The Best Online Colleges for Working Adults

What are the best online colleges for working adults? Discover which schools rank the highest based on graduation rates, academic quality, and career support.
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Updated on April 16, 2024
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No matter who you are — a career changer, a working parent, or a college dropout ready for another go — the stats don't lie: A four-year college degree can really pay off.

A bachelor's degree is worth $2.8 million on average over a lifetime. That's 84% more lifetime earnings than high school graduates and 31% more than those with an associate degree.

But if you're raising children, working full time, or both, enrolling in on-campus classes isn't always doable.

Online colleges are a go-to choice for many nontraditional students because they're relatively convenient and increasingly customizable.

Best Online Colleges for Working Adults

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 The Best Online Colleges for Working Adults Best Value

Union Institute & University

  • Cincinnati, OH
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Learners can prepare for various careers with Union Institute & University’s diverse catalog of 28 programs. Located in Cincinnati, Ohio, this private, not-for-profit, 4-year college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Once they have access to the internet, students in remote areas can benefit from 79% of programs being available online. The institution offers 14 online bachelor's and 4 online master's programs for students not interested in the 14 bachelor's and 6 master's programs available on campus.

About 100% of students receive financial aid to pay for tuition and study in classes with an 8-to-1 student-teacher ratio. Degree-seekers benefit from these investments, graduating at a rate of 58%.

Union Institute & University at a Glance:
Undergrad Tuition In State: $13,080
Undergrad Tuition Out of State: $13,080
Graduate Tuition In State: $14,652
Graduate Tuition Out of State: $14,652

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$15,510
Out-of-state
$15,510
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$16,692
Out-of-state
$16,692
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
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
809
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
100% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#2 The Best Online Colleges for Working Adults Best Value

Charter Oak State College

  • New Britain, CT
  • 4 years
  • Online

A wide variety of degree-seekers can find the training they need with Charter Oak State College's robust catalog of 29 programs. Degrees at the Connecticut-based public, 4-year school are accredited by the New England Commission on Higher Education. Some may also have programmatic accreditation. 

The institution offers 10 online bachelor's and 1 online master's programs for students not interested in the 10 bachelor's and 1 master's programs available on campus.

Key features include a 14-to-1 student-teacher ratio and 100% of students receiving aid of some form.

Charter Oak State College at a Glance:
Undergrad Tuition In State: $7,656
Undergrad Tuition Out of State: $10,056
Graduate Tuition In State: $9,288
Graduate Tuition Out of State: $9,720

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
50%
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
1,634
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
Not provided
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
#3 The Best Online Colleges for Working Adults Best Value

Excelsior College

  • Albany, NY
  • 4 years
  • Online

A diverse catalog of 101 programs attracts learners to Excelsior College. The private, not-for-profit, 4-year college, located in Albany, New York, holds accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Besides about 54 bachelor's and 27 master's programs delivered on campus, degree-seekers can pursue 54 bachelor's or 27 master's programs delivered online.

Excelsior College at a Glance:
Undergrad Tuition In State: Data not available
Undergrad Tuition Out of State: Data not available
Graduate Tuition In State: Data not available
Graduate Tuition Out of State: Data not available

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
ROI Score (Estimated)

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
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
21,974
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
Not provided
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
#4 The Best Online Colleges for Working Adults

Bethel University

  • Saint Paul, MN
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

A diverse catalog of 96 programs attracts learners to Bethel University. Based in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the private, not-for-profit, 4-year college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Of the programs available, 38% are delivered online. 

The institution offers 8 online bachelor's and 12 online master's programs for students not interested in the 61 bachelor's and 17 master's programs available on campus.

About 79% of applicants gain admission, and study in a learning environment that offers faculty support and a variety of academic resources. Students study in classes with an 11-to-1 student-teacher ratio, and 100% receive financial aid to help fund their education. Among the institution’s student outcomes is a 73% graduation rate.

Bethel University at a Glance:
Undergrad Tuition In State: $38,300
Undergrad Tuition Out of State: $38,300
Graduate Tuition In State: $11,700
Graduate Tuition Out of State: $11,700

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$38,870
Out-of-state
$38,870
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$11,700
Out-of-state
$11,700
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
85%
Acceptance Rate
87%
Students Enrolled
3,814
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
71% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#5 The Best Online Colleges for Working Adults Best Value

Thomas Edison State University

  • Trenton, NJ
  • 4 years
  • Online

Thomas Edison State University’s selection of 69 programs ensures th at learners can receive career preparation in a variety of fields. The public, 4-year school offers degrees accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education from a Trenton, New Jersey, campus. 

With 100% of programs available online, students have greater access and save money on areas such as transportation and relocation. They can choose from 20 online bachelor's and 9 online master's programs, or 20 on-campus bachelor's and 9 on-campus master's programs.

Thomas Edison State University at a Glance:
Undergrad Tuition In State: $7,926
Undergrad Tuition Out of State: $9,856
Graduate Tuition In State: $12,024
Graduate Tuition Out of State: $12,024

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$7,182
Out-of-state
$9,342
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$12,024
Out-of-state
$12,024
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
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
10,495
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
100% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
#6 The Best Online Colleges for Working Adults

Regis University

  • Denver, CO
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

With 157 programs, Regis University ensures learners have access to degrees in a variety of disciplines. This private, not-for-profit, 4-year  college accredited by the Higher Learning Commission is based in Denver, Colorado. 

