Best Online Colleges and Universities

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Updated September 23, 2022

Edited by Colin Weickmann
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The number of online students has increased dramatically in recent years. In fall 2020, nearly 74% of all college students in the U.S. were enrolled in at least one online course, and close to 46% of students were exclusively enrolled in distance education.

Why do so many students choose a distance online learning format? Online colleges offer flexibility, affordability, and accessibility. Taking classes online is convenient. It's easier to fit school into a busy schedule and is often a more affordable option.

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Today, most schools offer online courses. In 2018, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that 79% of colleges offered distance education options. However, prospective students need to make sure they choose a reputable school. The best colleges and universities offering an online option hold accreditation, offer multiple online programs, and provide online support services for students.

What to Expect From Online Degree Programs

What can you expect during an online degree program? And why do students choose this option instead of in-person programs?

Online learners complete coursework in a virtual format. Many courses use the same curriculum and teaching materials as on-campus classes. The delivery method differs, however. Instead of attending classes in person, distance learners complete graduation requirements online. This flexibility appeals to many degree-seekers.

Depending on the program, learners may participate in labs, simulations, practicums, and internships. Schools often work with distance learners to help them figure out where to complete in-person requirements locally. For example, education majors complete student teaching requirements at a local school. And online business students can gain internship experience in their area.

Earning an online degree typically takes the same amount of time as an in-person degree. Full-time undergraduates can complete an online bachelor's degree in four years or a master's degree in roughly two years. Many schools also offer accelerated programs that take less time.

Explore Online Degree Levels

Why Choose an Online College?

More than 14 million college students enrolled in at least one online class in fall 2020, and about 60% of these learners enrolled exclusively online (NCES). Why does an online learning format appeal to so many students?

Online colleges help degree-seekers balance classes with work or other responsibilities. In 2020, 40% of full-time students and 74% of part-time students worked while in school, according to NCES. Taking classes online makes it easier for working students to schedule school around their working hours.

The best options also offer an accessible and affordable path to a college degree. By choosing a distance learning format, students can compare top programs from across the country. Instead of restricting their options to local schools or paying to relocate, learners can enroll in top online programs in other states.

Finally, many online programs meet high academic standards — students don't need to sacrifice quality for convenience. Accredited online universities meet the same quality standards as in-person options. So, is this the best choice for you? Carefully weigh the benefits of attending college online before submitting your college applications.

Online Programs That Might Interest You

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

Pros and Cons of Online Degrees

Pros

  • Flexibility to learn on your schedule
  • Learn from anywhere
  • Network with people around the world
  • Save time/money on commuting
  • May be more affordable than on-campus programs
  • Access to online tutoring and career services

Cons

  • Requires more self-discipline
  • Not all programs are available online
  • More technical requirements
  • Potential social isolation and loneliness

How to Choose an Online College

Choosing an online college will shape your education and your future career. How can you choose a program that fits your schedule, budget, and goals? Many prospective students look at costs but fail to consider other factors that can impact their experience and career options.

According to online education advisor and BestColleges principal writer, Melissa Venable, Ph.D., you should consider your unique goals first when looking at options. "Take some time to identify why you want to pursue an online degree and the kinds of support you'll need to succeed. Look for support services and resources that are important to you, such as tutoring, career counseling, internship coordination, social clubs, and health and wellness classes."

Research the following factors to find the right fit for your unique circumstances.

Research Program Cost

Cost is a major factor for many students when it comes to choosing a college. Expenses can vary widely, with an online degree from a distance-learning institution costing an average of $10,089-$17,047 per year during the 2020-21 school year, depending on whether a school is public vs. private or for-profit vs. nonprofit. The cost can also vary based on the program and delivery format. For many students, an online delivery format can save money.

However, looking at the tuition rate alone can mislead applicants. On top of tuition, students should budget for technology costs, books and supplies, and other fees. Additionally, keep in mind that financial aid can lower the cost of a program — many students pay significantly less than the advertised sticker price for college. When deciding on a school, factor in the total program cost and financial aid opportunities.

