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Is an Online University More Expensive Than an On-Campus University?

by Christine Jax, studioD

Trying to determine the affordability of a university is one of the main steps parents and students take in their journey to find the right post-secondary school. While it might be tempting to solely compare tuition costs, this does not provide an accurate picture of the true cost of an education. There are other costs to consider, such as books, supplies, fees, transportation and living expenses.

Saving Money Online

Many online universities use e-books rather than regular textbooks, and these are often free or less expensive than their traditional counterparts. Since you can attend an online university from the comfort of your own home, you won't have the typical transportation and parking costs, and if you live with your parents you can avoid many, if not all, room and board expenses. You might even spend less on clothes since you can attend school in your pajamas.

Technology Costs

If you are thinking that you will spend more money on technology if you attend an online university, think again. Traditional universities now expect their students to not only be proficient on a computer, but also to have access to one. Online universities may have you using technology more often, but at both types of universities you will need to be computer savvy and familiar with word processing, database and presentation software, such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Hidden Costs

Some online institutions require face-to-face residencies similar to professional conferences where students attend workshops and meetings with other students. In addition to the fees for these experiences, the student is usually liable for transportation costs, hotels, meals and lost wages. Traditional face-to-face universities also have their hidden fees, such as activities fees, and those for the library, gym and health clinic: things you may not even use. This is an often-overlooked area for comparison.

Hidden Income

The cost of tuition isn’t related to whether a school is online or not, but rather its financial structure. The average cost of tuition and fees for an instate public university was $8,655 as of 2013. In the same year, for-profit universities charged and average $15,172, and non-profit universities charged $29,056. Remember that universities have an array of scholarships, and consider that it might be easier to work while attending an online university. Offsetting expenses can be as helpful as avoiding them.

About the Author

Christine Jax has been a writer since 1991 in the areas of education, parenting and family relationships. Professor Jax has a Ph.D. in education policy and administration, a Master of Arts in public administration and a Bachelor of Arts in child psychology. She has worked in PK-12 and higher education for more than 20 years.

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