Most Affordable Online Colleges & Degrees

By the OnlineU team | Updated 10/18/2021

Higher education can be an invaluable asset to students who are looking for professional advancement, higher wages, or a change in their career paths. Online programs are strong options for those who are also looking for flexibility when working toward a degree. OnlineU aims to support students in their personal and professional endeavors by highlighting the most affordable colleges offering online degrees at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels.

To help students make informed, cost-effective decisions about their online education, we also created a best affordable ranking that considers both upfront tuition costs and future earning potential. Four of the best affordable online schools are featured below. On this page you'll also find an introduction to online learning as well as information on how to find an affordable program and choose an online degree.

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Most Affordable Online Colleges For Bachelor's Programs

All tuition numbers were manually collected and verified
Rank School Locations Annual Tuition
# 1 #1 University of North Carolina at Pembroke Pembroke (NC) $5,067
# 2 #2 Clayton State University Morrow (GA) $5,079
# 3 #3 Valdosta State University Valdosta (GA) $5,463
# 4 #4 Kennesaw State University Kennesaw (GA) $5,562
# 5 #5 Georgia Southern University Statesboro (GA) $5,646
# 6 #6 Western Carolina University Cullowhee (NC) $5,670
# 7 #7 Eastern New Mexico University-Main Campus Portales (NM) $6,114
# 8 #8 University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Green Bay (WI) $6,298
# 9 #9 Western Governors University Salt Lake City (UT) $6,450
# 10 #10 Arkansas State University Jonesboro (AR) $6,540
# 1 Georgia Institute of Technology
Annual tuition: $2,700
# 2 Eastern Illinois University
Annual tuition: $3,438
# 3 Midway University
Annual tuition: $3,750
# 1 University of St Augustine for Health Sciences
Annual tuition: $3,770
# 2 Liberty University
Annual tuition: $5,500
# 3 American College of Education
Annual tuition: $5,595

2021 Most Affordable Online College Details

#1
#1
Annual Tuition: $5,067
Annual Tuition: $5,067
Annual Tuition: $5,067

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is a public, medium-sized university offering six online bachelor's degree completion programs. Students can choose from majors such as criminal justice, sociology, business administration, interdisciplinary studies, and nursing. Programs are designed for adult students who have previous college experience and are looking for flexibility and convenience to finish their degree. Students must transfer into a completion program with a minimum of 45 credits and a grade of C or better in prior coursework.

Financial Support Overview

Tuition for UNCP's online bachelor's degree completion programs is charged at a per-credit rate and is capped at 12 credit hours per semester. The rates vary by program, residency, and whether the online student enrolls in any on-campus courses. Merit and endowment scholarships are also available to help students with tuition costs. Active duty service members and veterans with three or more years of service can enroll as transfer students.

Online Student Resources

  • Online tutoring and writing center
  • Academic advising
  • Military affiliated student resources
  • 24/7 technical support

Explore programs at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke >>


  • Online Degrees: 48
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 90%
  • Graduation Rate: 41%
  • Acceptance Rate: 81%
  • Average SATs: 930 -1080
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,435
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 853
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (910) 521-6000

Online Bachelor's Degrees

  • Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Arts in Sociology
  • Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies in Applied Education Studies
  • Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies in Applied Education Studies - Learning and Development
  • Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies in Applied Professional Studies

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Arts in Education - Elementary Education
  • Master of Arts in Teaching - Elementary Education
  • Master of Arts in Teaching - Special Education
  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Public Administration
  • Master of Public Administration in Criminal Justice

Online Certificates

  • Academically and Intellectually Gifted (AIG) Licensure
  • Graduate Certificate in Addictions Counseling
#2
#2
Annual Tuition: $5,079
Annual Tuition: $5,079
Annual Tuition: $5,079

A medium-sized college, Clayton State University offers small class sizes and personalized attention, often appealing to adult and non-traditional students. Full- and part-time online students can choose from 17 bachelor's degree programs, including psychology and human services, RN-BSN, and political science and government studies. Clayton State boasts a supportive community of students, faculty, and staff focused on engaging critical-thinking skills for career preparation. To apply, prospective students must submit an application, academic transcripts, and test scores.

