Best Online Colleges for Working Adults 2022

Returning to school while remaining in the workforce is no easy task. Our higher education experts at BestColleges have found the schools that can best accommodate life's obligations as you pursue a degree. Read on to compare schools by cost, convenience, and academic quality.

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Published on January 14, 2022 · Updated on August 12, 2022

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There is more than one way to complete a college degree. Rather than going directly to college after high school, many students delay continuing their education. In 2022, the average age of graduate or professional students is over 30. There are numerous reasons for this decision: some start families early in life or pursue a career. For others, life may simply get in the way due to commitments outside of their control, such as a family illness or a major life event.

Regardless of the reason, it may not be possible -- or necessary -- to complete a college degree directly after high school. Fortunately, schools make resources available for nontraditional students, who are usually defined as undergraduate students over the age of 25. Nontraditional student enrollment is more common in some schools than others, but many institutions offer specific resources, organizations, or courses tailored to the needs of nontraditional students.

www.bestcolleges.com 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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Benefits of Online Courses for Working Adults

Nontraditional students face some unique challenges. They often juggle the demands and responsibilities of adulthood -- such as paying bills and working full time -- with the requirements and deadlines of college courses. Not all colleges provide the right environment for nontraditional learners to flourish. An online degree can be a great option, and the list below identifies institutions that go the extra mile to accommodate nontraditional students and help them succeed.

Are you an older student considering a new degree, or perhaps finishing a degree that you previously started? If so, there has never been a better time to pursue your dream diploma. Technology now allows students to work on their degree in ways that were once impossible; and many programs offer asynchronous courses that let you complete coursework at your own pace and according to your own schedule. In short, completing a degree online means you do not have to forego your commitments to take your career to the next level.

Related Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

2022 Best Accredited Online Colleges for Working Adults

How We Rank Schools

Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources, including the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). To rank the Best Online Colleges for Working Adults, we started with our core rankings factors for Best Online Colleges, including Academic Excellence (50%), Affordability (25%), and availability of Online Programming (25%). We then included 2-year colleges and programs offering credit for life experience to our calculations to ensure we were identifying diverse institutions that value nontraditional students. To learn more about our rankings methodologies visit the Methodology for Our School Rankings page. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.

1. Southern New Hampshire University

Location: Manchester, New Hampshire

Average Cost per Credit:

  • In State: $320
  • Out of State: $320
  • Graduate, In-State: $627
  • Graduate, Out-of-State: $627
  • Credits to Graduate: 120

    View School Profile

    SNHU enrolls 135,000 online students in career-preparation programs. Students choose from 200 undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs online. An SNHU bachelor's degree requires 120 credits. The most popular programs include business and healthcare degrees.

    Learners can finish a bachelor's degree faster by transferring up to 90 credits. Working adults also receive credit for career and life experiences. Support services include academic coaching, peer tutoring, and an online wellness center. Admission to one of the nation's best colleges for working adults requires all school transcripts.

    School Information

    • Admission Rate: 88%
    • Graduation Rate: 44%
    • Accreditation: Yes
    • Percent Online Enrollment: 94%

2. Liberty University

Location: Lynchburg, Virginia

Average Cost per Credit:

  • In State: $390-$455
  • Out of State: $390-$455
  • Graduate, In-State: $565-$615
  • Graduate, Out-of-State: $565-$615
  • View School Profile

    A Christian college in Virginia, Liberty hosts a strong virtual college. Students pursue one of 450 online programs. Learners can find options at all levels: certificate, associate, bachelor's, and graduate. The majors cover fields including healthcare, education, and criminal justice.

    The business core at SNHU focuses on combining theory with practical skills. The curriculum focuses on operational management, problem solving, and interpersonal communication. Students also take general education courses.

    Free electronic textbooks for all undergraduate classes saves students money. Admission to one of the top colleges for working adults requires high school and college transcripts.