Check the School's Accreditation Status

Distance learners should always choose a properly accredited school. But what is accreditation, and why does it matter?

Accredited institutions meet high standards for educating learners. Schools receive accreditation by undergoing a rigorous review from an independent accrediting agency. These accrediting agencies evaluate a school's academic mission, teaching materials, student learning outcomes, and faculty qualifications.

And accreditation matters for students. Accredited schools tend to provide a higher-quality education that meets the requirements for more professional licenses and certifications. In many fields, employers only hire graduates from accredited institutions. And only distance learners at accredited schools can qualify for federal financial aid programs.

Choose Your College Major

Some students enter college with a clear idea of their major, while others take time to explore different disciplines.

If you're struggling to choose a major, think about your strengths, the typical earning potential of different majors, and career options. Taking general education courses can help you narrow your options. Finally, consider the transferable skills and program requirements for different majors. Will you need to complete a practicum? What does the job market look like for different majors? Once you've engaged in some self-reflection and completed some research, find a major that fits most of your requirements.

Determine Which Online Learning Format You Prefer

Online programs offer several delivery options. For example, many programs use a fully online format, while others operate as a hybrid program with some in-person requirements. You can also enroll as a full-time or part-time student. And some programs offer accelerated bachelor's degrees.

Distance learners may take classes synchronously or asynchronously. A synchronous format offers live class sessions that encourage interaction, while asynchronous classes do not hold set meeting times. An asynchronous format may appeal to working professionals and busy students. Consider which format best fits your schedule.

Confirm Student Support Resources

The best online colleges offer ample student support services. For example, most online universities offer admissions and financial aid advising to help incoming students enroll. Once learners join a college, they meet with academic advisors to plan their class schedules. Many colleges offer online tutoring, writing centers, and library access to distance learners.

Look for schools with internship programs, career services, and mentorship opportunities. These support services help learners plan their next step and train for the job market. Research available student services when comparing online colleges. You can also contact schools to ask about their online services.

Consider For-Profit vs. Nonprofit Universities

In higher education, nonprofit colleges generally have stronger academic reputations. However, some students may benefit from choosing a for-profit college.

Nonprofit colleges operate with a primary mission of educating students rather than bringing in a financial profit. For-profit colleges, in contrast, operate to raise revenue for shareholders. While nonprofit colleges tend to offer academic programs in the liberal arts, business, and STEM fields, for-profit colleges often focus on technical or vocational education. In some cases, students seeking career-focused training may benefit from attending a for-profit college.

Consider the pros and cons of for-profit colleges when choosing online schools.

How to Apply

Online colleges set different admission requirements and use different application systems. So how do you apply?

First, research the school's application process and requirements. Most schools ask for an online application, official transcripts, standardized test scores, an essay, and letters of recommendation. Test score requirements vary by school. Colleges often ask for SAT or ACT scores at the undergraduate level, though many use test-optional admission. At the graduate level, the most common tests include the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT.

Then, check the application essay requirements. You might be asked to write a response to a prompt, submit a writing sample, or provide a statement of purpose outlining your background and goals. Next, look at the letter of recommendation requirements. Many schools ask for 1-3 letters from former instructors, supervisors, mentors, or others who can speak to your strengths.

Finally, look for additional requirements, such as interviews, financial aid forms, or transcript evaluations. Transfer students can also contact schools to learn more about their transfer credit policies. Most students apply to around six colleges, so make sure to budget enough time for the application process.

Financial Aid Options

Financial aid makes college more affordable for many students. But can you use financial aid for an online program? Fortunately, online degrees at accredited schools meet the requirements for many forms of financial aid. Distance learners can submit the FAFSA to see if they qualify for federal grants, loans, or work-study funds. Online students can also qualify for state grants, private scholarships, and institutional aid.