Financial Support Overview

Students can take accelerated 8-week courses or standard 16-week semester courses, depending on their schedule. Clayton State has affordable eTuition rates for online students, which exclude campus-related fees. Students can also transfer credits to save on tuition costs. Once enrolled, Clayton State automatically identifies students for various institutional scholarships. Students can also apply for the Coca-Cola Scholars Program, which awards $9,500 scholarships to 10 first-generation students pursuing health degrees and careers.

Online Student Resources

  • Technical support
  • Writers' Studio
  • Online tutoring
  • Veterans Resource Center

Explore programs at Clayton State University >>


  • Online Degrees: 36
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 88%
  • Graduation Rate: 30%
  • Acceptance Rate: 42%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,153
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 275
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (678) 466-4000

Online Bachelor's Degrees

  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Administrative Management
  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Administrative Management - Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Administrative Management - General Studies
  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Administrative Management - Organizational Leadership
  • Bachelor of Arts in English
  • Bachelor of Arts in English - Literature

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Archival Studies
  • Master of Archival Studies - Capstone Option
  • Master of Archival Studies - Thesis Option
  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Business Administration in Accounting
  • Master of Business Administration in Digital Marketing
#3
#3
Annual Tuition: $5,463
Annual Tuition: $5,463
Annual Tuition: $5,463

Valdosta State University offers 10 fully online bachelor's degree programs in majors such as organizational leadership, psychology, and criminal justice. Recent high school graduates are required to submit standardized test scores and transcripts, and transfer students should have completed a minimum of 30 credit hours with a 2.0 GPA to apply. Valdosta State recognizes the unique needs of online students by giving them the ability to define their own degree completion schedule through a personalized learning option. In addition, some students may qualify to enroll in online core courses through SmartPath Core, enabling them to complete their core courses more quickly.

Financial Support Overview

Valdosta State provides special, affordable eTuition rates for online students regardless of residency, and distance learners are exempt from paying most student fees. The university awards merit, needs-based, major-based, and alumni scholarships, and students can also transfer credits to help offset tuition costs. In addition, Valdosta is a military-friendly college and waives application fees for military service members and veterans.

Online Student Resources

  • Career services
  • Adult & military student services
  • Accessibility services for students with disabilities
  • Online tutoring

Explore programs at Valdosta State University >>


  • Online Degrees: 68
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 92%
  • Graduation Rate: 40%
  • Acceptance Rate: 74%
  • Average SATs: 990 -1140
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,107
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,886
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (229) 333-5800

Online Bachelor's Degrees

  • Bachelor of Arts in French - Language and Culture
  • Bachelor of Arts in French - World Languages and Cultures
  • Bachelor of Arts in Spanish - Language and Culture
  • Bachelor of Arts in Spanish - World Languages and Cultures
  • Bachelor of Business Administration - Management
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice

Online Master's Degrees

  • Educational Specialist in School Counseling
  • Master of Arts in English Studies for Language Arts Teachers
  • Master of Arts in Teaching in Education - English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)
  • Master of Arts in Teaching in Education - Foreign Language Education - French
  • Master of Arts in Teaching in Education - Foreign Language Education - Spanish
  • Master of Arts in Teaching in Education with a Concentration in Health and Physical Education

Online Doctoral Degrees

  • Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction - Learning and Development
  • Doctor of Education in Leadership
  • Doctor of Public Administration (DPA)

Online Certificates

  • Certificate in Educational Leadership (Tier I)
  • Certificate in European Union Studies
  • Certificate in Non-Profit Management
  • Certificate in Online Teaching
  • Certificate in Performance-Based Leadership (Tier II)
  • Certificate in Public Management
#4
#4
Annual Tuition: $5,562
Annual Tuition: $5,562
Annual Tuition: $5,562

Part of the University System of Georgia, Kennesaw State University is a large, public university offering 15 fully online bachelor's degrees. Many of these programs focus on engineering and technology, including majors in industrial engineering and technology, cybersecurity, and information security and assurance. KSU is a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance-designated university recognized by the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security. Applicants submit an application, academic transcripts showing a minimum GPA of 2.5, and test scores.

