One of the benefits of online courses in which you don’t have to visit the campus at any point is that you can go to school anywhere, without being limited by geography. However, just because you have access to faraway schools doesn’t mean that all schools are equally affordable. You may think that online college is cheaper than attending a traditional college, but before you decide which school you want to virtually, find out whether your tuition payments will reflect in-state tuition, out-of-state tuition or a separate online tuition charge.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Tuition

The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition, in the case of traditional degree programs, is easy to understand. Students who are residents of a state qualify for a decreased in-state tuition amount. Students looking to attend a school outside of the state in which they live will have to pay a higher out-of-state tuition.

Affordability is a big concern of many students. When students investigate traditional college degree programs, the cost of in-state versus out-of-state tuition often is a factor in their college choice. For the 2012 to 2013 school year, schools charged out-of-state students $10,000 more than in-state students on average, according to U.S. News and World Report. In the four years it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree, out-of-state students can easily rack up $40,000 more in college debt than their peers.

The purpose for separate tuition rates is to contribute to the economy of the state in which the college is located, and from which it receives funding, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. Lower in-state tuition rates appeal to families already living in the state and, in theory, educate students who will find a job or start a business within the state after graduation. However, critics of the system – including some college professors – question the wisdom of this practice and whether it really accomplishes the goal of aiding states’ economic development. Still, in-state and out-of-state tuition payments have long been separate charges, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon.

What Will You Have to Pay?

Some schools still require out-of-state tuition from nonresidents, presumably because out-of-state students won’t contribute to the state economy. Other schools have a policy in which online students pay in-state tuition even if they are nonresidents. Many schools have an entirely different category of tuition for online students than they do for traditional students. This means you are paying neither in-state nor out-of-state tuition, but instead a separate charge. Be aware, though, that the cost of online tuition rates as compared to other tuition rates may vary.

Because tuition rates vary by school, you should investigate which tuition charges will apply to you at every school to which you are considering applying. Be sure to ask academic advisors or admissions and financial aid personnel any questions about their schools’ specific policies. Otherwise, you could end up spending thousands of dollars more than you expected.