Best Online Degrees of 2021

portrait of Cheryl Oberlin
by Cheryl Oberlin

Published on August 13, 2021

Share this Article is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

Earning an online degree is a great way to advance your education and career, and potentially increase your salary for years to come. However, choosing the best educational path can feel overwhelming, so we've done some of the groundwork for you. By using the latest statistical data, we created a list of the best online degrees for 2021.

The following list describes popular positions in emerging industries, as well as related salaries and the education requirements needed to qualify for hot jobs. This resource can help you make an informed decision about furthering your education, starting a new career, or advancing in your current position.

2021 Best Online Degrees

1. Computer Science true

Earning an online degree in computer science prepares students to work in a variety of high-demand professional positions. This type of hands-on program covers skills related to web development, databases, operations systems, and programming. Participants learn to work with a variety of languages, including C, C++, Java, PHP, and Python.

Many computer scientists work remotely in emerging industries like cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, bioinformatics, forensics, and software security. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the computer and information technology field is projected to grow by 11% from 2019-2029, which would lead to the creation of over 531,000 new jobs.

Career Paths

Web Developer Software Engineer Information Systems Manager Data Scientist Network Security Technician

Earning Potential (as of May 2021)

Average Salary: $81,530 Associate Degree Salary: $65,060 Bachelor's Degree Salary: $86,450 Master's Degree Salary: $104,570 Doctoral Degree Salary: $126,060
2. Data Science true

The curriculum of an online degree in data science focuses on database management systems, machine learning, and human language technologies. Students can learn to collect, interpret, and publish complex data to help businesses improve performance and productivity related to sales, profitability, automation, and forecasting.

Data scientists are fluent in coding and have keen communication skills. Some of the languages used include SQL, Python, R, and Scala, as well as tools like Tableau and Hadoop. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information research scientist jobs, including data scientists, are projected to grow 15% from 2019-2029 — this is about four times faster than the average projected growth for all occupations.

Career Paths

Data Scientist Machine Learning Engineer Data Engineer Data Analyst Web Developer

Earning Potential (as of May 2021)

Average Salary: $96,500 Associate Degree Salary: $46,040 Bachelor's Degree Salary: $92,410 Master's Degree Salary: $104,570
3. Social Work true

Social workers connect community members with the resources, services, and professional services needed in everyday life. They tend to be empathetic and enjoy working with people. An online degree in social work can prepare learners to solve access issues in healthcare, education, social service, community development, and nonprofit settings.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of social workers is projected to grow by 13% from 2019-2029. Many positions in this field pay above-average wages. Advanced roles in social work may require professionals to maintain a state-issued license.

Career Paths

Social Worker Addiction and Recovery Counselor Case Manager Community Service Manager Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Earning Potential (as of May 2021)

Average Salary: $48,610 Associate Degree Salary: $42,270 Bachelor's Degree Salary: $50,770 Master's Degree Salary: $56,070 Doctoral Degree Salary: $76,290
4. Human Resources true

Working in human resources (HR) challenges professionals to create new business strategies, make personal employee connections, and ensure employers deliver on equity and inclusion promises. HR professionals also ensure their organizations comply with federal labor, compensation and benefits laws. They also help recruit, interview, and place new workers.

HR is also a growing field. Graduates may qualify for a variety of positions in nearly every industry after earning an online college degree in human resources. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, human resources jobs are projected to grow by 7% from 2019-2029.

Career Paths

Human Resources Manager Training and Development Specialist Compensation Benefits Manager Human Resources Recruiter Labor Relations Specialist

Earning Potential (as of May 2021)

Average Salary: $55,110 Associate Degree Salary: $47,500 Bachelor's Degree Salary: $63,040 Master's Degree Salary: $69,360
5. Cybersecurity

The need for cybersecurity professionals has increased dramatically in recent years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, positions in information security are projected to increase by 31% from 2019-2029 — almost eight times faster than the average projected growth rate for all other occupations.

Online degree programs in cybersecurity provide hands-on training in managing computer networks and information security. Students learn about securing operating systems, applications, and customer data. A career in cybersecurity may be a good fit for individuals with strong technical skills who enjoy solving difficult problems. Global businesses depend on information security experts to protect their trade secrets, eliminate data breaches, and ensure customer privacy.

Career Paths

Cybersecurity Analyst Information Security Analyst Systems Administrator Network Administrator Security Intrusion Analyst

Earning Potential (as of May 2021)

Average Salary: $76,600 Associate Degree Salary: $52,050 Bachelor's Degree Salary: $71,900 Master's Degree Salary: $87,640
6. Nutrition

Nutritionists create wellness plans for people with dietary restrictions, food allergies, exercise needs, or other specific requirements. They expertly manage short- and long-term goals, helping a patient or client improve their lifestyle, such as by working to eliminate obesity and correlated diseases. Nutritionists commonly work for healthcare providers, nonprofits, community centers, corporate wellness programs, sports teams, and education providers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects nutritionist positions will increase by 8% from 2019-2029. An online degree program in nutrition focuses on science-based nutrition, preparing graduates to provide critical patient care centered around a balanced diet, exercise plan, and overall wellness.