For most students, submitting the FAFSA represents the first step in getting financial aid. The FAFSA determines eligibility for federal student aid programs. Colleges may also use the FAFSA to award institutional aid. While the FAFSA deadline is June 30 each year, students should submit the form as early as possible to increase their chances of receiving more aid.

Types of Aid

Loans

Degree-seekers can take out college loans from the federal government or private lenders. In general, federal loans offer lower interest rates and more repayment options than private loans. The average student loan debt among students with federal loans exceeded $37,000 in 2022. Scholarships and grants can help students decrease their loan burden.

Grants

Grants offer free money for college with no repayment requirements. Federal and state governments, along with institutions of higher education, offer college grants. Generally, undergraduates qualify for more grants than graduate students. For example, the popular Pell Grant program only supports undergraduates. Many grants come with income eligibility requirements.

Scholarships

Like grants, recipients do not need to pay back college scholarships, making them a great financial aid option. And distance learners can qualify for many online student scholarships. In addition to scholarships offered by colleges, degree-seekers can find external scholarships through professional associations, private foundations, and other sources.

How to Complete the FAFSA

1  Gather All Required Materials

You'll need certain materials to fill out the FAFSA. Make sure you have your Social Security number, federal income tax returns, bank statements, and other financial documents on hand. And determine whether you're a dependent for FAFSA purposes — this is not the same as being claimed as a dependent on tax returns.

2  Fill Out the FAFSA

The FAFSA asks demographic questions, like your name and date of birth. The form will also determine whether you're a dependent and ask questions about your parents or guardians. After filling out demographic information, you'll provide any financial information not listed on your tax return, like untaxed income.

3  Import Tax Information

You can import tax information for your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Dependent students can also use the tool to provide financial information for their parents or guardians. In addition to federal tax return information, applicants provide financial documentation of other financial assets.

4  Submit the FAFSA

Once you've filled out the FAFSA, which takes less than an hour for most people, you'll need to submit the form. Most applicants sign and submit online, which means a faster processing time. You'll need an FSA ID, as well as parental or guardian signatures if you're a dependent student. You can also print out a signature form, sign it, and mail it in.

5  Review Your Student Aid Report

In as little as three days, you'll receive a student aid report. This report lists your expected family contribution. Make sure to review the student aid report and correct any errors. The schools you listed on the FAFSA receive this report, which they use to create an aid package to help cover unmet funding gaps.

6  Compare Financial Aid Offers From Schools

You will receive a financial aid letter from the schools listed on your FAFSA. These letters contain a combination of loans, scholarships, and grants to cover the cost of school minus your expected family contribution. Take time to compare financial aid offers and choose the best fit. And remember to prioritize scholarships and grants over loans to lower your debt.

Best Accredited Online Colleges & Universities

#1

Southern New Hampshire University

School Information
Location Manchester, New Hampshire
Admission Rate 88%
Graduation Rate 44%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 94% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

SNHU offers more than 200 online programs at the certificate, associate, bachelor's, and graduate levels. Undergraduates can also enroll in accelerated bachelor's to master's programs and pay undergraduate tuition for some of their graduate courses.

Distance learners can access academic and technical support, join online clubs and honor societies, and volunteer for leadership opportunities helping other online students.

SNHU admits online students on a rolling basis. Undergraduates must submit an application, transcripts, and a form attesting that they graduated from high school or passed the GED examination.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $320
Undergrad, out of state | $320
Graduate, in state | $627
Graduate, out of state | $627

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#2

Liberty University

School Information
Location Lynchburg, Virginia
Admission Rate 51%
Graduation Rate 47%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Liberty awards online associate, bachelor's, and graduate degrees, along with certificates. As a Christian school, Liberty offers a bachelor's in biblical and theological studies and a master's in religious leadership, in addition to numerous other academic degrees.

Undergraduate admission requires submitting an application and a high school self-certification form. Transfer students must provide official postsecondary transcripts. Liberty offers scholarship opportunities specifically for online learners, along with academic advising, online library resources, and technical support. 