Financial Support Overview

KSU charges in-state tuition for its online bachelor's degree programs, and online students pay less in student fees than their on-campus peers. Merit- and need-based scholarships are available through the KSU Foundation, and students can also transfer credits to help ease tuition costs. In support of active duty military members and veterans, KSU provides tuition assistance counseling and financial advising for those using GI Bill benefits.

Online Student Resources

  • Health and wellness services
  • Career services
  • Online tutoring
  • Military & Veteran Services

Explore programs at Kennesaw State University >>


  • Online Degrees: 110
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 92%
  • Graduation Rate: 46%
  • Acceptance Rate: 61%
  • Average SATs: 1050 -1230
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 3,315
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,792
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (470) 578-6000
#5
#5

Georgia Southern University

Statesboro (GA)
Annual Tuition: $5,646
Annual Tuition: $5,646
Annual Tuition: $5,646

Georgia Southern University is a large, public university with five fully online bachelor's degrees and blended options where students can combine online and classroom work. Online bachelor's degree programs include interdisciplinary studies, RN-BSN, and criminal justice and criminology. Georgia Southern also has an online major in world languages and culture where students can concentrate in French, German, or Spanish. First-year student admissions are flexible, with test scores optional, but students may have to meet a minimum GPA requirement. Transfer students can enroll with a minimum of 30 credit hours.

Financial Support Overview

Online students pay the same tuition as their in-state on-campus peers but pay fewer student fees. Georgia Southern awards various institutional scholarships, and students can also ease tuition costs by transferring credits. Georgia Southern is military-friendly, waiving mandatory tuition fees for active service members and reserve and National Guard veterans who've completed a 90-day combat deployment or reservists who are not using their GI benefits.

Online Student Resources

  • Military & veterans services
  • Career counseling
  • Academic advising
  • Online library resources

Explore programs at Georgia Southern University >>


  • Online Degrees: 76
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 91%
  • Graduation Rate: 50%
  • Acceptance Rate: 68%
  • Average SATs: 1050 -1200
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,088
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,619
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (912) 478-5391
#6
#6
Annual Tuition: $5,670
Annual Tuition: $5,670
Annual Tuition: $5,670

Offering 10 online bachelor's degree programs, Western Carolina University is a medium-sized, public university. Online bachelor's programs include emergency and disaster management, emergency medical care, and RN-BSN. Admission to WCU requires an application, academic transcripts, and test scores, but some programs have additional requirements. WCU's School of Nursing has been ranked No. 1 in the state by the Nursing Schools Almanac due to a near-perfect rate of graduates passing their licensure exams on the first try.

Financial Support Overview

Tuition for online students is residency-based, however, they pay less in campus-based fees. Students can transfer previous college credits and credits from technical programs completed at fully accredited, two-year institutions to help offset tuition costs. Students submit one application to be considered for any merit- and need-based scholarships WCU awards. Military members and veterans can receive seven hours of credit in free electives if they've served at least 12 consecutive months on active duty.

Online Student Resources

  • Mental health counseling and psychological services
  • Tutoring
  • Resume and interview preparation
  • Online library resources

Explore programs at Western Carolina University >>


  • Online Degrees: 57
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 85%
  • Graduation Rate: 62%
  • Acceptance Rate: 39%
  • Average SATs: 1020 -1200
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,691
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 704
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (828) 227-7100
#7
#7
Annual Tuition: $6,114
Annual Tuition: $6,114
Annual Tuition: $6,114

Eastern New Mexico University - Main Campus is a military-friendly, medium-sized, public university. It offers 25 online bachelor's degree programs in various majors, including aviation science, electronics engineering technology, and sports and recreation management. Students can attend full- or part-time with the option of completing some majors, such as aviation science, as a hybrid program. Admission requirements include an application and academic transcripts. First-year students and transfer students with less than 30 credits must submit test scores.

Financial Support Overview

Tuition is charged based on residency, with a flat per semester rate for students taking 12-18 credits and a flat per-credit rate for students taking less than 12 credits. Students can apply for ENMU scholarships by submitting a scholarship application with their admission materials. Transfer students with a significant number of credit hours in a career-technical related discipline can earn a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences within two years by applying their previous coursework toward the degree.

