Best Online Colleges for Nontraditional Students

Making the transition back into the classroom can present distinct challenges. Read on to discover the best online colleges for nontraditional students.
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Updated on May 24, 2024
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For nontraditional students, returning to school may seem daunting or overwhelming. Fortunately, many institutions, including high-ranking colleges and universities, offer resources to support nontraditional students in a successful transition to the classroom.

Earning a degree online can help you level up your career prospects, boost your salary, or facilitate your transition into a new career path.

Whether you are juggling a full-time job, family responsibilities, or other outside commitments, you can find a degree program that best aligns with your needs.

Featured Online Programs

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

Best Colleges for Nontraditional Students

We use trusted sources like Peterson's Data and the National Center for Education Statistics to inform the data for these schools. 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. from our partners appear among these rankings and are indicated as such.

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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#1 Best Online Colleges for Nontraditional Students

Southern New Hampshire University

  • Manchester, NH
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

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

Based in Manchester, New Hampshire, SNHU is among the best colleges for nontraditional students in the nation. The university offers more than 200 online programs in fields like business, criminal justice, psychology, and computer science.

Most courses at SNHU last for eight weeks. Many programs accept significant transfer credits and deliver coursework asynchronously, providing flexibility for working professionals. Prospective undergraduates must complete an application and submit academic transcripts.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$15,000
Out-of-state
$15,000
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$18,900
Out-of-state
$18,900
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: Medium

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
Medium
Retention Rate
62%
Acceptance Rate
92%
Students Enrolled
145,533
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
96% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
#2 Best Online Colleges for Nontraditional Students

Liberty University

  • Lynchburg, VA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

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

Based in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty enrolls over 100,000 students, many of whom take classes online. The university also serves approximately 30,000 military students. Liberty provides online programs in fields like arts and sciences, criminal justice, education, and business. Most programs take place 100% online, and students pursuing bachelor's degrees can transfer in up to 75% of their required credits.

Admission requirements vary by program, but often include an application, official transcripts, and a minimum GPA. Military students can receive up to 55% off of tuition.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$15,409
Out-of-state
$15,409
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$7,847
Out-of-state
$7,847
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: Medium

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
Medium
Retention Rate
83%
Acceptance Rate
99%
Students Enrolled
15,822
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
#3 Best Online Colleges for Nontraditional Students Best Value

Purdue University

  • West Lafayette, IN
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $371
Undergrad, out of state | $371
Graduate, in state | $420-$700
Graduate, out of state | $420-$700

Based in West Lafayette, Indiana, Purdue operates Purdue University Global, which serves as the university's virtual campus. This online university provides a career assessment tool that helps match prospective students with the right program. Students can also access one-on-one career advice once they enroll. Applicants must be proficient in English. Popular programs include business, health sciences, human services, and nursing.

The university also offers online programs geared specifically toward members of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, and Navy. Military students can often earn transfer credit for their experience.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$9,208
Out-of-state
$28,010
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$9,718
Out-of-state
$28,520
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: High

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
High
Retention Rate
91%
Acceptance Rate
53%
Students Enrolled
50,884
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
47% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#4 Best Online Colleges for Nontraditional Students

Averett University

  • Danville, VA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $480
Undergrad, out of state | $480
Graduate, in state | $530-$695
Graduate, out of state | $530-$695

Based in Danville, Virginia, Averett operates a graduate and professional studies division that offers online bachelor's programs in business administration, leadership, sociology, nursing, and human services. Most programs eliminate in-person requirements, and incoming transfer students can submit all prior credits for evaluation. Each program offers five start dates per year, offering increased flexibility to working professionals and parents.

Prospective undergraduate students must submit an application, official transcripts from previous schools, and a copy of their driver's license or government-issued identification.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$36,900
Out-of-state
$36,900
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$11,790
Out-of-state
$11,790
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: Low

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
Low
Retention Rate
62%
Acceptance Rate
76%
Students Enrolled
1,317
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
85% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
#5 Best Online Colleges for Nontraditional Students Best Value

University of Maryland Global Campus

  • Adelphi, MD
  • 4 years
  • Online

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

Based out of Largo, Maryland, UMGC is the virtual campus of the University of Maryland System. UMGC offers bachelor's degrees in fields like accounting, English, environmental management, homeland security, and software development, among many others. The university offers multiple start dates per semester to provide flexibility for older adult learners and working professionals.

