Ways to pay for your natural health education

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A common misconception among aspiring natural health students is financial aid isn’t available for their programs. Or that there are no grants for holistic health education.

Fortunately, the truth is more uplifting and finances shouldn’t stop you from reaching your goals. Here are six steps to take, terms to know, and key questions to ask early on to help you make smart, confident decisions.

Step-by-step guide to applying for financial aid

Step 1: Learning the language of financial aid

FAFSA, EFC, SAR. If this looks like alphabet soup (organic, of course) to you, don’t fret. You can find a quick guide to financial aid lingo below. Whether you’re applying for financial assistance for the first time or haven’t done it in a while, learning these terms will help you make sense of the financial aid process.

Cost of attendance:
Essentially the sticker price—all the expenses you’ll have to cover, including tuition, fees, housing, books and supplies, transportation, and miscellaneous expenses.
Dependent student:
In the simplest terms, any student whose parents can still claim him or her as a dependent on their tax returns. In more specific terms, any student who is NOT one of the following: at least 24 years old, married, a graduate or professional student, a veteran, a member of the armed forces, an orphan, a ward of the court, or someone with legal dependents other than a spouse.
Expected Family Contribution (EFC):
The amount that you and/or your family will be expected to pay toward your education is based on your FAFSA application. For the 2023-24 award year, families making $29,000 automatically qualify for an ETC of zero. That’s up from the previous income threshold of $27,000 in 2021-2021, which means many low-income students will be eligible for more financial aid.
Aid that doesn’t need to be repaid and is based on financial need.
Independent student:
Any student who is at least 24 years old, married, a graduate or professional student, a veteran, a member of the armed forces, an orphan, a ward of the court, or someone with legal dependents other than a spouse.
Stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Students submit this application to find out their financial aid eligibility. In order to be considered for loans, grants, and scholarships, a FAFSA must be completed.
National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS):
A federal student financial aid database where you can find out about the aid you’ve received.
A type of loan you don’t have to pay interest on while in school, during a grace period, or if a loan is deferred.
A type of loan that starts accruing interest as soon as it’s disbursed. Financial experts say it’s smart to make payments on the interest while you’re in school, which will lower the amount you owe when you graduate.
Net price:
That’s all your costs minus grants and scholarships. If a school doesn’t include an easy-to-find, user-friendly net price calculator on its website, call the school’s financial aid office.

Step 2: Learn the types of payment options and financial aid available

Most suitable for degree programs

All loans have to be repaid with interest, so your No. 1. goal should be to borrow as little as possible. You’re not required to borrow the entire amount offered to you. Your No. 2 goal should be to limit as much of your borrowing as possible to federal loans.

Federal student aid programs (FAFSA)

Common federal loan programs include:

  • Stafford Loan — Includes the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) and the Direct Loan programs.
  • Parent PLUS Loan — Distributed to students’ parents through the FFEL and Direct Loan programs.
  • Perkins Loan — For low-income students.

Key advantages of federal loans:

  • Interest rates are fixed for the life of the loan. Private loans typically come with variable interest rates that often increase substantially, which can make them harder to repay.
  • In some cases, you can lower your monthly payments after making automatic electronic payments for a certain period of time.
  • Federal loans are eligible for income-based repayment plans and public service loan forgiveness.
Veteran’s benefits

Provided by the government to help veterans and their families pay for education and training. Common types include the Post-9/11 Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill, and the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP). Each has its own eligibility requirements, and the specific benefits can vary depending on factors such as the veteran’s length of service and the nature of their discharge (if applicable).

Employer tuition assistance

Some companies provide a set amount of money to be used for education-related expenses per annum, while others provide tuition reimbursement (which means you will first have to complete the course or program in question). Another form this may take is a partnership between the company and the educational institution, where the employees receive a discounted rate on tuition. Typically, you must be enrolled in an accredited institution and pursue a degree directly related to your job or career development.

Workforce Investment Act (WIA) funds

A federal program that provides funding to states and localities to support workforce education and (re)training. The goal is to help people improve their skills and find employment, especially those who are disadvantaged or have had difficulty finding work. Eligibility is tied to being a resident of the local area, being unemployed or underemployed, and being in need of training and new skills in order to advance your career. Contact your local workforce development board or the American Job Center to learn more.

Vocational rehabilitation funding

Financial assistance is provided to individuals with disabilities to help them prepare for, find, and maintain employment. This type of funding may be used to pay for a variety of services, including education and training programs. To be eligible you must have a disability that is a barrier to employment. It is typically provided at the state level and thus the specific types of services available can vary from state to state.

Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program

A federal program that provides assistance to workers who have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced as a result of increased imports or shifts in production to foreign countries. The program provides financial assistance to help workers pay for education and training that are directly related to their job search. Depending on eligibility, may cover tuition and fees, as well as possibly extend to books, supplies, and career counseling.

Options for those seeking certificate and non-degree programs

Pursuing a non-degree program and wondering whether you’re still eligible for financial aid? The answer is usually no, but there are a few alternative methods to pay for your certificate or diploma in that case. Read on to explore your options.

In-house semester and monthly payment installation plans (PIPs)

You’ve reached a place in your life where healing others is your main goal, but what if that same place in life doesn’t financially allow you to write a big check in one fell swoop? Ask your school about a payment plan. The total amount you owe is divided into monthly installments.

This can be a great option for students who don’t want to borrow money, or can’t secure a loan, but have enough money each month to make payments. Typically, these plans are interest-free, but you may be charged fees by the school. Find out before signing up.

Private student loans (based on borrower eligibility)

Payment plans not an option? No problem. When your certificate program doesn’t qualify for federal loans, you still have borrowing options if you need them. School loans provided by private lenders are available to students, but be cognizant of a loan’s terms.

The following factors impact how much you’ll pay:

  • Interest rate: Rates are connected to the prime rate or the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Look for a loan using the LIBOR rate plus 2 percent or the prime rate minus 0.50 percent. Typically, loans tied to LIBOR are preferred.
  • Fees (look for no-fee loans)
  • Length of the loan: The longer the loan, the more you pay in interest in the long run.
  • Variable rate vs. fixed rate

If you opt for a variable-rate loan, the interest rate will fluctuate at specified times. If rates have jumped since you secured your loan, your monthly payment will increase. Of course, the alternative is also true, if rates decrease, your payments could go down. If you’re going to utilize private loans, shop around. Federal credit unions and community banks tend to have the most attractive terms. Unlike federal loans, private lenders typically require borrowers to begin repayment while still in school.

Work-Exchange Programs

Some schools also employ a work-exchange model as a form of need-based financial aid. In these scenarios, the school will waive the amount owed in exchange for the student’s time working on campus projects or tasks.

Not all schools offer work-exchange programs; ask about them before enrolling. These programs are often used to take care of the remaining costs not covered by other financial aid. Be sure to calculate what you’ll need to decide if a work-exchange program will work for you.

Military tuition assistance

If you’re a member of the military or a veteran, you may be entitled to some financial aid for non-college degree programs. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, cosmetology school is one type of program covered under this benefit. The amount you can receive is based on the GI Bill you’re using and the type of program you’re enrolled in.

When in doubt about financial assistance, always talk with the financial aid office at your school. They’ll be able to sift through the financial aid jargon, clearly explain costs, and suggest the most appropriate methods to pay for your certificate or diploma program.

Grants and scholarships

A key advantage to these types of financial aid is that you do not have to repay them.


Typically based on financial need and the cost of your program. Federal and state governments are the two largest sources of higher-education grant funding.


Available from community groups, professional associations, and more. Some are need-based and some are merit-based, and some may require you to maintain a certain grade point average. The harder you search, and the more you apply, the better off you’ll be. Millions of dollars in scholarship money go unused each year. Check with your school as well; some institutions provide scholarships to their students.

Quick note: Some natural health schools also provide tribal aid to Native American students. This financial assistance typically comes in the form of scholarships and grants.

Step 3: Find out if you’re eligible to receive aid

The U.S. government is the largest single source of higher education funding in America. To qualify for aid, you have to meet certain requirements, including:

  • Being a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen
  • Having a valid Social Security NumberHaving a high school diploma, or the equivalent such as a GED (General Education Development) certificate
  • Having a high school diploma, or the equivalent such as a GED (General Education Development) certificate

You can apply for financial aid using the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application before you get into school, but to receive any funds you have to be enrolled—in some cases at least part-time—and attending classes.

Step 4: Find out if your school is eligible and offers aid

Do the schools you’re considering offer federal aid?

Only schools that are accredited by organizations recognized by the U.S. Department of Education can offer federal financial aid. To get accredited, schools have to meet certain academic quality standards.

In the case of natural health schools, not all certificate programs are covered by federal financial aid. If your school doesn’t receive Title IV funding, find out if there are other options, such as payment plans or work-exchange programs, to help cover costs.

