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How Much Do Online Colleges Cost?

By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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Updated: April 29th, 2022
How Much Do Online Colleges Cost?

If you’re wondering how much online colleges cost, you’re not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic greatly accelerated the progress of online learning, and many students are exploring online options. Now that everyone has seen the feasibility of online courses, it makes sense that they would continue to pursue them. 

In fact, a recent survey found that 73% of students would prefer to take at least some of their college courses in a fully online format going forward. It’s also true that online courses offer a host of benefits: they cost much less than their in-person counterparts and allow students greater freedom and flexibility. Let’s compare the up-front and hidden costs of online and in-person colleges.

Don’t miss: Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool

Cost of online tuition

Online colleges typically cost only a fraction of their brick and mortar equivalent. Online schools don’t have to put forward the costs for facilities and other accommodations. Therefore, they pass these savings on to the student, resulting in heavily discounted tuition.

For example, the University of Illinois offers an online MBA program which charges a total of $22,500 in tuition. This is the cost for the 2-3 years it takes students to receive their degree. In contrast, their in-person MBA program charges $15,630 per year for in-state students and $30,918 for out-of-state. The in-person program typically lasts 3 years, totaling over $45,000 for in-state students and over $90,000 for out-of-state. 

Another example is an online degree program through the University of London and the London School of Economics. This online bachelor’s degree will cost students roughly $20,000 for the three year degree (remember, undergraduate degrees in the UK take only three years). The degrees are awarded through the University of London and are offered in fields including business analytics, data science, and economics.

Other cost benefits of online college

In addition to lower tuition, online college brings about substantial savings through its flexibility. Online courses can be taken anywhere with an internet connection. This means you can live at home, or in a place with inexpensive housing. Furthermore, you can buy affordable food rather than signing up for a dining hall plan or paying inflated college town costs. You’ll also save on transportation costs, both to and from your dorm, and to and from class.

In addition to lowering your other costs, online college allows you to earn more money while in school. Online courses typically have more flexible schedules, so you can keep your job while you earn your degree. Online learners also don’t have to relocate to attend class, which allows them to keep any previous job they held. 

Related: How to find online jobs for college students

Types of online degrees

The cost of an online degree can vary greatly based on the institution and the degree you pursue. Shorter programs typically cost less money. Programs that require higher levels of human instruction and grading typically cost more. 

If you are investigating online college, you may also want to consider online certificate programs. Although they will not give you the same experience as a bachelor’s degree, they are often affordable and easily attainable. Many of these programs can provide a substantial boost to your career. For example, the Google Certificate Program typically only takes about 6 months and costs $39 per month. Google has even pledged to treat their certificates as Bachelor’s degrees when they make hiring decisions.

Related: Guide to Coursera scholarships and financial aid

Return on investment

Online college has become more and more prevalent in recent years, but it’s still a relatively new type of degree. While more employers are becoming open to online degrees, they are not always equivalent to their in-person counterparts. Even though online degrees are typically much cheaper than in-person ones, you may not get the same return on investment.

Before choosing an online degree, you can research the outcomes of the degree you are pursuing. Especially if it is a professional degree, try to find out statistics of average salary and employment rate of graduates. If the outcomes are promising, an online degree could be a perfect way to save money and advance your career. But if they are not, you may be better off taking on loans for an in-person degree. The higher cost could be justified by higher future earnings.

The College Scorecard is a resource from the federal government that provides students with data around affordability, ROI, and outcomes. This is a useful tool as you assess the return on your educational options.

Don’t miss: Navigating different types of student loans

Financial aid for online college

There are many financial aid resources available for online students. Oftentimes, the institutions that offer these programs also have need-based scholarships. These opportunities can reduce the already-low cost of online college. Online students are also eligible for federal financial aid. These opportunities include the Pell Grant and Stafford Loans.

Read more: Top scholarships for online students

Next steps for students

If you are pursuing a college education but can’t afford in-person courses, online college may be just what you are looking for. You can obtain a degree at a fraction of the cost of in-person classes, all while keeping your current job. If you still hope to have a traditional in-person college experience, you can try pursuing an online certificate. This can help you to land a higher-paying job and save up for college. No matter what your situation is, online college can provide an affordable alternative to in-person courses.

Alternatives to online 4-year college

Online college is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to traditional four-year colleges, and for good reason. Offering similar career benefits at a fraction of the price and granting its students more freedom, this innovation has allowed many people to attend school who might have been unable otherwise. That being said, it’s not the only alternative out there!

Coding bootcamps and online certificate programs such as Google Certificates have also been on the rise in recent years. In as short a time as a few months, you can seriously change your career outlook with one of these options. The costs are typically much lower than in-person or online four-year degrees. What’s more, many coding bootcamps offer financing through income-share agreements, which means that you will not pay any money until you land a high-paying job with your new credentials.

So, while online college is a great option for many students, remember, it is not the only alternative to four-year in-person degrees! Make sure to check out all your options before making a choice.

Also see: Top alternatives to a four-year college degree

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