The Cheapest Online Colleges in 2021

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Professionals with a college degree typically earn higher salaries, benefit from a lower unemployment rate, and qualify for more jobs than individuals without a college education. Choosing affordable colleges and universities can help students earn a degree without going into debt.

Careers that require a bachelor’s degree typically pay more than occupations that require only a high school diploma. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bachelor’s degree-holders earn $26,000 more per year, on average, than professionals with only a high school diploma. Additionally, the unemployment rate for individuals with a high school diploma was 3.7% in 2019, compared to 2.2% for bachelor’s degree-holders, according to the BLS.

Earning a bachelor’s degree can lead to career possibilities in a variety of industries. Entry-level positions in education, healthcare, business, and technology all require a bachelor’s degree.

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The following list ranks the most affordable colleges to help students find the best online college for their budget and career goals. This article also introduces the requirements for earning a college degree and explores scholarship opportunities for undergraduate students.

Questions About Inexpensive Programs & Courses


  • Q. How can I go to college for free?

    Students can reduce the cost of their education by choosing one of the most affordable programs. Learners can also apply for grants and scholarships, many of which cover the full cost of tuition.


  • Q. How much does it cost to get a college degree?

    The cost of earning a college degree varies by school. For the 2017-18 academic year, the average cost of tuition and fees was about $18,000 at public institutions and about $46,000 at private schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).


  • Q. How can I make college more affordable?

    Degree-seekers can reduce the cost of attending college by living off campus, applying for scholarships and grants, and choosing one of the most affordable universities.


  • Q. What is a work-study program?

    Work-study programs help students pay for school by providing funding in exchange for part-time employment. Students can qualify for the federal work-study program by submitting the FAFSA form.


Benefits of Earning a College Degree?

Students earning a college degree develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Undergraduate learners specialize their education by choosing a major. According to NCES data, the most popular majors include options in business, health professions, the social sciences, psychology, biology, engineering, and communication. Other common undergraduate majors include topics in the arts, education, social work, and criminal justice.

A bachelor’s degree meets the entry-level educational requirement for many high-paying careers, including occupations in management, accounting, marketing, and teaching. Earning a college degree can help professionals advance their current career or pursue opportunities in a new field.

Why Get a College Degree?



Earning a college degree can lead to additional job opportunities and higher earning potential. Many of the top-ranked and most affordable colleges offer online programs, which make postsecondary education more accessible for working students. See below for some common reasons that working professionals pursue distance-learning programs.

Increased Earning Potential
Professionals with a college degree typically earn more than those with a high school diploma. According to BLS data, higher levels of education correlate with higher median salaries.
More Career Opportunities
Many entry-level positions in business, education, and healthcare require a bachelor’s degree. Earning a college degree can lead to new career prospects.
Flexibility
Online programs typically offer more scheduling flexibility than on-campus programs. Asynchronous online course formats allow students to complete assignments at their convenience, which can help learners balance coursework with personal and professional responsibilities.
Accessibility
Online students can attend a top-ranked program without relocating or leaving their current job. Because geography does not limit distance learners, they can choose from the nation’s most affordable programs.

What Are the Requirements for a College Degree?



Prospective students considering affordable programs should ensure they meet admission requirements before applying. Depending on the school, applicants may need to submit proof of a high school diploma or the equivalent, high school transcripts, and standardized test scores. Transfer students must typically submit official college transcripts. Some schools also require recommendation letters, a resume, and a statement of purpose.

Admitted undergraduate students complete general education requirements, take courses in their major, and choose a minor or electives. Degree-seekers may also complete an internship, capstone project, or thesis.

How Does College Accreditation Work?

Scholarships for College Students



College students can reduce the cost of earning a degree by applying for scholarships. Some scholarships cover the full cost of tuition at affordable universities. Professional associations, private foundations, and institutions award scholarships to undergraduate students. Learners can research awards based on their field, background, and state. Students pursuing a bachelor’s degree can apply for the scholarships below.


  • Unigo $10K Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Unigo awards a $10,000 scholarship to U.S. students. Applicants must submit an essay about the favorite mobile app of a historical figure if they lived today. Applicants must be enrolled in or plan to enroll in an accredited college or university.