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $390-$455
Undergrad, out of state | $390-$455
Graduate, in state | $565-$615
Graduate, out of state | $565-$615

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#3

University of Central Florida

School Information
Location Orlando, Florida
Admission Rate 44%
Graduation Rate 72%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 59% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

At UCF, online learners can earn bachelor's degrees in areas like anthropology, nursing, and psychology. Master's degrees, doctorates, and graduate certificates are also offered online.

Undergraduates can apply to UCF online as transfer students. To do so, they must submit postsecondary transcripts showing a minimum 2.0 GPA. Applicants with fewer than 60 transferable credits must also submit SAT or ACT scores. 

Services available to online students include success coaches, experiential learning and internship opportunities, and career advising.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $179
Undergrad, out of state | $716
Graduate, in state | $327
Graduate, out of state | $1,152

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#4

Florida International University

School Information
Location Miami, Florida
Admission Rate 58%
Graduation Rate 63%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 68% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

FIU offers online degree and certificate options at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Popular majors include liberal arts and humanities, hospitality and tourism management, and international business. 

Admission requires an application, official transcripts, and SAT or ACT scores for high school students or transfer students with fewer than 60 transfer credits. Distance learners pursuing degrees or certificates can apply for scholarships and financial aid. They can also access tutoring and explore opportunities to develop their leadership skills.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $229
Undergrad, out of state | $346
Graduate, in state | $479
Graduate, out of state | $1,025

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#5

University of Florida-Online

School Information
Location Gainesville, Florida
Admission Rate 32%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

UF online ranks among the top online schools and offers more than 20 undergraduate majors in fields like business and leadership, earth sciences, and public safety. Master's and doctoral students can also find degree programs online.

Undergraduate admission requires an application and transcripts, a high school diploma or GED certificate, and prior coursework in English, math, and natural and social sciences. Distance learners can apply for financial aid, access library resources, and talk with a counseling and wellness ambassador.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $129
Undergrad, out of state | $553
Graduate, in state | $350-$1,500
Graduate, out of state | $350-$1,500

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#6

Arizona State University-Skysong

School Information
Location Scottsdale, Arizona
Admission Rate 64%
Graduation Rate 4%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 98% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Remote learners at ASU can select from 134 undergraduate, 117 graduate, and 33 certificate programs. With a school-wide focus on environmental sustainability, popular programs include complex science systems and sustainable food policy and tourism, along with majors like business, digital media, and engineering. 

First-year applicants need to rank in the top 25% of their high school class, hold a minimum 3.0 GPA, or score at least 22-24 on the ACT or 1120-1180 on the SAT. Online students can apply for scholarships and financial aid.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad | $561-$661
Graduate | $543-$1,343
Certificate | $543–$1,099

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#7

University of Maryland Global Campus

School Information
Location Adelphi, Maryland
Graduation Rate 15%
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 90% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

With curricula designed for working adults, UMGC offers career-oriented programs and flexible learning options for undergraduate and graduate students. UMGC is one of the largest public online schools in the nation, providing learners with electronic textbooks, online library resources, and courses taught by industry experts. Alumni have lifetime access to career services.

Undergraduates enroll in eight-week sessions, with some programs following a cohort model. First-year students must have a high school or GED diploma.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $306
Undergrad, out of state | $499
Graduate, in state | $504
Graduate, out of state | $659

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#8

The University of West Florida

School Information
Location Pensacola, Florida
Admission Rate 31%
Graduation Rate 46%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 66% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Top online programs at UWF include degree and certificate options in cybersecurity, instructional design and technology, and entrepreneurship and innovation. UWF online emphasizes flexibility and affordability for adult learners, with many programs offering multiple start dates throughout the year.

