Affordability: Online College Courses vs. Traditional Colleges

Affordability: Online College vs. Traditional

Affordability: Online College vs. TraditionalWhile it should by no means be the most important, one of the most common ways that students choose a college is by weighing much it will cost. Nobody really wants to graduate with a huge amount of debt in tow and nobody wants to pillage their life’s savings to attend their dream school.

Even though the well-publicized hike in tuition prices has reached a bit of a plateau,  those interested in higher learning are examining their alternatives with increasing enthusiasm.

The wide selection of online college courses have, for some time, been an attractive alternative to what we’ll refer to here as the “traditional” college experience. For anybody who’s interested in pursuing higher education, it makes sense to get a better idea of how the two stack up against each other. Let’s take a look at the prices, and at some other factors that might not be as obvious at first glance.

The Price of Tuition

For most online schools, the cost of tuition is only one part of the total expenses. Still, it’s a big part. According to The College Board, students enrolling in a private college in 2013 can expect to pay, on average, $129,700 over four years. The cost of public universities is a somewhat easier pill to swallow at $38,300. This is only expected to increase.

The cost of attending the best online schools is, by comparison, quite competitive. The average student will make at least modest per-semester savings over attending a traditional college, though sometimes the savings could be greater.

While the price of tuition between online colleges and traditional colleges might not be dramatic, the other savings made by online college students are a lot more impressive.

Room and Board

One of the most significant expenses for traditional college students, and one that’s almost never included in the price of tuition, is the cost for room and board. Traditional students could spend as much as $18,490 per year for housing and meal plans.

Consider this: when you attend an online college, you can do so on your own terms. Whether you’re still living with your parents or you’ve left the nest and struck out on your own, you can continue with your current housing situation while you attend your classes online. You might pay Mom and Dad a modest sum for rent every month, but it’s nowhere near the expenses you’ll incur at a traditional college.


Another one of those pesky hidden costs of attending a traditional college is the price of transportation. Even if you live on campus, you’ll almost certainly have to pay for gas when you drive back home to see your family.

Then again, plenty of students opt for off-campus housing, either due to fraternity or sorority affiliation or because there are cheaper options being offered elsewhere. Whatever the reasons, you might find yourself commuting to campus for your classes. If you do, you’ll find that your expenses for gas and car maintenance will add up dramatically.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, you’ll have to decide for yourself whether attending online classes are a sound decision. One thing is for certain, though; when you consider the quantitative absolutes of money, online college is an attractive option indeed.