Most Affordable Online Colleges 2021

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A bachelor’s degree is a four-year undergraduate program that prepares learners for entry- and mid-level employment opportunities across many industries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bachelor’s degree-holders earn approximately $500 more each week than workers with just a high school diploma.

Higher education requires a significant financial investment, so many prospective students hope to take advantage of low-cost online college programs. Cheap online bachelor’s degrees typically come from public schools, some of which offer in-state tuition rates to out-of-state learners.

Check out our rankings of the five cheapest online colleges below, then explore our guide to earning an affordable bachelor’s degree.

Learn About Your Degree Options:

Costs | Scholarships | Jobs | Cheapest Degrees

Why You Should Attend a Cheap Online School

Prospective students can save thousands of dollars by attending a cheap online college, but they need to look at more than just tuition. Other major factors include financial aid and expected salary-to-debt ratio after graduation.

With remote coursework, online students can avoid costs associated with relocating, commuting, and parking on campus.

Studying online often makes a bachelor’s degree more affordable. Asynchronous courses require no set login times and allow degree-seekers to attend class at their convenience. Many online college students maintain part- or full-time employment and earn steady income that can reduce the need for loans.

With remote coursework, online students can avoid costs associated with relocating, commuting, and parking on campus. Note that some online programs require in-person attendance for orientations, lab work, or internships.

Finally, distance learning can offer significant tuition breaks for out-of-state students. According to U.S. News & World Report, annual tuition for out-of-state students typically costs around $11,500 more than in-state tuition. Some public institutions waive these nonresident fees for out-of-state learners who enroll exclusively online.

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How Can I Pay for a Low-Cost Online College?

Tuition and fees make up the largest expense of attending an online college. Exact costs vary by school, program, and delivery format, but data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides a summary of average costs.

According to the NCES, annual tuition and fees at public, four-year universities averaged $9,349 in the 2019-20 academic year. During the same time frame, annual tuition and fees at private, nonprofit, four-year institutions averaged $32,769.

In the 2018-19 school year, 86% of first-time, full-time undergraduates secured some form of financial aid, including loans, work-study, grants, and scholarships.

Loans help cover the cost of tuition and school expenses that a student cannot pay for out of pocket. Available from the federal government and private lenders, student loans accrue interest and require repayment after graduation.
The federal work-study program provides enrolled college students with part-time employment. Unlike some forms of financial aid, you can use your earned funds for any expense — like food, rent, or supplies — not just tuition.
Available from the federal government, state governments, corporations, and nonprofit organizations, grants provide money for college that students do not need to repay after graduation. Grants require demonstration of financial need.
Similar to grants, scholarships provide funds that do not require repayment after graduation. Nonprofits, corporations, and private individuals offer scholarships based on factors like academic merit, field of study, and financial need, with specific eligibility requirements for applicants.

Learn About the FAFSA

Scholarships for Undergraduate Students

Each year, corporations, foundations, schools, and other organizations award thousands of scholarships to undergraduate college students. Check out three great opportunities listed below. You can search for many more scholarship opportunities online.

  • David Pruitt Award for Courage

    Established by the Entrepreneur Advisory Group of CEOs and administered by Scholarship America, this scholarship accepts applications from high school seniors with a minimum 3.0 GPA who plan to enroll full-time in an undergraduate program. Applicants must provide a short-form essay about exhibiting courage in the face of adversity.

    Award: $2,500

    Apply at the Scholarship America Hub

  • Equitable Excellence Scholarship

    Established by the Equitable Foundation and administered by Scholarship America, this scholarship rewards students who demonstrate extraordinary community service accomplishments. Eligible applicants include U.S. citizens and legal residents who are current high school seniors and plan to attend college as a full-time undergraduate.

    Award: $2,500-$25,000

    Apply at the Scholarship America Hub

  • Future of School Scholarship

    Established by Future of School and administered by Scholarship America, this scholarship accepts applications from high school seniors who have completed at least five blended or online courses during the last two years of high school. Recipient selection considers academic merit, demonstrated leadership and participation in school/community activities, and requires one essay and one recommendation.

    Award: Up to $10,000

    Apply at the Scholarship America Hub

Discover the Best Scholarships

Making Cheap Online Degrees Even Cheaper

If you want to attend a low-cost online college, you are probably interested in cutting costs across the board. Fortunately, we know of several methods to help make an affordable degree even cheaper.

Beyond tuition and fees, some of the biggest college expenditures include room and board, textbooks and supplies, equipment, and living expenses. Check out the following tips for ways to reduce the financial strain caused by these common expenses.

