How Much Does It Cost to Go to College Online?

A student studying with a laptop

How much does it cost to go to college online? Is it always cheaper than attending class in person, no matter what you're studying? And how much might you save by choosing to enroll in online college courses or distance learning instead of traveling to classes?


The answers to those questions depend on a variety of factors. Before you can make an accurate estimate of how much it would cost for you to take online classes, you need to decide on your study plan. Think about:

  • The type of degree you'd like to get
  • What you plan to study
  • Where you'd most like to go to school
  • The funding sources you have to pay for school
  • If you'll be applying for financial aid
  • How you'll be able to pay back any loans you might get
  • What you could do after you earn your degree

Depending on the specific requirements for the courses you choose, you may also have to consider computer-related costs, such as the price of buying software or hardware, and costs for any other supplies you'll need.

How Much Does It Cost to Go to College Online?

The price of online classes varies a lot. If you're not interested in earning a degree and you simply want to further your education by taking a couple of classes in a certain subject, the price could be as low as a few hundred dollars, but the total could stretch into the thousands if you plan to take a full courseload from a prestigious university. A few institutions, such as Yale University, offer classes for free, but they are generally in stand-alone subjects and not part of an organized degree program.

You may wonder how costs for distance learning can still be so high if you're simply getting course materials online and corresponding through e-mail and message boards. Though there are some savings involved in putting a course on the Internet, there are also added costs. The school needs to hire an Internet specialist and designer to format the course in an entirely new way, and that process can be expensive and time-consuming. If a course involves interactive digital content, the development costs may be even higher. Finally, technical support staff need to be trained to understand the course workings and be available at all times to assist students and professors with any computer-related problems that may arise.

It's most common for universities to charge tuition by the credit or the credit hour, though some do charge a flat rate for a full course. As of 2017, many basic online courses cost between $300 and $400 per credit hour, but some specialized courses and courses for advanced degrees can cost even more per credit hour. A cost per credit hour means that you will have to pay that cost multiplied by the total number of credits for a class.

A good example of the cost breakdown per course is the business and management program at the University of Phoenix. For an online master's program in business and management, the university charges $655 per credit, and each course is three credits. There is an additional charge of $105 per course as a resource fee and a $45 application fee. However, the charge per credit to learn at the Phoenix campus for a master's in the same field is only $520 per credit, making the in-person course cheaper.

As technology grows more affordable and accessible, the answer to the question of "How much does it cost to go to college online?" may change, but in many cases, distance learning may not be significantly cheaper than it would be to attend class in person, and it may even be more expensive. However, if you don't need a degree and simply want to supplement your education with individual courses, you could save a notable amount of money with online classes.

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How Much Does It Cost to Go to College Online?