These days, finding information about an affordable college degree program is nearly impossible. There are simply too many — dozens, if not hundreds — websites that claim to offer unique, customized information but only point to sponsored sites or searches that require putting in your personal information. Yes, you’ll need your personal information eventually, when you want to contact a college you’re interested in attending. You should avoid putting your information into any field that gives it to a college you don’t care about, however. The last thing you need is for one of the shady diploma mills to start sending you packets in the mail every week.
Featured Computer Science Programs
- Bachelor in Computer Science – Rasmussen University
- MBA – Applied Computer Science – Northcentral University
- Doctor of Computer Science (Executive Format) – Colorado Technical University
The point is, finding information about a specific college program, when you don’t know what college to attend, is difficult. If you’re looking for an online degree, it gets even harder. Online programs, for years, have been the source of dozens of scams and diploma mills. Giving your information to the wrong college, even if it sounds legit on paper, is a recipe for disaster. At the least, you’re signing up for a mailing list you may never get away from. At the worst, you may find unexplained charges on your credit card, or outright identity theft. Sure, a fancy laser-printed diploma may show up in the mail a few weeks later, but that paper isn’t even as valuable as the ink that was used to print it.
Anyways, that’s why this article exists. It’s a valuable, valid and sourced resource for anyone looking for an affordable online college degree. Specifically, if you’re looking for a cheap online computer science degree, you’ve come to the right place. Before you dig into the actual schools, however, you should learn a few things about computer science and about online degrees.
Why Choose a Computer Science Degree Program?
Computers are part of every life these days. Even third world countries have smartphones and computers, even if they aren’t up to the latest tech trends. Computers are in our cars, powering our movies, running our power plants and driving our commerce. There’s virtually no part of our lives that doesn’t have a computer in it somewhere. As a CS major, you’ll be trained to work with these computers, whether you’re a software engineer or a hardware developer.
Computer science is just that; a science. Choosing to pursue a science-based degree prepares you for a number of challenges in life, including the need to solve complex problems using potentially unknown tools. Using computers to solve problems, or using your training to solve computer problems, are both are important aspects of computer science. Make no mistake; you won’t take a course labeled Problem Solving 101. You will, instead, learn the foundation for critical thinking in everyday life.
Computer innovations are at the forefront of human progress. As technology and software improve, so too does our quality of life. With a computer science degree, you can be at the forefront of that change in society.
Computer science is a generally lucrative field. In fact, the average starting salary for computer scientists in 2013 was $55,000 per year. Of course, this varies among different careers within the field, but you can expect a reasonably worthwhile salary in any corner of the field. If you’re trained in a rare corner of the field, you can expect to demand even more.
The field is not going to shrink over the years; in fact, computer science jobs are on the rise every year. It is one of the fields with the best growth potential worldwide, and even that can be a benefit if you want to live abroad. Technology markets in countries such as China, Japan and Taiwan are expanding as well.
Even if you’re not trained in computer science, chances are your job will involve computers in some way. Knowing how to use, troubleshoot and repair a computer will be of great benefit to your everyday life regardless of your career path, unless you choose the path of the hermit.
Computers are a field with infinite potential. As long as you know how to code, you can do just about anything your imagination can conceive. Even though it’s a science, it’s also an art, and you can put your creativity to use.
It’s a great field for people of all types. Introvert? The archetype of the reclusive nerd with excellent products developed by themselves in a small office is a well-known one. Prefer to work with people? Collaborative projects are all the rage, now that computer science has expanded beyond the domain of a few nerds in closets.
Both higher education facilities — if you’re planning to go for a Masters or PHD — and employers tend to look for at least some computer science training as a sign of the well-rounded nature of the individual. Even if you choose to switch your degree halfway through, your training in computer science will help you along the way.
You never know where the field is going. There’s always something new on the horizon with computers, and you could be on the forefront of the next big development.
Why Opt for Online?
