What is the Cost of Online College?

Trish Sammer Updated on March 12, 2019

If you’re thinking about earning your degree online, you may already be saving money right out of the gate. With no worries about paying for room and board or commuting, you’re already off the hook for tens of thousands of dollars every year. Score!

But still, earning your degree online is a serious financial commitment. If you’re going to earn your bachelor’s degree online at a four-year college, expect to spend about $24,000 on the low end. But we have a few totally-legit tricks that can help you pay even less than that.

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Start at an online community college

The hands-down cheapest way to get a bachelor’s degree is to go to a community college first and then transfer to a four-year state school.

Good news: That formula holds up for online education as well, because many community colleges now offer fully-online programs or partially online programs, often called "hybrid" programs.

Instead of paying $6,000-$10,000 a year (again, on the low end) for your first two years of school, enroll at a community college and cut that cost by more than half. Many community colleges have tuition in the range of $2,000-$3,000 per year.

If you’re going this route, it’s wise to make an appointment to speak with an adviser about which four-year school you intend on transferring to. That way, you can ensure that you’re taking classes that will easily transfer.

If your local community college doesn’t have an online program, you may be able to attend a different community college in the surrounding area. There are often different price points for in-county residents, out-of-county residents, and out-of-state residents. But even with the higher price point, you’ll probably still come out ahead by going to an online community college first.

Don’t forget about financial aid

Just because you’re going to school online doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on all of the benefits that other college students enjoy—especially financial aid.

Be sure to fill out the FAFSA (otherwise known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Doing so will qualify for you federal financial aid, such as grants and low-interest federal student loans. It will also open the door for institutional and state aid. Check out our question-by-question guide for filling out the FAFSA for help.

You should also apply for grants and scholarships that may be available through your high school, your employer, community associations, or local or national organizations. There are scholarships for just about everything you can imagine.

Check out the Scholly app to discover “free money” that might be available to you.

See also: 15 Weird and Unusual Scholarships That You Should Probably Apply For … Maybe.

What's next?

Interested in exploring online college options? Check out our recent roundup of the 20 Most-Affordable Online Bachelor Degree Programs

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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