Getting a cheap online college degree seems like a good idea these days. Do an Internet search for news stories about tuition increases at both traditional colleges and online universities and you'll have enough reading to keep you busy for a week. For the 2009-2010 school year, the average cost of tuition and fees at private colleges and universities was over $26,000. Online degrees do not have quite the high cost associated with them, but that's a lot of money for anyone, but if you're in the middle class or qualify as low income, it's an even bigger burden to bear. Keep in mind that that figure is just the average; over 20% of students attending private schools are paying over $36,000 a year for the privilege, while some online universities cost substantially less. At some of the well known "elite" colleges and universities, annual tuition and fees are now approaching $50,000 per year. Are these schools really that much better? Or would a cheap college degree - or even an online degree - serve just as well?
Frankly, the average person would be far better off attending an inexpensive public college, or even an online college. The cache that comes from possessing a degree from one of the elite schools in the United States is vastly overrated. There's no denying that holding a degree from Harvard or Yale can impress acquaintances. There's also no denying that an elite college degree can make it a little bit easier to get into a highly competitive law school or medical school, or another graduate program. That's about as far as the value of the brand name goes, though. Study after study has shown that what college a person graduates from isn’t a reliable indicator of how successful they'll be in life, or how much money they'll make. The stigma of online degrees is also fading; most employers will accept those just as readily as a degree from a traditional school.
By attending a lower cost college or online university instead of borrowing huge sums to go to an elite school, you'll save an unbelievable amount of money in student loan payments and avoid a crushing financial burden for years after graduation. If you work hard and get good grades, you'll still have a very good shot at getting into a good graduate school, as more and more institutions are looking past the typical Ivy League graduates for their student body. There's really no reason to pay $36,000 a year for college tuition. Save your money, and get a cheap college degree. It may well be the best investment you ever make.
Most people know about the wide availability of student loans, and they are certainly one option to consider as part of a complete package if there's no other way to pay for your education. However, it's very easy to rack up tens of thousands of dollars of debt while in school, only to be overwhelmed by the size of your student loan payments after graduation. So it's best to look at other options first--and there are a lot of them.
Pell Grants are funded by the federal government, and they have gotten increasingly generous in the past few years. Grants, unlike loans, are gifts that don't require repayment. Make sure you apply for the Pell Grant first thing. Your next option should be scholarships. Every year, tens of millions of dollars allocated for college scholarships go unclaimed. Some of these are for a full ride--four years of tuition, room and board. This is the age of the Internet, and there's no excuse for missing out on college scholarship money. Non-profit groups, religious organizations, fraternal orders, and thousands of corporations fund these, and they, too, don't need to be repaid.
One really great option is to attend a local community college for the first couple of years, and then transfer to a more elite college. You can save tens of thousands of dollars each year without missing much, as the more important classes generally come later. You can also look into financial aid for online colleges and universities. Finally, look into work scholarships; you work for the college in exchange for tuition discounts. These are widely available. There are many options that will pay for your college degree, so don't let the cost hold you back.
Last Updated: 07/28/2014