Online Student Resources

  • Online writing help and tutoring
  • Counseling services
  • Military student services
  • Online library and bookstore

Explore programs at Eastern New Mexico University-Main Campus >>


  • Online Degrees: 72
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 97%
  • Graduation Rate: 36%
  • Acceptance Rate: 60%
  • Average SATs: 900 -1110
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,514
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 917
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (575) 562-1011
#8
#8
Annual Tuition: $6,298
Annual Tuition: $6,298
Annual Tuition: $6,298

The University of Wisconsin - Green Bay is a medium-sized university offering 12 online bachelor's degrees, including health information management and technology, marketing, finance, business administration, and a hybrid nursing program. Online classes are asynchronous to allow for students who juggle school with work and other commitments. UW-Green Bay's application process requires only an application and transcripts, with standardized test scores optional. UW-Green Bay touts high employment rates after graduation. For example, 2020 health information management and technology program graduates had a 100% employment rate within a year of graduation.

Financial Support Overview

UW-Green Bay has special tuition rates for online programs that are lower than out-of-state tuition. Students can also transfer credits and apply for UW-Green Bay scholarships and grants. The online RN-BSN nursing program offers a 14-week format or an accelerated 7-week program to allow students to finish faster and save money. UW-Green Bay awards credits to active military members and veterans based on training and experience.

Online Student Resources

  • Online tutoring
  • Academic coaching
  • Advising services
  • Virtual career fairs

Explore programs at the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay >>


  • Online Degrees: 46
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 84%
  • Graduation Rate: 53%
  • Acceptance Rate: 76%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,419
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 226
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (920) 465-2111
#9
#9

Western Governors University

Salt Lake City (UT)
Annual Tuition: $6,450
Annual Tuition: $6,450
Annual Tuition: $6,450

A large, private institution, Western Governors University is exclusively online. It offers 26 bachelor's degrees, many focusing on teaching, including special education, science education, elementary education, and English language learning. Students can attend full- or part-time, depending on their schedules. Each program has different enrollment requirements based on its curriculum. WGU has an easy application process, which generally doesn't require test scores. Enrollment is available on the first of every month, allowing students to begin at their convenience.

Financial Support Overview

WGU charges flat-rate tuition by six-month term, not by credit, allowing students to maximize tuition costs by taking as many classes as they want in each period. Some programs are competency-based, meaning students can progress through classes at their own pace, and they aren't charged for courses where they can prove competency. Scholarship opportunities include departmental scholarships, leadership scholarships, and military appreciation scholarships. Active duty military members and veterans can also take advantage of WGU's tuition assistance program.

Online Student Resources

  • Online program mentors
  • Counseling
  • Writing and math support
  • IT help desk

Explore programs at Western Governors University >>


  • Online Degrees: 68
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 72%
  • Graduation Rate: 21%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 98,630
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 37,509
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: NWCCU
  • Phone #: (801) 274-3280
#10
#10

Arkansas State University

Jonesboro (AR)
Annual Tuition: $6,540
Annual Tuition: $6,540
Annual Tuition: $6,540

Students can choose from 33 online bachelor's degree programs available from Arkansas State University. A-State is a medium-sized, urban, public university with a diverse curriculum and a robust online presence. Programs include communication studies, business administration, and digital media-focused degrees in majors such as game development and social media management. A-State provides flexibility with multiple start dates each year and seven-week terms, which are designed to allow students to move through a program more quickly. Admission requirements include an application, academic transcripts, test scores, and a minimum GPA.

Financial Support Overview

A-State charges in-state tuition for online programs and offers a variety of institutional scholarships. It is also a military-friendly school, where active duty service members, veterans, and their families may be eligible for scholarships to save up to 50% on tuition. In addition, students can transfer up to 90 credits for some degree programs like communication studies, which can save both time and money.

