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Earning an online bachelor’s degree in communication can lead to a variety of exciting career opportunities in public relations, journalism, marketing, social media, and more. Students learn valuable transferable skills related to written and verbal communication, public speaking, content production, and more.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for communications professionals is $66,320. For individuals who want a strong return on investment and are seeking the cheapest online communications degree, there are plenty of available options. Intelligent.com compiled this list of the most affordable, high-quality online communications degree programs and offers insight into how to calculate the cost of an online communications degree and choose the program that’s right for you.

Cost Breakdown for an Online Communications Degree Program

There are a number of costs, detailed below, that factor into what a student pays for their online communications degree.

Tuition

Tuition makes up the bulk of what students pay for a college degree. For undergraduate students, schools generally charge full-time students a per-term tuition rate, while part-time students typically pay by the credit hour. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost per credit hour at four-year institutions (public and private) is $694. Students should consult with their school’s financial aid office to determine their tuition rate, how tuition is assessed, and what payment options students have, including payment plans.

Fees

In addition to tuition, schools often also charge fees for specific services or resources. For example, in online degree programs, students may pay fees to cover the costs of virtual classroom technology or tech support. Students may also have to pay to access digital libraries or on-campus services. Fees may be charged on a one-time, annual, or per-term basis. When determining how much you can spend on your education, speak to a financial aid counselor to get more information about fees so you can include them in your budget.

Personal technology

Online students must ensure they have reliable devices and internet access, as they likely won’t have access to on-campus wifi, computer labs, and tech support. Before enrolling in an online program, confirm that you have the necessary hardware, including webcams, microphones, and headphones, if you’re participating in live-streaming classes. Many schools partner with computer and tech companies to offer students discounts on devices and software, so inquire with your school if you need to upgrade any equipment before starting.

Books and supplies

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average postsecondary student spent between $628 and $1,200 for books and supplies during the 2021-2022 academic year. Students should include funds for books and other learning materials in their budget. They should also consider whether they need additional supplies, such as business clothes for internships or furniture for an at-home learning space.

Factors Influencing the Cost of an Online Communication Degree

Schools set their own tuition rates based on several different factors. Understanding these factors can help you determine what the cheapest online communications degree program will be for you.

Public vs. private institution

In the U.S., postsecondary institutions are classified as public or private. Public schools receive state and federal government money to fund their operations and subsidize tuition costs, particularly for students who live in the state where the school is located. Therefore, tuition is often lowest for in-state students at public universities. Out-of-state students usually pay higher tuition rates at public universities, although many schools charge online students the same tuition, regardless of where they live. Private colleges don’t receive government funding and must rely on tuition, endowments, investments, and other revenue sources to fund operations. Therefore, they charge higher tuition rates, although all students pay the same tuition, regardless of residency.

Nonprofit vs. for-profit

Another college classification status is non-profit and for-profit. All public and most private universities are non-profit, which means they must reinvest revenue into the institution through faculty and staff salaries, infrastructure, student services, and more. For-profit schools operate like corporations, with the primary goal of earning a profit. Although tuition rates may be lower at for-profit schools because for-profit schools typically invest less in faculty, infrastructure, and other student resources, students at for-profit schools may receive a different quality of education than those at non-profits. Students considering for-profit schools should carefully review how the institution invests its money and its student outcomes.

Student military status

Many schools offer discounted tuition rates to students who are currently serving in the military or are veterans. Spouses and children of active-duty service members and veterans may also be eligible for special tuition rates. Students who think they might be eligible should consult the school’s financial aid office for more information.

Number of credits and completion time

Bachelor’s degrees in communications typically require a minimum of 120 credits and take four years of full-time study to complete. However, students who already have credits earned from a previous undergraduate program can decrease their completion time, and therefore their costs, by transferring eligible credits to their communications degree program. Many schools offer what are known as degree completion programs that may accept as many as 75% of the necessary credits from previously attended institutions, saving students time and money.

