What's the most affordable way to get a bachelor's degree online? One of the easiest - but often overlooked -paths may be right in your backyard.
Here's the simple formula: Get your associate's degree online from your local community college and then finish up with an online degree from a state school where you can pay in-state tuition.
Yes, college is more expensive than before
It's undeniable that college costs are going up. in 2016, college students at public, four-year schools paid more than triple what students paid 30 years ago for tuition, according to The College Board.
And that doesn’t even include increases in room and board, student fees, and supplies like laptops and textbooks. The good news is that online college cuts out the need to pay anything for room and board. That means you're saving money right out of the gate.
An easy discount
Community colleges and state schools offer quality educations respected by employers, especially in fields like teaching and business. Luckily, more brick-and-mortar schools are offering online options for many different degree programs. And if you attend school online, you're more free to shop around at other schools that are further away.
Remember that, in general, local public colleges and universities provide the most competitive tuition rates because taxpayer money is also helping the school meet its needs.
If you're not able to find a school to complete your bachelor's degree in-state, do some comparison shopping for out-of-state schools. There are also many reputable online-only institutions where you can earn your degree.
See also: Are Online Colleges Legit? How to Avoid Scams and Find Reputable Online Schools
The easy way to transfer credits
Here's why the strategy of starting at a community college works so well: Most degree programs require students to take standard core classes for their first two years, regardless of their major. Getting these classes out of the way at community college is like getting a sale price on tuition.
The key is ensuring that the classes you're taking will transfer. Be sure to discuss your class selections with an academic adviser at the community college, as well as an admission counselor at the school you plan on transferring to. The good news is that most community colleges have pre-existing transfer agreements with state schools.
More ways to save
Beyond your choice of schools, there are other ways to greatly reduce the final price tag of your college education.
First and foremost, fill out the FAFSA, otherwise known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It's the gateway to federal financial aid, such as the Pell Grant, as well as low-interest student loans.
See also: Online Schools That Accept Pell Grants
Also, be sure to apply for scholarships. The Scholly app is a great way to search out scholarships that might work for you.
Another idea: take a year off.
Delaying your admission for a year can be a controversial move, but for some students a gap year opens up a lot of opportunities. Working for a year can give you the opportunity to save money, lessening the need for student loans. It can also help you narrow down your career choices. Some high school graduates join the Peace Corps or take an entry-level position in an industry they are interested in.
Interested in exploring online college options? Check out our recent roundup of the 20 Most-Affordable Online Bachelor Degree Programs.