It’s no doubt that a college education is a valuable tool to enter the workforce or move into a leadership position within your company. And with the increasing popularity of online degrees, you may be wondering which path to take as a prospective student. Do you want to attend classes on campus or pursue your degree online? And how much does an online degree cost? Is it more affordable than an on-campus program? Are online college degrees worth it?
Just like it is for prospective on-campus students, the cost of tuition and fees is an important factor for those considering an online program. Generally speaking, an online degree is significantly less expensive than earning one on campus.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of college tuition and fees totals about $17,500 per year. For on-campus students, room and board and other related expenses average about $13,800 annually — a cost that can be significantly reduced for an online student who is living at home.
So, what factors make the online degree cost increase? And what are the different ways you can reduce those costs to make earning your degree online more feasible?
The Total Cost of an Online Degree
Typically assessed per credit, tuition is the majority of the cost of a college education. Tuition varies by the school, degree level, and program. While there is a range for tuition rates, the most common rate for online undergraduate programs is $300 to $600 per credit, and graduate degree programs are generally $800 to $1,000 per credit.
However, tuition is not the only factor in the total price of an online degree. Fees can quickly rack up the price. While many fees assessed by the school might apply to only students on campus, there may be some that apply to those enrolled in an online program.
As an online student, you may have to pay a fee when you submit your application for admission. You might also incur technology fees, which typically go toward around-the-clock technical support, online learning management systems, and technology improvements. These fees are usually assessed per course, credit, or semester.
Additionally, an expense that can be overlooked until after you’ve been admitted is that of textbooks and related materials. In fact, for undergraduate students, the average spent on textbooks and supplies is about $1,200 per year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Other charges that can increase the overall cost of an online degree include:
Ways to Lower Online Degree Costs
There are a couple of ways to help make an online degree cost a bit less. One way is to transfer any credits you may already have. Transferring credits not only reduces the cost of your online college degree, it also can make the overall program length shorter, so that you can receive your diploma sooner.
Generally, colleges and universities accept credits from regionally accredited institutions. Some may even accept credits from schools that are nationally accredited; are accredited by a smaller, more specialized organization; or on a case-by-case basis.
If you don’t have any credits that you can transfer, you may be able to have experiential credits apply toward your online degree. Through prior learning assessments, experiential credits may be earned for life and professional experience that is relevant to your program.
Another way to lower the overall cost of an online degree is to find a program that uses open educational resources (OERs). These programs are textbook-free and use alternative online resources for study materials. Without having to purchase textbooks for each of your classes, OERs will help you save potentially hundreds of dollars per course. Some of the resources used may include electronic content from the library, such as databases and journals, or materials created by your professors or the school, such as e-books and video lectures. You might also use information that is openly available on the internet.
More Ways to Pay for an Online Degree
After you have discovered some ways to lower the price tag of your online degree, you need to determine how you are going to pay for the remaining costs.
When determining how to afford your online college education, applying for financial aid should always be the first step. Financial aid can be supplied through the federal or state governments or your school. Each year, the U.S. Department of Education awards more than $120 billion in financial assistance to more than 13 million students.
The financial aid that you are awarded can be applied toward your tuition, fees, books, and supplies, as well as room and board and transportation expenses.
Types of Federal Financial Aid
After you have applied for admission into your school and program, you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will establish your expected family contribution. Your school will then receive your FAFSA information and award any financial aid based on your expected family contribution.
The awarded amounts for financial assistance are adjusted each year, and they depend on your expected family contribution, cost of attendance, whether you’re enrolled full time or part time, and if you will be enrolled for the entire academic year.
Other Financial Aid Options for Online Students
If you have exhausted all of your federal loans and still need assistance, you can explore private loan options. However, keep in mind that private loans typically have higher interest rates than federal student loans, so you may want to utilize them as a last resort.
Some other options for financial assistance that can help you manage the cost of your online degree include:
Are you a veteran or currently serving the U.S. military? If so, you may be eligible for a variety of military education benefits through the federal government. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers several education benefits that would significantly help you manage the cost of your online degree.
Available for veterans and service members who served after Sept. 10, 2001, and their families. To take advantage of this benefit, military members must have either served at least 90 days of active duty, be currently on active duty, be an honorably discharged veteran, have been discharged due to a service-related disability, be a Purple Heart recipient, or a member of the Reserves.
Some colleges and universities participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which is a part of the GI Bill. Institutions that participate in this program match the amount awarded by the VA, reducing the cost of a college degree to zero for eligible military students.
Available to active duty and Reserve members. For those serving active duty, you must enroll in the Montgomery GI Bill program and contribute $100 per month in order to receive this monthly education benefit after fulfilling a minimum service obligation. Those in the Reserves must have a six-year obligation in the Selected Reserve and be actively drilling.
For Reserve members who are called or ordered to active duty as a result of a war or national emergency declared by the President or Congress. The VA ended this program in 2015 and was largely replaced by the GI Bill. Military members who are still eligible for the program can receive benefits through Nov. 25, 2019.
Available if you made contributions to this program using your military pay. Your contributions are matched by the U.S. government on a 2-to-1 basis. Depending on your contributions, you can receive benefits for one to 36 months through this program, and your benefits must be used within 10 years of your release from active duty service. If your benefits are not used, you will be automatically refunded.
For students who are children or spouses of those who died while serving after Sept. 10, 2001. If you are eligible, you may receive benefits for up to 36 months.
Available to dependents of veterans who died while serving active duty or because of a service-related condition or are permanently and totally disabled as a result of a service-related condition. If you started using the program before Aug. 1, 2018, you can receive up to 45 months benefits; after Aug. 1, 2018, you can receive up to 36 months of benefits.
In addition, you may be eligible for additional grant funds or other military education benefits through your school. For example, you might be able to receive the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant if your parent or guardian died while serving in the military in either Iraq or Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, or additional Pell Grant funds.
Other benefits may include student loan interest rates that are limited to 6% if you received your loans prior to serving in the military or being called for active duty, no accruing interest, and deferment of your student loans.
Get Reimbursed Through Your Employer
If you’re like many online students, you will probably be a working professional throughout the duration of your online program. In fact, 47% of online undergraduate students and 64% of online graduate students are employed full time while enrolled in courses, according to the 2018 Online College Students report by The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement programs to help their employees further their education.
Check with your employer to see if they can assist you with your online degree cost. Don’t forget to ask for the details about the program, too. Some employers provide reimbursement at the end of a semester when final grades are available. In this case, find out if your school offers flexible payment options.
Earning your degree online may be easier on your wallet, and allows you to earn the quality education you’ll need to excel in your future endeavors. The overall online degree cost can offset the price of studying on campus. Pursuing a degree online allows you to maintain your personal and professional commitments, providing the flexibility to help you balance your work and studies.