Candidates for undergraduate admission must complete an online application and submit transcripts. Some programs may require ACT or SAT scores. Online students can access career center resources and apply for financial aid.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $219
Undergrad, out of state | $342-$648
Graduate, in state | $385
Graduate, out of state | $479-$1,044

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#9

University of Massachusetts Global

School Information
Location Irvine, California
Admission Rate 89%
Graduation Rate 60%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 96% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

UMass Global offers enrollment coaching and academic/career advising. It also supports the 90% of its student body who continue working while attending school by providing flexible and remote learning options. Students at all levels can choose programs from among four online schools: arts and sciences, business and professional studies, education, and nursing health professions.

Baccalaureate program applicants should submit transcripts showing at least 12 transferable bachelor's-level credits from a regionally accredited institution and a minimum 2.0 GPA. Individual departments may list additional admission criteria.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $500
Undergrad, out of state | $500
Graduate, in state | $680-$1,185
Graduate, out of state | $680-$1,185

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#10

Thomas University

School Information
Location Thomasville, Georgia
Admission Rate 38%
Graduation Rate 47%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 100% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Distance learners at TU can earn associate, bachelor's, and graduate degrees in fields like computer systems management, medical laboratory science, nursing, and supply chain management. TU accepts up to 90 transfer credits and also awards advanced placement for law enforcement training, military service, and other learning experiences.

Remote applicants can apply for financial aid and scholarships. Admission requires an application, official transcripts, and a GPA of 2.0 or higher. Admitted students can access library services online and attend tutoring sessions via Zoom.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $450
Undergrad, out of state | $450
Graduate, in state | $524-$725
Graduate, out of state | $524-$725

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#11

Colorado State University-Global Campus

School Information
Location Aurora, Colorado
Admission Rate 99%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission

A top online college, CSU Global offers bachelor's and master's degrees in areas that include healthcare administration and management, interdisciplinary professional studies, and organizational leadership. 

Personalized, 100% remote learning options allow students to work full time while attending school. Course delivery follows an eight-week, accelerated format. 

Candidates for undergraduate admission submit official high school transcripts or GED scores and a resume that outlines two years of experience. CSU Global accepts transfer credits from regionally accredited schools.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $350
Undergrad, out of state | $350
Graduate, in state | $500
Graduate, out of state | $500

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#12

Thomas Edison State University

School Information
Location Trenton, New Jersey
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 100% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

TESU's online degree programs include bachelor's and master's options in business administration, homeland security and emergency management, and nursing. Students can also pursue associate and doctoral degrees. Distance learners can select from asynchronous and synchronous course delivery options.

Learners can access advising and financial aid assistance online. Undergraduate admission requires a high school or GED diploma. Typically, applicants must be at least 20 years old. However, students who are 18 or 19 can apply if they are active-military members or have at least 24 transfer credits and a minimum 2.0 GPA.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $399
Undergrad, out of state | $519
Graduate, in state | $668-$905
Graduate, out of state | $668-$905

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#13

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide

School Information
Location Daytona Beach, Florida
Admission Rate 62%
Graduation Rate 28%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 93% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

A top online school, Embry-Riddle's worldwide and online options provide synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities. Students can choose from multiple start dates each year and access advising and technical support. Virtual aeronautical robotics and crash labs simulate flight and accident investigations, and students can connect on eUnion with classmates worldwide.

Aeronautics, aviation, business, engineering, and technology degrees feature prominently at the bachelor's and master's levels. Admission requirements vary by student age, education, and experience. However, high school or GED diplomas and a minimum 2.5 GPA are general criteria for aspiring undergraduates.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $447
Undergrad, out of state | $447
Graduate, in state | $743-$1,269
Graduate, out of state | $743-$1,269

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#14

Cleary University

School Information
Location Howell, Michigan
Admission Rate 71%
Graduation Rate 44%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 53% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Adult learners — students ages 24 and older — who enroll at Cleary can take all of their classes online. This may appeal to students juggling academics with a full-time job or other family obligations. Graduate students can also earn an MBA entirely online at Cleary.

