Figuring out how to pay for an online education is a crucial step toward earning a degree.
Paying for an online degree is not significantly different from paying for an on-campus degree, though the overall cost may be a bit lower. In an online program, students can access the same financial aid programs while enjoying a more flexible schedule, reduced travel, and, in some cases, lower tuition.
Degree-seekers should consider all available financial aid opportunities before choosing an online program. Across the country, the median student loan debt is $17,000, but online students can reduce that number by building employment-friendly class schedules and choosing cost-effective programs. This guide examines the cost of an online degree and highlights savings opportunities for students.
How Much Does an Online Degree Cost?
Online college costs include much more than just tuition. When estimating the cost of online college, students also need to consider additional fees for technology, required class applications, and supplies, like subscriptions or books. According to the U.S. News & World Report, the average bachelor's degree costs $38,500-$60,590.
Online colleges often list tuition costs by credit rather than term. This helps transfer- and fast-tracked students calculate their costs more exactly, and it helps learners who are pursuing credits beyond their degrees. Per-credit pricing also helps justify the price difference between bachelor's and graduate degrees.
Location also affects the cost of an education. Traditionally, schools charge higher tuition rates for out-of-state students than for in-state learners.
This helps encourage learners to study at local schools. However, many online schools offer the same online college cost for all students, regardless of location.
The type of school you attend can also influence the cost of online college. For example, private colleges typically have higher tuition rates than public or community colleges. Community and public schools receive more government funding, so they can offer reduced tuition rates. To help students manage these costs, private schools may offer generous financial aid packages. For more information, we provide a detailed breakdown of online college costs here.
Ways to Pay for Your Degree
Students may need to pursue several financial aid programs to cover the cost of online learning. Thankfully, online programs provide opportunities to help learners pay for their studies and reduce their debt.
First, all degree-seekers should explore federal and state financial aid programs. These provide low-interest student loans and tuition waivers for some enrollees — typically those who demonstrate financial need or satisfy academic merit conditions.
Scholarships and grants are another effective way to pay for online college costs. These programs reward high-achieving students in different academic disciplines or those pursuing careers in certain fields.
Scholarships may run through individual states, schools, industries, or organizations to encourage learners to take specific pathways.
Scholarships are also offered to members of underrepresented minority groups. Furthermore, online programs often run asynchronously or in the evening, which allows learners to maintain their employment. Online students may also pursue work-study programs, assistantships, or internships to receive a financial boost.
Ways To Save On Your Degree
Students can save on education costs in many ways, including by choosing an online degree. For example, Georgia Tech's tuition costs less online than it does for on-campus programs because online enrollees can graduate more quickly. Online colleges also have fewer travel, materials, and room and board costs.
If studying on campus, learners should pursue in-state programs to avoid out-of-state tuition fees, while online degrees sometimes offer flat online tuition for all enrollees. Scholarship or tuition waiver programs at certain schools can also help with finances.
Degree-seekers should explore different types of schools and consider mixing and matching their programs. For instance, community colleges offer low tuition rates, allowing learners to complete general education and prerequisite courses at a lower cost before transferring into public or private colleges for upper-division classes.
In some cases, schools charge by term or length of study, which allows enrollees to save by fast-tracking their training. Additionally, hybrid pathway programs like five-year bachelor's/master's degrees or dual master's/Ph.D. pathways may cost less than taking the programs separately. Earning credits through preparation programs like coding bootcamps can lead to savings, as well.
Finally, students can get creative with class materials by renting their textbooks or buying them used and at discounted rates.
Frequently Asked Questions
Online degrees provide flexible, accessible study options. While distance learning offers the same quality degrees found in on-campus programs, online training can require more independent study and commitment.
Online college costs depend on several factors, including course load and transfer credits. To find some of the lowest-priced programs, students should explore our list of the most affordable bachelor's degrees.
Students can typically earn online degrees in all the same subjects as on-campus programs, though some schools may not offer hands-on or technical degrees at a distance. For instance, many medical programs require practicums that must be completed in person. Students should research any on-campus components in their online programs before enrolling.
Employers do not view online degrees any differently than on-campus programs. In fact, your degree itself won't mention that it is an online degree. So long as you earn them from an accredited institution, both online and on-campus degrees have the same training and cover the same material, with only the delivery methods differing.
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