One of the oldest and most populous states in the U.S., Pennsylvania is home to many long-standing institutions of higher education, from elite private colleges to massive public research universities. As many of the state's top colleges turn to online education, the number and variety of distance learning programs available can make it difficult to find the right fit for you. This ranking assembles 25 of the best online colleges in Pennsylvania, offering a practical starting point for your research.
The schools on this list represent the range of online programs available in Pennsylvania, encompassing all types of schools that serve students of all backgrounds.
Top 10 Online Colleges in Pennsylvania
- Villanova University - Villanova, PA
- Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania - Slippery Rock, PA
- Clarks Summit University - Clarks Summit, PA
- University of Pennsylvania - Philadelphia, PA
- Chatham University - Pittsburgh, PA
- University of Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh, PA
- Saint Francis Univeristy - Loretto, PA
- Misericordia University - Dallas, PA
- Duquesne University - Pittsburgh, PA
- Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) - Philadelphia, PA
Below, you'll find information on each school's academic offerings, methods of online course delivery, unique programs and initiatives, resources available to online learners, and any other factors that distinguish a college from its competitors. When possible, each entry includes information on any campus requirements associated with online programs.
2020 Best Online Colleges in Pennsylvania
Distance education differs from campus learning in many respects, offering significant flexibility but also requiring greater independence and self-motivation.
Many students choose online learning for its convenience and affordability. Online programs often require no set participation times or campus visits, enabling students to complete assignments on their own schedule. Many schools offer online programs at a discounted tuition rate, and taking online courses can also cut down on expenses like gas and parking.
College graduates in Pennsylvania should have little trouble securing employment. While the state's unemployment rate (4.2% as of October 2019) ranks slightly above the national average, Pennsylvania's cost of living falls below the national average, with housing prices in particular ranking very low.
The state's sizeable population creates a variety of employment opportunities, with a robust economy based around key industries including natural gas, manufacturing, agribusiness, plastics, and life sciences.
|Villanova, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 90%||
Founded in 1842 in Radnor Township, Villanova University is the oldest Catholic college in Pennsylvania and the only college in the country affiliated with the Order of Saint Augustine. Villanova offers several online bachelor's degrees through its College of Professional Studies including general studies, organizational development and management, public service and administration, and leadership. These programs operate entirely online, with no campus visits required. Villanova also offers hybrid courses that include both campus and online classes.
Online learners can enroll in Villanova's FastForward courses, which offer an accelerated seven-week format that enables students to earn credits faster. These courses typically use a mix of synchronous and asynchronous content, including live class meetings held through video conference.
For candidates interested in pursuing graduate studies, Villanova also offers accelerated bachelor's and master's programs in information systems, general studies, and leadership, enabling students to earn both degrees with fewer credits.
Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania
|Slippery Rock, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 66%||
With affordable tuition and several distance education programs available, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania consistently ranks among the best online colleges in Pennsylvania. Located about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh, this public college enrolls around 8,800 students annually, and its online programs serve students around the state.
Undergraduates can choose from five degrees: leadership studies, management, nursing, nonprofit management, and liberal arts. The management program holds accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, while the nursing program holds the accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.
SRU's online degrees all function as completion programs, which require learners to complete the first half of their studies at another institution (such as a community college) before transferring to SRU to earn their upper-division credits. Most students transfer in with an associate degree, though SRU can work with new students to determine credit equivalencies and transfer requirements. Degree-completion programs cater to working students, with flexible course schedules and no required campus visits.
Clarks Summit University
|Clarks Summit, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 65%||
A nondenominational Christian college based in the borough of Clarks Summit (just outside of Scranton), Clarks Summit University ranks among the best online colleges in Pennsylvania for Christian students. The school offers several online bachelor's programs, including business administration, counseling, and criminal justice.
Students can also pursue associate degrees in addictions counseling, Bible and theology, Christian ministries, and counseling ministries, with the option to pursue a bachelor's degree in the same subject area.
CSU recognizes the needs of working students, and its distance programs offer significant flexibility for online learners of all backgrounds. Students can transfer up to 90 credits toward their degree, with only 30 credits required to earn a bachelor's from CSU.
Distance programs occur entirely online, with no required campus visits, and most courses use a fully asynchronous format. In keeping with the school's Christian focus, all students have the option to double major in Bible studies along with their chosen major.
