What Is the Average Cost of an Online Course?

Aria Miller
Published by Aria Miller
Last Updated On: June 24, 2022

With online courses stepping into the limelight, it’s only natural to have a lot of questions. One of the questions that are often asked is the average price of an online degree, plus any extra costs that may come along with it.

So, we have gone ahead and put together a guide using the research we have found on various student forums, as well as college websites. Here you will find out the average cost of online courses, indirect fees, and even aid options and scholarship programs.

Why Prices For Online Courses And Traditional Courses Differ

A person holding a credit card

Online courses differ in cost compared to on-campus courses, and sometimes in ways so subtle, you may not notice.

  • Work And Study: Students who prefer to pursue a more traditional learning experience will either have to give up their job or find a part-time job instead. However, online students have the freedom to study around their existing schedule, so they may not need to change their work ethic.
  • Childcare: Students with children or family responsibilities won't have to pay for babysitters or carers during their online classes since they have the ability to study from their homes.
  • Tuition: When it comes to certain colleges, they may ask their online students for higher tuition compared to on-campus students. They may also charge extra for the technology fee and online resource guides.
  • Facilities: Online students will avoid other fees such as on-campus health care, student housing, and recreation facilities.

“​​It varies so widely depending on what type of institution a student attends, how much, if any, credit they're coming in with, how many hours a degree program is.”


- Lynette M. O'Keefe, director of the Online Learning Consortium's Research Center for Digital Learning and Leadership

You should also consider how your degree will hold up in the eyes of your employer. It has been shown that business employers are more likely to take an on-campus course degree over an online degree [1].

So, you should always thoroughly research your chosen school and degree before you take the dive.

Average Cost Of An Online Course

A woman with red nails holding cash

The average cost for online classes is around $334 per credit hour.

So, if a student were to take an online program that required 12 credit hours (which works out to be a full course), they would be paying about $4,000 per semester [2].

However, some schools charge as little as $92 per credit hour, where others charge over $400.

This pricing only refers to the tuition fees and not other expenses they may encounter.

You will also see a huge difference between state colleges, community colleges, and public institutions vs private schools.

Even for online learners, public education will be considerably less than private education. Private online courses could have you an extra $20,000 out of pocket for four-year colleges.

Understanding In-State And Out-Of-State

To best understand the costs of online colleges, we also have to understand the difference between in-state and out-of-state learning. Some colleges will offer discounted rates for students who live in the same state.

Out-of-state students may find themselves paying double the tuition fees for attending an online college, not in their state. Other online colleges will even prohibit certain students from taking their online programs, depending on what state they’re from.

Indirect Fees

Prospective students usually consider the overall cost of online degrees but fail to add up the additional costs that may occur. These indirect costs can soon add up, and they will vary depending on which online college you choose to attend.

These additional expenses may include books and course materials, technology cost, possible decrease in passive income, as well as room and board.

1. Fees

Holding a paper and a pen

On top of tuition rates, most online courses charge a range of additional fees.

First, you may be asked to pay an application fee that is usually around $100 per online college when you first enroll.

This cost can sometimes be waived for students with disabilities, veterans, etc.

The pros to online classes are that students avoid ongoing campus-based costs such as parking, transportation fees, student accommodation, student health insurance, or meal plans.

Instead, online learners will have to pay other education costs such as technology fees, graduation fees, and an ‘online learning fee’ for each course or credit hour. However, many colleges and programs have begun incorporating this into their flat-rate costs.

Some online programs may also charge students who plan on transferring their credits. You may also need to pay fees if you miss the deadline to pay your tuition price.

If you’re curious about what extra costs your online course may incur, you should check the schools’ website.

2. Learning Materials

A woman smiling holding her gadget

Both online school and campus school require their students to pay for books and other course materials.

It’s the most common and arguably most expensive cost of indirect course fees.

When you first enroll in an online program or before each term, you will be given a list of books, resource guides, or other learning materials you’ll need.

Some materials may be free to pick up at your local college library, however, you will still need to buy workbooks.

Some online courses allow free access to the virtual library, where you can obtain all of these materials for free. Other courses may still ask you to purchase the physical copies, even if you’re attending an online college.

However, most online education institutes compile videos, articles, book chapters, and other materials. They will charge their students an annual flat rate to access these materials on their computers, smartphones, and tablets.

Keep in mind you will need these resources to complete assignments, and you may lose access to them at the end of the school year.

3. Transportation

A man commuting in a bus

One of the great things about online college is cutting out the cost of commuting.

