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Online Classes Not Always Cheaper

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When looking at colleges most people think that an online program is always cheaper than a classroom setting. That may not always be the case.

A recent report of online learners showed 45% of them chose an online program because it was the most inexpensive option, but buyers should beware, there may be hidden costs to choosing an online program over a classroom one..

While choosing an online degree can indeed be a wise move for your budget, potential students should beware that the cost of a virtual program isn't always what it seems.

Here are several myths about the cost of online education.

1. Online learning is less expensive than classroom learning. You will be taking classes in the comfort of your home, therefore you won't need a dormitory, dining hall, gym, library, or many of the other amenities students physically attending college would use. Your degree should cost less since you won't be paying the additional fees for these things, right? That isn't always the case.

Many schools charge higher tuition for an online program than they do for the exact same classroom program, and even more will throw in additional "technology fees", or "online learning fees", saying it is a way to recoup the cost of the online learning software used to deliver the course. Students have reported being charged such things as parking fees, or student union fees even though they obviously do not use these services sitting at home in front of their computer.

The best advice anyone can follow is to research what you are actually paying for your online degree, and treat it like any other big-ticket purchase, ask questions and negotiate for the right price.

2. Online students can get scholarships just like those using taking classroom training. Very few schools offer scholarships specifically for distance learners, and some restrict scholarships to students who are physically attending their campus. You can usually check the school's website to see what scholarships are available to online learners, but don't take it for granted that the scholarship offering 50% off tuition that looks so good on the school's financial aid page comes without restrictions.

3. You won't have to pay for lectures or seminars. While it's true that in fully online programs, you will save on the commuting costs of getting to and from campus, or the costs of living on campus. That doesn't mean you won't have to leave your living room to receive a degree. Many online programs, particularly at the graduate school level, have seminars, or special lectures you must attend as a part of your degree program. The bad news? Expect to pay an additional fee to attend these events, it may not even be listed in the catalog. 

4. Federal financial aid is not available. The government doesn't care whether students are going to classes online or on campus. Every accredited school that is recognized by the Education Department will be eligible for some form of federal student aid. There are a few exceptions to this rule like the newer direct assessment programs offered by some schools, so you should always doublecheck.

5. If you are eligible for the GI Bill, you will get the same amount of money taking online classes as classroom students do. This is one of the big surprises many veterans face after they enroll in an online-only program. The Post-9/11 GI Bill says that students enrolled in online-only classes will receive 1/2 the housing allowance that classroom learners do. Also, the GI Bill regulations allow you to receive your benefits only while enrolled in classes. Many online-only programs have shorter terms than classes offered on campus, therefore you may only receive benefits for the length of the online session.

One little-known fact about the GI Bill housing allowance for online-only learners, is that if you are enrolled in an online course that requires just one classroom session as a part of the curriculum you will be eligible for the full housing allowance for the entire term.

As you can see, doing your homework isn't just important while you are taking classes, it is sometimes more important to do your homework before you enroll in classes.

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GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill
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