The Hidden Costs of an Online Education
Taking a class—or getting your entire degree—online sounds like a good deal. When compared to tuition for in-person classes, online classes are significantly slashed, and some schools may even offer a class for free, only requiring you to pay if you actually want the certification awarded when it comes to an end.
This is what makes an online education sound like a great deal—and it is. We would never want to downplay the amazing deal that online courses are (again, especially when compared to the costs of attending a university in person), but as with an in-person class, there are some extra costs that aren’t listed along with the cost of the credit hours. Here are a few costs to be aware of before you start your online learning:
1. Tuition on a tiered scale. Did you know that some schools will actually offer lower tuition if you take a certain number of credits? If you only take one class per semester, you may be paying far more than you need to for your classes. One of the benefits of online degrees is the ability to get them at your own pace, but you may be wasting money if you’re only taking one or two classes per semester and you have the capacity to take three or four.
It is also important to note that even though the schools are online and therefore available to anyone with an internet connection, they still may have separate in-state and out-of-state tuition. If you pick an online school based outside of your state, you might be paying up to six times what the in-state students are paying.
2. Fees, fees, fees. Like most credit cards, most universities have some “hidden fees” that they won’t tell you about until you’re already enrolled in the classes, even if you’ve already paid your tuition. These fees may range from “tech fees” to the more dubious “online learning fee.” Art or design classes may charge an additional fee for the special media required to complete the class. Additionally, there may be fees for placement exams or other assessments. Graduation fees is another area where you are likely to be charged.
The good news is that many online courses may not require you to purchase a textbook—which, if you’ve ever had to purchase a text book, you know is far more expensive (and sometimes not that useful of an investment) than paying a one-time or even per-credit-hour technology fee. There are likely going to be some sort of fees, whether you are taking an online creative writing course or learning how to program mobile apps.
3. Travel. While most one-off courses will not require any travel, some online degrees may require you to come to the physical campus, either for graduation or just to complete some essential class functions. Many graduate programs, for example, start off looking like they exist solely online, but actually require their students to come and visit campus at least once a year. If you pick a school out-of-state, this could mean plane tickets and hotel stays for however long the school requires you to stay.
Keep in mind that not every university will require this. They may not even require you to show up for graduation, and will be perfectly happy to send your diploma via mail. If your university does require this, the cost of that plane ticket and hotel stay is still going to be far less than the cost of in-person tuition, and if you are getting a degree under orders from your company, they may even help mitigate the costs.
4. Your own technology. In order to keep up with your classes, you are likely going to need your own computer. While some believe that they can get away with hitting the local library every time they need to access the internet for class, you may find yourself camped out for hours at the computer carrel, working until the librarians come and ask you to leave so they can lock up. Having your own computer is far more effective and allows you to work in your own space and on your own time.
Luckily, the cost of getting a simple, functional laptop is far less today than it was three years ago. You can get a fully-functioning laptop, perfect for accessing the internet and doing homework (though it may be pretty small), for less than $200.
Online education may have some hidden costs, but the costs of not furthering your education may be much more. Taking classes online means a better career and a happier life. Now that you know what fees to expect, you can better plan your online education.