Undergraduate applicants need a high school or GED diploma to qualify for admission. Former community college students can transfer in up to 70 credits, while students transferring in from four-year schools can earn up to 90 credits for prior coursework.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$7,344
Out-of-state
$11,976
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$9,072
Out-of-state
$11,862
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: High

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
High
Retention Rate
52%
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
55,323
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
93% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
#6 Best Online Colleges for Nontraditional Students Best Value

Charter Oak State College

  • New Britain, CT
  • 4 years
  • Online

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $319
Undergrad, out of state | $419
Graduate, in state | $516
Graduate, out of state | $540

Located in New Britain, Connecticut, Charter Oak is a public college that exclusively offers online programs — primarily in career-focused fields like healthcare administration, paralegal studies, organizational leadership, and public safety administration. Aiming for flexibility, Charter Oak offers six start dates throughout the year for all of its online programs.

Students can earn credit for prior learning and through various tests and assessments. Prospective undergraduate students must submit an application and official academic transcripts.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$7,656
Out-of-state
$10,056
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$9,288
Out-of-state
$9,720
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: High

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
High
Retention Rate
67%
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
1,618
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
Not provided
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
#7 Best Online Colleges for Nontraditional Students Best Value

University of Massachusetts Global

  • Irvine, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

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

Based in Irvine, California, Brandman University became UMass Global in 2021. The university offers three online delivery methods: 100% online, hybrid, and a competency-based option that allows students to earn credits as they demonstrate mastery of material (as opposed to following a semester schedule). Approximately 90% of students keep their jobs while enrolled at UMass Global.

Prospective students applying to bachelor's programs need at least 12 college credits with a minimum 2.0 GPA.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$12,000
Out-of-state
$12,000
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$12,240
Out-of-state
$12,240
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: High

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
High
Retention Rate
19%
Acceptance Rate
93%
Students Enrolled
9,798
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
99% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#8 Best Online Colleges for Nontraditional Students

Thomas University

  • Thomasville, GA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

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

Located in Thomasville, Georgia, TU is a private college that focuses on offering strong academics to military students. The university oversees online bachelor's programs in fields like computer information systems, criminal justice, elementary education, marketing, and rehabilitation studies.

Prospective undergraduate students must submit an application and official transcripts. They should also have a minimum 2.0 cumulative GPA on previous coursework.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$10,800
Out-of-state
$10,800
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$13,050
Out-of-state
$13,050
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: Medium

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
Medium
Retention Rate
64%
Acceptance Rate
29%
Students Enrolled
1,388
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
100% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
#9 Best Online Colleges for Nontraditional Students

Pacific Oaks College

  • Pasadena, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $360-$855
Undergrad, out of state | $360-$855
Graduate, in state | $1,115
Graduate, out of state | $1,115

Located in Pasadena, California, Pacific Oaks offers online bachelor's programs in early childhood education, human development, business administration, and social work. The college delivers most online coursework asynchronously through the Canvas learning management system. Most online courses at Pacific Oaks last for seven weeks each.

Undergraduate applicants must have a minimum 2.0 cumulative high school GPA. They must also complete an interview with a member of the admissions department and have either three years of professional experience or 24 completed college credits.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$11,482
Out-of-state
$11,482
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$21,074
Out-of-state
$21,074
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: Medium

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
Medium
Retention Rate
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
13%
Students Enrolled
1,175
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
75% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#10 Best Online Colleges for Nontraditional Students

Herzing University

  • Brookfield, WI
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $490
Undergrad, out of state | $490
Graduate, in state | $590
Graduate, out of state | $590

Based out of Madison, Wisconsin, Herzing primarily offers career-focused online programs in fields like nursing, healthcare, business, legal studies, public safety, and technology. The university delivers all online coursework asynchronously and offers multiple start dates throughout the academic year. Online students can also complete some coursework through blended learning if they wish.

All applicants must meet online with a member of the admissions department. Additional requirements include an application, transcripts, and placement testing.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$13,320
Out-of-state
$13,320
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$10,800
Out-of-state
$10,800
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: Medium

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
Medium
Retention Rate
69%
Acceptance Rate
91%
Students Enrolled
351
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
76% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

How We Rank Schools

At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you can make. We help you navigate the college selection process by offering transparent, inclusive, and relevant school rankings.

We use datasets from trusted sources like the National Center for Education Statistics to inform the data for these schools and our methodologies. This ranking is from 2022. To learn more, check out our full ranking methodologies.

