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A college education can provide a ticket to higher earnings and a better quality of life. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the median earnings for workers with a bachelor’s degree in 2021 were 55% higher than earnings for graduates with only a high school diploma.
Even though the price of college tuition continues to rise, online students can save on costs like on-campus housing and transportation. Online learning gives you access to a wide variety of institutions while giving you more flexibility and reducing your cost of attendance.
So, how much do online colleges cost, and how can you pay for your degree?
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What's the Cost of an Online Degree?
Research from Quality Matters shows that 69% of schools charge approximately the same tuition and fees for online and on-campus programs. However, some colleges charge online learners the same tuition rate regardless of their state residency. In-state tuition is usually more affordable than out-of-state tuition — but if you're an online student, it might not matter.
Undergraduates paid an average of $9,700 in tuition and fees at public four-year institutions in 2021-2022, according to the NCES. Tuition was much higher at private schools, which charged between $17,800-$38,800 that academic year.
To calculate the approximate tuition rate of your school of choice, calculate the cost per credit by the number of credits you need to graduate. Subtract any prior credits you earned that can transfer to your degree. This gives you a rough estimate of your tuition.
Always do your homework to ensure additional campus and technology fees do not make online learning more expensive than advertised. And check out our college cost calculator to get a better idea of how much your degree will actually cost.
Did you know that college tuition and fees cost an average of $9,700 at public four-year institutions in 2021-2022?
Online Degree Costs
College expenses include more than tuition. See below for some factors that impact the cost of an online degree.
Books and Course Material
You may need to buy a new laptop or upgrade your internet. And you should also budget for textbooks. You can save money by renting textbooks or buying digital versions.
Some programs charge online learners a technology fee. Colleges may use this money to pay for virtual classroom platforms or online research databases. Some colleges do not disclose what their technology fee pays for.
When researching online college costs, you should factor in various fees. For example, some schools charge orientation and graduation fees. Most schools also charge for official transcript copies and ID card replacements.
How Can You Make Online College More Affordable?
Online learning provides many cost-saving benefits not available to traditional students. You don't have to budget for expenses such as campus housing and meal plans. And virtual classrooms eliminate the need to commute or relocate.
Working students can often continue employment while they pursue a degree online. Asynchronous and self-paced online courses let you schedule your learning to fit your life.
Hoping to cut the cost of your college degree even more? There are a number of ways you can do so. First, some institutions make college affordable by charging the same per-credit tuition regardless of in-state or out-of-state residency.
Second, community colleges offer affordability and accessibility. Many students begin their education at two-year colleges and save time and money by transferring credits to four-year programs.
You can also keep in mind the type of institution you attend. Public colleges tend to cost a lot less than private schools, so consider that as an option.
Finally, consider financial aid as instrumental in keeping the cost of tuition within your reach. Online students can qualify for a variety of aid if they attend accredited institutions. Learn more about aid such as scholarships, grants, and work-study programs.
Financial Aid Options for Online Colleges
You can apply for scholarships to help cover online college costs. Scholarships do not require repayment. Colleges often offer academic scholarships for learners with high GPAs or strong SAT or ACT scores. Private businesses and nonprofits also offer scholarships.
You can apply for grants after completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Many organizations award need-based grants. You do not repay grants. However, some grants may include a work obligation post-graduation.
Completing the FAFSA allows you to apply for federal loans. These loans qualify for forgiveness programs and income-based repayment plans. You can take out subsidized or unsubsidized loans. Subsidized loans do not collect interest until after graduation. Unsubsidized loans begin accruing interest immediately.
Some colleges and universities offer work-study programs. These programs allow students to perform tasks for payment toward tuition. You may work on campus or off campus. The federal government provides work-study funds to learners with financial need.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Cost of Online College
Is online college more affordable than traditional college?
Some online colleges cost less than traditional schools, beginning with cheaper tuition for online learners. Bear in mind that public schools tend to offer the most affordable tuition. You also don't have to pay for on-campus accommodation or relocation if you study online.
Do your research by factoring per credit tuition, campus and technology fees, transfer credit savings, and financial aid options available to online learners.
Can you take any college class online?
Many schools offer online classes in a variety of subjects. You should check with your prospective schools for a list of online offerings.
Classes that do not require labs or in-person components work well in a virtual format. However, some programs require in-person experiences. For example, aspiring teachers and nurses must complete in-person teaching and clinical experience.
What are the benefits of online education?
Today's students appreciate the flexibility of online learning. Many students work and juggle busy lives while they attend school. Asynchronous classes allow you to do just that, as you take classes from anywhere at any time. You also often have access to the same faculty and resources as your on-campus peers.
Page last reviewed December 18, 2023
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