How Much Does Online College Cost, Really?
Whether you live far from college, have kids to watch, or just don’t want to go to school in person, attending college online is a great option.
If you’re wondering how much online college costs, this guide includes a cost breakdown, factors affecting costs, and ways to save on your online degree.
Online College Costs: A Breakdown
The cost of attending college online varies depending on the individual school, whether your school is public or private, and whether you are from in-state or out-of-state.
Rate structures differ by college. They can charge per semester, credit hour, or program. Some specific courses may cost more depending on lab fees or additional materials needed.
According to Education Data Initiative, the cost of earning an online bachelor’s degree with a full course load averages $51,091. In-state students pay an average of $38,496. Students attending a school outside their home state spend an average of $54,183.
Prices vary widely from college to college. Costs for credit hours can range from under $200 to over $2,000. At public colleges, the average is $316. Private colleges are slightly more expensive, costing $488 per credit hour.
Besides tuition, students also have to pay for technology, course materials, textbooks, and other fees. Here is a breakdown of online college costs.
Many colleges charge international students higher tuition because their families have not paid state taxes. (Some colleges, however, do not charge out-of-state tuition for 100% online degrees.)
Some programs require learners to pay a technology fee that covers the cost of virtual classroom platforms and existing IT infrastructure. Technology costs help upgrade and maintain college technology. These costs can range from $5 to $50 per credit hour, depending on the program.
Costs of course materials and textbooks
Textbooks and course materials are not included in the tuition fee. Buying used books may not be possible if a textbook is only available as an e-book. According to Education Data Initiativetextbooks and materials cost students an average of $450 to $650 per semester.
Additional fees you may face when attending an online college include application, orientation, library, and graduation fees. Some schools may charge online students for parking lots or fitness centers that you may never use. Be vigilant when researching colleges to avoid these additional costs.
8 ways to save on online college
Luckily, the cost of earning your degree online doesn’t have to be as high as the original sticker price.
Start by researching online colleges that accept the FAFSA to avoid any surprises when it comes time to enroll.
Scholarships can be merit-based, awarded based on financial need, or targeted to specific identities.
There are general STEM scholarships and scholarships for students with disabilities, minorities in STEM and women in STEM. Each scholarship has unique requirements, so do your research before submitting your application.
SEE: Best Computer Science Scholarships
Grants are generally needs-based and do not require repayment.
Complete the FAFSA to see if you qualify for the Federal Pell Grant, Academic Competitiveness Grant, or other money-saving grants.
3. Alternating programs
Work-study programs allow students to work on or off campus to pay for their tuition. If you are completing your degree remotely, check to see if your college is affiliated with a non-profit organization in your area where you can do work-study.
If you are interested in work-study, be sure to apply early as these programs have limited funding.
4. Employer sponsored programs
Some employers offer to pay part of the training costs of their employees if the courses benefit the company. These programs are called employer-sponsored or tuition reimbursement and are a major benefit to employees.
Completing your degree part-time and online allows you to continue working during regular business hours while studying.
5. Student loans
Unlike grants and scholarships, student loans must be repaid to the lender.
Federal student loans have fixed and lower interest rates than private student loans. Exhaust your federal loan options before taking out private loans and beware of predatory lending.
To lower your overall college costs, you may want to attend a community college for the first two years of your degree. Then, transfer to the school you wish to document on your degree.
Some colleges accept up to 90 hours of transfer credit, which could mean significant savings.
7. Earn credits for your work experience
Some colleges offer course credit for military, volunteer, or professional experience. The American Council on Education evaluates acquired knowledge and recommends the number of credits to be awarded.
Depending on the school, you may be required to submit a portfolio of completed work or take an exam to assess your skills.
SEE: How to Get College Credit for Work Experience
8. Savings on course materials, technology and textbooks
The cost of textbooks, course materials, and a laptop all add up. To reduce your expenses, try searching for PDF versions of your textbooks online or research online schools that provide a computer.
Costs of Online College and In-Person College: A Comparison
Attending an online school may be the cheapest option. It depends on whether you live in the same state as your school of choice and which program interests you.
Decide based on your budget, lifestyle, and personal preferences.