Most Affordable Accredited Schools & Colleges Guide

Most Affordable College Guide – What You Need to Know

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Deciding on a Degree

The best choice you can make when deciding on your degree, is to do what you love and be paid. But, to be practical, do some research. The field you choose must be able to support you, and possibly a family, for years to come. Imagine yourself in the field for the near and distant future.

Take stock of your:

  • Abilities, what you’re naturally good at
  • Interests, what you what to learn more about
  • Passions, the desires that go to the core of who you are

The short list of degree choices should take a student’s interests, passions, and strengths into consideration, along with advancement and the job market. Get answers to pertinent questions.

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Research Community Colleges

Community colleges can offer another alternative, or a starting point when considering an advanced degree. Community college tuition is normally a fraction of the cost of a private college or university. Spending the first year or two of general studies at a community college can stretch education dollars with lower tuition and housing costs.

Most community colleges offer associate or two-year degrees. There are career doors that can be opened via an associate degree. In many cases, credits are transferable to a four-year institution and a two-year degree can be applied toward a bachelor’s.

Keep in mind that not all courses are transferable. When laying out an educational path, extensive research should be done in advance to eliminate any surprises in the future. The best idea is to contact a career counselor at the four-year college of choice to be sure credits can be transferred.

One “con” to community colleges may be a more limited selection of classes. The bottom line is to do your due diligence. Be sure that community college will be a profitable choice to begin, or even complete, your post-secondary education.

Reasons to Start with an Associate Degree or at a Community College

As stated, many universities and colleges accept transferred credits from accredited community colleges. In some cases, achieving an associate degree at a community college, then transferring to a four-year school, is a wise path. Expenses can be easier to manage while studying at a community college. Many students can live at home with their parents during that first two years, as there are many more locations when it comes to community colleges than there are for four-year colleges. In many cases, it’s also easier to hold down a job while attending school in your hometown.

Another advantage to an associate degree in your chosen field is the opportunity to start internships or actual jobs. Students may be able to work in their career field during the last two years of college. Businesses may be more apt to hire someone earning their degree if they already have a two-year degree. Some students may land jobs in their career field and decide to postpone their bachelor's degree altogether.

In any case, be sure to do your research. Don’t wait until you’ve invested two years to find out that your four-year school of choice will not accept your transferred credits. Doing your due diligence is imperative when planning a college path.

Consider Online Learning

Most post-secondary institutions today offer online and hybrid courses. With hybrid classes, the majority of coursework is done online, but a small portion will require meeting on campus. Some hybrid classes only meet physically once during the semester.

In recent years many degree programs have become available 100% online. Community colleges led the charge, but the majority of universities have caught up. Today up to 92% of post-secondary institutions offer at least one degree program completely online.

The pros of online programs include cost savings and time flexibility. Students enrolled in online courses have the ability to continue working full-time while attending classes at home. Coursework is available when the student has time to focus. There is also the benefit of being able to attend college without the cost of institutional lodging.

Online vs. On-Campus

With so many options currently available, students entering college must consider what learning environment is best for them. It is a personal preference issue as much as an issue of cost. You will also want to determine what are the best colleges for your field and how do those colleges rank against their peers.


For some students, a structured environment is a better option. Physically attending school engages all the senses and provides immediate answers to questions. There is also the social aspect of school that should be considered along with increased costs must be taken into consideration, especially if living on campus is necessary.


We’ve covered some to the advantages of online learning including; the ability to continue working and no institutional room and board fees. There are also drawbacks to an online environment. The social part of the college experience does not exist with online learning. Also, answers to questions are rarely available immediately. Extra help in a course may require a trip to the campus, if possible, or an extended email exchange with teacher assistants or professors.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Tuition

in_state_vs_out_of_state_tuitionAll post-secondary institutions offer lower tuition costs to residents. On average, U.S. universities charge almost $9,000 more for out-of-state enrollees. Some out-of-state tuitions are up to 300% higher. At times attending a well-known, highly respected school may justify the cost. Working at your college of choice may also offer greatly reduced or even free tuition.

Some schools offer neighboring states reduced tuition. For instance, colleges on the Illinois border offer in-state tuition, or reduced out-of-state tuition, to Indiana counties just over the border. Checking with a neighboring state’s tuition schedules may be worth your time.

Regional exchange programs all exist to offer financial aid or reduced tuition to desirable students. This assistance is usually specific to certain regions and restricted to select programs and majors. For instance, the National Student Exchange is one program that offers in-state tuition to non-residents. Programs also exist in the Midwest and New England, among others. Look into the requirements to save thousands.

