FAQ: Is It Cheaper to Go to College Online?

Trish Sammer Updated on March 20, 2019

Yes, online college can be cheaper than traditional college options. Online-only schools don't have the costs of maintaining campuses,and they can have larger class sizes without increasing staffing levels. 

However, it's important to realize that online college options are evolving. Today, many brick-and-mortar schools have online offerings, while many online schools have "hybrid" programs, allowing students to partake in a mix on online and in-person studies. 

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Why online college can be cheaper

Online college classes are less expensive for colleges to produce. More people can take a class at the same time if the school doesn't have to worry about physical classroom size. No building also means no overhead. This allows online-only colleges to be able to offer their classes at a lower tuition rate than traditional schools. 

However, there are some tradeoffs to be aware of.

For-profit online colleges may be run more like businesses than academic institutions. While the quality of the instruction may still be high, and often is, it's a smart move to read online reviews from students before you matriculate anywhere. Ensure there's an emphasis on positive outcomes for students, rather than overly-aggressive student recruitment.

Besides the reduced tuition cost, there are other savings to take into account. If you go to school online, you don't need to worry about commuting costs. Also, these schools are generally built for students are already in the working world. It may be easier to coordinate your class and work schedule so you miss less time on the job. Online study may also reduce the need for childcare for working parents. 

What about online classes from traditional schools?

As we mentioned above, many brick-and-mortar institutions are now offering more online options, but there are several things to be aware of before you go this route.

The first is to ensure that the program you're interested in is a degree program. Some colleges and universities offer continuing education or certificate programs online, but will not confer a full degree through online-only programs. 

It's also important to find out how the classes are structured, and who is running them. A recent study found that traditional colleges tended to staff their online offerings with less-experienced, adjunct, or part-time professors. This is a huge cost savings for institutions over paying full-time, tenure-track instructors. However, it may mean that online programs don't rise to the same level of quality found in in-person classes at the same institution.

Here again, it's wise to investigate the program in-detail before signing up. Online reviews from students and former students can often provide a lot of insight. 

Is online college worth it?

Online college can be a great option, especially if your schedule doesn't have space for you to attend traditional, in-person classes. As traditional colleges seek to meet students' needs, they are offering more online options than ever before. Many online-only colleges are offering high-quality instruction that feature extremely flexible schedules to appeal to people who are already in the working world. 

But remember, college is an investment, so make sure to do your homework on the school before you make a decision. Do some research on the institution and program of study that you're considering. Make sure that the school is accredited. Read online reviews. 

Whatever you decide, be sure to investigate all of your financial aid options so you can reduce student loan debt. Use our step-by-step guide to filling out the FAFSA to get started.

Published in: Online Colleges

About the Author
Trish Sammer

Trish Sammer is Nitro's managing editor. Her work has appeared in Woman’s Day, Redbook, Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and Forbes. She has also written for various corporate clients, including the tech giant SAP, The Franklin Institute, and PSE&G. When Trish isn’t busy acting as a writing ninja for other people, you can find her … well, writing about other stuff, like divorce and blended family life. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband, their combined brood, and the world’s laziest dog. Read more by Trish Sammer

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