How Much Does It Cost for Online College?

average cost per credit hour for online college

As online colleges grow in popularity, many wonder about the expected cost of online college per credit hour. Most students know that the cost of an undergraduate degree is less when they take courses online. But, they might not know just how much they can save. Some schools charge one flat rate for an online bachelor’s degree. Others charge a flat rate per semester of online college, and still others charge based on the number of credit hours that students take. Online schools may also offer discounted rates for in-state students or those who take more credit hours each semester. After looking at the typical cost of tuition, prospective online students should also look at other factors. These include those that might impact the price they pay and the expenses they’ll have while attending school via an online learning format. Clearly, the answers to the questions: “How much are online classes?” and “What does online college cost?” are somewhat complicated matters.

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Average Cost of Online College Per Credit Hour

According to U.S. News and World Report, the average price bachelor’s degree students are charged for online classes is $282 per credit hour. This puts the cost of an online schedule of 12 credit hours worth of classes, which is generally a full course load, at around $3,400 a semester. The report points out that some schools charge online students as little as $80 per credit for online college. Other schools may charge more than $400 per credit hour towards an online bachelor’s degree. This refers only to the tuition that students pay for their classes. It does not include any other online education expenses or online resources. Furthermore, it is only applicable to undergraduate courses. For graduate students, online courses and degree programs are usually more expensive.

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Cost of Online Programs: In-State vs. Out-of-State Tuition

The cost of an undergraduate degree program online also depends on whether the online college charges different rates for students living in or out of the state. At some schools, online students pursuing a bachelor’s degree online qualify for in-state tuition. This is a price break typically reserved for students who live and study in the same state. At other schools without discounted online tuition, out-of-state students taking classes online may pay twice as much as in-state students pay for an online course. Some colleges and private universities also prohibit students from certain states from taking online courses or completing an online degree. This is because they do not have accreditation in those states, let alone tuition discounts.

Online College Fees

How Much Do Online Classes Cost?

Prospective students considering online college as opposed to a traditional school should ask about the cost of any fees besides tuition costs. Those living on campus often pay fees for using the school’s library or athletic complex. Similarly, online students often pay a technology fee. This fee is used to pay for the online learning system they use to complete assignments. Many online programs charge a technology fee of $25 to $100. This fee is charged each semester that they attend online college. Online learners are also responsible for paying fees when they reach graduation. This includes fees for certain course materials, services to support students engaged in distance learning, and technology fees associated with online school. In addition to extra fees, be sure to ask about any available tuition discounts and financial aid opportunities as you pursue your degree online.

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Personal Expenses for an Online College Degree

Taking online classes is an excellent way to save money. Still, students should consider the personal expenses they face as they pursue an online degree. For example, online learners don’t need to pay money for a meal plan or a dormitory room on campus. But, they may need to pay rent and buy food while living off campus. Online students must also pay for textbooks required to complete coursework in their classes. This is in addition to other educational supplies, including pens, pencils, papers, and highlighters. Personal expenses associated with online programs may also include a new computer or tablet for completing their classes and assignments. Moreover, their professors may require that students purchase specific software. This makes the average price of attending school online increase significantly.

Online classes appeal to a variety of students. This includes those who work full-time, those out-of-state who do not want to move to attend an on-campus program, and those who have other obligations that keep them from studying at a local school. The cost of an online undergraduate degree is generally less expensive than the tuition and fees charged to students taking classes on campus. Even so, students will want to consider all the costs that they face before applying to online programs.

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Financial Aid

How Much Do Online Classes Cost?

It’s important to note that online students qualify for the same financial aid programs and opportunities as traditional on-campus students. Plus, it’s often the case that extra financial aid beyond the cost of online college tuition can be applied to college-related personal expenses, including federal financial aid. Your financial aid, including federal student loans and private student loans, can pay for room and board at a traditional college (or if you attend on-campus programs but live off-campus). Thus, it can also pay for your rent, food, internet connection, books, computer, and other supplies required for you to attend college online.

You may need to apply for more loans to cover some or all of these extraneous online college costs. Just be sure to keep track of any mounting student loan debt! It’s also important to remember that when your financial aid will continually go toward paying your tuition and fees first. This is true whether you attend school online or on campus. Undergraduate students may not have enough left over to cover housing and food. So it’s important not to bank on being able to pay everything with your student loans. You may need to work part-time or even full-time to make earning your online degree affordable. The best situation possible is one where you can live with family for free, or significantly reduced cost, while you earn your college degree.

If that’s not an option, there are other ways to reduce the cost of your online program to more manageable levels. If you are an undergraduate student, consider doing your first couple of years at a community college. Many community colleges offer programs for online learners in addition to their on-campus programs. And they are significantly cheaper than private schools, public schools, and even state universities. Plus, if you get excellent grades in community college, you can transfer credits to even the best state universities (all of which are offering tons of online degrees these days). You may even be able to secure big scholarships and/or institutional financial aid to cover online college costs based on your grades. There are a lot of ways to handle personal costs for online learners. They aren’t all easy, but there are systems in place that can make it much more manageable for many distance learners. Remember that you’ll need to attend an accredited college to qualify for most financial aid programs, including those from the federal government.

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Online Degree Cost: Alternative Tuition Rates

Some institutions offer alternative tuition rates for prospective college students. This includes both private and public colleges. Thomas Edison State University offers out-of-state students a flat-rate tuition of $4,639 per term. If you take 18 credits, you pay $257.72 per credit. That’s a great rate compared to average online college costs. Another affordable online college, Western Governors University, also offers flat-rate tuition at $3,225 per six-month term. Additionally, WGU’s format makes it possible to take courses at your own speed. Take their Bachelor of Business degree as an example. Most college students graduate within 36 months. That’s six terms. For a 120-credit degree, that comes to an online college cost of just $161.25 per credit. It means the whole bachelor’s degree costs under $20,000! And it can be earned in just three years instead of four!

How Much Do Online Classes Cost?

So keep your eyes open for incredible deals like this as colleges try to find ways to make themselves more affordable. The online market is changing and changing fast as it develops and we see more and more innovation. We have tons of articles right here on this website featuring some of the best, most affordable online colleges out there. So if the average cost of tuition still seems like too much, check out our articles that spotlight the schools on the lower side of the average cost. There are many opportunities out there for prospective college students if you know where to look! And we know where to look.

We trust this breakdown serves you well as you consider the average costs of online college.

Related Resources


  • U.S. News & World Report