictions for what materials you have access to.

Because of this, you should try your best to submit your application in advance of the course start date. Coursera requires at least 15 days to review an application. edX tries to respond with a decision within 2-4 business days. Neither will grant expedited reviews.

For Coursera, you’re advised not to begin a free trial. Doing so will cancel your existing application(s).

If you do not receive a response within the specified timelines, check your spam inbox. If it’s not there, wait a few additional days before contacting support. There may be an influx in applications or holidays that delay a response to you.

I received Financial Aid—now what?

You’ll receive decisions about any Financial Aid application you submit via email.

When you receive Financial Aid from Cousera, the course for which you receive aid will automatically move to the “Verified Certificate” track (upgraded from the audit track).

Financial Aid from Coursera lapses one year from the day you receive assistance. If you fail to complete the course within a year of receiving assistance, it will revert to the audit track. As such, avoid submitting multiple applications at once or you may find yourself pushing up against the one year deadline.

When you receive approval for assistance with edX, you’ll receive a “financial assistance code,” which allows you to take up to 90% off course fees. To accept Financial Aid from edX, you must make a payment by upgrading to a Verified Certificate from the course page. 

Assistance from edX doesn’t lapse, per se, but you should be mindful of course start and end dates. Some courses allow you to switch to a later session (if you fall behind). Others do not. If your course doesn’t, you must earn your Verified Certificate in the session for which you applied your aid.

I received Financial Aid for one course, but wish to use it on a different course

At this time, neither edX or Coursera allows you to transfer Financial Aid from one course to another. If you wish to receive aid for another course, you’ll need to submit a separate application.

What if my Financial Aid application is rejected?

There could be a variety of reasons why edX or Coursera might reject your application. Usually, this happens if you fail to demonstrate financial need or economic hardship. It may also happen if your reasons for taking a course isn’t compelling enough to justify Financial Aid. 

edX has an additional restriction that limits the number of courses it grants aid on to five within a 12-month period. This means if you have received assistance five times already in the past twelve months, you won’t be eligible. You’ll need to wait until you have received four instances of aid or fewer within the past 12 months.

What do I do now?

If your request for aid has been declined, you may, in some cases, still continue to take the course on an audit track. This will preclude you from earning a certificate, but you’ll still have access to a significant portion of the course materials. Remember, a certificate doesn’t prevent you from gaining real knowledge and skills.

You may also look at other courses that you can apply for Financial Aid.

Finally, if you prefer earning a certificate, consider looking for less expensive alternatives. OpenCourser has search filters that make it easy to find courses that cost between $0 and $10 or $10-$25.

How do I appeal a decision?

There’s no clear process for appealing decisions made by either edX or Coursera on Financial Aid. Application reviewers spend a lot of time reading through applications. They do not make their decisions lightly.

If you feel strongly that you should have received assistance, you may consider re-submitting your application. This is not suggested by either edX or Coursera so you should temper your expectations.

If you decide to resubmit an application, be mindful of the reviewers’ time. Make sure you take the time to thoroughly state your case. Any resubmission should contain substantial information you didn’t furnish in your previous application. You may also wish to try submitting your application again at a later time if your circumstances or goals change.

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