Of course, there is the option to establish residency before enrolling. Just moving to a state to attend school is not enough. Most states require one year of continuous residency prior to enrollment. In several states, the requirement is two years. If you are claimed as a dependent, your parent or guardian must also meet the state’s residency requirement.

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Only accredited institutions are eligible for federal funds. Accreditation is an assessment process that sets a quality control standard for post-secondary institutions. The goal is to improve academic quality and hold schools to a high standard. Schools are monitored by an accrediting association every five to ten years to hold them accountable to their accreditation.

Accreditation is only done in the U.S. by volunteer members of various accreditation associations. These volunteers certify that institutions meet established standards. Some programs receive stand-alone accreditation. These evaluations also establish criteria for transfer of credits, professional certification, and licensure.

Types of Accreditation

There are basically three types of accreditation; regional, national, and programmatic accreditation. Institutions that are regionally accredited are more accepted and more easily transferable to other regionally accredited institutions.

Additionally, institutional accreditation applies to the entire school, including each of its many parts. Specialized or programmatic accreditation applies only to specific parts of an institution. This may include a program, a department, or a specialized school within a school (i.e., law school, medical school). Vocational schools are also eligible for accreditation as are educational programs in a non-school setting, such as a hospital nursing program.

There are many accrediting bodies that focus on specific programs. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) obviously focuses on nursing programs. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is an international accreditation that is regarded as the highest standard of accreditation for business schools.

The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) specializes in programs for dental professionals. Established by the American Dental Association, CODA grants accreditation to various dental programs including:

  • Predoctoral (Dentist)
  • Hygienist
  • Dental Assistant
  • Lab Technician
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon and Radiologist
  • Orthodontics
  • Dental Anesthesiology

Typical College Entry Requirements

Each institution has its own set of admission requirements, but most are similar. Common requirements include:

  • A high school diploma or GED
  • Age verification at 18 or a release from parent or guardian
  • An application with a non-refundable fee
  • An entrance or placement exam

Admission requirements can be more stringent. Some schools require a visit and supervised tour. Others may insist that students meet with an admissions counselor or attend a College Readiness Program prior to acceptance. Researching the school of your choice, including reading reviews, is imperative before embarking on time-consuming and sometimes costly application processes.

Academic Standards

Although students may be able to slide by with a D average in high school, that won’t work in college. In most cases, a “C” average, or a 2.0 GPA is required for continued enrollment. Community colleges are more lenient, but most post-secondary schools require a higher GPA and some programs have their own GPA minimum requirement.

Scholarship funds and financial aid are very clear on their expectations for continued college funding. Students must generally maintain a GPA of 2.0, sometimes higher. When a student’s GPA falls below enrollment or funding requirements, they are placed on academic probation. Students who continue to fall below established GPA standards risk losing their financial assistance and can be dropped from school entirely. Students can appeal these decisions and have financial aid restored, but appeals are rarely successful more than once.

Most colleges offer resources that struggling students should take advantage of before losing their aid. Check with your professor, the counseling department, or the library to ask about these programs. Tutoring and other help is often available free of charge.

Important Questions to Ask in Your Research

Will You Need a Higher-Level Degree?

The more a company’s jobs are sought after, the more education they can require of their candidates. A Master’s Degree or a Ph.D. can be necessary to enter or advance in certain careers.

A Master’s Degree is required for:

  • Professors at colleges and universities
  • Nurse Practitioners
  • Orthotists
  • Marriage and Family Therapists

Large, well-known corporations like NASA, and even Google and eBay, can require a Ph.D. for positions like:

  • Computer Engineer
  • Computer and Information Research Scientist
  • Mathematician
  • Systems Engineer
  • Biologist

Other reasons to pursue a higher degree would include the notoriety, like becoming an expert in a particular field. Having a higher degree can be an asset in standing out from the crowd, possibly opening the door to promotion and higher pay. If your current employer offers tuition assistance to return to school, that can be incentive enough.

How Many Students Graduate on Time?

most_affordable_on_time Studies have shown that post-secondary schools that are more selective on admissions have a higher graduation rate. Those schools who accepted less than 25% of applicants had the highest rate of completion. Institutions that were least selective, with open admission policies, have the lowest graduation rate.

Additionally, private for-profit institutions had the lowest completion statistics compared to public and private non-profit schools. Statistics also show that female students just edge out male students by a few points.

It’s wise to look into all aspects of your school, including the odds of students graduating.

Popular Affordable Degree Options

Associate Degree

An associate is a college degree awarded after two years of study. This degree stands between a high school diploma and a Bachelor’s Degree. Several lucrative occupations only require a two-year degree.