  • Spend less on textbooks. According to College Board, students at public, four-year institutions spent $1,240 on textbooks and supplies in 2019-2020. To reduce the cost of your books, consider renting, going digital, or purchasing loose-leaf editions. Use comparison shopping sites to get the best price and sell your books back at the end of the semester.
  • Buy used, and look for student discounts. Big-ticket items you might need for class include laptop computers, graphing calculators, software, and printers. For physical equipment, consider buying used or refurbished products to save money. Take advantage of manufacturers’ student discounts to save on software and technology.
  • Split housing costs. Online college students rarely live on campus, but housing costs money anywhere you go. Some degree-seekers live rent-free with their parents, but that option is not viable for everyone. If you need your own place, consider living with a roommate or two to split the cost of rent and utilities.
  • Take 15 credits per semester. The typical bachelor’s degree requires 120 credits. A student who takes 12 credits each fall and spring semester graduates in five years. A student who takes 15 credits per semester graduates in just four. You can save a lot of money in fees by shaving a year off your enrollment time.
  • Treat yourself sparingly. Personal expenses are not directly linked to the cost of college, but they do add up. Consider meal planning to reduce your grocery bill. Call your phone and internet providers to ask for lower monthly rates. Instead of going out for dinner and drinks, find low-cost ways to reduce stress and celebrate high exam scores.

Fastest Online Degrees

Will Getting My Bachelor’s Degree Pay Off?

Average total tuition for an online bachelor’s degree at a public institution costs between $38,496 and $54,183, according to U.S. News & World Report. The cheapest online colleges may charge less than these figures, but it is understandable that prospective students may wonder whether earning a degree is worthwhile.

Fortunately, a bachelor’s degree can open doors to hundreds of careers across diverse industries like IT, accounting, business, healthcare, and engineering. Graduates who secure a high-paying career after college often find that they earn back the value of their degree rather quickly.

You can calculate a degree’s estimated return on investment to get a glimpse of its future value by comparing expected program costs to your likely post-graduation salary. To get a more accurate estimate, review your prospective school’s website for institutional data on student outcomes and salary-to-debt ratios.

Jobs for College Graduates

Online college prepares graduates for a variety of careers. Take a look below at five high-paying careers that you can obtain with just a bachelor’s degree. Each of the following occupations offers median salaries of $100,000 or more.

  • Financial Managers

    Financial managers evaluate and support the financial health of an organization. Common duties include preparing financial statements and reports, ensuring legal and regulatory compliance, analyzing market trends, and advising senior managers on ways to maximize profits. Types of financial managers include controllers, risk managers, and insurance managers.

    Required Education: Bachelor’s in accounting, business administration, economics, or finance.
    Job Outlook (2019-29): +15%
    Median Annual Salary: $134,180

  • Software Developers

    Software developers manage the entire development process of software applications and systems. Common tasks include analyzing user needs, designing each component of an application, and integrating all the pieces. Software developers work closely with programmers who write the underlying software code.

    Required Education: Bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related field
    Job Outlook (2019-29): +22%
    Median Annual Salary: $110,140

  • Petroleum Engineers

    Petroleum engineers design and develop methods to extract oil and gas from below the earth’s surface. Tasks include designing equipment for terrestrial and offshore extraction, developing plans for drilling and recovery, and ensuring equipment is installed and maintained properly. This job requires frequent travel to drilling and well sites.

    Required Education: Bachelor’s degree in chemical, civil, mechanical, or petroleum engineering
    Job Outlook (2019-29): +3%
    Median Annual Salary: $137,330

  • Medical and Health Services Managers

    Medical and health services managers, also called healthcare executives and healthcare administrators, plan, direct, and coordinate activities in healthcare facilities. Tasks vary by environment but typically include developing departmental goals, supervising and training staff, managing facility finances, and keeping current with changing healthcare laws, technologies, and regulations.

    Required Education: At least a bachelor’s degree; master’s degrees are common and sometimes preferred by employers
    Job Outlook (2019-29): +32%
    Median Annual Salary: $104,280

  • Information Security Analysts

    Information security analysts plan and execute security measures to protect an organization’s networks and systems. Common tasks include monitoring networks for security breaches, investigating violations, developing security standards, and recommending enhancements to management. IT security analysts must keep up with continually expanding cybersecurity risks.

    Required Education: Bachelor’s degree in computer science, information assurance, or programming
    Job Outlook (2019-29): +31%
    Median Annual Salary: $103,590

Choosing the Right Online College

Aside from cost, dozens of factors can impact your selection of the right online college. In some cases, students may need to reevaluate whether their main priority is to pursue the cheapest online bachelor’s degree. Key considerations include:

  • Accreditation: Accredited institutions must meet and maintain strict quality standards set by third-party agencies. Accreditation is vital and can impact students’ financial aid eligibility, credit transfer options, and employability.
  • Concentration Availability: Concentrations offer specialized study within a degree-seeker’s chosen major. Consider selecting a program with a concentration that accommodates your future career goals.
  • University Resources: Different online schools offer different types and levels of student services, such as career support, online tutoring, and counseling. Choose a school with the resources you need to succeed.
  • School Prestige: High-prestige schools maintain strong name recognition, but they do not guarantee better careers after graduation and often cost more to attend.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much does an online bachelor's degree cost?