Career Paths

Nutritionist Food Scientist Dietician Sports Nutritionist Health Educator

Earning Potential (as of May 2021)

Average Salary: $45,480 Associate Degree Salary: $41,250 Bachelor's Degree Salary: $56,270 Master's Degree Salary: $57,260 Doctoral Degree Salary: $78,640
7. Library Science

Individuals who enjoy reading and conducting research may want to consider a career in library science. Students who earn an online degree in library science learn about research methods, data analytics, digital asset management, and teaching and learning integration. Also, many library science programs offer opportunities for an internship or practicum experience with potential employers.

Librarians expertly analyze, evaluate, and synthesize research to help others. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that librarians and specialists will increase in number by 5% from 2019-2029.

Career Paths

Librarian Librarian Assistant Library Technician Library Media Specialist Library Director

Earning Potential (as of May 2021)

Average Salary: $50,870 Associate Degree Salary: $32,440 Bachelor's Degree Salary: $54,290 Master's Degree Salary: $56,100
8. Physician Assistant Studies

Physician assistants (PAs) are licensed medical professionals who practice medicine at hospitals, outpatient clinics, and doctors' offices. Today's fastest-growing jobs include PAs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physician assistant careers are projected to grow by 31% from 2019-2029.

In an online physician assistant degree program, students learn about ethics in healthcare, evidence-based medicine, diagnostics, clinical pharmacology, and pathology. Most programs also require a clinical rotation or practicum. In the PA profession, a master's degree is the terminal degree.

Career Paths

Physician Assistant Surgical Assistant Clinical Advisor Clinical Service Manager Rural Area Practitioner

Earning Potential (as of May 2021)

Average Salary: $98,450 Bachelor's Degree Salary: $106,920 Master's Degree Salary: $107,230
9. Construction Management

Construction managers create and manage project plans for buildings, structures, and roads. These professionals may oversee contractors and vendors, scheduling and budgeting, and safety, licensing, and quality concerns. They tend to be expert communicators who work directly with clients and supervise/direct the entire project.

An online college degree in construction management introduces students to industry ethics, legalities, and safety regulations; environmental control systems and sustainability; cost estimating; architectural rendering; and project management. Many programs also offer capstone projects that provide the opportunity for participants to work alongside a seasoned construction manager in a community project.

Career Paths

Construction Manager Facilities Manager Sustainability Manager Construction Project Manager Construction Superintendent

Earning Potential (as of May 2021)

Average Salary: $78,280 Associate Degree Salary: $60,950 Bachelor's Degree Salary: $72,560 Master's Degree Salary: $81,250
10. History

Students who earn an online college degree in history can pursue careers in fields related to anthropology, art, and education. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects historian positions will grow by 3% from 2019-2029.

An online program in history covers many topics, including data collection, research methods, religion, and art. Learners can also tailor their coursework by taking elective classes like the history of fashion and sports history. Many learners create a historical portfolio, which they can use during their job hunt.

Career Paths

High School History Teacher Historian Museum Curator Curator Archivist

Earning Potential (as of May 2021)

Average Salary: $52,260 Associate Degree Salary: $47,020 Bachelor's Degree Salary: $61,100 Master's Degree Salary: $62,472 Doctoral Degree Salary: $76,240

Is an Online Degree Worth It?

Earning an online college degree can provide you with a solid academic foundation and lead to many careers that pay above-average salaries. There are various factors to consider when researching an online degree program, including the delivery format, required time commitment, and cost.

Many of the best online degree programs recognize that adults gravitate toward online education because it allows them to honor work and/or family commitments while pursuing an advanced education. These online colleges and universities can help you take charge of your learning and pursue a relatively affordable education to boost your lifetime earnings.

Keep reading to learn about the potential benefits and drawbacks of distance learning, as well as variables to consider when choosing an online college and program.


You can maintain your regular schedule, handling work and family commitments while learning. You often have more flexibility when it comes to completing assignments and attending class. You can submit assignments, tests, and projects online. You learn to collaborate with others virtually. You may be able to save money — the costs associated with an online college degree are often less expensive.


If you don't have a reliable internet connection, attending class can be difficult. It may be more difficult to get in contact with your professors. You may encounter more distractions if you're logging in at home. If you're not self-motivated, you may have trouble sticking to a schedule. Online classes may feel less engaging than in-person learning.

How to Choose an Online Degree

Creating a plan for your educational journey can be confusing and frustrating, but also fun and exciting. We want to help you make an informed decision by sharing useful resources. Take some time to review the list below, and learn more about how to choose a college major and what to expect when planning your online education.

Consider Your Interests and Hobbies

Choosing a major can feel daunting, and lots of students struggle with this decision. In fact, according to a 2020 survey, more than 60% of college graduates would change their major if they could have a do-over.

To avoid having regrets about your choice, try and be honest with yourself. What interests you? Where do you like to spend your time? And can you connect your passions to a growing professional field? By answering these questions, you may be able to discover your college major and future career.

