How Much Does Online College Cost?

September 21, 2021

How Much Does Online College Cost?

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Online learning offers many advantages. Students benefit from convenience, flexibility, and affordable tuition. In the 2018-19 school year, on-campus students at private schools paid an average of $44,310, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In 2021, online students paid an average total of $51,090 for a bachelor's degree, according to EduationData.org.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools were increasing their online offerings. According to the NCES, more than 35% of all college students were enrolled in at least some distance education courses in 2018.

This guide offers an overview of online college costs. Read on for typical fees and common secondary expenses.

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Is Online College Cheaper or More Expensive?

Typically, online college costs less overall than traditional college. Online learning eliminates many campus expenses. For example, online learners do not need to pay for parking or living on campus. Many schools also offer reduced tuition for online enrollees. Students can sometimes pay a lower tuition rate by enrolling fully online.

How Do Online Classes Work?

Online courses often follow the same curriculum model as campus courses. Most online courses use virtual learning platforms such as Blackboard or Canvas. These platforms allow students to view lectures, communicate with classmates, and access assignments online.

Some online courses run synchronously. Students attend live virtual classes that mimic the classroom environment. Other online courses run asynchronously, allowing enrollees to access course material at their convenience.

Can You Take Any College Class Online?

Online learning has increased tremendously since 2010. Students can complete online programs in nearly every major academic subject area. Around 2,500 U.S. colleges offer some type of online program. Many schools offer degrees entirely online.

Several schools offer prerequisite courses online. This allows students to fulfill general credit requirements without visiting campus. Technology advancements have allowed schools to offer increasingly complex courses online.

Advantages of Online College

Online courses offer several advantages over campus courses. See below for some of the many benefits to attending an online college.

Online learners can select courses that work best with their schedule. Asynchronous courses allow students to complete assignments anytime and anywhere. Online learners can advance their education while continuing their career or raising their family. Many colleges offer reduced tuition to online learners. Some schools may offer the in-state tuition rate to all students, regardless of residency. Learners who enroll online do not incur campus-related expenses like parking or housing. Online learners can complete coursework from anywhere with internet access. This flexibility helps students with unpredictable schedules or difficulty traveling to campus. Many students pursue online education to progress in their career. Earning a bachelor's or master's online can help graduates advance in their current job or enter a new field. Online students can pursue a degree while maintaining their current job.

Online vs. On-Campus Fees and Expenses

Online students pay tuition and technology fees. They may also need to pay some of the same fees as campus students, such as lab and graduation fees.

On-campus students often pay extra fees for the use of campus resources. These include recreational facilities and health services. Learners who live on campus also pay for room and board. Housing expenses increase the total cost of college.

Even students who live off campus should budget for more expenses. Online and on-campus students must pay for textbooks and other materials. These can cost hundreds of dollars each semester. Online students may also need to visit campus occasionally. These trips add to transportation expenses.

Online Degree Costs

While online college costs typically run lower than campus programs, students must still pay tuition and other fees. See below for common online learning expenses.

Tuition includes the cost of all academic credits necessary to earn a degree. Tuition rates vary among public and private schools. In 2021, online in-state students at public colleges pay an average tuition of $38,500 for a bachelor's degree. Online students at private colleges pay an average of $60,590.

Students typically pay tuition each semester. Learners can use loans, grants, and scholarships to cover expenses.

Online learners may need to buy physical textbooks. CollegeBoard reports that undergraduates at four-year public colleges spend an average of $1,300 on textbooks and supplies each year. Learners can use financial aid to pay for textbooks at the start of each semester.

Most schools charge technology fees in addition to tuition. These fees cover the use of a school's online services, such as their online learning platform and technical support services.

Some schools charge technology fees on each academic credit or by semester. Others offer tiered fee structures. Students who take more credits per semester incur fewer fees. Technology fees vary by school. Students must pay these fees each semester.

Online students may also need to pay standard administrative fees. These can include application, enrollment, and graduation fees. Learners who enroll in programs with lab components, such as science or nursing, may need to pay more lab fees.

Online learners should research their program and determine potential expenses. Students may need to travel to campus for orientation sessions, conferences, and residencies. Learners should budget for these transportation and lodging expenses.

Financial Aid Options for Online Colleges

Students do not need to repay scholarships. Most scholarships are merit-based. Applicants must meet certain criteria. Common application requirements include GPA, community involvement, and financial need. Many scholarships serve specific student groups, including those pursuing certain academic or professional fields. Like scholarships, grants do not require repayment. Grants are typically need-based. Common awards like the Pell Grant offer funding based on income levels. Students must submit financial information to apply. Completing the FAFSA determines students' grant eligibility automatically. Students must repay loans after graduation. The federal government offers subsidized and unsubsidized loans, which typically feature low interest rates. Private lenders such as banks offer loans with higher interest rates and less generous repayment options. Students must complete the FAFSA to qualify for all loan types. Work-study programs offer students a government-subsidized salary to work part time during college. Work-study jobs typically occur on campus or at related locations. Students can apply for work-study positions at their school after completing the FAFSA. Some employers pay for their employees' college courses. They may pay for the entire cost of a degree or certificate program. Employees should ask their companies about potential continuing education or workforce development opportunities.

Reese Lopez is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience in the education field. After earning his BA in English from Evergreen State College, he worked as an English language instructor and tutor before joining Affordable Colleges Online. Reese lives in Portland, Oregon, where he also writes fiction and performs in the local music scene.

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