    The exact cost of an online degree can vary widely by school, program, enrollment status, and even your state residency. However, according to the NCES, annual tuition and fees at public, four-year universities averaged $9,349 in the 2019-20 school year.

  • What is the average cost per credit hour for online college?

    According to 2019-20 data from U.S. News & World Report, online bachelor’s degrees cost an average of $316 per credit at public institutions and $488 per credit at private institutions.

  • Is it cheaper to go to college online?

    While online colleges typically charge the same tuition rates as their in-person counterparts, you can save money by studying remotely. Online learners avoid costs associated with living on campus, including room and board and facility fees.

  • Is getting a cheap online degree worth it?

    For many, yes. Obtaining a college credential — even the cheapest online degree — provides a host of benefits, including increased earning potential, enhanced critical thinking skills, and a growth in self-confidence.

  • How much does a college graduate make?

    A graduate’s earning potential varies by field of study, geographic location, and other factors like years of experience. According to the BLS, bachelor’s degree-holders — taken as a broad grouping — earn a median of $1,248 weekly.

Ranking 2021’s Cheapest Online Bachelor’s Degrees

View Our Ranking Methodology

  1. University of Florida

    Gainesville, FL



    Located in Gainesville, UF Online offers a rich mix of bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, professional certifications, and a handful of doctorate options. Students take courses from a premier public university online with few to no residency requirements depending on their chosen degree.

    Bachelor's degree students choose from 25 degree tracks, many of which offer a graduate track. Undergraduate degrees include options in technology, education, business, and the arts. Online undergraduate students pay around $129 per credit for in-state students and $552 per credit for out-of-state students. Students can take courses full time or part time and in flexible formats.

    Students can choose from three start dates per year — spring, summer, and fall. UF Online accepts applications on a rolling basis and divides students based on the number of earned credits.

    UF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  2. Louisiana Tech University

    Ruston, LA



    Based in Ruston, Louisiana Tech's online extension offers students a bachelor's degree in health informatics and information management, six master's degrees, and six graduate certificates.

    Students can take certification series courses in business areas such as technical writing and communication or six sigma. Master's degree options cover areas like business administration, history, engineering, and English. Online courses happen asynchronously and offer flexible scheduling for working students or those who cannot relocate. In-state students pay around $300 per credit for undergraduate tuition and graduate tuition. Out-of-state students pay around $606 per credit.

    The school requires SAT or ACT scores for first-year applicants, and graduate students must supply GMAT or GRE scores. Current students may contact the dean to enroll in certificate programs, but non-enrolled students may apply as transfer students.

    Louisiana Tech is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  3. New Mexico State University

    Las Cruces, NM



    Located in Las Cruces, NMSU Online offers a variety of undergraduate degrees and graduate certificates. A handful of degrees require periodic in-person sessions, but students have several choices with no residency requirements.

    Online bachelor's degree programs cover subjects such as science, technology, hospitality, and business. Graduate certificates include public health, nursing, teaching, and technology. Students may also complete an associate degree in subjects that do not require further education, such as paralegal studies, allowing students to launch careers quickly and flexibly. All students pay just $380 per credit regardless of residency status, including certificate credits.

    Undergraduate students need a cumulative 2.75 GPA or ACT/SAT scores of 21 or 1080, respectively. Students who do not meet these requirements may apply for conditional admission. Transfer students need a cumulative GPA of 2.0.

    New Mexico State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  4. Louisiana State University and A&M College

    Baton Rouge, LA



    Based in Baton Rouge, LSU Online offers various associate, bachelor, and graduate degree and certificate programs covering topics such as education, engineering, communications, and technology.

    Students take online courses with flexible schedules and no need for residency requirements in most cases. Students mostly study asynchronously, creating their own schedules. LSU also offers cybercrime and coding bootcamps and microcredential programs online — 2-6-course programs designed to impart job-specific professional skills quickly.

    Notable degree tracks include a bachelor of general studies in emergency management and disaster preparedness, a master of science in analytics, and a master of arts in higher education administration. The school offers opportunities to receive credit for prior learning and military experience. Students pay $303 per credit with no in-state or out-of-state requirements.

    LSU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  5. Florida State University

    Tallahassee, FL



    Based in Tallahassee, DISTANCE@FSU offers five bachelor's degrees, 18 master's degrees, and three doctoral degrees online, plus certificate and specialized education options.

    Notable degrees include doctor of nursing practice, master of science in art education, master of science in systems engineering, and a bachelor of science in computer science. Students can also choose an interdisciplinary study bachelor's degree for flexibility.

    FSU does not require residency in most cases, and students take a flexible approach to education with asynchronous learning. In-state students pay $180 per credit for undergraduate and $444 per credit for graduate, with out-of-state students paying $688 and $1,077, respectively.

    FSU requires ACT or SAT scores for first-year applicants. Graduate programs list individual requirements, but many of them require advanced standardized exams like the GRE.

    FSU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

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