Online Course Refund Policy (What It Is & How to Get It?)

Jordan Coleman
Published by Jordan Coleman
Last Updated On: December 8, 2021

Online courses are the perfect opportunity to take your education into your own hands. You can study at your own pace, on any device, and from anywhere in the world.

And with so many schools offering online programs these days, you'll have little trouble finding one that fits your needs.

But what if a particular course is not right for you? What are your options for a refund?

Let me use my 12 years in the academic counseling industry to show you how to get a refund for a online course.

Summary of the Key Points

  • All educational institutions have refund policies in place if something happens that prevents the student from completing the studies.
  • The policies are different. Some schools charge a blanket fee, while others charge per credit hour.
  • You should check with your school to find out the policy they have in place, then follow the two-step process for getting a refund.

What is a Refund Policy?

A person using a calculator

Each institution that places courses online has some policy about refunding tuition and fees associated with that course.

Most often, this would occur because the student withdraws the course before the beginning or drops the class before the end of the add/drop period.

An online institution may also offer some sort of refund if a significant change occurs in a student's life during this time.

This might include a death in the family or a personal illness that results in the student being unable to complete a course for reasons truly outside their control.

What is the Refund Policy for My Online Course?

Unfortunately, with so many colleges, universities, and non-traditional educational institutions out there, there is no single policy that covers all of them.

Thus, it is impossible to know the refund policy of every school. The good news is that you do not have to. You simply need to learn how do online courses work and about the policy at your institution.

What you can do is check your enrollment agreement or contact the institution's student services department to get some guidelines on how your money will be handled if things don't work out with a course.

That being said, there are some commonalities between educational institutions and how they handle refunds.

“Today is non-refundable. Therefore, I’d better live it in a manner that a refund is unnecessary.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough, author

Many four-year colleges charge a blanket fee for tuition regardless of the number of credit hours taken or whether you take classes in person or online. In this case, these schools rarely offer refunds unless withdrawing from a class no longer makes you a full-time student.

Other schools charge for classes based on the credit hour, and they will generally offer a refund if you drop or withdraw from the class before the add/drop period. But after that, all bets are off.

Outside of two-year and four-year schools, most educational institutions charge per class or per credit hour for online courses. These schools will generally offer a full tuition refund if you withdraw from the course before their deadline.

However, these deadlines vary widely from school to school. For example, some schools will only provide a full refund if you drop the class before the first instructional period begins. Many require you to withdraw one full day before classes begin [1].

Other schools have a more lenient policy and allow you to attend one or two classes before the refund period expires. It means you can see if the class is a good fit for your educational needs before investing fully in the course.

Things to Be Aware of about Refund

A person writing and computing

If you do not meet the deadline for a full refund, check your school's policy and see if they will give you a percentage refund of tuition based on how far into the semester you went.

The partial refund question really depends on the online institution - some are willing to offer a partial refund, but many are not.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that many online institutions use your scholarship money as an offset for the tuition costs of your courses.

If you withdraw from a course, you may find that scholarship money is not refunded at the same rate as other funds. Contact your school's financial aid office to find out more.

“Time doesn’t offer a refund.” ― Gina Barreca, professor and author

Additionally, schools will generally not reimburse a student for any books purchased for a class that is later dropped [2]. You may be able to get some money back from the bookstore where you purchased your books, but this is a decision best left up to the management of that particular bookshop.

How to Get Your Refund

Woman in front of her laptop

Most schools have a two-step process for obtaining a refund.

First, you need to coordinate with the registrar to withdraw from an online course. This ensures you do not receive credit for taking the class and do not get a poor grade on your transcript because you did not officially drop the class.

From there, you will need to contact the cashier's office and request for your refund to be processed. This might take a few days, and in some cases, it can take as long as several weeks before you see the money back on your credit card.

Online Course Refunds Takeaway

As you can see, there is no universal refund policy for online courses. Instead, you must read your school's policies on dropping classes and refunds before signing up.

This way, you can get the maximum refund available if you end up deciding to withdraw from the class.

If things do not work out, quickly shift from talking to the professor to speaking with the registrar. The registrar can help you withdraw from the course properly and get all the reimbursement you are due.


  1. https://faq-law.com/do-you-get-a-refund-if-you-withdraw-from-a-course/
  2. https://www.topdegreesonline.org/faq/can-i-get-a-refund-if-i-drop-an-online-college-class/

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