Now that you know you want to pursue a computer science degree, it’s time to make the next choice. Do you want to go to a traditional university, or do you want to get an online degree? Make no mistake; online degrees are not perfect. There are plenty of predatory institutions that will convince you of their legitimacy before stealing your money. You’ll go through little or no schooling, pay an exorbitant amount and end up with little more than a piece of paper you could have made yourself. That said, legitimate online colleges do exist, and it’s entirely possible to earn a valid, useful degree through them. Here are some of the benefits of an online program.
The ability to personally balance your schedule. With an online university, you rarely have a fixed schedule for your classes. Unlike a traditional course, where missing a day misses critical information, most online degree programs offer their courses through archived video footage. You can also contact the professor at any time, whenever you’re available, for additional assistance. There will likely be some structure to the course, of course. You will have milestones along the way, typically involving tests that you may need to visit a campus for but these are relatively rare. You won’t, under most circumstances, need to visit a campus regularly. This is especially true of the degree programs on this list, which are entirely based online. You can take a degree program from a school in another state and never need to visit it in person. This extreme schedule flexibility allows you to earn a degree in times when you’re not working a job or raising a family.
You can study in your own way, at your own rate. An instructor will teach the course, typically via a web broadcast video, and you can watch these lectures as necessary. If something goes too fast, simply rewind the video. If you need further explanation, let the instructor know and they will be happy to work with you. The college degree programs rated below are all highly rated for their student-teacher interactions.
Fast, dedicated learning is possible through an online course. It’s entirely likely that the professor is able to lecture to an essentially empty room, freeing him or her of the distractions of a physical class. They are also available for one-on-one time with you should you have any questions or need extra instruction. You can work at your own pace, with all the resources you need to succeed.
The costs are another beneficial aspect of an online degree program. Tuition may be close to the same as it is for a physical program at the university, or it may be lower due to the lower overhead of catering to students. Either way, you won’t need to pay additional housing expenses of living near your chosen campus. You also won’t need to pay additional commute expenses, parking passes and other such fees. You’re even free of the over-priced meal packages.
Cheap, Affordable Online Degree Programs
Make no mistake; college is expensive. Even a cheap semester at a community college can run into several thousand dollars easily. Tuition is rising every year, and it’s more difficult than ever to afford college. Thankfully, there are a number of ways you can pay for college, even an online degree program. An accredited online program is no different, in the eyes of lenders and the government, than a campus course program. You’ll be equally eligible for money. Here’s how.
- Governmental grants – In most cases, the government itself will grant money. Occasionally, scholarship organizations, charities and educational foundations also offer grants. What is a grant? A grant is money given to you specifically to be used for college expenses. The money is also free. You do not need to pay back the money in any circumstances. The only caveat to a grant is that you must continue to meet certain criteria to maintain eligibility, generally including a high enough grade point average.
- Subsidized loans – These loans are given to you through the government. Subsidized loans are by far the best type of loan to obtain. They are backed by the government and have a fixed interest rate. They also do not require repayment while you are on deferment or in school, nor do they accumulate additional interest in those circumstances.
- Unsubsidized loans – These are identical to subsidized loans in almost every way. They are granted by the government and are backed by the government. The only difference is that they do accumulate interest over time. This can make a big difference if you do not find a job immediately out of college, or if you do not have a job already that can handle the expense of college.
- Private loans – Private loans are loans from a bank or other lender or financial institution. They typically have higher or variable interest rates and can end up costing you more in the long run. They also accumulate interest regardless of your situation. Unfortunately, without grants or scholarships, you will likely need a private loan to augment a government loan to afford your schooling.
- Scholarships – Scholarships are free money given to you for meeting certain criteria, when you apply. They are similar to grants, but come from private institutions and can have virtually any criteria. Are you a straight-A student? You qualify for scholarships. You also qualify if you are of a specific race, have a specific heritage, are a member of a specific organization or can win a creative contest of some kind. There are thousands of available scholarships every year. If you are dedicated, it’s even possible to afford an entire semester on scholarships alone, though this is rare and difficult to achieve.
