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When it comes to choosing an online degree, a program's price tag tends to be the most important factor for prospective students.
In a recent report about online learners, 45 percent of respondents said they ended up choosing the most inexpensive program among their options, up from 30 percent in 2014.
While choosing an online degree can indeed be a wise move for a student's budget, buyers should beware that the cost of a virtual program isn't always what it seems. Below are several myths about the cost of online education.
1. Tuition in online programs is less expensive.
In the absence of dining halls, libraries, climbing walls and other amenities, prospective students could be forgiven for assuming that online tuition is lower than tuition for on-ground programs. But that's not always the case. "I think there is a misconception that online is cheaper, and it's not," says Christine Shakespeare, assistant vice president of continuing and professional education at Pace University.
Officials at online programs list a variety of reasons for charging the same – or even more – tuition than brick-and-mortar programs. Some say it's because they still have to pay the same faculty costs. Others say the expense of providing technology and campus services cancels out any cost savings.
Even if tuition for an online program looks appealingly low, students should be sure to look into whether they will be paying any additional fees, says Vickie Cook, director of the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service at the University of Illinois—Springfield.
"They can be associated with classes or a program or the online environment," she says. Since fees are not always listed on a school's website, students will need to do additional digging to determine the total cost of their program.
2. There are plenty of scholarships for online students.
With some exceptions, few schools offer scholarships specifically for distance learners. But that doesn't mean all hope is lost. A school may not restrict its scholarships solely to on-campus students, says Susan Aldridge, president of Drexel University Online.
"If a donor donates funds to the university, very rarely have I ever seen anything where it's restricted to face-to-face students," she says. Instead of asking whether there are any scholarships specifically for online students, students should ask about scholarships in general, she says. "If they receive any pushback from the admissions office, they should just ask if the donors have any restrictions with online students."
Source: U.S. News & World Report