Online Student Resources

  • Online tutoring and writing center
  • 24/7 technical support
  • Online library resources
  • Career exploration and job search services

Explore programs at Arkansas State University >>


  • Online Degrees: 82
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 97%
  • Graduation Rate: 53%
  • Acceptance Rate: 66%
  • Average SATs: 1013 -1220
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,064
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 3,414
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (870) 972-2100

Introduction to Online Learning

Whether you're thinking about earning a college degree or just taking a few college courses, going to school online is an option worth considering. Over the past couple of decades, it has become an increasingly popular choice. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about one-third of today's college students are engaged in some form of distance learning, with 16.6% of them opting to take all of their classes online.

E-learning classes usually use an online learning management system, such as Canvas, Blackboard, or Moodle, to enable students to view and complete coursework over the internet, and classes can be delivered either in an asynchronous or synchronous format.

Before you sign up for classes, it's important to understand the options available to you. Many traditional, non-profit or state-operated community colleges and four-year universities give you the ability to earn associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral or professional degrees, as well as certificate programs, completely online. These educational institutions usually provide the same resources—such as financial aid, academic advising, tutoring, and library services—for online students as they do for on-campus students. There are also some non-profit schools that operate exclusively online, as well as for-profit schools offering online programs, and these institutions may or may not provide additional services.

E-learning classes usually use an online learning management system, such as Canvas, Blackboard, or Moodle, to enable students to view and complete coursework over the internet, and classes can be delivered either in an asynchronous or synchronous format. Asynchronous classes typically allow you to log in at your convenience and submit coursework according to preset deadlines, while synchronous classes require you to log in on specific days and times so you can participate live. Some schools also feature hybrid or blended courses, which combine elements of on-campus courses with online coursework.

On this page, we're providing answers to all of your most important questions about online learning. We dive into the credibility and costs of online colleges, and how to choose the right type of online program that will help you meet your goals.

Online Degrees Quick Facts
  • You can earn associate, bachelor's, master's, doctoral, or professional degrees, as well as certificates, completely online.

Are Online Colleges Legitimate?

Wondering whether a degree from an online college or university will be considered legitimate is a valid question. If you're going to invest time and money into completing a program, you want to make sure your online degree will be respected among hiring managers and recruiters. You also want to ensure that it will be a stepping stone to a higher degree if you decide to continue your education. Although there are fraudulent businesses that simply sell college degrees—often referred to as "diploma mills"—there are also hundreds of legitimate online schools and programs providing real education and respected degrees.

The best way to determine whether an online degree is valid is to check the school's credentials. In addition to detailing the school's programs, graduation requirements, fees, and services, a college or university website should tell you whether the school is licensed and accredited, and by which agencies. (You can also double-check a school's credentials by visiting the U.S. Department of Education website or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation website.) If an institution's website is vague about these factors, or if it makes promises about getting a degree with little time or effort, it's probably best to bypass that school.

The Importance of Finding an Accredited Online Program

One of the most important qualities to look for when you're reviewing online program options is accreditation. To become accredited, a college or university must undergo an extensive, multi-year evaluation by an independent agency. The agency examines the school's programs, faculty, facilities, and student resources, comparing them against recognized standards of excellence before awarding accreditation to the school. The best online colleges are those that have been accredited by one of six authorized regional accrediting boards or by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.

Choosing an accredited institution is important for several reasons:

Future employers may confirm that you earned your degree from an accredited institution as part of their standard background check.

Eligibility for financial aid is usually dependent on enrollment in an accredited school.

If you want to transfer credits you've earned at one college to another, it is likely that the second school will only accept credits from an accredited program.

Depending on the occupation you've chosen, you may need to earn additional certification or licensure after graduating, and your eligibility to do so may depend on whether you attended an accredited school.

A bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university is usually a prerequisite for earning an advanced degree.

OnlineU.org lists only accredited colleges and universities. We provide details about each school we rank, as shown below.


Finding Affordable Options for Online College

Is It Cheaper to go to College Online?

In general, going to college online is cheaper than attending an on-campus program.

However, this isn't always the case, as cost depends on the school and the program, and the per-credit tuition rates vary widely from school to school. Some charge slightly less per credit for online courses, while others charge the same. In addition, some colleges charge the same price for all online students, while others charge lower rates for in-state residents and higher rates for out-of-state residents, just as they do for on-campus students. Finally, online colleges may charge online students technology fees for taking distance education courses, although they will typically charge in-person students other fees for taking on-campus courses.