- A work-study program – If you’re a typical high school student, you will probably be eligible for a work-study program. If you are a returning adult, however, this is less applicable. Work-study allows you to attend college and work at the same time, often applying some of your work experience as college course credit.
For both subsidized and unsubsidized loans, you will want to apply for a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as a FAFSA. This form is your lifeline to college funding. You will want to secure funding before you finish enrollment in your school of choice, but after you’ve chosen that school and been accepted. This is so the government knows how much to give you, based on the tuition of the school.
A special note on scholarships: don’t get discouraged. There are thousands of scholarships available, and many of them are only open for a short time or for a very limited number of students. Talk to the financial advisors of the school you’re choosing for any suggestions. Additionally, you will want to do extensive searching for relatively unknown scholarships. Don’t simply visit the big name scholarship search engines; that’s what everyone else does.
For example. Investigate your heritage. Do you have Native American, African or Hispanic heritage? You may be able to earn money. Are any of your close relatives in military service, or have any received distinction? There may be associated scholarships. What about any other organizations, from Boy Scouts to the NRA? Any organization you are a due-paying member of may offer you a scholarship. Investigate these organizations individually, as they may not broadcast their scholarships to the Internet at large.
Protecting Yourself from Predatory Schools
As mentioned above, sometimes you will come across a school that is actively predatory when looking for new students, though the term student is not necessarily appropriate. Essentially, there are three types of schools. Non-profit schools are the big-name educational institutions, though with the cost of tuition the name seems a bit of a misnomer. They are generally legitimate, though you will want to investigate them before enrolling. For-profit schools are even more expensive, and sacrifice the quality of their education for their own gains. They offer legitimate education and legitimate degrees, but often your degree won’t be worth the time and money. The final type is the diploma mill, and these are the most hazardous to anyone seeking a computer science degree online.
These are some things to look for:
- What is the admissions process like? – Diploma mills want little more than your personal information and credit card number, so they can charge you for their program. You won’t need transcripts and other information for a diploma mill.
- How long does it take to graduate? – Diploma mills will often take less than a month, generally with some excuse about your work experience qualifying you for an immediate degree. This is never legitimate.
- Who are the faculty? – If they have none listed, stay away. If they list some, investigate them. What are their credentials? Are they known to teach at another university and have their information posted on this mill for added legitimacy? Be cautious about faculty listings.
If you are ever curious about a school, the key you need to look for is accreditation. Accredited schools are those recognized by the government and third party organizations as legitimate educational institutions. If a school is not accredited, do not attend, give them money, or give them any personal information. Even if they claim they will be accredited soon, do not listen. It may be true; if it is, you can attend later. For now, it is too much of a risk.
There are two ways you can tell if a program is accredited. The first is to look up the school in the United States Department of Education Database of Accredited Institutions. This can be found here, and is a very valuable resource. The second is to investigate the school through the various third party institutions that accredit a school. Always make sure your program is accredited before you enroll.
Judging the Schools
The judgment criteria for the schools on this list are stringent. U.S. News and World Report performs an annual ranking of most schools in the United States, as well as many around the world. Each school is ranked by several metrics.
A large part of the school ranking comes from student engagement. Schools on this list have a high ranking for your ability to engage with professors any time, including how responsive and effective they are. Schools on this list also tend to have some of the newest, most effective educational techniques in use.
Credentials. Schools on this list have great credentials for their faculty, who are generally industry leaders or experienced professors with publications under their belt.
Peer reputation. U.S. News and World Report has begun to rank schools according to their reputation among other schools. Particularly, many schools will call out others on their negative practices, including overly expensive tuition or predatory advertising.
Technology. You’re looking for an affordable online degree, so you want a university with a powerful selection of technology available. The last thing you need is to discover your distance learning course is taught through PBS VHS tapes.