Quick note:

  1. In certain cases, your tuition may be tax-deductible. You can find more detailed information about education tax benefits at IRS.gov.
  2. The URL for the official FAFSA site is www.fafsa.ed.gov. Be careful to avoid websites that use FAFSA in the URL but end in .com, .biz, .net, etc. Many charge fees to fill out your FAFSA. If you want their advice, that’s your call, but you should not have to pay a dime to apply for financial aid.

Step 5: Consider expenses beyond tuition

There are expenses in addition to tuition. When tallying up your school costs, don’t forget about the extras. They can add up.

  • School fees
  • Textbooks and other school supplies
  • A laptop or computer
  • Internet access
  • Transportation or parking

Quick note: If you need to borrow from a private lender, consider a federal credit union or community bank. They often offer better interest rates and repayment terms than large corporate banks.

Step 6: Take action and begin the application process

With the right financial aid options, you can access higher education and training programs that can help you advance in your career and achieve your personal goals. Don’t let the cost of school break your motivation to gain more knowledge.

Like many students before you, you will find a way to your goals. Even if your goal is to pursue a non-degree program, financial aid options such as scholarships, grand, work-study, and employer tuition assistance can help you achieve it. Start by utilizing our “search for programs near you” widget to find a school that aligns with your goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there financial aid for certificate programs?

Does financial aid cover certificate programs? While many natural health schools offer federal financial aid, certificate and diploma programs aren’t always eligible for this specific type of assistance. As you begin your journey toward education and helping others, the financial implications will become part of the discussion.

There are strict regulations on what makes a program eligible for federal aid. One factor that’s considered: Whether the program leads to gainful employment. Since certificate and diploma programs—especially in the natural health space—are often intended as add-ons to an established profession, federal aid isn’t typically available.

In other words, if you’re a massage therapist looking to enhance your practice with more skills, such as aromatherapy, federal aid won’t cover the cost of those classes. There is good news though. There are plenty of alternative methods to pay for your certificate or diploma.

Are there alternative non-degree-seeking student loans?

Pursuing a career-driven education that doesn’t end with a diploma, such as a certificate, professional training, or licensing? You may find it difficult to take out a federal student loan, due to the Department of Education’s relatively restrictive rules for these types of programs. But, there are other ways to pay for non-degree, vocational, or trade programs, such as:

Federal aid: There are exceptions for which the federal government will provide aid. Mainly if you’re completing courses for teaching certification or recertification. If you’re pursuing a certificate for a specific career path, such as cosmetology. If you’re completing courses that are a pre-requisite for a degree or certificate program. Before you even apply to the FAFSA in hopes of your certificate program being covered, make sure the program is accredited, as that is a hard requirement for federal aid.

Non-degree student loans: Shopping around for private loans is the other option. For example, Sallie Mae’s Career Training Smart Option Student Loan caters specifically to students who are looking to earn professional licensing, training, or a trade certificate. Loans offered start at a $1,000 minimum.

It is usually wise to exhaust all your other options before taking on any alternative-degree student loans.

Is there financial aid for part-time students?

Depending on the specific aid program and your individual circumstances, financial aid may be available for part-time students.

Is there financial aid for online classes?

Yes. Online students can use FAFSA and apply for scholarships and grants. It is very important to vet your school and/or program ahead of time as online classes may not always qualify for financial aid. Some schools may require students to be enrolled full-time and/or in a specific major for eligibility.

Can FAFSA be used for private colleges?

Yes, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be used for financial aid at private colleges and universities in the United States. Many private colleges also use the FAFSA to determine a student’s eligibility for institutional financial aid, such as scholarships and grants offered by the school.

Does living on your own affect FAFSA?

For the 2023-2024 period, living on your own or living with your parents is not something that affects the FAFS at the surface level. It all comes down to whether your parents claim you as a dependent on their tax returns on not. Exceptions to this rule include leaving home due to an abusive situation and having no contact with the parents. For a more in-depth look at what makes a student dependent versus independent in the eye of the government, head over to StudentAid.gov.

How many schools can you put on FAFSA?

10 schools, is the maximum number of schools you can list on the FAFSA application. You can list any combination of public, private, and/or foreign schools. The schools you list on your application will receive your FAFSA information electronically and will determine your eligibility.

Taking the next step

Now that you’re aware of the financial aid options for non-degree programs, your next step in pursuing a natural health education is to find the right school or program. Remember that accreditation is a key factor, so take it into account during your research. And don’t let the cost of education hold you back—start by using our widget to browse our database of schools, and take the first step toward achieving your goals.

Sources: U.S. Department of Education; FinAid.org