University of Pennsylvania
|Philadelphia, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 86%||
A member of the prestigious Ivy League, the University of Pennsylvania ranks not just as one of the best online colleges in Pennsylvania, but one of the best colleges in the country.
Based in Philadelphia, Penn incorporates online elements into many of its academic programs but offers just one online degree for undergraduates: a bachelor of applied arts and sciences. Designed for working professionals, the degree offers eight concentration options, including physical and life sciences, creative studies, and organizational studies.
The degree requires a total of 120 credits including foundation courses, concentration courses, and electives. While most of the program occurs entirely online, students must attend two extended weekend sessions held on the Penn campus. The first session occurs during the program's first year as part of a hybrid campus-and-online course, with several course options available. Students can fulfill the second requirement by completing an additional hybrid course, a campus course, or a final capstone presentation on campus.
|Pittsburgh, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 63%||
A private college based in Pittsburgh, Chatham University offers online education through its School of Continuing and Professional Studies, with four bachelor's programs available: business administration, psychology, healthcare and business management, and an RN-to-BSN in nursing.
Online learners receive extensive support from the college's Office of Academic & Accessibility Resources, including tutoring, academic skills coaching, disability services, and academic advising. Online students can also access library and career development services.
Most distance courses use an accelerated seven-week format, and Chatham delivers programs entirely online, making it possible for learners to earn a degree without ever visiting campus.
The school serves online students from around the country, but state regulations prohibit residents of Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin from enrolling in online programs. Residents of Massachusetts are also ineligible to enroll in the RN-to-BSN program, though these students may enroll in Chatham's other online programs.
University of Pittsburgh
|Pittsburgh, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 82%||
Another of the best online colleges in Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh serves students across the country through its Pitt Online distance education platform, enrolling residents from 39 U.S. states. The school offers a variety of online degrees and certificate programs in fields such as English and communications, public policy and management, and elementary education. Online learners can also select from several healthcare programs, most of which focus on nursing.
Pitt's online offerings primarily consist of graduate programs, but the school offers one bachelor's degree online: an RN-to-BSN program for practicing nurses. Applicants to the program must hold an accredited diploma or associate degree, and students can transfer up to 68 credits toward their bachelor's. Candidates can also complete the RN-to-BSN program with an early admission option into Pitt's online MSN program, which offers specialization options in nursing informatics or clinical nurse leadership.
Saint Francis University
|Loretto, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 64%||
A private Roman Catholic college affiliated with the Franciscan Order, Saint Francis University enrolls students of all backgrounds, offering a wide assortment of online degrees at the associate, bachelor's, and master's levels. The school hosts several undergraduate programs online, including health studies, early childhood education, computer systems management, healthcare management, and behavioral science. The school also offers hybrid degrees in accounting and management, which feature almost exclusively online course material.
Saint Francis' bachelor's degrees are all completion programs that require students to complete their lower-division credits at another school before transferring in to finish the second half of their degree. The college maintains a generous credit-transfer policy, which enables students to transfer up to 98 credits toward a bachelor's degree.
Online learners also benefit from reduced tuition (up to 50% less than the campus rate) and accelerated course options that help working students graduate quickly.
|Dallas, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 76%||
A Catholic college with a history of educating working professionals, Misericordia University ranks as one of the best colleges in Pennsylvania for Christian students. The school hosts a dozen online bachelor's degrees, including options in accounting; business administration; government, law, and national security; information technology; and diagnostic medical sonography.
All distance learners benefit from dedicated academic advising services, with personal advisors who can assist with curriculum planning and course selections.
Misericordia offers both fully online and hybrid enrollment options, and students can mix course formats as it suits their availability. Most hybrid courses feature primarily online content, with just 2-3 class meetings held on campus each term. Online courses last from 7-15 weeks, giving students the option to work more quickly or take their time with assignments.
While most online learning occurs asynchronously, some courses may include synchronous elements, such as live class meetings held at specific times.
|Pittsburgh, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 80%||
Ranked among Pennsylvania's top Catholic schools, Duquesne University is the only institution of higher education in the U.S. associated with the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. Serving more than 9,300 students from its campus in Pittsburgh, the school also ranks among the best online colleges in Pennsylvania, with a variety of distance programs available at the undergraduate and graduate level.