Additionally, every school on this list offers an online degree program that is 100 percent online. You won’t have to visit the campus at all, barring extreme financial or legal circumstances that the vast majority of students never encounter. The one exception on this list is noted when it is mentioned.
The Schools: #10 – Nova Southeastern University
Fort Lauderdale, FL
As one of the smaller and more expensive of the schools on this list, Nova Southeastern University is mostly given a position on the list due to the relatively low number of schools that offer online computer science degrees. Nova does not accept international students, and the tuition for both in and out of state students is a fixed — and high — $675 per credit. The school has no published statistics on U.S. News and World Report, which typically means it refused to answer the survey sent by the organization. As such, it is ranked low on the list. The applications deadline is August 1. Nova Southeastern University has no published ranking among U.S. schools.
The Schools: #9 – Thomas Edison State College
Thomas Edison State College is a public school that has been offering online degree programs since 1996. This has given it a long history of applying new technologies and new teaching methods to education. The application deadline is rolling, meaning you can apply as needed throughout the year. Total enrollment for the school is just under 20,000, but as an online student, you will not be interacting with most students. As a student at Thomas Edison State College, you will be enrolled in small classes, generally of only fifteen students per professor. Tuition for the school, if you live in New Jersey, is $170 per credit. Out of state tuition sits at $229 for both U.S. and international students. Thomas Edison State College has no published ranking among U.S. schools.
The Schools: #8 – Gardner-Webb University
Boiling Springs, NC
Gardner-Webb University is a private school that has been offering a limited amount of online courses since 2009. The school is relatively new to the field of online education, which has both pros and cons. It is likely to have relatively modern technology and educational tools, due to the recent nature of its program. On the other hand, it does not have long experience in online education. Tuition for classes is $362 per credit, and the school offers both institutional and governmental funding. Over 60 percent of students of Gardner-Webb are pursuing a nursing degree, so if you are interested in medical computer science, this may be a good university choice. Gardner-Webb University has no published ranking among U.S. schools.
The Schools: #7 – St. Mary-of-the-Woods College
Saint Mary-Of-The-Woods, IN
This particular institution is a private school that has been offering online courses since as early as 1993, giving it a long time to adapt to the difficult conditions of evolving technology and education. Additionally, the school has kept archived recordings of most past lectures, making them available to students in current programs. Tuition at the school is $482 for both national and international students, regardless of state of residence. The school is largely female, with only seven percent of the student body made up of males. This is due to the nature of the school as a Catholic women’s college. Male students largely need not apply. St. Mary-of-the-Woods College is ranked 169th in the overall ranking of U.S. schools.
The Schools: #6 – Baker College of Flint
Baker College is a for-profit private institution that has been offering online degrees since 1994 – in fact, it uses online degrees as a primary selling point for its education. The school has a low total enrollment of fewer than 800 students each year. Tuition for the school is a mere $225 per credit, making it one of the cheaper schools on this list with an actual ranking. Online courses are recorded and archived for the convenience of the students. Baker College is ranked 164th in the overall ranking of U.S. schools.
The Schools: #5 – National University
La Jolla, CA
National University has been offering at least partial online courses since 1999. The school has rolling deadlines throughout the year. Faculty members have on average seven years of online teaching experience, to the benefit of National University students. Few students are first-time freshman at this school, making it an ideal transfer school from a community college or from past educational experiences. Tuition is $336 per credit, roughly average for schools on this list. National University is ranked 87th in the overall ranking of U.S. schools. Additionally, it is the one school on this list that does not offer a 100 percent online degree. You will need to live near the location for the occasional visit.
