2023 Most Affordable Online Colleges & Degrees
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.
Popular Online Programs
|a||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Accounting Bachelor's | Master's )(||763||2,007||$53,170|
|Aerospace Engineering Master's )(||40||106||$73,800|
|Anthropology Bachelor's )(||53||80||$27,030|
|Architecture Master's )(||33||59||$50,450|
|Art & Design Bachelor's )(||138||379||$28,890|
|Aviation Bachelor's | Master's )(||52||176||$48,950|
|b||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Biology Master's )(||131||273||$31,000|
|Business Associate | Bachelor's )(||1,390||9,563||$60,260|
|c||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Chemical Engineering Master's )(||22||42||$70,440|
|Child Development Bachelor's | Master's )(||226||407||$41,260|
|Christian Counseling Master's )(||65||173||$32,240|
|Civil Engineering Master's )(||72||170||$67,230|
|Communications Bachelor's | Master's )(||506||1,575||$35,310|
|Computer Engineering Master's )(||82||177||$78,640|
|Computer Science Associate | Bachelor's | Master's )(||419||1,147||$70,040|
|Counseling Bachelor's | Master's | Doctoral )(||405||1,170||$42,530|
|Creative Writing Master's )(||87||149||$32,900|
|Criminal Justice Associate | Bachelor's | Master's )(||722||2,042||$38,810|
|Criminology Bachelor's )(||138||240||$36,310|
|Cybersecurity Bachelor's | Master's )(||430||1,161||$48,690|
|d||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Data Science Master's )(||253||535||Not reported|
|Dental Hygiene Bachelor's )(||42||56||$35,830|
|DNP Doctoral )(||230||583||$77,100|
|e||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Early Childhood Education Bachelor's )(||465||1,185||$44,200|
|Economics Master's )(||149||297||$53,880|
|Education Bachelor's | Master's | Doctoral )(||1,200||11,206||$52,610|
|Educational Leadership Master's )(||600||1,986||$62,610|
|Electrical Engineering Master's )(||89||239||$78,460|
|Elementary Education Bachelor's | Master's )(||305||681||$41,990|
|Emergency Management Bachelor's | Master's )(||223||537||$61,160|
|Engineering Bachelor's )(||477||2,597||$73,000|
|Engineering Management Master's )(||132||313||$83,490|
|English Master's )(||332||622||$29,890|
|Environmental Science Bachelor's | Master's )(||262||854||$35,950|
|ESL Master's )(||260||479||$54,810|
|Exercise Science Master's )(||98||189||$32,020|
|f||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Fashion Bachelor's )(||24||66||$30,150|
|Finance Bachelor's | Master's )(||570||1,341||$56,300|
|Fire Science Bachelor's )(||93||196||$57,760|
|Forensic Accounting Bachelor's )(||53||78||$48,690|
|Forensic Psychology Master's )(||44||110||$50,110|
|Forensic Science Master's )(||116||271||$48,690|
|g||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Geographic Information Systems Bachelor's )(||132||283||$40,460|
|Graphic Design Bachelor's )(||99||183||$33,030|
|h||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Health Education Master's )(||260||465||$48,070|
|Healthcare Administration Bachelor's | Master's )(||639||1,709||$42,000|
|Healthcare Informatics Bachelor's )(||376||797||$76,390|
|Healthcare Management Bachelor's | Master's )(||601||1,463||$39,480|
|History Bachelor's | Master's )(||256||418||$32,430|
|Homeland Security Bachelor's | Master's )(||209||592||$59,450|
|Hospitality Management Bachelor's | Master's )(||181||389||$35,480|
|Human Resources Associate | Bachelor's | Master's )(||510||1,260||$55,170|
|Human Services Bachelor's | Master's )(||388||1,101||$33,100|
|i||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Industrial Engineering Master's )(||63||129||$73,270|
|Information Technology Associate | Bachelor's | Master's )(||682||2,628||$64,260|
|j||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Journalism Bachelor's | Master's )(||145||271||$34,990|