Most Affordable 50 Online Communications Degree Programs

Most Affordable Online Communication Degree Programs_2024 badge
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University of Missouri - St. Louis
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Florida International University
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University of Minnesota Crookston
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University of Central Florida
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Northeastern University
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Appalachian State University
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University of Illinois at Springfield
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University of Texas Permian Basin
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CSU Global
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University of North Dakota
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Columbus State University
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Regis University
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Ohio University
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Bellevue University
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Arkansas State University
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Arizona State University
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Liberty University
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University of Arkansas
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Southern New Hampshire University
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University of Louisville
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Indiana Wesleyan University
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Fort Hays State University
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West Virginia University
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National Louis University
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Utah Tech University
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University of Denver
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Upper Iowa University
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Southern Utah University
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Drexel University
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University of Colorado Colorado Springs
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Eastern Illinois University
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University of West Alabama
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Central Methodist University
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Dallas Baptist University
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Valley City State University
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Louisiana State University Alexandria
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University of Maryland Global Campus

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How we rank schools

This list features some of the most affordable online communications programs in the U.S. All are offered at nonprofit, accredited institutions, either public or private, with a high standard of academic quality for postsecondary education.

We evaluated each degree program on admission, retention, and graduation rates as well as tuition costs, faculty, reputation, and student resources. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared our picks to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

How to Pay for an Online Communication Degree

There are a variety of different options for paying for an online degree, with most students and families using some combination of methods.

Out-of-pocket

If you or your family are paying your own money directly to the school to cover tuition and expenses, this is considered out-of-pocket. While some students pay their full tuition out-of-pocket with no additional financial aid, it’s more common for students to use a combination of out-of-pocket payments and financial aid to cover all their education expenses. Many schools allow students to make out-of-pocket tuition payments on a payment plan throughout the term instead of paying a lump sum in full at the beginning of the term.

Federal student loans

As part of the Federal Student Aid (FSA) program, the U.S. Department of Education offers Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans to undergraduate students. Students must complete the Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA) to determine their eligibility for student loans. These education loans have interest rates and repayment terms set by Congress and are generally more favorable than private education loans. More information about applying for student loans through the FAFSA is included in the next section.

Private education loans

Because there are limits on how much money students can borrow in federal student loans, students may also take out private education loans from lenders like Sallie Mae, SoFI, and Ascent. While interest rates and repayment terms for federal student loans are set by Congress, private education loans are designed by individual lenders based on current market rates and the borrower’s credit history. Students who need to take out private education loans should watch interest rates throughout the year to lock in the most favorable terms possible.

Scholarships

Scholarships are considered “gift aid” because they’re money for education that doesn’t have to be repaid. There are many sources for scholarships, including schools, professional business organizations, community groups and nonprofits, private endowments, and more. Some scholarships are awarded based on need, while others are granted based on a student’s academic, extracurricular, or professional achievements. For need-based scholarships, students typically must submit a FAFSA for consideration.

Grants

The federal student aid program, as well as states and individual schools, award grants, which also don’t require repayment. Grants are typically awarded based on financial need. For undergraduate students, Pell Grants are available for those who demonstrate extraordinary financial need.

Work-study

Another component of the federal student aid program, work-study jobs pay students for working on-campus or remote jobs for their school. Work-study positions exist in various college departments, and online students should inquire whether their school has remote work-study positions available. Students with work-study jobs earn at least the federal minimum wage, but certain positions may pay more.

Employer tuition assistance

Many employers offer tuition assistance benefits to help employees pay for their education.  Specific policies, eligibility requirements, and payment amounts vary by company, but typically, employers reimburse workers for some or all of their tuition costs after they successfully complete a course or program.

Scholarship Database

Intelligent Scholarship Finder Tool

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"A Helping Hand" Scholarship

Award Amount: $500

Due Date: January 31, 2025

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"Follow Your Own Path" Essay Scholarship

Award Amount: $500

Due Date: January 31, 2025

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"Tuition Solution" Scholarship for STEM Students

Award Amount: $500

Due Date: January 31, 2025

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$25k "Be Bold" No-Essay Scholarship

Award Amount: $25,000

Due Date: Closed for 2024

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(ISC) Graduate Cybersecurity Scholarship

Award Amount: $5,000

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(ISC) Women in Information Security Scholarship

Award Amount: $5,000

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A.C. "Kate" & Leo Joseph Merlone St. Dominic Catholic Church of Saginaw Member Scholarship

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A.C. "Kate" & Leo Joseph Merlone Teaching Scholarship

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a/e ProNet David W. Lakamp Scholarship

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AAAE Native American Scholarship

Award Amount: $1,500

Due Date: March 15, 2025

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Applying for Financial Aid

Students and families who want to apply for federal student aid like loans, grants, and work-study do so by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application collects information about finances for students (and their parents or guardians if they’re dependents). Schools then use that information to create financial aid packages to help students and families pay for their education. The Ultimate FAFSA Guide provides more in-depth information about completing and submitting this form.