The school offers two fully online bachelor's degrees in computer systems technology and organizational leadership. The computer systems technology program trains students to design and manage information systems and solve technology problems for all types of organizations. The organizational leadership degree examines modern leadership strategies, stressing the skills necessary to help organizations evolve.
Duquesne's online programs offer a high level of student engagement, and many courses include synchronous elements, such as live discussions and lectures.
Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University)
|Philadelphia, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 66%||
Formed through the 2017 merger of Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University, newly christened Jefferson operates distance education programs under the umbrella of Jefferson Online. The school offers several online degrees at all academic levels, with bachelor's programs including law enforcement leadership, behavioral and health services, business management, emerging media, and human resources management.
Most of Jefferson's bachelor's programs offer multiple start dates each year, with accelerated eight-week courses that enable students to graduate in as little as 2-3 years. Learners can also transfer up to 30 lower-division credits toward their bachelor's degree. Academic advisors work with transfer students to determine their credit eligibility.
Online courses use a primarily asynchronous format, though some courses may require live meetings. Most programs enable learners to earn a degree without ever visiting campus.
|Philadelphia, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 71%||
One of the largest colleges in Pennsylvania, Temple University enrolls more than 40,000 students through its main campus in Philadelphia, several satellite locations, and a sizeable distance education program. Online students receive in-state tuition regardless of their state residency status.
Temple offers just one fully online undergraduate program: a bachelor of business administration with several major options, including management, legal studies in business, supply chain management, marketing, and human resource management.
Designed with working students in mind, the online BBA offers several annual start dates along with variable course lengths. Students can complete either 15-week courses or accelerated seven-week courses in the fall and spring semesters and accelerated six-week courses in the summer.
Online students also benefit from Temple's Center for Student Professional Development, which offers a variety of professional opportunities centered on impression management, personal development, and industry awareness.
Saint Joseph's University
|Philadelphia, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 82%||
As one of the country's oldest Jesuit colleges, Saint Joseph's University boasts a long history of liberal arts education. While the school adheres to a Jesuit intellectual tradition, SJU enrolls students of all religious backgrounds. However, all students must complete six core courses that include topics in moral foundations, faith and reason, and a first-year seminar.
The college offers four online bachelor's degrees in business administration, general studies, organizational development and leadership, and psychological studies. SJU's online programs use a mix of synchronous and asynchronous elements; some courses may occur entirely asynchronously, enabling students to log in at any time to complete their work, while others may require live course meetings with classmates and faculty.
All online learners receive personalized support from a Student Services Coordinator, who can assist with academic issues, degree planning, questions concerning online learning, and connections to other SJU resources.
Lancaster Bible College
|Lancaster, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 57%||
A private Christian college based in Lancaster (about 70 miles west of Philadelphia), Lancaster Bible College offers a wide selection of distance education programs to Christian students of all backgrounds.
The school hosts 10 fully online bachelor's degrees, including options in biblical studies, criminal justice, healthcare management, ministry leadership, and sports management. LBC's distance courses use an asynchronous, fully online delivery format that requires no campus visits or set class meeting times.
LBC's high degree of flexibility and accelerated course options contribute to its reputation as one of the best online colleges in Pennsylvania for Christian students. The school offers online courses in an accelerated six-week format, which enables some students to complete their degree in as little as 15 months of full-time enrollment. LBC also offers credit for prior learning experience, giving skilled learners the option to translate relevant professional and life experience into academic credit.
|Center Valley, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 70%||
Another of the top Catholic colleges in Pennsylvania, DeSales University has more than 40 years of experience serving nontraditional students. The school hosts over a dozen online bachelor's programs in fields as diverse as forensic accounting, homeland security, elementary education, marketing, and theology.
Online courses use both synchronous and asynchronous components, and students can also select from blended learning courses that include weekly campus meetings. DeSales' online programs emphasize flexibility, and learners can complete courses in either standard 15-week or accelerated seven-week blocks.
The school also offers unique "Flex" courses that enable students to attend classes either virtually or in person each week as their availability dictates, with online students participating in live classroom sessions remotely through video conferencing. DeSales also offers College Level Examination Program (CLEP) testing, which gives students the chance to earn credit by examination for existing knowledge.
