How Much Does Online College Cost?

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College net costs have increased 24% between 2008 and 2018, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Typically, online college costs significantly less than on-campus learning.

The affordable cost of online college often attracts students seeking lower tuition. Online learners do not incur fees for parking or commuting to campus. They can also complete coursework from anywhere and often at their convenience through asynchronous learning. This flexibility enables students to continue their careers while earning a degree.

This guide offers an overview of online college costs. We highlight typical tuition rates, higher education expenses, and the cost of online college vs. campus learning.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Online College

  • Q. Can you take any college class online?

    Most colleges offer various online courses in several academic fields. However, not all colleges offer all courses online. Students should check with their school to determine online course availability.

  • Q. Can you take a single college class online?

    Many colleges allow students to take a single course online. Schools may also offer hybrid enrollment options that combine both online and on-campus courses.

  • Q. What are the advantages of online classes?

    Online classes typically offer more flexibility than campus classes. They enable students to complete coursework fully online at their convenience.

  • Q. How do online classes work?

    Online classes move most traditional classroom elements into a virtual space. Enrollees view video lectures and complete assignments from anywhere with an internet connection. Some courses may include live video conferencing sessions.

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Online Vs. On-Campus Fees and Expenses

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that as of the 2019-20 school year, undergraduates pay an average of $25,281 per year at four-year colleges of all types. This figure includes room and board, which can greatly increase overall expenses. On-campus students may also need to cover transportation and relocation expenses. Graduate students pay an average of $19,314 as of the 2018-19 school year.

Online tuition rates vary widely among schools. However, they typically run lower than on-campus courses. For example, for the 2020-21 school year at Eastern Kentucky University, online courses cost $400 per credit, while on-campus courses cost $735 per credit for out-of-state students.

Online students may need to budget for technology fees. Learners should consider both their financial and personal needs when choosing between online and on-campus learning.

Online Degree Costs

Reduced online college tuition rates can help students save on their education. However, online learners must still cover various expenses, such as the examples below. Students should research individual schools to determine other additional expenses.

Online college costs vary widely among schools and programs. Tuition rates can vary based on institution type, course load, and learners’ enrollment status. Public schools typically offer lower tuition rates than private schools. Some colleges may offer lower overall tuition rates to students who enroll for more credits each semester. Our college affordability calculator can help you estimate your overall education expenses.
Books and Course Materials
Online students may not visit campus, but they still need to purchase textbooks and other course materials. Online learners should budget for textbooks, which can run hundreds of dollars per semester. Distance enrollees can potentially save money by purchasing digital textbooks. Students can also look into renting textbooks for the semester, which can cost less than buying them.
Technology Fees
Online students typically save on tuition, paying lower rates compared to on-campus learners. However, most schools also charge unique technology fees to online students. These fees may help fund tech support, technology improvements, and online learning platforms. Colleges may charge technology fees either by term or by credit. Some schools maintain tiered technology fees, which may charge lower overall rates to students who enroll for more credits each semester.
Other Fees
Online learners should factor in funds for rent or mortgage payments, lab fees, and traveling expenses for internships or other in-person experiences. Online students may also incur some of the same administrative fees as campus learners, including graduation fees.

Financial Aid Options for Online Colleges

  • Scholarships Scholarships provide education funding that never requires repayment. Students can look for scholarships from nonprofits, private companies, and community organizations. Some scholarships serve all student types. Other scholarships serve applicants of a specific background, academic major, or career path. Scholarship applications are often competitive.
  • Grants Grants also never require repayment. The federal government provides funding for grants. Grants typically award funding based on financial need, rather than academic or professional merit. Students can determine their eligibility for federal grants by completing the FAFSA.
  • Loans Unlike grants and scholarships, student loans eventually require repayment. Learners can apply for federal or private loans. The U.S. government services federal loans, which typically offer lower interest rates and more lenient repayment options. Banks and other private lenders service private loans, which may feature higher interest rates and less flexible repayment options.
  • Work Study Work-study programs provide federally subsidized jobs to college students. Work-study recipients typically work part time on campus, but some work-study jobs exist off campus. Students can use the income they gain from work-study programs to pay for living and education expenses. Colleges determine students' work-study eligibility based on the FAFSA.
  • Employer-Sponsored Programs Some employers fund employee education through workforce development programs. Employers may pay for workers to earn professional certifications or degrees. Workforce development initiatives vary widely among organizations. Professionals should consult their employer to determine potential continuing education opportunities.

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