The Schools: #4 – University of Minnesota–Crookston
One of the more public schools on this list, University of Minnesota has been offering online courses since 1996, keeping those courses archived for the benefit of students. With August 15 deadlines, you have a limited time to apply to the university each year. The school maintains a faculty of 34 professors teaching online courses full-time. Many students choose to pursue business computing degrees, so if you are planning to work in a corporate circle, this is an ideal destination school. Tuition is $385 per credit each semester. University of Minnesota–Crookston is ranked 69th in the overall ranking of U.S. schools.
The Schools: #3 – Regis University
Regis University is a private school that has been offering online courses since the year 1997. Like many other schools on this list, Regis maintains an archive of courses for students to access at need. The school has one of the highest ratings for student engagement among students in the country, ranked at number 12. This makes it an exceptional school for self-motivated students who take advantage of instructor availability and other available features of online courses. Deadlines are rolling and tuition is relatively high, which stands to reason for a school of such quality. Students at Regis can expect to pay around $460 per credit for education. Regis University is ranked 65th in the overall ranking of U.S. schools.
The Schools: #2 – Oregon State University
As one of the more recent schools to start offering online programs, Oregon State has still been offering online courses since 2000, giving it nearly a decade and a half of experience in online education. The school has a high enrollment, befitting a public institution, of nearly 2,500. It is among the top 30 schools for technology in the United States. Oregon State has over 180 full time faculty members available to teach online courses, with an average experience of three years each. Tuition is a low $191 per credit, befitting the school’s rank on this list. Oregon State University is ranked 46th in the overall ranking of U.S. schools.
The Schools: #1 – University of Illinois–Springfield
University of Illinois is another public school, and it is the highest rated school on this list. It has a relatively low student engagement rank — 108 among U.S. schools — but it makes up for it in faculty credentials. Students have access to nearly 110 faculty members with an average of five years of experience each in online teaching. The school offers the same tuition to in state, out of state and international students, $353 per credit. University of Illinois–Springfield is ranked 31st in the overall ranking of U.S. schools.
Which of these schools is the best choice for you? In general, you will want to go with either University of Illinois, Oregon State or Regis University. You can also apply to the others, in descending order, until you have been accepted at the school you most prefer. If you have specialized intentions, such as medical interests or the desire to attend a catholic university, you can choose specific schools on the list to pursue. The choice is yours, and you should always investigate deeper into each school you choose. The websites for each school are readily available and can be found through search engines.
Succeeding with Online Education
It’s easy to see the benefits of online education, but it takes a particular kind of person to succeed where so many others fail. You will need to take a few steps to ensure your success in the school of your choice.
Make sure you have the technology necessary to access the courses. The last thing you need is to miss your classes because your computer or Internet connection cannot handle the streaming video or live conferences with your professors. Be sure to talk to the university support staff if you have any questions.
Even though your course is some distance away, you can still connect with your instructor. Staying in contact helps you know exactly what they’re looking for our of your work, and gives you access to assistance if you need particular individual instruction.
Self-discipline and time management are incredibly important for any college student, but the distance learning student needs to pay even more attention. It’s easy to believe you can find the time, but you will definitely procrastinate and it’s easy to forget about an individual piece of coursework or an entire lecture. Family, the Internet, work and other distractions try to keep you away from your courses. Learn to budget your time and leave space for your courses.
You don’t have a desk to work in a classroom, so you need to simulate the environment for yourself. Having a dedicated educational workplace has a number of benefits, including the ability to keep all of your important work in one place.
It’s hard work succeeding in online schooling. Take steps to make the best of it.
On one hand, your chosen online university has a selection of courses and a lot of work lined up for you. On the other hand, they may not cover everything you want to know. If you’re already working to learn online, you may as well take another step and teach yourself some things you want to know. Particularly in computer science, there are hundreds of very good resources available online, for everything from hardware engineering to software design. Additionally, you can register with some of the top-tier school free online course programs, such as Coursera, the Harvard University Open Online Learning Initiative, the Open Courseware program through MIT or Stanford’s Online Course directory. Even YouTube is packed with valuable information posted by educational institutions.