Is it Cheaper to Go to School Online?

By Celeste Stewart

The answer to the question “Is it cheaper to go to school online?” isn’t very satisfying: it depends. Enrolling in an online degree program can certainly be less expensive than going to an exclusive Ivy League college; it can also be far more expensive than going to your local community college. Because “it depends,” it’s important to compare apples to apples.

How Much Does Going to College Cost?

According to’s Trends in College Pricing 2010 report, the average published charges for undergraduates by type and control of institution for 2010-2011 are as follows:

Public (Two Year) $ 2,713 Public (Four Year – In State) $ 7,605 Public (Four Year – Out of State) $19,595 Private (Nonprofit Four-Year) $27,293 For-Profit $13,935

While this report doesn’t detail the yearly cost for online colleges, it does provide a benchmark when comparison shopping. In addition, for-profit colleges are well represented online.

You can also use CollegeBoard’s College Search tool to find specific prices. For example, tuition and fees in the fall of 2010 at City University of New York’s online baccalaureate program were $4980. Meanwhile, tuition at its brick-and-mortar Queens College campus ran $5,077 for in-state students and $12,927 for out-of-state students. In this example, it’s definitely cheaper to go to school online.

How Going to School Online Cuts Related Expenses

Another part of the online versus campus equation involves related expenses such as room and board and commuting costs. Living on campus can easily add close to $10,000, if not more, to the cost of college each year. Commuting and parking fees have their costs as well, not to mention the time lost sitting in traffic and circling the campus parking lots. These expenses and hassles simply don’t exist for online college students.

No Matter Which State You Live in, You’re Not an “Out of State” Student Online

Another potential savings area involves the markup for “out of state” students. This markup averages $12,000 per year for out-of-state students at public colleges. With an online college, students from all states pay the same tuition. If you live in California and want to attend City University of New York’s Queens College, you’d pay $12,927 in tuition plus room and board, but if you chose its online degree program, you’d pay just $4980 in tuition despite living on the other side of the country.

Financial Aid Can Further Reduce Your Online College Costs

Like traditional colleges and universities, financial aid may be available for qualified students to help pay for an online degree. According to CollegeBoard’s Trends in Student Aid 2010 report, “In 2009-10, undergraduate students received an average of $11,461 in aid per full-time equivalent (FTE) student, including $6,041 in grants from all sources and $4,883 in federal loans. Graduate students received an average of $22,697 in aid per FTE, including $6,371in grants and $15,744 in federal loans.”

Depending on your educational goals, going to college online may or may not be cheaper than going to a campus-based program. However, online degree programs may be more affordable than you think. Explore your online degree options today and learn more about how you can tackle the expense of a higher education.

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