Ultimately, considering getting an online degree gives you more options to choose from beyond those available where you live. When you conduct a school search, you'll discover many affordable online degree options.

Cost of Online Programs

Of the schools we researched in order to rank the most affordable online degrees, the median annual tuition rates at public institutions are $8,220 for associate degrees, $11,728 for bachelor's degrees, $10,448 for master's degrees, and $15,441 for doctoral programs. Of private institutions offering online programs, median tuition rates are $14,850 for associate degrees, $13,950 for bachelor's degrees, $11,475 for master's degrees, and $13,188 for doctoral degrees.

The total cost of an online degree varies depending on a number of factors, including program length and tuition rate. One way to get a more accurate comparison of online program costs is to determine per-credit tuition rates, and then multiply them by the number of credits required for the degree you'd like to earn. The cost per credit at the schools on OnlineU.org ranges from $81.21 to $2,075.

Associate degrees generally require about 50-60 credits to graduate, bachelor's degree programs average about 120-128, master's degrees range from 30 to 60, and doctoral programs require anywhere from 36 to 120 credits.

Degree Typical Number of Credits Cost-Per-Credit of OnlineU Schools
Associate 50 - 60 $81.21 - $530
Bachelor's 120 - 128 $91.79 - $963
Master's 30 - 60 $170 - $2,075
Doctoral 36 - 120 $290 - $1,393

If you expand your search beyond the most affordable options, you'll find online and on-campus tuition fees for some bachelor's degrees totaling more than $100,000.

Of course, to determine the total cost of earning an online degree, you should factor in other expenses as well. Nearly all students will need to allow money for books and other supplies, as well as yearly and one-time-only fees charged by many schools, such as application, technology, and graduation fees. Some students may also need to account for childcare expenses. Less commonly, online learners may be required to travel locally to fulfill a requirement for in-person training, or they may be required to go to campus occasionally for orientation, workshops, or practicums. Transportation and accommodations may need to be added to the total list of expenses.

Most students, however, do not pay the full cost of earning a college degree. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over the last 10 years or so, approximately 83% of full-time, first-time, degree-seeking undergraduate students receive some form of financial aid, regardless of what type of college or university they attend. The amount of per-student aid awarded each year varies widely from smaller grants of about $2,000 to complete aid packages totaling as much as $27,000. If your financial aid package includes a student loan, you'll probably want to calculate the amount of interest you'll need to repay, and incorporate that into the total cost of your online degree. Keep reading for more information on financial aid, below.

Funding an Online Degree

One of the benefits of opting for an online degree is that it opens up more choices, enabling you to find accredited online schools in a wide range of price points. Nevertheless, you may still need or want financial assistance to fund your college education. The good news is that your decision to go to school online or in person does not affect your eligibility for aid. As long as you're enrolled in an accredited program and meet all other eligibility requirements, you may be able to receive some form of financial aid.

There are many types of financial aid available, some of which are sponsored by the government, some by private organizations, and some by the schools themselves. The best types are those that don't need to be paid back:

Many students are awarded scholarships, grants, and fellowships based on need or merit.

If you're getting an online degree at a school that's within driving distance of your home, you may be able to earn a portion of your college expenses through an on-campus work-study program.

If you're working full-time or even part-time, your employer may offer a tuition reimbursement program covering some or all of your tuition expenses, especially if you're pursuing a master's degree.

Some schools have partnerships with various types of organizations that provide tuition assistance to those organizations' members or employees.

If you are or have served in the military, or are a dependent of a military service member or veteran, you may be eligible for tuition discounts.

The least favorable financial aid option is a federal or private student loan because loans have to be paid back with interest, although a loan is a good option if you don't get enough funding from all of the other sources. If you agree to a loan, federal loans generally have lower interest rates than private bank loans.

A helpful place to learn more about financial aid is on the website of the school or schools you'd like to attend. School websites usually have at least one full page describing the types of aid they offer, such as scholarships for online students or students in particular degree programs. You'll also find contact information for the school's financial aid office so you can speak to an advisor directly. General information about federal aid, including details about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, is available at studentaid.gov.