|l||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Law Bachelor's )(||230||601||$80,510|
|Law Enforcement Bachelor's )(||191||311||$38,810|
|Library Science Master's )(||142||357||$45,780|
|m||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Management Associate | Bachelor's | Master's )(||1,383||9,349||$60,650|
|Marketing Bachelor's | Master's )(||668||1,605||$44,080|
|Marriage & Family Therapy Master's )(||68||161||$42,530|
|Mathematics Bachelor's | Master's )(||240||430||$51,980|
|MBA Master's )(||691||3,489||$60,650|
|Mechanical Engineering Master's )(||65||140||$69,950|
|Medical Assistant Associate )(||70||100||$29,390|
|MFA Master's )(||27||67||$25,050|
|MSW Master's )(||128||242||$45,610|
|Music Bachelor's | Master's )(||130||276||$27,470|
|n||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Nurse Practitioner (NP) Master's )(||269||898||$77,100|
|Nursing Bachelor's | Master's )(||857||4,419||$73,270|
|Nutrition Bachelor's | Master's )(||156||318||$36,210|
|o||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Organizational Leadership Master's )(||787||2,906||$60,650|
|p||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Philosophy Bachelor's | Master's )(||93||150||$32,770|
|Physical Education Master's )(||121||201||$32,010|
|Political Science Master's )(||154||274||$37,290|
|Project Management Bachelor's | Master's )(||293||744||$60,650|
|Psychology Bachelor's | Master's | Doctoral )(||617||1,731||$35,390|
|Public Administration Bachelor's | Master's )(||449||1,475||$57,970|
|Public Health Bachelor's | Master's )(||311||997||$48,070|
|Public Relations Bachelor's | Master's )(||143||224||$41,300|
|r||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Religious Studies Master's )(||255||1,938||$30,310|
|s||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|School Counseling Master's )(||127||187||$47,590|
|Secondary Education Master's )(||253||603||$41,990|
|Social Work Bachelor's )(||246||481||$45,610|
|Sociology Bachelor's | Master's )(||205||312||$40,640|
|Software Engineering Bachelor's | Master's )(||143||248||$78,640|
|Sonography Bachelor's )(||14||22||$64,660|
|Spanish Bachelor's | Master's )(||85||119||$32,240|
|Special Education Master's )(||472||1,540||$57,600|
|Speech Pathology Master's )(||43||60||$50,170|
|Sports Management Master's )(||291||579||$32,020|
|Substance Abuse Counseling Bachelor's | Master's )(||141||240||$42,530|
|Supply Chain Management Bachelor's | Master's )(||301||615||$60,650|
|Systems Engineering Master's )(||90||272||$99,330|
|t||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Teaching Master's )(||694||2,788||$43,260|
|Theology Master's )(||122||349||$41,870|
|w||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary|
|Web Design Bachelor's | Master's )(||129||221||$49,600|
|Web Development Bachelor's )(||187||340||$49,600|
|# 1|| Allen County Community College |
Annual tuition: $2,013
|# 2|| Kansas City Kansas Community College |
Annual tuition: $2,821
|# 3|| Albany State University |
Annual tuition: $2,850
|# 1|| California Coast University |
Annual tuition: $4,875
|# 2|| Amberton University |
Annual tuition: $5,130
|# 3|| Columbia Southern University |
Annual tuition: $6,030
Most Affordable Colleges
|# 1||Athens State University||Athens (AL)||$6,975|
|# 2||Columbia Southern University||Orange Beach (AL)||$7,050|
|# 3||University of the Potomac||Multiple Locations||$7,200|
|# 4||Western Governors University||Salt Lake City (UT)||$7,452|
|# 5||Thomas Edison State University||Trenton (NJ)||$9,278|
|# 6||Waldorf University||Forest City (IA)||$9,300|
|# 7||Southern New Hampshire University Online||Manchester (NH)||$9,600|
|# 8||University of Maine at Augusta||Augusta (ME)||$9,862|
|# 9||Colorado State University Global||Greenwood Village (CO)||$10,500|
|# 10||University of New Hampshire College of Professional Studies||Concord (NH)||$10,950|
How Much Does an Online Degree Cost?