You won’t have to pay for gas or transportation to attend on-campus courses, group discussions, or assignments.

If you live far from campus, this can save you a lot of money in the long run for things like parking, gas, and maintenance.

That being said, some online colleges do require their students to visit the campus every once in a while.

This could be when you first enroll in a class to attend orientation programs or for exams.

However, most online education institutes now allow their students to take assessments and exams online.

4. Technology

A student in front of her computer

Online learners must consider the technical costs that go along with online learning.

While some of these items may be considered a one-time cost, you’ll have to continuously pay for a high-speed internet connection.

Some of the things you may need include:

  • A keyboard
  • A mouse
  • A computer that can download programs
  • High-speed internet connection
  • Microphone and webcam (for real-time virtual classes)
  • Printer and/or scanner (optional)
  • Tablet or smartphone (for learning on the go)

5. Less Income

A jar with a certain amount of money

Many online students chose an online course purely for the flexibility it provides when it comes to work and career paths.

While some on-campus schools offer night classes, this may interfere with their jobs, and they may feel the need to quit or take shorter hours.

If you cut back the hours at work to focus on your education, not only will you be making less money, you’ll also pay more for your yearly tuition.

This is usually an overlooked cost, and many students don’t realize the price you indirectly pay.

6. Quality Of Life

A busy man thinking

The final cost you have to consider is how online courses are going to affect your quality of life.

You may save time commuting, but you will need time away from friends and family to focus on your studies.

Some online students may find distance learning more stressful and lonely since they may not feel as supported as in-person learners.

While most students are fine with taking classes at their own pace, others find it difficult when building relationships with their peers and instructors.

Many online schools are working on these factors and strive to give their online students support, but it is a lot harder to replicate traditional schools experiences.

Lowering The Price For Online Education

A stack of books in front of a laptop

There are a few ways you can cut the price of online education down.

1. Taking in-state public schools

As mentioned before, tuition rates vary greatly depending on where you decide to go to school. In-state schools will be considerably less, and so will public institutes.

While you may want to attend a specific online school, you have to consider this if you’re in financial need. Keep in mind many public schools also offer financial aid for struggling students.

2. Military or work experience

Some schools will offer credit on tuition rates for military, work, or volunteer experience. This credit will usually require you to submit proof of your experience in the form of a portfolio or military record.

They may also ask you to complete an essay linking your experience to your chosen course. For example, if you have prior work experience within computer science, they may offer you some credit on said course.

3. Transferring credits

There are quite a few colleges that allow their students to transfer credits they earned on the same course - just in another institution. This will reduce the tuition rates and also mean you’ll spend less time earning the credits back.

4. Sourcing discounted course materials

Materials for courses can be very expensive. However, if you’re on a budget you can make it your business to source out low-cost alternatives or free versions. You can search materials at the college library, both in-person and online.

You can also visit book stores as they may carry common texts. Your college bookstore may also have a few used versions, but be sure to ask your instructor to see if they’re up to date with all relevant information.

Financial Aid Options For Online Courses

A jar for saving money on education

Along with lowering the initial tuition costs, there are also a few financial aid options available:

  • Scholarships: Even online courses offer financial aid scholarships for all student types. Others can be obtained via nonprofits, community organizations, and private businesses made for specific academic majors, career paths, or backgrounds.
  • Federal Grants: This type of aid also never requires payment. Grants are usually given when a student is in financial need rather than showing academic excellence. These are funded by the federal government.
  • Loans: Student loans have to be repaid after a certain amount of time. Federal loans are a much better option since they have lower interest rates compared to private companies.
  • Employer-Sponsored Programs: Through workforce programs, some employers are able to fund their employees' education. If they require their employees to obtain special certificates and degrees, they may pay for their courses. These programs vary depending on the company.

Bottom line - Are Online Courses Worth It?

At the end of the day, only you can determine whether an online degree is worth it. While you can practice independence and flexibility, the overall experience is quite different from campus programs.

In most cases, online education works out to be cheaper. However, you should always take into consideration the additional fees. In-state classes will always be cheaper than out-of-state classes and those taken in a private institute.

Whichever road you decide to go down, always ensure your chosen course is accredited, as your future employer may not recognize your degree.


  1. https://www.northeastern.edu/bachelors-completion/news/are-online-degrees-respected/
  2. https://www.usnews.com/higher-education/online-education/the-short-list-online-programs/articles/least-expensive-online-bachelors-programs-for-in-state-students

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