    School Information

    • Admission Rate: 51%
    • Graduation Rate: 47%
    • Accreditation: Yes
    • Percent Online Enrollment: 92%

3. University of Central Florida

Location: Manchester, New Hampshire

Average Cost per Credit:

  • In State: $320
  • Out of State: $320
  • Graduate, In-State: $627
  • Graduate, Out-of-State: $627
  • View School Profile

    At SNHU, students pursuing an online bachelor's in business administration can choose one of 14 specializations. Concentration options include accounting, finance, marketing, and nonprofit management.

    The business core at SNHU focuses on combining theory with practical skills. The curriculum focuses on operational management, problem solving, and interpersonal communication. Students also take general education courses.

    Applicants must hold a high school diploma or equivalent. SNHU requires an online application, plus transcripts from any previous college experience. SNHU does not charge an application fee.

    School Information

    • Admission Rate: 44%
    • Graduation Rate: 72%
    • Accreditation: Yes
    • Percent Online Enrollment: 59%

4. New York University

Location: New York, New York

Average Cost per Credit:

  • In State: $23,478/semester
  • Out of State: $23,478/semester
  • Graduate, In-State: $23,584/semester
  • Graduate, Out-of-State: $23,584/semester
  • View School Profile

    NYU Online's campus without borders focuses on professional education. Two degree completion programs offer majors in social science and leadership and management studies. Enrollees customize each degree with one of several concentrations. Students acquire hands-on experience through NYU-organized internships.

    Most of NYU's online programs lead to master's degrees. Students can pursue a master's of public health at one of the nation's best colleges for working adults. Other master's degrees include counseling, taxation, and bioinformatics.

    Degree completion program admission requires an associate degree or 45 transferable credits with a 3.3 GPA.

    School Information

    • Admission Rate: 16%
    • Graduation Rate: 85%
    • Accreditation: Yes
    • Percent Online Enrollment: 10%

5. Clarks Summit University

Location: South Abington Township, Pennsylvania

Average Cost per Credit:

  • In State: $415
  • Out of State: $415
  • Graduate, In-State: $475-$710
  • Graduate, Out-of-State: $475-$710
  • View School Profile

    A Christian college in Pennsylvania, CSU offers accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees. Students complete online bachelor's degrees in majors such as counseling and business administration. A degree completion BS lets students use 50 elective credits to make their own curriculum.

    Graduate students pursue master's degrees in fields such as counseling and divinity. Degree-seekers can transfer up to 90 credits into a bachelor's program. Online students pay affordable tuition at one of the best colleges for working adults.

    Members of the military and Christian workers receive tuition discounts. Admission requires a minimum C grade on transfer credits.

    School Information

    • Admission Rate: 41%
    • Graduation Rate: 88%
    • Accreditation: Yes
    • Percent Online Enrollment: 64%

6. Averett University-Non-Traditional Programs

Location: Danville, Virginia

Average Cost per Credit:

  • In State: $480-950
  • Out of State: $480-950
  • Graduate, In-State: $565-$655
  • Graduate, Out-of-State: $565-$655
  • View School Profile

    With 30 years experience, Averett offers online programs for adults who work. Students can earn a BS from anywhere in majors such as business, sociology, and computer information systems. Averett lets students transfer an AAS into the BAS and add a minor.

    The master of accountancy prepares enrollees for the uniform certified public accounting exam. Small classes provide tailored learning at one of the best colleges for working adults. Averett charges affordable online tuition regardless of students' residency. Admission requires all school transcripts, and a minimum C grade for transfer credits.

    School Information

    • Admission Rate: 24%
    • Graduation Rate: 100%
    • Accreditation: Yes
    • Percent Online Enrollment: 97%

7. San Diego State University

Location: San Diego, California

Average Cost per Credit:

  • In State: $431-$531
  • Out of State: $431-$531
  • Graduate, In-State: $482-$956
  • Graduate, Out-of-State: $482-$956
  • View School Profile

    Founded in 1897, SDSU serves nontraditional learners with degrees offered through the global campus. Students can pursue a unique BA in American Indian studies online. Other degree completion programs include the BA in communication and BS in public health.

    The BS in child development and BS in civil engineering offer hybrid formats.