Online learners benefit from virtual library resources, computer skills video tutorials, and IT support. All classes can be accessed remotely and most students receive financial aid or scholarships.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $735
Undergrad, out of state | $735
Graduate, in state | $975
Graduate, out of state | $975

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#15

Texas Tech University

School Information
Location Lubbock, Texas
Admission Rate 69%
Graduation Rate 61%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 52% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Online students at Texas Tech can pursue bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Notable fields of study include petroleum engineering, plant and soil science, and wind energy. Learners can also pursue degrees in the arts, education, science, and technology. Remote learners can access assistance with financial aid, IT issues, and academics.

Texas Tech offers assured undergraduate admission to applicants in the top 10% of their high school class, or to those with scores of at least 24-27 on the ACT or 1180-1280 on the SAT.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $395
Undergrad, out of state | $425-$804
Graduate, in state | $476
Graduate, out of state | $885

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#16

Saint Louis University

School Information
Location Saint Louis, Missouri
Admission Rate 58%
Graduation Rate 79%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 12% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

A Jesuit university, SLU's mission focuses on service. SLU's online branch offers programs at the graduate, undergraduate, and professional levels. Fields of study include emergency management, health administration, technology and cybersecurity, and organizational leadership.

Applicants can connect with an admissions counselor and apply for scholarships. First-time students can apply for early decision, early action, or regular admission. Undergraduate candidates should submit transcripts and SAT or ACT scores for consideration.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $650-$1,680
Undergrad, out of state | $650-$1,680
Graduate, in state | $1,220
Graduate, out of state | $1,220

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#17

Kennesaw State University

School Information
Location Kennesaw, Georgia
Admission Rate 75%
Graduation Rate 46%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 49% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

KSU has many online options for students, including bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. The school supports distance learners by providing academic advising, career planning, library access, and tutoring. Some courses are delivered 100% online with no required campus attendance, while others are mostly online with occasional campus visits for orientations and/or exams.

Education, engineering, nursing, and technology comprise the bulk of master's degrees offered. Popular bachelor's degrees include business, computer sciences, and social sciences. 

Undergraduate admission requires a minimum 2.5 GPA and ACT or SAT scores. 

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $185
Undergrad, out of state | $185
Graduate, in state | $383
Graduate, out of state | $383

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#18

Trine University

School Information
Location Fort Wayne, Indiana
Admission Rate 24%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 98% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

TrineOnline offers more than 20 associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees. Coursework is delivered over eight-week sessions of asynchronous learning. Undergraduates can take their first course free of charge. Learners can also receive credits based on work experience. Student support services include tutoring, library services, and IT help.

Popular degree options include business, criminal justice, engineering, healthcare, technology, and leadership. First-time undergraduate applicants must submit completed applications and high school transcripts or GED scores. Financial aid is available to distance learners.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $399
Undergrad, out of state | $399
Graduate, in state | $575
Graduate, out of state | $575

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#19

Excelsior College

School Information
Location Albany, New York
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Through Excelsior's online options, students can pursue degrees in business, health sciences, liberal arts, nursing, public service, and technology. Terms start every eight weeks, and enrollees can apply to transfer credits, licenses and certifications, and prior training toward their associate, bachelor's, or master's degree.

Undergraduate program applicants must submit transcripts, and some programs may require additional materials. Online students qualify for financial aid and benefit from online reading and writing labs, tech support, and career advising.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $510
Undergrad, out of state | $510
Graduate, in state | $695
Graduate, out of state | $695

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#20

Oklahoma State University

School Information
Location Stillwater, Oklahoma
Admission Rate 70%
Graduation Rate 65%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 42% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Online degrees at OSU are available in a variety of disciplines, including arts and sciences, business, education and human services, engineering, architecture, and technology. Undergraduate and graduate remote learners take flexible courses offered during 16-week sessions. 

