Embarking on any degree program is a major commitment in terms of time, energy, resources, and even money. Degree programs have typically been an expensive undertaking, but many programs exist that can help defray (or at least postpone) these expenses. Costs for undergraduate and graduate degree programs have grown at an alarming rate in the past decade, further limiting the choices available for many students. Because of the amount of money involved, it is no wonder that the choice of a reputable, affordable degree program is of greater importance now than ever before.
Many people assume that online degree programs are more expensive than those offered at traditional schools. Performing a strict comparison on the cost per credit hour for each program can be a good basis for financial evaluation, but this should not be the only comparison made. In many cases, you might actually find that these costs are comparable with local campuses. I compared credit hour costs among eight different schools and the online campus that I had selected, and found that the costs were relatively similar.
Yet, there are additional costs that should be factored into the equation before making a final decision. Many traditional schools add additional fees for parking, medical services, and library and computing resources. Often, these fees are not necessary for online degree programs. Additionally, such "soft costs" such as gas and wasted travel time should be considered.
You should also consider books and course materials. Traditional schools typically have bookstores on campus to provide the required course materials. Sometimes, used books may be available, thereby reducing the overall expense, but in many cases, new books will be required, particularly for upper-level course work. Some campuses have begun offering downloadable electronic books (E-books) that can provide some cost savings. Online campuses will occasionally have book stores for specific course materials, requiring the student to order the required materials far enough ahead of time to enable the student to meet course deadlines. Many more online campuses have begun offering materials strictly via online delivery, often at a flat-fee per course (somewhere between $70-100 per course, depending on the course level and school). Naturally, such materials cannot be resold as hard-copy books can.
Financial aid resources can help many students meet these financial obligations once a program has been selected. Schools that offer federal financial resources are typically reputable; be wary of those schools that simply offer private financing options, as these schools may not be accredited. Many online campuses will also have a list of grant and scholarship opportunities available. Finally, if you have served in the military, a reputable school will allow you to use your veterans' benefits; be warned, certain benefits do have an expiration date. Ask the school for a breakdown of costs over the course of your program if you have questions so that you can determine how much financial aid will cover and you can plan accordingly. In some cases, undergraduate studies may not be fully funded by these financial resources, though graduate programs may be fully (or over) funded.
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