Don’t let the “cheap” in cheap online colleges fool you. When it comes to providing quality college education, cost is not always indicative of quality. There are many cheap online college programs that are as reputable with their quality of education, if not more so than some traditional, on-campus schools. Between family obligations, financial needs, and working full-time, it can be a difficult task to find the money and time to finish your college degree. Cheap online colleges offer you and other busy students a chance to pursue an education at a lower cost than many traditional universities and they also offer a more flexible learning process.
If cheap online colleges are of interest to you as you look to earn your degree, there are factors you should consider before making your decision.
How To Evaluate Cheap Online Colleges
When evaluating cheap online colleges, here are 6 key questions you should research:
1. Is the College or University Accredited?
Attending an accredited school is one way to ensure you will receive a quality education. On the other hand, choosing an unaccredited institution may prevent you from transferring credits to another school, could limit your financial aid options, and may even lower your chances of getting hired by employers.
The National Education Association (NEA) sets specific educational standards that colleges and universities must meet in order to earn accreditation. The three most common types of accreditation are:
Regional Accreditation: There are seven regional accreditation agencies in the U.S., each of which is responsible for evaluating colleges and universities in their area to ensure they meet the assigned standards.
National Accreditation: National accreditation agencies evaluate colleges and universities anywhere in the country. Most of the schools are single-purpose (career, vocational, and trade schools) or have a faith-based curriculum.
Subject Accreditation: Subject accreditation agencies mainly evaluate programs and departments at colleges and universities throughout the U.S., but also review some single-purpose institutions.
2. Which Online Format Does the School Use to Deliver Courses?
You’ll want to select an online college that offers courses in the style that works best with your schedule and work ethic–whether it’s completely online or a combination of online and traditional campus instruction. Even if you prefer all of your instruction online, not all delivery formats are the same. The table below defines four of the most common online formats: Asynchronous, Synchronous, Hybrid Asynchronous, and Hybrid Synchronous.
|Online College Format||What It Means|
|Asynchronous||100% online, No scheduled class times, Students work at their own pace.|
|Synchronous||100% online, Scheduled classes in a virtual environment, Students all work at the same pace.|
|Hybrid Asynchronous||A combination of asynchronous and face-to-face classroom instruction.|
|Hybrid Synchronous||A combination synchronous and face-to-face instruction.|
3. What is the Online College’s Reputation?
Whether applying for jobs or graduate school, the reputation of an affordable online college matters more than most other aspects. When job hunting, it may be impossible to get an interview if the employer has never heard of your alma mater. Getting past the admissions process to graduate school can also be difficult if you attended a school with no–or worse, a poor–reputation. Before enrolling, it is recommended that you check with potential employers and grad schools for feedback as well as research job placement statistics for the schools in which you are interested.
4. How Much Will it Cost to Attend?
Many cheap online colleges offer financial assistance to attract students. You may be able to spread out payments or pay for a single course at a time. Does your employer offer tuition reimbursement? Some schools will allow you to defer tuition until you receive payment.
Regardless of the cost of tuition, applying for financial aid can help you save money. The first step to determining how much you qualify for is to fill out the FAFSA. You may be able to receive need-based aid such as grants, work-study, or federally-funded loans. Also, look for scholarships to offset expenses.
5. Can Students Transfer Credits?
If you already earned college credits from another institution, you can lower your college costs by transferring them to a cheap online college. However, each school sets its rules for transfer credits, so it’s smart to check it out as soon as possible. Investigate the following:
- Do you need to earn a minimum grade to transfer credit? Schools usually require a minimum grade of B or C, but some may accept as low as a D.
- How many credits can you transfer? There may be a limit.
- Can you transfer credits you earned several years ago? Credits may expire if you don’t transfer them within a certain period of time.
6. What Types of Student Services Are Available at Cheap Online Colleges?
Online students need support just as much as students at traditional colleges. Most campus programs offer services such as libraries, career services, and tutoring, but so do many cheap online colleges. If you think you’ll need access to student support services, make sure they are offered. Here are some questions to ask admissions counselors:
- Will I be able to chat online with career advisors?
- Do students have access to virtual career fairs?
- How will I engage with other students (chatrooms, discussion boards, online chat)?
- Are student services available 24 hours a day or during limited hours?
- What forms of academic support are available?
- Will I receive tech support?
The key to pursuing a quality online education is making an informed decision. By keeping these six tips in mind, you will be able to navigate the options and choose the cheap online college that’s your perfect fit.