OnlineU analyzed internal cost data from over 800 schools and found a median annual tuition rate of $13,919 for an online bachelor's degree and $14,278 for an online master's degree.
|Degree||Online Median Annual Tuition||Sample Size|
It may be helpful to compare tuition rates by their cost per credit instead of per year. For example, some degrees take longer to complete than others — even degrees of the same level. Students may also prefer to attend school part time. In these cases, it's more helpful to think in terms of total credit hours rather than years or semesters. The following chart breaks down the median cost per credit hour of different types of degrees:
|Degree||Typical Number of Credits||Cost-Per-Credit of OnlineU Schools|
|Associate||50 - 60||$60 - $1,282|
|Bachelor's||120 - 128||$106.8 - $1,325|
|Master's||30 - 60||$180 - $4,836|
|Doctorals||36 - 120||$277 - $1,995|
Online College vs. an On-Campus Experience: Which is Cheaper?
Our research shows that public and private colleges are typically cheaper for online learners than in-person students.
According to a sample of 100 schools, 80% of public schools offer lower rates for out-of-state students studying online, while 96% of private schools also have cheaper online programs for this population group. In addition, more than a third of public schools charge in-state students less when they study online.
According to a sample of 100 schools, 80% of public schools offer lower rates for out-of-state students studying online, while 96% of private schools also have cheaper online programs for this population group.
It's important to keep in mind that individual distance learning programs are not always more affordable than in-person programs, so students should research the costs of their individual program before applying. In addition to tuition, applicants should note each program's length and the amount of financial aid they can secure from the school.
For example, while for-profit colleges appeal to many applicants because they frequently allow students to take more classes per year, they may leave students in a more precarious financial situation after graduating. Although for-profit colleges may shorten the program length to make room for more classes, this attractive feature may be offset by higher tuition overall. In addition, these universities tend to offer less financial assistance than other types of schools, which means their students end up taking out more loans. As a result, the alumni of for-profit schools tend to accrue more debt and default on their loans at higher rates.
Additional College Cost Factors Besides Tuition
Books, whether paper or electronic, vary in price from class to class. In the 2019-2020 academic year, college students spent an average of $1,100-$1,300 on books, depending on whether they attended a public or private college. Students may be able to save money by purchasing e-books when available, buying used books, and comparing prices on e-retailers.
A technology fee pays for a school's data storage and server expenses, and online learners are often expected to cover this cost. As with other fees, these costs can vary. For example, Clayton State University charges $7 per credit hour to online students pursuing undergraduate degrees, whereas Midway University students pay a flat $75 fee per semester.
A computer and reliable internet connection are essential to earning an online degree. Distance learners can live and work from anywhere as long as they have a stable internet connection. Students may find it difficult to use a public computer for all their online courses because watching lectures and completing assignments requires long hours. Many libraries and computer labs limit patrons' internet use and may also close in the early evening. However, an online college education is increasingly mobile-friendly, and some schools tout that much of their coursework can be completed on a phone or tablet.
Despite these additional costs, online students can avoid other expenses, such as room and board, by maintaining their current living arrangements. They also save by not commuting to and from campus, from gas money and car maintenance fees to public transportation costs. Ultimately, distance learners don't need to uproot their lives when enrolling in an out-of-state program, which can be an expensive experience for in-person students.
Financial Aid for Online Students
Financial aid can lower the total cost of higher education, easing a student's financial burden by leaving them with less debt after graduation. The best forms of aid don't need to be repaid: grants, scholarships, and work-study programs. However, most students still need to take out loans to finance their degrees. Students should prioritize student loans from the government first because they offer better interest rates than private sources.