Distance learners can apply for scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities to reduce their out-of-pocket costs. For assured admission, first-year students must meet one of the following requirements: a minimum 3.0 GPA, a top 33.3% class ranking, or minimum ACT (21-24) or SAT (1060-1160) scores.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $181
Undergrad, out of state | $698
Graduate, in state | $234
Graduate, out of state | $364

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#21

Indiana University-Bloomington

School Information
Location Bloomington, Indiana
Admission Rate 78%
Graduation Rate 79%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 19% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

IU's online programs cover a variety of majors at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Notable fields include labor studies, library science, parks and recreation, and physical education and tourism management. Classes are asynchronous and geared for working adults and parents. 

Undergraduate admission criteria vary by department. For example, some may specify 12-30 transfer credits, a 2.5 minimum GPA, an associate degree, or essays. Distance learners can access a variety of support services online, including library resources

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $239-$296
Undergrad, out of state | $347-$1,031
Graduate, in state | $317-$1,449
Graduate, out of state | $450-$1,632

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#22

Pennsylvania State University-World Campus

School Information
Location University Park, Pennsylvania
Admission Rate 76%
Graduation Rate 71%
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Penn State World Campus offers more than 175 online degree programs, allowing students to earn MBAs, bachelor's degrees in law and policy, nursing credentials, and many other options. 

Student services focus on helping learners balance school, family, and work and include IT support, help with financial aid, and tutoring.

Applicants submit self-reported academic records and only provide official transcripts after acceptance. Additional prerequisites vary by program. Applicants should contact admissions services for help with selecting a program and submitting application materials.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $532-$590
Undergrad, out of state | $532-$590
Graduate, in state | $950-$1,236
Graduate, out of state | $950-$1,236

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#23

University of Missouri

School Information
Location Columbia, Missouri
Admission Rate 81%
Graduation Rate 71%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 32% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Missouri Online enrollees can choose from more than 300 programs, including bachelor's, master's, and doctoral options. Flexible and accessible remote learning is supported by online library access, tutors and peer consultants, and a writing center.

First-year applicants should have completed high school coursework in English, math, science, social studies, foreign language, and fine arts. Applicants also have the option to submit test scores.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $468
Undergrad, out of state | $560
Graduate, in state | $679
Graduate, out of state | $679

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#24

LeTourneau University

School Information
Location Longview, Texas
Admission Rate 45%
Graduation Rate 63%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 60% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

LeTourneau — a Christian polytechnic university — offers about 140 online college-level majors and graduate degrees in areas that include arts and sciences, aviation and aeronautical science, business, and education. Students can also choose from options like nursing, psychology and counseling, and theology and vocation.

Distance learners can study from anywhere in the world and can begin their studies in the spring, summer, or fall. Applications and transcripts are due 10 days prior to the start of class. Candidates are encouraged to speak to admissions counselors prior to applying.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $380-$410
Undergrad, out of state | $380-$410
Graduate, in state | $625-$800
Graduate, out of state | $625-$800

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How We Rank Top Online Colleges

pie chart for school ranking methodology

Each year, the BestColleges evaluates hundreds of schools to produce our annual Best Online Colleges ranking. In 2022, the team sourced the most recent data available from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and College Navigator, both of which are hosted by the National Center for Education Statistics. We identified 984 schools that qualify for our ranking list based on the following criteria.

To ensure the accuracy and quality of our final ranked list, the team reviewed each qualifying school to ensure it met the criteria for our ranking, and then applied our proprietary methodology to identify the best online colleges in the nation. Each school is ranked based on a formula measuring academic factors (50%), affordability (25%), and the availability and popularity of online programs (25%). Review our Editorial Policy to learn more about the standards we uphold.

Online Colleges Near Me

Distance learners can attend a program located in any state. This gives online students the option to enroll in a specialized program or an affordable college anywhere in the country.

However, some distance learners prefer a local school, even when attending classes online. Local colleges allow degree-seekers to take in-person classes, meet with professors in person, or attend networking events on campus. Learners may also benefit from lower tuition and the school's connections with local employers.