Cedar Crest College
|Allentown, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
A private women's college based in Allentown, Cedar Crest College provides liberal arts education to around 1,900 female students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Though historically affiliated with the United Church of Christ, the school primarily offers secular education, admitting students of all backgrounds.
Cedar Crest College serves working students through its School of Adult and Graduate Education, offering a wide selection of online, hybrid, and accelerated course options. The school features two fully online undergraduate programs: an RN-to-BSN option for nurses and a bachelor of business administration with concentration tracks in economics, healthcare management, human resources management, general management, and marketing.
Online courses typically use an accelerated eight-week format, though some may last as few as six weeks. Students can also enroll in intensive two-weekend courses that enable participants to complete a three-credit course in just two weekend campus sessions.
|Saint Davids, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 63%||
A Christian college affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA, Eastern University enrolls an interdenominational student body of all Christian backgrounds, serving more than 3,000 students from its campus in St. Davids (located about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia).
The school offers a wide assortment of online programs, with five online bachelor's degrees available in business administration, early childhood education, early childhood studies, organizational leadership, and youth ministry leadership.
All five undergraduate programs are completion degrees, which allow students to apply only after earning their freshman and sophomore credits either at Eastern University or another school, such as a community college. Students who complete their associate degree credits at Eastern University receive a 20% alumni tuition discount.
Eastern University delivers all distance programs entirely online, except for the youth ministry leadership degree, which requires a short campus-residency session that lasts about one week.
|Philadelphia, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 71%||
One of the largest online education providers in Pennsylvania, Drexel University hosts more than 150 online degrees and certificates, available at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. The school offers more than 15 online bachelor's degrees, including options in computing and security technology, criminal justice, behavioral health counseling, business administration, and an RN-to-BSN program.
Online programs use both synchronous and asynchronous elements, and many courses require students to log on at designated times for live class meetings. Online courses require a high level of student engagement, often including live lectures and discussions, interactive assignments, and significant group projects.
Before enrolling in an online program, prospective students can participate in test drive sessions that highlight the online learning platform, collaborative assignments, and online student resources. Drexel's flexibility, variety of degree offerings, academic prestige, and extensive support services add up to one of the best online colleges in Pennsylvania.
|Beaver Falls, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 69%||
The only undergraduate college in the country affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, Geneva College delivers liberal arts education framed through a Christian worldview. Though the school maintains an educational philosophy rooted in Reformed Presbyterianism, Geneva admits students of all Christian backgrounds.
Based in Beaver Falls (about 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh), the college enrolls around 1,400 students annually and holds a reputation for small class sizes and competitive tuition rates.
Geneva hosts six accelerated online bachelor's degrees, including aging services, child and family services, criminal justice, human resources, and organizational leadership. Students can also pursue an online associate degree in general studies, which enables graduates to transfer into any of the school's online bachelor's programs after completing their lower-division credits.
Most applicants to Geneva's online programs have four or five years of post-high school experience, though the school does make exceptions for some younger students.
|Pittsburgh, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 57%||
A Catholic college established by the Sisters of Mercy in 1929, Carlow University primarily serves female students, enrolling around 84% women and 16% men. Based in Pittsburgh's Oakland academic district, the school serves around 2,000 students annually through campus and distance education programs.
Carlow offers four online bachelor's degrees in business management, corporate communication, health management, and nursing. The business and health management degree also offers hybrid enrollment options.
Carlow provides a strong support system for its online learners, including personalized academic advising services. The school assigns each online student an academic advisor who can assist with course selection, academic planning, connections to other school resources, and any other academic concerns. Students communicate with their advisor via phone, email, or live web conferencing. Most online learners work with the same advisor throughout the entire course of their education, from admission to graduation.
|Philadelphia, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 21%||
A pioneer of distance education and one of the best online colleges in Pennsylvania, Peirce College has offered online courses since 2000. Today, the school hosts a wide selection of professionally focused online undergraduate programs, including options in human resource management, criminal justice studies, paralegal studies, technology management, and business administration.
Most online courses use a fully asynchronous format that enables students to complete coursework at any time, interacting through threaded online discussions.