What Is a Nontraditional Student?

There are many ways to define a nontraditional student. In general, nontraditional students are students who did not attend college one or more years after graduating high school.

While some colleges define all students above a specific age as nontraditional, other institutions take into account variables like income level, marital status, and high school graduation status.

Students who commute a specific distance to campus, individuals who don't live on campus, or those who have previously been enrolled in college but did not complete their degree may also be considered nontraditional.

Pros and Cons of Going to College as a Nontraditional Student

Going to college as a nontraditional student comes with a distinct set of advantages and disadvantages.

As a nontraditional student, you can enhance your career prospects or transition into new career fields. However, you should weigh the financial and time commitments before you enroll.

Pros

  • Check Circle
    Accessing new job opportunities
  • Check Circle
    Building a professional network
  • Check Circle
    Switching career fields
  • Check Circle
    Upgrading skills and increasing expertise

Cons

  • X Circle
    Balancing life and work commitments
  • X Circle
    Feeling disconnected from peers
  • X Circle
    Adjusting to return to an academic environment
  • X Circle
    Facing the financial burden of tuition costs

5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Nontraditional College Program

There are several things you should keep in mind as you decide which college program is right for you, including the learning format, cost, and time commitment.

1. Format

Several learning formats are available to nontraditional students, including on-campus and online programs with asynchronous and synchronous classes.

Online programs can provide a variety of flexible learning formats. Some offer virtual classes on platforms such as Zoom while operating completely asynchronously, allowing you to complete coursework on your own schedule.

2. Cost

You should weigh the financial cost of a college program before enrolling.

According to the College Board's 2023 Trends in College Pricing report, the average tuition cost at public four-year institutions for the 2023-24 academic year is $11,260 for in-state students and $29,150 for out-of-state students. Private universities are even more expensive, costing an average of $41,540 in 2023-24.

If you support a family or have other financial obligations, you may find it more difficult to pay for your education. If you are able to qualify for financial aid, the cost of college may not be an issue for you.

3. Schedule

Nontraditional students may have to balance academics, work, and family commitments while pursuing their degree. You should look for programs that offer flexibility, such as rolling start dates, night and weekend classes, and online options, which can eliminate time spent commuting to campus.

Accelerated programs are beneficial for students aiming to graduate in less than four years. However, they typically require that you manage a heavier course load at a quicker pace.

4. Grading

Some programs may use a pass/fail grading system instead of the conventional letter grades system. With pass/fail grading, you can earn credit for a course without a low grade negatively impacting your overall GPA.

This option may alleviate stress related to specific assignments, allowing you to concentrate on your overall course experience and success.

5. Services

Some schools offer tailored services and resources for nontraditional students, such as career services, family housing, tutoring services, and student organizations specifically designed for nontraditional learners. Before you apply to a program, make sure to check what resources may be available to you.

Frequently Asked Questions About College for Nontraditional Students

Can nontraditional students qualify for student aid through the FAFSA?

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Yes, nontraditional students may qualify for financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Nontraditional students must follow the same processes and deadlines as other students.

The FAFSA is required for students, regardless of age, to receive federal financial aid, including federal student loans, work-study opportunities, and grants.

Should I go back to school?

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Going back to school can help you switch career paths, increase your salary potential, and upgrade your skill set. However, paying rising tuition costs and balancing academic, work, and family commitments may be a challenge. It is important to consider all factors before returning to the classroom.

Is getting a college degree worth it?

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For many, a college degree is worth it in terms of the return on investment. Earning a college degree may improve your likelihood of securing a higher-paying job after graduation and provide increased career flexibility. However, whether a college degree is worth it depends on your individual situation and career goals.

What are popular majors for nontraditional students?

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Popular majors for nontraditional students include accounting, business, communications, cybersecurity, and nursing. These majors can prepare you for a variety of in-demand career paths with ample opportunities for professional growth.

What is the age cutoff for the FAFSA?

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There is no age cutoff for the FAFSA. All students, regardless of age, need to complete the FAFSA form by the deadline. However, some forms of federal student aid, such as Pell Grants, are limited to your first bachelor's or professional degree.

Also, keep in mind that deadlines vary for different financial aid awards and programs. Keep track of these deadline dates and, if you can, apply early to maximize financial aid awards.


Note: The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by BestColleges. Page last reviewed May 14, 2024.

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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