The quest for a college education can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Online education is creating increasingly affordable pathways to flexible, high-quality degree programs. In fact, there are countless cheap accredited online colleges that emphasize curriculum, instruction, and outcomes over costly college perks like fancy campus centers, luxury dorms, and handsomely-paid football coaches. When it comes to affordable online colleges, “cheap” doesn’t mean low quality — it means low-cost. And there are all kinds of great ways to save through an online college education, especially if you shop local. Read on to find out how attending a nearby online college can help you save money, and check out other tips for finding the most affordable online colleges out there!
So you’ve already decided that online college is the best move for your budget. You don’t have to pay for housing, a meal plan, or a parking pass. Good deal. But you’re still looking for additional ways to save money because you’re a smart shopper. We’re with you. And there are more ways than one to save, but if you’re looking for the cheapest online colleges, the best place to start is in your own backyard. If you don’t see an online university in your backyard, the next best place to check is on the internet.
Just kidding. When we say “backyard,” we mean your community, region, and state. Of course, locally sourcing is all the rage when it comes to things like fresh produce and carpentry. Well, perhaps it’s time to look at online education as a valuable local commodity as well. Indeed, attending an online college stationed close by offers certain unique advantages, most especially the opportunity for a more affordable online education experience.
How, you ask? For starters…
In-State Rates Apply to Online Colleges
If you’re shopping for colleges, you may already know that public state schools charge lower tuition rates to state residents. But, did you know that this advantage applies even if you’re attending a state college online? Consider it your tax dollars at work. Your education may technically be remote, but if it’s a public school in your state, your proximity is to your advantage. As you begin your online college search, start with the public schools affiliated with your state.
Get started by checking out The Most Affordable Four-Year College in Each State.
Local Online Colleges Offer Greater Flexibility
In-state tuition rates aren’t the only advantage to staying local. This is particularly good news because if you plan on attending a private college, there’s probably no such thing as in-state rates. Everybody pays the same number. But choosing a local college or university that provides online courses can save you money in other ways. In particular, many students are choosing to pursue a blended or hybrid learning approach, one that combines traditional courses with online courses. The blended option means that you can have the same campus experience and personal contact as traditional students without the costs of housing, dining, and other student services. In some cases, online credit hours may come at a lower overall cost both in terms of tuition and the reduced need for travel and associated expenses. But of course, in order to pull off a blended education, you have to live in commuting distance of your school. This is a good reason to look locally first, even if you’re just dipping a toe in with a few online courses.
To learn more, and to find out how a blended education can save you money, check out College Online but Close to Home: Blending Traditional and Online Education.
“Cheapest online colleges” should be an indicator of low cost, not low quality. But that means you’ll have to do your homework. I know, I know. Homework before the first day of class. Drag. But this assignment is an important one. If affordability is a big factor for you, make sure you measure this priority against quality, reputation, and outcome. Even the most affordable school is a waste of money if the degree isn’t right for you.
This is especially true if you’re considering a for-profit college. While some for-profit colleges may offer affordable and accessible trade, vocational, or practical training degrees, it is critical that you navigate this education sector cautiously, and armed with knowledge. Know how to avoid scam schools, degree mills, and other shady fly-by-night education rackets.
For tips on how to navigate the occasionally dark waters of online education (and how to tell the difference between a good deal and a raw deal), check out:
- Guide to For-Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know
- Online College versus Diploma Mills: Know the Difference
- For-Profit vs. Non-Profit: What’s the Difference?
Of course, the best way to avoid the scam schools is to start by seeking out online colleges that are at once affordable and accredited. Lucky for you, we’ve got an awesome list of The Most Affordable Online Colleges for Bachelor’s Degrees.
Go the Community College Route
This is another great way to dip a toe into online education without getting scammed. Community colleges are typically among the cheapest accredited degree options available to you. And while community college can only land you a two-year associate degree, this could either be a great way to qualify for entry-level work in your field, or jump into a bachelor’s degree with half of your credits already under your belt. Most online colleges have arrangements in place with public colleges in your state and beyond to help ease the transfer of credits and credentials. All around, from the lower tuition spent on your two-year degree to the money saved in the eventual pursuit of a four-year degree, community college offers one of the most affordable pathways through higher education. And the great news is that, increasingly, community colleges have come to offer a full array of online courses and fully online degree programs.
Of course, just like in-state tuition rate discounts and blended programs, most community colleges do require you to be local. In other words, community college can be a good reason to stay close to home even as you pursue an online degree.
To learn more, check out:
- For-Profit College vs. Community College: Which One Is Right for You?
- The 50 Best Community Colleges in the United States
Get Scholarships and Financial Aid
Wherever your online college is located, be sure that you capitalize on every opportunity for financial aid and scholarship support for which you qualify. From federal student loans and need-based grants to scholarships from private, public, non-profit, and commercial benefactors, there are countless ways to make your education more affordable. And if you plan to stay close to home, there may be a number of local, regional or state-based scholarships for which you would be uniquely eligible. The same goes for school-based scholarships which may be earmarked for local applicants. Sometimes, the cheapest accredited online schools are simply those which give you eligiblity to the widest range of grant and aid opportunities. That eligibility may be most accessible through a local college or university. Find out more by exploring the following resources:
- The Student Financial Aid Source
- Can I get financial aid for an online degree?
- Financial Aid for Online College: Everything You Need to Know and Do
- Researching Scholarship Opportunities
For more on paying for college, comparing costs, and finding the most affordable colleges both on campus and online, check out the following resources:
- College and University Cost Index: Paying for Education
- Paying for College: Financial Aid, Scholarships, and More
- The Most Affordable Four-Year College in Each State
- The Most Affordable Online Colleges for Bachelor’s Degrees