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How Much Does an Online College Degree Cost?

Jun 24, 2019

For most students, cost is one of the top three issues when choosing a path of higher education. Online degrees can offer a less expensive alternative to a traditional on-campus experience. Keep reading to learn more about the cost of an online college degree.

Tuition and fees for an online degree can vary wildly from school to school and can depend greatly on the student's situation. This article will look at some of the factors that affect tuition, delve into some typical fees and offer some tips for saving on a college education.

How Much is Tuition for an Online Degree Program?

Just like tuition for on-campus programs, the tuition for online programs fluctuates from school to school. Many online programs charge on a per-credit basis. Some of the least expensive can be in the $100 to $150 per-credit range, making tuition for a 120-credit hour bachelor's degree program fall in the incredibly affordable range of $11,000 to $16,000 total. More pricey schools might charge anywhere from $300 to $400 per credit.

Do In-State Discounts Apply for Online Tuition?

For on-campus students, in-state tuition can be drastically cheaper than out-of-state tuition. Does this make a difference for online students as well? The short answer is it depends. Some schools offer in-state online students the same rate as in-state on-campus students. Others have special online course rates for all online students, regardless of the residency status of the student.

What About Fees for Online Programs?

Online students often aren't responsible for common on-campus fees (like a parking fee), but may are special fees associated with online courses. Many schools charge a distance learning fee an/or technology fee on top of the per-credit cost which covers 'online course development' or the added costs of online instruction and support services. Application fees can add additional costs, though this fee is typically only charged once, when you apply to the school. Assessment exams for course placement could also be required, and some schools have a graduation fee that covers the cost of the conferral of the degree. Common amounts for all these fees are:

Online Fee Average Cost
Distance learning fee Around $20 (per credit)
Tech fees $40-$120 (per class)
Application fee $30-50 (one time)
Assessment exams $25 (per exam)
Graduation fee Around $100 (one time)

How to Find Out How Much a Program Costs

Almost every college will have a link on its website with a cost calculator to help prospective students understand how much their bill will be. Most will also list the per-credit tuition cost and any applicable fees on the program page or the financial aid page. Students can also call the school's financial aid office and find out how much they'll be paying.

Ways to Save on an Online Education

Some savings are built into online programs. Traditional students have to foot the bill for room and board (and that can be pretty hefty), while online students might live at home or already have accommodations. In addition, full-time on-campus students are paying for the educational equivalent of a buffet, while online students can take an a la carte approach, paying only for the number of courses taken and at a rate that fits their schedule. A student who needs more than four years to finish an undergraduate degree due to work or family commitments could realize a significant savings by using the distance-learning options as opposed to paying for extra semesters or years.

Here are a few tips for saving even more:

  • Not only are online students often eligible for the same scholarships as their on-campus counterparts, there are usually online-specific scholarships available too.
  • Students who work may be eligible for employer tuition reimbursement.
  • Some online schools will grant credits for life experience.
  • Online students may also be allowed to demonstrate their knowledge by taking exams and testing out of some courses.
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