Student loan forgiveness and repayment

Borrowing student loans to pay for college is a significant responsibility. Students and families taking out student loans, whether federal or private, should always expect to pay those loans in full with interest. They should also carefully review all loans’ interest rates and repayment options before committing to them.

Although the Biden administration has made efforts to forgive student loan debt, there is currently no comprehensive action that would eliminate student loan debt for all current and future borrowers.

To help students and their families navigate the financial process and borrow money wisely, Dana Marvin, an independent college counselor, offers the following guidance.

“Borrow only what you need and nothing more,” she says. “If you’re eligible for a $12,500 loan but only need $8,000, there’s no need to take out a loan for those extra funds. Remember that every dollar you borrow in a loan must be repaid with interest.”

She also reminds students that they don’t have to wait until they graduate to begin repaying student loans. “Even paying off a few hundred or thousand dollars before finishing school can make a huge difference to those loan amounts post-graduation,” she says.

Finally, Marvin encourages students and families to be realistic about what they can afford in terms of out-of-pocket costs and loan amounts.

“If attending a certain pricy college is going to put a family into major debt and require potentially dangerous financial decisions, such as taking out a second mortgage or withdrawing from a retirement account early, it may mean a hard conversation of choosing a different school.”

What Can I Do with a Communications Degree?

Communications is a versatile degree that can lead graduates to jobs in marketing, public relations, broadcasting, journalism, or fundraising. Professionals with communications skills work in a wide range of industries, including media, business, tech, healthcare, and more.

Thanks to social media’s continued growth, there are several emerging opportunities in communications. Students specializing in social media or digital marketing in their communications degree programs will be well-poised for innovative opportunities in this fast-growing field.

Students who are pursuing a communications degree with the intention of entering the journalism field should note that this industry is expected to contract in the coming years. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will still be, on average, 6,000 new job openings per year for journalists through 2032.

Career outlook

Students with a communications degree can qualify for the following jobs:

  • Public relations specialists — Create and maintain a positive public image for the individuals, groups, or organizations they represent, which often involves writing media releases and developing social media programs to shape public perception and raise awareness of the client’s work.
    • Median annual salary: $66,750
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 6%
    • New jobs projected: 25,800 per year
  • Advertising, promotions, or marketing managers — Plan programs to generate interest in products or services by working with art directors, advertising sales agents, financial staff, and others to develop strategies and materials.
    • Median annual salary: $131,870
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 6%
    • New jobs projected: 34,000 per year
  • Writers and authors — Develop content for various media types, including advertisements, blogs, websites, books, and magazines as well as film, play, and television scripts.
    • Median annual salary: $73,690
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 4%
    • New jobs projected: 15,500 new jobs

How to Choose the Affordable Online Communications Degree Program That’s Right for You

For budget-conscious students, choosing the cheapest online communications degree may be a priority, but there are a number of other important considerations when selecting the communications degree program that’s right for you.

First, reflect on your career and education goals to determine if an online bachelor’s in communications is the best path to achieving them. If you’re just starting your postsecondary education, an associate degree in communications can be a fast and affordable option for gaining foundational skills in the field. Additionally, bachelor’s degrees in English, journalism, or writing can also help students develop communication skills.

It’s also helpful to set parameters for what you’re seeking in a communications degree program. Do you want an asynchronous program in which you can complete all lessons and assignments on your own schedule, or do you prefer a synchronous program with virtual classes that meet at designated times and allow for real-time interaction with classmates and professors? Are you enrolling on a full-time or part-time basis? Is it important to you if the program has an internship component so you can get hands-on experience before joining the workforce?

Take your time researching schools and programs so that you can make an informed decision. Visiting a school’s website is a good place to learn more about the curriculum, faculty, admissions requirements, program cost, and financial aid. If possible, attending a virtual open house or information session can give you insight into what the program is like.

Be sure to confirm that any schools you’re considering have institutional accreditation by checking the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) database. Institutional accreditation is essential because it can affect eligibility for federal financial aid, future educational opportunities, and job candidacy.

Before selecting the school (or schools) you’ll apply to, review their application instructions and ensure you meet eligibility requirements. Every school has its own processes and deadlines for applications, so it may be helpful to use a spreadsheet or checklist to keep track of information, especially if you’re applying to multiple schools.

Undergraduate applicants to online communications programs must typically submit the following:

  • Completed application and fees
  • Official transcripts from previous schools attended
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement or essay
  • Resume or CV
  • SAT or ACT scores.

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