    Some enrollees finish SDSU's degree completion programs in as little as two years. Graduate students choose from one of eight fully online master's degrees. Admission to one of California's best colleges for working adults requires 60 units and a 2.75 GPA.

    School Information

    • Admission Rate: 34%
    • Graduation Rate: 73%
    • Accreditation: Yes
    • Percent Online Enrollment: 50%

8. Bellin College

Location: Green Bay, Wisconsin

Average Cost per Credit:

  • In State: $324-$998
  • Out of State: $324-$998
  • Graduate, In-State: $755-$800
  • Graduate, Out-of-State: $755-$800
  • View School Profile

    Located in Green Bay, BC offers programs specializing in training healthcare professionals. Students complete the hybrid BSN junior transfer track in two years at this college for working adults in healthcare. The online diagnostic cardiac sonography certificate requires an in-person weekend intensive.

    The MSN offers a hybrid family nurse practitioner track and a full online nurse educator track. Students can pursue the doctor of nursing in an online cohort model. BC boasts licensure exam pass rates that consistently exceed the national average. A small student-to-faculty ratio encourages personalized learning. Admission requires a minimum 3.0 GPA for transfer students.

    School Information

    • Admission Rate: 100%
    • Graduation Rate: 86%
    • Accreditation: Yes
    • Percent Online Enrollment: 45%

9. University of Maryland Global Campus

Location: Adelphi, Maryland

Average Cost per Credit:

  • In State: $306
  • Out of State: $499
  • Graduate, In-State: $504-$1,087
  • Graduate, Out-of-State: $659-$1,087
  • View School Profile

    Developed to serve working adults and servicemembers, UMGC specializes in offering degrees in fast-growing fields. Students choose from over 90 programs delivered online and at various locations. The bachelor's and graduate degrees cover fields such as business and management, cybersecurity, and IT and computer science.

    Support services include tutoring, mentoring, and one-on-one writing assistance. UMGC is one of the most affordable colleges for working adults. Enrollees pay competitive tuition rates and free digital class materials save them money.

    Students can transfer up to 90 credits into a bachelor's degree. Admission requires a high school diploma or GED certificate and a 2.0 GPA for transfer credits.

    School Information

    • Graduation Rate: 15%
    • Accreditation: Yes
    • Percent Online Enrollment: 90%

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Definition of Nontraditional Students

Traditional students are generally defined as learners who attend college soon after completing a high school degree. These undergraduates are often enrolled full time and are usually between the ages of 18 and 24. While definitions may vary, as outlined here by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), nontraditional students frequently meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Over the age of 24 (or, in some cases, as young as 23)
  • Several years out of high school
  • May be a parent or have dependents
  • May be married
  • May hold a GED rather than a high school diploma
  • May have completed military service
  • Financially independent

Depending on the institution, any of these characteristics may meet the parameters of a nontraditional student.

Related Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Why Online Programs Are a Good Option for Working Adults

Working adults who pursue a college degree face a variety of challenges. Earning a college degree is difficult on its own, and it is made more difficult by combining college's relentless onslaught of deadlines, projects, and tests with a demanding work schedule.

Fortunately, colleges and universities are increasingly tailoring their programs to nontraditional students. For example, online programs are an excellent option for working adults; they provide the flexibility that working adults need, and allow them to complete their degree while maintaining their job schedule. Some online programs also offer accelerated degree programs where motivated learners can complete their degree much faster than a traditional degree track.

Sheneka Balogun, HBX (now Harvard Business School Online) graduate, spoke with BestColleges about her experience going to school as a working mom of two. "As I completed the [online] coursework each week at HBX it was really apparent that they had me in mind when they developed the curriculum," she said. "There was a variety of learning resources and each week I looked forward to logging in because it was a challenging, fun, and rewarding experience all bundled into one. Even with other priorities that compete for our time as full-time working students, if colleges and universities design [programs] with us in mind we will be successful."

Read Sheneka's full interview.