Radiation Therapist:
Average Two-Year Cost: $42,000
Average Annual Salary: $84,000

Required Courses:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Radiologic Technology
  • Medical Imaging and Processing
  • Sectional Pathology

Dental Hygienist:
Average Two-Year Cost: $22,692
Average Annual Salary: $71,820

Required Courses:

  • Anatomy
  • Pharmacology
  • Dental Hygiene
  • Radiology

Average Two-Year Cost: $13,842
Average Annual Salary: $67,732

Required Courses:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Anatomy
  • College Physics

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor's is achieved after four years of full-time college study. This degree will usually consist of 40 courses equaling 120 semester hours. Many professions require a bachelor’s degree and a four-year degree may be a prerequisite to licensure.

Nursing (RN)
Average Four-Year Cost: $70,000
Average Annual Salary: $100,000

Required Courses:

  • Bioethics
  • Fundamentals of Microbiology
  • Nursing Research
  • Nursing Care of the Older Adult
  • Public Health Nursing

Business Administration:
Average Four-Year Cost: $18,000
Average Annual Salary: $49,200

Required Courses:

  • Market Research
  • Financial Accounting
  • International Trade & Policy
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Managerial Accounting
  • Marketing
  • Operations Management
  • International Finance

Computer Engineering
Average Four-Year Cost: $169,520
Average Annual Salary: $83,988

Required Courses:

  • Fundamentals of Computer System Software
  • Data Structures and Data Management
  • Fundamentals of Circuits
  • Advanced Logic Design
  • Computer Architecture, I

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Master’s Degree

A master’s degree is a first-level post-graduate degree. Applicants to master’s programs almost always hold a bachelor’s degree. Most programs require 12 to 24 months of full-time study. Career advancement in many fields is dependent upon a post-graduate master’s degree.

Director of Nursing
Average Master’s Program Cost: $42,000
Average Annual Salary: $110,000

Areas of Specialization:

  • Gerontology
  • Nurse Anesthetist
  • Midwifery
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Orthopedics
  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical Therapist:
Average Master’s Program Cost: $8,640
Average Annual Salary: $74,127

Areas of Specialization:

  • Licensed Professional Counselor
  • Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
  • Human Services Educator
  • Higher Education Counselor
  • Student Affairs Administrator
  • Drug and Alcohol Counselor
  • Addictions Counselor
  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor

Telecommunications Engineer
Average Master’s Program Cost: $80,000
Average Annual Salary: $141,000

Areas of Specialization:

  • Computer and Network Security
  • Mobile and Web Computing
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Software Engineering
  • Bioinformatics
  • Information Management and Data Analytics
  • Artificial Intelligence

Doctorate Degree

The highest level of academic degree is a PhD, also referred to as a doctorate. Obviously, M.D.s, doctors, must earn a doctorate, but the degree is available in most fields. Most states require psychologists to hold a doctorate in psychology for licensure. Other careers require a doctorate for licensing or for advancement.

Accounting and Finance:
Average Master’s Program Cost: $11,000
Average Annual Salary: $128,565

Areas of Specialization:

  • Accountant Manager
  • Accounting Professor
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Internal Auditor

Biomedical Engineering:
Average Master’s Program Cost: $19,500
Average Annual Salary: $87,340

Areas of Specialization:

  • Medical Equipment Manufacturing
  • Scientific Research
  • Pharmaceutical Manufacturing
  • University Professor

Will this career exist in the next decade?

Researching your career choices is a wise first step before signing onto a degree program. If possible, observing a professional working in the field you’re considering can be a help. This is an excellent way to find out what a career entails and the duties that will be a part of the day-to-day activities. This process is called “shadowing” and many career professionals are more than happy to have a student spend time with them during a workday. Just ask.

Consider a Vocational Program or Certification

Vocational schools, also known as Career or Trade Schools, offer fields of study that do not require a post-secondary degree. There is a growing need for skilled labor and these choices offer lucrative alternatives to traditional degreed careers.

On the plus side, vocational school graduates spend less time and money entering their chosen field. Vocational and technical training is more focused on occupation-specific academic principles or skill development. This allows students to enter the workforce quickly.

On the downside, graduates with a bachelor’s degree statistically enter the workforce at a higher rate of pay. On average with an annual salary of approximately $11,000 higher. This increase also comes with a higher tuition price tag, in most cases.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a shortage of skilled workers. The BLS is predicting vocational career openings to increase greatly through at least the next several years. Occupational growth is expecting in:

  • Healthcare
    • Personal and Home Health Aids
    • Medical Assistants
    • Sonographers
    • Pharmacists
    • EMTs and Paramedics
  • Construction
    • Project Managers
    • Electricians
  • Cosmetology
  • Automotive Services
  • Criminal Justice
    • Correctional Officers

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