Peirce also offers a competency-based degree in information technology with a concentration in networking, administration, and information security. This fully online degree caters to IT professionals who already possess experience in the field. Using a self-paced delivery format, the program enables learners to demonstrate existing knowledge and test out of the course content they already know. Students can customize the curriculum to cover only the competencies they need to earn a degree, cutting down on completion time.
California University of Pennsylvania
|California, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 52%||
The Global Online program available through California University of Pennsylvania serves students both from Pennsylvania and around the country, with more than 75 online degrees at all academic levels. Part of the Pittsburgh metro area, this public college enrolls over 7,000 students annually, consistently ranking among the best online colleges in Pennsylvania.
Cal U also ranks highly for its affordability, and the school offers a special reduced tuition rate for online students, including those who reside outside of Pennsylvania.
Cal U offers over a dozen fully online bachelor's programs in fields such as Arabic languages and culture, integrated global business, science and technology studies, criminal justice: homeland and international security, and exercise science. Many of Cal U's online programs offer accelerated bachelor's/master's options, enabling students to transition seamlessly into graduate work while completing their education with fewer credits.
Courses occur primarily online, though some degrees may require students to attend short campus sessions.
University of Valley Forge
|Phoenixville, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 45%||
Affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, University of Valley Forge offers Christian-centered education to more than 1,100 students from its campus in Phoenixville (about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia).
The school also hosts a distance education program with four online bachelor's degrees in business administration, psychology, ministry leadership, and intercultural studies. The ministry and intercultural studies programs follow the campus calendar, with standard 14-week semesters and extended breaks.
UVF's business and psychology degrees use a flexible format that features seven-week modules rather than traditionally paced classes. Learners can complete up to three courses during each module, with a one-week break between sessions. This flexible pacing enables students to complete credits faster than traditional online learning.
Alternately, students can take their time and complete just one or two courses during each seven-week session, with the option to take time off from a module when necessary.
Pennsylvania State University-World Campus
|University Park, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 28%||
One of the largest providers of distance education in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University-World Campus offers more than 150 online degrees and certificates through the World Campus platform. Undergraduates can choose from over 35 online bachelor's degrees, including uncommon options like biobehavioral health, energy and sustainability policy, international politics, turfgrass science, and commercial recreation and tourism management.
All Penn State's degrees feature asynchronous formats, and many programs offer students highly flexible self-pacing.
As one of the best online colleges in Pennsylvania, Penn State offers a variety of support services for online learners, including enrollment counseling, academic advising, library services, career counseling, and financial aid assistance. Students can also access dedicated online tutoring services for subjects including writing, math, and science.
The school hosts informative webinars for prospective and current online students, which highlight specific programs, general online learning practices, and success strategies for online courses.
Robert Morris University
|Moon Township, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 61%||
Founded as a school of accountancy, Robert Morris University maintains an emphasis on professional education, offering a variety of career-focused degrees at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Located just outside of Pittsburgh in Moon Township, the college enrolls nearly 5,000 students through both campus and online programs.
RMU hosts several online undergraduate degrees in subjects including hospitality and tourism management, cybersecurity and digital forensics, health services administration, and criminal justice. The school also delivers an online RN-to-BSN nursing program.
Online students with extensive subject knowledge can earn credit through the college's Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) program. The PLA process enables learners to demonstrate their mastery of course concepts, often by taking an exam or preparing a professional portfolio that highlights relevant experiences. Faculty and advisors evaluate student experiences and award academic credit for demonstrations of competency, allowing students to bypass course content they already know and graduate sooner.
Clarion University of Pennsylvania
|Clarion, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
Recognized for selectivity, strong academics, and extensive career support services, Clarion University of Pennsylvania ranks among the best online colleges in Pennsylvania and serves more than 5,300 students annually. Located about 75 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, this public college offers 12 online bachelor's degrees in fields including real estate, criminal justice administration, allied health leadership, integrated studies, and technology leadership.
Some online programs offer accelerated seven-week courses, while most use a traditional 15-week format.
Clarion also offers two healthcare-focused degree-completion programs in nursing and medical imaging. Designed for practicing professionals, these programs require applicants to hold current credentials as nurses, medical dosimetrists, radiation therapists, radiologic technologists, or sonographers. Students transfer into the programs at the junior level, completing their upper-division credits in about two years of online study. The medical imaging degree offers concentration options in either radiologic technology or ultrasound (sonography).