Pursuing Higher Education For Free Online

Getting a college education for free certainly sounds appealing, and there are a couple of accredited online schools that are tuition-free. However, if you look closely at the financial details of these schools, you'll discover they charge other types of fees for using their services. It's important to fully understand all of the fees before deciding whether to attend this type of school.

However, if you're interested in taking courses purely for the sake of obtaining knowledge and not in pursuit of a degree, there are many free options. Some of the best-known schools—including Harvard, Wellesley, MIT, and many more—offer free online classes through platforms such as edX, Coursera, and Udemy. In some cases, you can opt to pay a small fee to obtain a certificate of completion.


Online Degrees and Programs

What Degree Can I Get 100% Online?

The full range of degree levels, from associate to bachelor's, master's, and doctoral or professional degrees, in a vast array of subjects can be earned entirely online. It may be more intuitive that subjects involving reading, writing, and discussion can be taught online. Yet in today's distance education environment, even courses involving lab work, like chemistry, biology, and other applied sciences, can be delivered using alternative methods. Many schools use a combination of at-home lab kits and virtual simulations to enable students to learn these subjects 100% online. However, to earn some degrees, you may need to complete a moderate percentage of your coursework in person at a facility near your home or possibly on campus. Nursing, social work, and counseling, for example, all require students to complete a minimum number of clinical hours in order to gain hands-on experience working with others. Schools offering these courses online often have a facilitator who can assist you in making the necessary arrangements to fulfill these graduation requirements.

Choosing an Online Program

Given that many programs are offered in the online format, choosing a subject to study in college and deciding which type of degree to earn are important decisions to make.

Some questions that may help you kick off this process are:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What are your natural aptitudes? What do you have an affinity for?
  • What are your career and salary expectations after graduating?

If you have a specific career path or occupation in mind, one place to continue your research is on the Occupational Outlook Handbook website provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This extensive site can provide you with information on preparing for a particular career, and can help you decide which level of education you'll need to meet your future goals.

Finally, you may not be sure of what you'd like to study, even after enrolling in a school. At the earliest stages of your college education, it is often okay to take time deciding on your field. One option for online undergraduate students who are unsure about future career goals is to choose a degree like psychology that can be used to enter a diverse range of fields, from counseling and social work to marketing and human resources management.


Are Online Colleges Worth It?

You may be wondering whether the time, energy, and money you invest in getting a college degree in general—and an online degree in particular—will pay off for you in the long run. While that decision is entirely personal based on your personal circumstances, data supports the value of a college education.

U.S. Census statistics show that between 2000 and 2018, the number of people with bachelor's degrees went from 29.8% to 48.2% and the number of people with advanced degrees went from 15% to 28.7%.

In today's job market, getting a degree levels the playing field, allowing you to compete against the majority of other job candidates. Other advantages of earning a degree include the prospect of higher salaries, an increased likelihood of landing professional jobs with valuable benefits, such as health insurance and paid vacation time, and more chances for promotion into higher-paying positions.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median weekly earnings for a person with a high school diploma are $746, as compared to $887 with an associate degree, $1,248 with a bachelor's degree will have you earning over $26,000 more per year for a total of at least $783,000 in additional income. Compared to the initial cost, a degree can yield a healthy return on investment.

We've established that earning a degree overall may be worth it for you, but what about earning a degree online? Earning any type of degree through distance education adds several unique benefits to the experience:

More options. If you'd like to stay local while attending school, you probably only have a handful of choices in your area. By opening yourself up to online degree programs, you now have dozens of options. You're more likely to find online schools offering the program and concentration you want in a broader range of prices.

Respected credentials. As long as you attend a regionally accredited college or university, your online degree will command the same level of respect from hiring managers as a traditional degree. Many managers understand that to be accredited, the school must demonstrate that its online programs require the same academic rigor and yield the same outcomes as on-campus programs.

Flexible scheduling. One advantage of pursuing a degree online is that you can create your own weekly routine, working your studies and homework assignments around all of your other work and family obligations.

Ultimately, only you can decide whether pursuing an online college degree program is right for you. Depending on your goals and resources, you may prefer to have the traditional, on-campus college experience, or you may want to bypass college altogether. It's just smart to explore all your options before making a choice.