Most students begin financial aid applications by first filling out the Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA), as the majority of states and colleges require this form.
Applicants simply turn in their personal and financial information to determine whether they qualify for federal aid. Although students with undocumented immigration status cannot apply for federal aid, they should still check with their state for an alternate form to complete, so they can acquire state and private aid.
In general, online learners qualify for the same financial aid programs as on-campus students, but students should verify each program's eligibility requirements. It may also be beneficial to contact a school's financial aid office to ensure that they accept the aid that a student has already received.
Below are some of the major financial aid sources that prospective students can investigate:
The federal government offers financial aid to students at all levels, including the need-based Pell Grant for undergraduate students and the TEACH Grant for students in graduate programs planning to become certified teachers.
State governments provide a variety of programs based on need, merit, and ethnic/racial background.
Colleges usually host aid programs for their students. These can include need- or merit-based grants for students in any discipline or scholarships funded by alumni for students in specific majors.
Professional organizations often provide scholarships for students who study in their field. Programmatic accrediting organizations might also provide similar opportunities.
Students may benefit from contacting their college’s financial aid office after enrolling. Administrators may be able to guide students to aid programs that they had not even considered. Also, it's the best practice to apply for as much assistance as possible because having multiple sources of financial aid helps reduce a degree's overall cost.
Listed below are ten scholarships available to students at various college degree levels:
Who Can Apply: Psychology doctoral students or master's students who intend to enter a doctoral program
Application Materials: Letter of recommendation, thesis or dissertation outline, transcripts, CV, online application form
Amount: Up to $10,000
Who Can Apply: Students attending one of the HBCUs full time who have financial need and a minimum 2.75 GPA
Application Materials: Transcripts, 2-5 minute video answering why applicant chose an HBCU, headshot, short-answer questions
Who Can Apply: Bachelor's or master's students of Latinx or Hispanic descent with financial need and a minimum 2.8 GPA
Application Materials: Transcripts, letter of recommendation, copy of a degree program’s acceptance letter
Who Can Apply: Women attending an MBA program full time with a minimum GPA of 3.25
Application Materials: Transcripts, letters of recommendation
Amount: 30 awards, ranging from $3,000-$12,000
Who Can Apply: Students of any major at any degree level who are legally blind in both eyes and demonstrate academic excellence, community service, and leadership
Application Materials: Transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal essay, interview with nearest NFB affiliate president, statement of ability and intention to attend the NFB national convention
Amount: 2 awards: First place receives $5,000 and second place receives $2,500
Who Can Apply: Members of the LGBTQ+ community enrolled in undergraduate or graduate degree programs in STEM who have completed at least two years of college
Application Materials: Transcripts, financial information, personal statement under 1,000 words, three letters of recommendation
Who Can Apply: Students pursuing an undergraduate program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology who demonstrate financial need and a minimum 3.0 GPA
Application Materials: Transcripts, two letters of recommendation, personal statement describing leadership and service experience
Amount: Approximately 15-20 awards, ranging from $3,000-$5,000
Who Can Apply: High school seniors of Asian or Pacific Islander descent enrolled in college, with financial need and a minimum 3.3 GPA
Application Materials: Transcripts, two letters of recommendation, 2"x2" headshot, two essay questions, household tax return
The Importance of Finding an Accredited Online Program
One of the most important qualities to look for when you're reviewing online degree options is accreditation. A community college or university must undergo an extensive, multi-year evaluation by an independent agency to become accredited. The agency examines the school's programs, faculty, facilities, and student resources, comparing them against recognized standards of excellence before awarding accreditation. The best online colleges have been accredited by one of six authorized regional accrediting boards or by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.
Eligibility for financial aid is usually dependent on enrollment in an accredited school.
If you want to transfer credits you've earned to another college, the second school will likely 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. Your ability 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 any advanced degree.