Online College vs Traditional College: How to Save Money on a Degree

Online College vs Traditional College: How to Save Money on a Degree

6 minute read

The number one reason people drop out of college? Cost. It sadly comes as no surprise considering over the last ten years tuition at public four-year institutions has increased 32% and community college tuition has increased 44%. The rising cost of college along with crippling student debt is among the top reasons why more than 39 million Americans have some college credits but no degree or credential to show for their efforts.

Kara Prado proudly showing her college degree when wearing her graduation cap and gown

Kara Prado | Former StraighterLine Student

Kara Prado was determined to meet her personal and professional goals and to not become a statistic by affordably and efficiently hacking her college degree. In her article “I Got a Bachelor’s Degree for Under $10,000 and You Can, Too”, Kara details how she was able to obtain her bachelor’s degree in business for just $8,200. And, she did it in less than three years.

Do Your Research

Kara is a strong believer in doing the research before starting your degree pathway. In her experience, one of the biggest challenges when trying to reduce the cost of a college degree is that people aren’t fully aware of all the resources available to them. In her search on how to save money on a college degree, the recommendations that popped up the most regularly were:

  • Contribute to a college savings plan
  • Go to a community college first
  • Plan your transfer credits in advance
  • Determine your degree to avoid switching majors
  • Price shop for colleges
  • Consider alternative credit options
  • Explore online courses

Kara wanted to take advantage of as many of these recommendations as she could. Similar to many aspiring college students, affordability weighed heavily on Kara's mind when looking for the right degree pathway. Setting aside college savings was not an option for her family, so she always planned on working full-time while attending college part-time. She was also terrified of student debt so vowed to never take on any student loans. As for all the other money saving advice, Kara jumped in and got to work. She started by taking community college classes while working full-time, but she was still interested in finding even more affordable course options and how to earn her bachelor’s degree the most efficiently.  She discovered InstantCert Degree Forum, an online discussion group where students exchange information on low-cost college credit sources and paths for completing bachelor’s degrees that are alternatives to traditional college. In her experience, this was the most useful resource, which taught her about alternative credit providers and the benefits of online college vs traditional college.

Check out our tips on “How to Graduate from College Faster and Save Money” 

Know Your Learning Style

There’s a lot to consider before starting on your college degree. Take the time to reflect on questions such as:

  • What are my educational and professional goals?
  • What degree pathway will help me meet those goals? 
  • What college or university is the right fit for me? 
  • What are the differences in learning between an online college vs traditional college?

Kara recommends also asking yourself, What is my learning style? Think about how you enjoy learning best. For instance:

  • Do you like to have a lot of visuals like videos, slide shows, diagrams, etc.?
  • Do you prefer to listen to a teacher give a lecture or to have an audio recording?
  • Are you most comfortable reading books and expressing yourself through writing?
  • Do you learn best through hands-on experience and activities like lab experiments?
  • Are you okay not having teacher-led instruction with tutoring support available, if needed? 
  • Do you prefer self-paced learning and the flexibility to attend class, submit assignments, and take tests at the time and day of your choosing?

Your answers to these questions will help you determine if online college vs traditional college is right for you.

Consider 'Nontraditional' Options like Online Courses

Kara determined the best option for her was an online four-year degree program with Thomas Edison State University. To greatly reduce the cost and shorten her time to graduation, she also wanted to take advantage of an alternative credit provider to earn her general education and prerequisite credits. She chose StraighterLine, which offers over 60 cost-effective, self-paced, easily transferable courses for college credit. StraighterLine helped Kara also save money on the hidden expenses of college that students incur beyond the cost of tuition: all StraighterLine courses include free eTextbooks, tutoring support, and transcripts. This plan allowed Kara to continue working full-time because she could work on her courses at any time of day and was in control of setting her own due dates for assignments and exams. StraighterLine gave her the flexibility she wanted to go as fast or as slowly as she needed. She ultimately took 17 StraighterLine courses, earning 51 credits. It cost her only a little over $1,000 and she was able to complete 43% of the required courses for her TESU degree program. Thanks to StraighterLine, Kara was also able to graduate in less than three years.

Have a Plan For Your Degree (and Finances)

For anyone who asks, Kara will tell you hacking her college degree took a lot of planning, discipline, and self-motivation. She kept a detailed spreadsheet of her courses to carefully plan her transfer credits. First, Kara listed out the general education and prerequisite courses she needed for her degree program, then tracked each StraighterLine course she took to fulfill those requirements and what its course equivalent was at TESU. Included in her spreadsheet were also the expenses for each course. Kara advises checking your school’s transfer policy regularly throughout your degree program. On average, most bachelor’s degree programs take four years to complete. Colleges sometimes remove and/or add new courses to their program offerings. You will need to stay on top of which courses and how many courses your school will accept for transfer credit and make sure there aren’t any changes to your school’s transfer policy.

Check out our article “How to Avoid Common Pitfalls When Transferring College Credits"

Hack Your College Degree with StraighterLine

After all the research and planning Kara did, she determined online college vs traditional college was the right path for her. And StraighterLine was the best fit for how to earn her degree cost-effectively and efficiently. Could StraighterLine also be the right fit for you to hack your college degree?  Try out our course experience. Preview a StraighterLine course for free. Signing up for our course preview is fast and simple (and no credit card is required). 

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