When researching online programs, it's a good idea to start with local options and then expand your search. Understanding the differences between in-state and out-of-state tuition can help degree-seekers decide whether to attend a local college in their state or pursue an out-of-state option.

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Explore Online Degrees and Subjects

What kinds of online degrees can you pursue? Reputable online colleges and universities offer degrees in various subjects, including many popular majors, such as business, education, healthcare, or STEM fields.

When choosing an online degree, make sure to research your career options. Some subjects train majors for specific career paths, while others help students develop transferable skills that appeal to employers in diverse industries. Research your options to make an informed decision.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Degree Programs

How long does it take to get an online bachelor's degree?

Earning an online bachelor's degree typically takes four years for full-time students. Many schools offer part-time or accelerated enrollment options. In a part-time program, learners generally take more than four years to complete a bachelor's degree, but they enjoy greater scheduling flexibility.

Accelerated online programs often take 1-3 years, depending on the program and a student's prior college experience. For example, many schools offer degree-completion programs designed for undergraduates with at least 60 transfer credits. These programs often take about two years. Prospective online learners can contact schools to learn more about the length of bachelor's programs and request a transfer credit evaluation.

Do employers like online degrees?

Many employers hire college graduates who earn their degrees online. An online degree from an accredited college or university meets the same high academic standards as an in-person degree. At most colleges, distance learners and on-campus students earn identical diplomas.

Many online programs use the same instructional materials and faculty as on-campus programs at the same school. And online learners meet the same graduation requirements as on-campus students. As a result, many employers recruit graduates from online for various entry-level roles.

Is an online degree as good as a traditional degree?

The delivery method is the only difference between an online degree and a traditional degree. These schools set high academic standards for all degree-granting programs, including online programs.

Whether students enroll online or in person, undergraduates must complete general education requirements, major courses, and electives to earn a bachelor's degree. At accredited colleges, third-party accrediting bodies review curriculum materials and faculty qualifications for online and in-person classes. As a result, an online degree can offer the same quality of education as a traditional degree but with the benefit of a more flexible delivery format.

How much does an online degree cost?

According to NCES data compiled by BestColleges, the average net price for full-time first-year undergraduate students at distance-learning-only institutions was $15,467 during the 2020-21 school year. Over the course of a four-year program, that would add up to roughly $62,000.

However, the cost of an online degree varies depending on the degree and school type. For example, public colleges were significantly less expensive than private schools. Additionally, students attending accredited online schools can qualify for many types of financial aid, including federal aid programs.

What can I do with an online degree?

An online degree offered by an accredited college or university meets the requirements for many career paths. For example, with an online RN-to-BSN degree, nurses can apply to master's programs or pursue leadership roles in healthcare. An online bachelor's in education can meet the requirements for a teaching license, and an online MBA helps prepare business professionals for managerial responsibilities.

Prospective students should look for accreditation and a track record of online education. Applicants can also ask for job placement data to learn about their career prospects with an online degree.

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

A decade or two ago, online degrees were relatively rare. But today, millions of college students earn their degrees online every year. And the shift to remote learning during the pandemic made online education even more common. As a result, many employers hire applicants with an online degree. However, prospective students should ensure the program measures up.

Online students should only consider accredited schools. Unaccredited schools may not adhere to high academic standards and may not meet licensure and certification requirements for your career path. Research online programs and choose the best option for your intended field to improve your odds on the job market.

Are online college degrees legitimate?

Students comparing online and on-campus degrees may wonder whether an online learning format will harm their education and their chances on the job market. Fortunately, online education offers a legitimate pathway to a college degree.

In 2019, roughly 7.3 million students took online classes, and this number almost doubled in 2020 due to the pandemic. Online degrees from accredited colleges meet the same high standards as in-person degrees. As a result, many top colleges award identical diplomas to their online and on-campus graduates.

Other Online Programs That Might Interest You

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


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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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