    Amount: $10,000

    Explore Here

  • Education Matters Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports college students who submit a 250-word essay describing why education matters. Applicants must hold legal U.S. residency. Their essay should detail a theoretical response to someone who calls college a waste of time.

    Amount: $5,000

    Explore Here

  • Get Educated Online Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports distance learners at accredited institutions. Candidates need a minimum 3.0 GPA and must submit an essay describing what an online degree means to them personally. The scholarship committee considers each applicant’s merit and financial need.

    Amount: $1,000

    Explore Here

  • Horatio Alger Association Scholarships

    Who Can Apply: The Horatio Alger Association offers multiple scholarships for undergraduate and vocational students. Applicants must demonstrate critical financial need. The association also considers each candidate’s academic achievement and leadership potential.

    Amount: Up to $25,000

    Explore Here

  • Undergraduate Distance Learning Degrees Academic Scholarships

    Who Can Apply: Study.com awards merit-based scholarships to online learners at the associate and bachelor’s levels. Applicants must be a U.S citizen or permanent resident attending an accredited school. The committee considers each candidate’s academic achievements and extracurricular activities.

    Amount: $500

    Explore Here


The Most Affordable Online Colleges in 2021



See Our Rankings Methodology
  1. University of Florida
    Location

    Gainesville, Florida

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    At the University of Florida in Gainesville, students can choose from over 200 online programs at the certificate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Applicants must meet the university's general admission criteria in addition to each program's specific requirements.

    UF currently offers 24 undergraduate degrees online in various fields of study, including digital arts and sciences, environmental management, health education, and sport management. Many programs offer multiple start dates, flexible course schedules, and full-time or part-time enrollment options.

    Just like on-campus students, online enrollees can access the university's financial aid programs by submitting the FAFSA. Additionally, they can take advantage of various student services, including UF-exclusive virtual career fairs and job boards. UF graduates join an extensive alumni network that connects them to professional opportunities across the country and throughout the world.

  2. California State University-Los Angeles
    Location

    Los Angeles, California

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Cal State L.A. enrolls 26,000 students annually. The school leverages the reach and resources of the College of Professional and Global Education to offer affordable programs online. The university offers online bachelor of arts programs in communication; psychology; business administration; and hospitality, wellness, and leisure services.

    Cal State L.A. also offers an online accelerated bachelor of science in nursing for graduates with a non-nursing degree from an accredited institution. The 53-credit program prepares graduates to sit for the NCLEX-RN.

    Postgraduate students can explore online programs in business, public health, and social work. The 16-month fully employed master of business administration follows a hybrid format and is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Students attend Saturday classes and complete remaining course requirements online during the week.

    The online master of social work accepts applications from bachelor of social work degree-holders and starts during the summer term. Students begin the program with advanced standing and can graduate within one year.

  3. Indiana University-Bloomington
    Location

    Bloomington, Indiana

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    At Indiana University Bloomington, students can select from over 150 online programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The university offers online degrees in diverse fields of study, including computing and technology, labor studies, parks and recreation, and public health. IU serves approximately 6,000 online learners each year.

    Like many of the most affordable colleges, students can complete several of IU's online programs without any campus visits. Some of the university's online programs include an internship or practicum component. Enrollees can complete these requirements in their home communities with their program director's approval.

    Online enrollees can access several student services, including academic advising, math and writing support, internship opportunities, and career services.

  4. Palm Beach State College
    Location

    Lake Worth, Florida

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Palm Beach State College offers several online bachelor's programs for students with an associate degree or at least 60 transferable undergraduate credits. Applicants who meet this requirement typically earn their bachelor's degree within 18-24 months, depending on their program and enrollment status.

    PBSC offers an online bachelor of applied science (BAS) in supervision and management with four degree pathways. Students can pursue a general program in management or specialize in one of three areas: entrepreneurship, health management, or project management. The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.

    Students looking for a challenging IT program can explore PBSC's information management offering. The online BAS degree offers specializations in database administration, project management, and security and network assurance.

    The college may require online learners to take proctored exams at a campus testing center or approved testing site within their geographical region. PBSC does not offer online courses to out-of-state students.