Nontraditional Student Enrollment Expected to Rise

Nontraditional students are common at colleges throughout the country, particularly in online programs. In fact, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Education Commission of the States indicates that the ratio of non-traditional students attending higher education is expected to increase. While enrollment totals are higher for students younger than 25, the NCES projects total enrollment growth rates for older students to outpace growth rates of traditional younger students through 2024.

So, what should working adults look out for when selecting a program? According to Gary Alan Miller, the Director of University Career Services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, "It depends on their individual needs and how much those needs require unique services, of course. My advice is for students to be truly reflective of their needs so that they know what questions to ask with regard to services. For example, if the individual knows that they are not going to be able to be on campus during traditional work hours, they should ask how they will be able to benefit from those services."

Read Gary's full interview.

How Long Do Online Programs Take?

Earning an online degree can take anywhere from a few months -- in the case of a certificate -- to five years or more to earn a Ph.D. Associate and master's programs typically take two years, while bachelor's degrees take about four years to complete. Program length also depends on how many part-time or full-time basis. Below is additional information about adult college options such as accelerated programs, credit for life experience, and transfer credits.

Accelerated Online Programs

While not every online school offers an accelerated degree program, they can set working adults on a fast track to their educational goals. Accelerated options use shorter timelines for college classes and offer coursework year-round rather than on a set semester schedule.

Provided you already hold an associate degree, you may be able to complete a bachelor's in as little as one year. Another popular accelerated bachelor's degree program for adults allows learners to complete a bachelor's and master's degree simultaneously. This dual-degree format can reduce the overall time commitment and financial burden to students, while giving them a competitive advantage on the job market.

Generally, accelerated programs cost about the same as traditional-length programs, since tuition prices are tied to the number of course credits a student completes. Explore your prospective schools' websites for detailed information on their accelerated degree options.

Credit for Life Experience and Prior Learning

Institutions are increasingly recognizing the value of life experience and prior learning. By awarding credits for military service, work experience, or life experience, colleges and universities make earning a degree more accessible and affordable to nontraditional students.

Professionals with years of employment at a technology company, for example, may be awarded credit for a related course in their IT degree without completing modules and assignments.

Although these credit-for-experience programs provide an excellent way to lower the cost and time commitment of a degree program, the process can require an extensive amount of time and work on the student's part. Schools may request submission of a thorough work portfolio and/or completion of an exam to demonstrate one's mastery of a subject before awarding credit.

Transferring Previous College Credits

Prospective college students can reduce the cost and time commitment of their degree by taking advantage of transfer credit opportunities.

Individuals with an associate degree, for example, can fulfill about half of the credit requirements of a bachelor's by transferring prior credits. To transfer credits, students submit official transcripts from their previous institution to their new institution, and work closely with an admissions advisor to ensure eligibility.

Transfer credit exceptions and issues may arise, however, and may be attributed to a difference in a school's accreditation, core curriculum requirements, or mismatched course equivalencies. Check with your prospective school to ensure your prior credits can transfer.

Paying For College

Affording a degree is one of the biggest barriers to starting or continuing education. Learn more about paying for college with our Guide to Financial Aid and the FAFSA and our guide to Scholarships for Adults and Nontraditional Students.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Colleges for Working Adults


Are online degrees respected by employers?

Graduates of online degree programs receive the same diploma as their on-campus counterparts. Most employers accept an accredited online degree without issue.

How much money will I make with an online degree?

Although college graduates generally earn higher incomes than high school graduates, an individual's potential salary depends on their field of study, location, and career choice.

Are online degrees easier than traditional programs?

Online courses for adults require the same level of commitment as traditional classroom courses. However, distance learning can be even more difficult, as many individuals juggle work and additional obligations simultaneously.

Are online degrees cheaper?

Tuition for online degrees typically costs about the same as a traditional program. However, students can save money on college costs by avoiding campus fees, room and board, and meal plans.

Are online degrees quicker than traditional programs?

Accelerated programs allow students to complete their degrees quicker than traditional programs. Students pursuing a bachelor's degree while working full time may prefer to enroll on a part-time basis, which increases degree completion time.

BestColleges.com 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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