Research Job Demand, Growth, and Salary

One of the best places to research career areas, potential growth, and salary information is the website of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This organization reports information related to virtually every career field. Use the search bar on the BLS home page to plug in information about a specific job or field you want to explore. You can access a wealth of information — including a list of the fastest-growing occupations — from a reliable source.

Is it harder to get a job with an online degree?

It is not typically harder to get a job with an online degree. At an accredited school, the rigor and curriculum of an online program are comparable to those of a corresponding on-campus offering. Your diploma and transcripts will look the same as your on-campus peers. Additionally, according to BestColleges' 2020 Trends in College Career and Employment Planning report, some employers consider an online degree to be superior to an on-campus degree.

Compare Program Lengths and Cost

College is one of the biggest investments you'll make in your life. However, most graduates and employers also say it's also one of the best investments. Employers see value in hiring candidates who have graduated from college — especially those who have participated in practicums, internships, and externships.

One factor that can help save you money as an online learner is not having to pay for on-campus room and board. If you're taking classes at a school based in an expensive urban area, this can save you thousands of dollars. Additionally, distance learners in many online programs qualify for in-state tuition rates, which can also lead to significant savings.

How long are online degree programs?

Many online programs feature timelines that are comparable to campus-based options: two years for an associate, four years for a bachelor's, and two years for a master's. However, some online colleges recognize that adult learners may want to complete their education quicker. As a result, some schools offer year-round accelerated programs that can reduce completion times significantly. Some programs may also award experiential credit, further expediting graduation.

How much do online degree programs cost?

The cost of an online degree varies depending on a student's program, institution, enrollment status, state of residence, and many other factors. Use our true program cost calculator to budget for school and get a better idea of the costs associated with going to college.

Scrutinize the School Before You Commit

Many reputable colleges offer online degrees. However, there are some institutions — including some for-profit schools — that engage in predatory, dishonest practices and fail to deliver a quality education. When looking at schools, make sure you do your homework to find a quality online program that is recognized by a reputable accreditation body. Additionally, make sure the educational offerings and support services provided by a school meet your needs.

true Accreditation

A national or regional accreditation organization must recognize an online institution to confer degrees or certificates. Two of the most popular accreditations are from the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education. We created an online college accreditation guide to help simplify planning.

Financial Aid

Attending college requires a significant investment of time and money. Due to the rising cost of tuition, many students rely on financial aid to help pay for school. Check out our financial aid guide to learn more about this process and reduce your out-of-pocket costs.

Learning Format

It's important to research how online college degree programs are delivered — not all programs are alike. You'll want to know the difference between synchronous, hybrid, and asynchronous learning in order to determine which format best fits your lifestyle and learning needs.

Curriculum Details

Before enrolling in a program, take the time to make sure it will adequately prepare you for your target career by looking at course listings and requirements. You should also check the capstone requirements and look to see if there are concentration options available. Additionally, some programs may require occasional on-campus participation, such as residencies — make sure you can fulfil these requirements.

Support Services

Many institutions provide distance learners with the same support given to on-campus learners. Online student services may include library access, academic advising, counseling, tutoring, and career services.

Student Outcomes

You can also look at student outcomes, such as graduation rates, pass rates for certification exams, and employment rates, as another indicator of a quality program. Many programs list these statistics on their website. You can also contact program alumni directly and ask their opinion about a program's quality.

We compiled our list of the top online degrees based on traffic trends and user engagement on our site. BestColleges strives to provide information and resources to help students and potential students achieve their goals in higher education.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Degrees

What are the best online colleges?

The best online colleges vary depending on your education and career goals. However, the best schools are all accredited by an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Additionally, by enrolling in an accredited college, you will also be eligible to apply for federal financial aid.

What are the most popular online degrees?

Students can find online programs in just about any field, but especially popular online degrees include healthcare, business management, engineering, and social services.

What is the easiest online degree to get?

The easiest online degree depends on your skill set and interests. Are you good at math and solving problems? If so, a business or accounting degree may be "easy" for you to complete. Alternatively, if you love to read and write, an English or teaching degree may be "easiest" for you.

Are online degrees cheaper?

Depending on where you live and the program you attend, earning an online degree may be less expensive. Some schools charge flat-rate tuition for all online learners, no matter their state of residence. Additionally, distance learners can save on costs associated with on-campus housing and commuting/parking.

What are the highest-paying online degrees?

A worker's salary depends on many factors other than their degree, including their location, industry, and professional experience. However, students who earn an online degree can pursue many lucrative roles, including nurse practitioner, computer systems analyst, market research analyst, cost estimator, speech-language pathologist, and information security analyst.

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Best Online Bachelor's Degree and Program Guide Best Online Master's Degrees and Program Guide Most Affordable Online Colleges and Universities Best Online Community Colleges and Trade Schools Most Affordable Online Community Colleges Scholarships and Financial Aid for Online College Students Your Guide to Financial Aid Your Guide to College Loans Your Guide to College Grants and Scholarships is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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