  5. St Petersburg College
    Location

    Clearwater, Florida

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    St. Petersburg College in Clearwater, Florida, offers more than 50 online programs at the certificate, associate, and bachelor's levels. Students can explore online programs in several fields of study, including health sciences and veterinary technology, business, science and mathematics, and education. SPC caters to the educational needs of different types of enrollees by offering live synchronous classes, asynchronous courses, and self-paced programs.

    Students interested in a business program can pursue a two-year associate or four-year bachelor's in business administration online. The school also offers online certificate programs in business operations, business development and entrepreneurship, and business management. SPC's business programs do not require any campus visits and run entirely online.

    Online learners can access many of the services available to on-campus students, including library and information resources, free live/remote tutoring sessions, and video tutorials on many academic subjects.

  6. Eastern Florida State College
    Location

    Cocoa, Florida

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Eastern Florida State College offers affordable programs online in fields such as nursing, accounting technology, office management, and business administration. Students can complete several certificate, associate, and bachelor's programs entirely online. EFSC participates in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, so it only offers online courses to students residing in participating states.

    The online bachelor of applied science (BAS) in organizational management offers eight specializations, including healthcare management, sales and marketing, human resources, and accounting. The school also offers online BAS programs in computer information systems technology and applied health sciences. Associate-trained registered nurses (RNs) can apply to the bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program, an RN-to-BSN program that runs exclusively online.

    Once accepted to the college, online enrollees gain access to tutoring services, course advising, and technical assistance.

  7. The University of Texas at Austin
    Location

    Austin, Texas

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The Extended Campus at the University of Texas at Austin offers many online programs, including continuing education courses, master's degrees, and professional development classes. The online professional education programs help companies and individuals improve their overall performance and meet their professional objectives. The programs cover several areas, including health informatics and IT, legal education, social work, and public affairs.

    UT offers online master of science (MS) degrees in electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, and engineering management. Information security specialists can explore the 30-credit online MS in information security and privacy, which most students can complete in 21 months.

    A program designed specifically for entrepreneurial students, the one-year MS in technology commercialization teaches enrollees how to launch a new business. Students can choose to attend classes online, in person, or a combination of both.

  8. Arkansas Tech University
    Location

    Russellville, Arkansas

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Arkansas Tech University offers several affordable programs online in fields such as health informatics, emergency management and administration, and educational leadership. Students can explore online degree options at the certificate, associate, bachelor's, master's, and specialist levels. ATU waives out-of-state tuition for online undergraduate students living in Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas.

    The online bachelor of professional studies offers concentrations in eight areas, including workforce technology, criminal justice, child development, and agricultural business. Students can transfer up to 12 credits toward the degree from prior learning experience.

    Educators can explore several online options, including a graduate certificate in dyslexia therapy (K-12), a master's in student affairs administration, and an education specialist degree in educational leadership. ATU also offers a 21-credit online special education program that leads to licensure in Arkansas.

    Students interested in earning a master of business administration online can pursue a general program at ATU or a concentration in business data analytics or digital marketing.

  9. University of Connecticut
    Location

    Storrs, Connecticut

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The online programs at the University of Connecticut encompass several academic arenas, including energy and environmental management, public policy, digital media and design, and science and engineering.

    Online enrollees can access many of the student resources available to on-campus learners, including tutoring services, program and career advising, and assistance with academic writing and graduate-level research. They can also participate in virtual and onsite job fairs hosted by the university several times each year.

    UConn offers many of its online courses asynchronously, giving students sufficient flexibility and convenience to earn their degree while working full time. Online students can access multiple levels of technical support services, including live assistance and video tutorials.

  10. Dalton State College
    Location

    Dalton, Georgia

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    As part of the University System of Georgia, Dalton State College offers most of its general education courses entirely online. General education coursework typically makes up the first two years of college and includes core subjects such as mathematics, composition, and U.S. history.

    Dalton State offers online bachelor's degrees in criminal justice and organizational leadership. Both programs allow learners to earn credits toward the degree through prior learning assessment. The organizational leadership program offers specializations in healthcare administration, public service, and office administration and technology. The major comprises 42 credits.

    The online criminal justice major comprises 60 credits, 21 of which must come from required upper-division coursework in areas like criminal law, corrections, and criminal procedures. The program also offers specializations in juvenile delinquency and justice, criminal investigations, and drugs in America.

Portrait of Genevieve Carlton

Genevieve Carlton

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.

See articles by Genevieve

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