Students can balance work and other life areas by completing 70% of degrees online. Undergraduates enjoy flexibility with 55 on-campus bachelor's and 26 online bachelor's degrees, and graduate students also have format options with 33 on-campus and 26 online master's degrees.

The school has a 71% acceptance rate and gives enrollees the resources they need to succeed in a supportive learning environment. Students study in classes with a 12-to-1 student-teacher ratio, and about 99% use financial aid to help fund their education. The institution’s metrics for educational performance include a 64% graduation rate.

Regis University at a Glance:
Undergrad Tuition In State: $37,830
Undergrad Tuition Out of State: $37,830
Graduate Tuition In State: $14,441
Graduate Tuition Out of State: $14,441

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$38,208
Out-of-state
$38,208
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$14,322
Out-of-state
$14,322
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
73%
Acceptance Rate
78%
Students Enrolled
6,310
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
66% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#7 The Best Online Colleges for Working Adults Best Value

National University

  • San Diego, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online

With 53 programs, National University ensures learners have access to degrees in a variety of disciplines. Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission, this California-based, 4-year college is located in San Diego. 

Degree-seekers can choose from 3 on-campus bachelor's and 26 on-campus master's programs; there are also 3 online bachelor's and 26 online master's degrees to choose from.

National University at a Glance:
Undergrad Tuition In State: $11,064
Undergrad Tuition Out of State: $11,064
Graduate Tuition In State: $16,983
Graduate Tuition Out of State: $16,983

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$11,064
Out-of-state
$11,064
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$16,983
Out-of-state
$16,983
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
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
12,471
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
Not provided
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#8 The Best Online Colleges for Working Adults

Maryville University of Saint Louis

  • Saint Louis, MO
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

A wide variety of degree-seekers can find the training they need with Maryville University of Saint Louis's robust catalog of 101 programs. The private, not-for-profit, 4-year college is located in Saint Louis, Missouri, and holds accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. 

Students can balance work and other life areas by completing 51% of degrees online. Undergraduates can pursue 51 bachelor's degrees on campus and 23 bachelor's degrees online. Graduate students can earn 29 master's degrees on campus or 15 master's degrees online.

The school admits about 83% of applicants and provides them with the support and resources necessary for academic achievement. Around 99% of students finance their education with aid options, and a 14-to-1 student-teacher ratio provides personalized instruction opportunities. Degree-seekers complete their programs at a rate of 71% with help from these investments in student success.

Maryville University of Saint Louis at a Glance:
Undergrad Tuition In State: $26,070
Undergrad Tuition Out of State: $26,070
Graduate Tuition In State: $14,346
Graduate Tuition Out of State: $14,346

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$24,766
Out-of-state
$24,766
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$14,346
Out-of-state
$14,346
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
95%
Students Enrolled
10,979
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
83% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#9 The Best Online Colleges for Working Adults Best Value

Northeastern University Lifelong Learning Network

  • Boston, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Northeastern University Lifelong Learning Network’s selection of 88 programs ensures learners can receive career preparation in a variety of fields. The not-for-profit, 4-year college located in Boston, Massachusetts, holds accreditation from the New England Commission on Higher Education. 

Maintaining employment and other obligations is easier with 50% of degrees offered from a distance. Undergraduates can pursue 32 bachelor's degrees on campus and 14 bachelor's degrees online, while graduate students can earn 47 master's degrees on campus or 26 master's degrees online.

Northeastern University Lifelong Learning Network at a Glance:
Undergrad Tuition In State: $29,298
Undergrad Tuition Out of State: $29,298
Graduate Tuition In State: $24,933
Graduate Tuition Out of State: $24,933

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$12,984
Out-of-state
$12,984
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$24,294
Out-of-state
$24,294
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
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
11,310
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
71% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
#10 The Best Online Colleges for Working Adults

Endicott College

  • Beverly, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Endicott College’s 70 programs offer degree options for a wide variety of learners. The private, 4-year college is located in Beverly, Massachusetts, and holds accreditation from the New England Commission on Higher Education. Students here can enroll in a variety of programs, 30% of which are available online. The 5 bachelor's and 8 master's programs delivered online complement the 43 bachelor's and 14 master's programs available on campus.

The school accepts an average of 69% of all applicants, with those admitted finding a supportive academic environment. About 95% of students receive financial aid to pay for tuition and study in classes with an 11-to-1 student-teacher ratio. All of these investments help produce a 74% graduation rate.

Endicott College at a Glance:
Undergrad Tuition In State: $33,304
Undergrad Tuition Out of State: $33,304
Graduate Tuition In State: $12,555
Graduate Tuition Out of State: $12,555

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$34,470
Out-of-state
$34,470
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$12,666
Out-of-state
$12,666
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
70%
Students Enrolled
4,287
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
44% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education

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 2021. To learn more, check out our full ranking methodologies.

Work-Life-School Balance

  • 28% of all undergrads take classes exclusively online

  • 66% of online students are employed full time

  • 61% of online students are parents

Sources: National Center for Education Statistics, Education Dynamics

But working full time or parenting and keeping up with school can be challenging.

According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, about 5 in 10 student-parents leave college without a degree or certificate within six years of enrolling, compared with around 3 in 10 of all students. These student-parents often drop out because they have fewer hours to fit in school, work, childcare, and housework.

One key to success is finding an online college ready to support you along your journey.

So, what should full-time workers or student-parents look for in a school? Based on BestColleges' data and metrics, the best online colleges for working adults have:

  • High rates of enrollment, retention, and graduation
  • Strong federal financial aid support
  • The opportunity to earn credit for life experiences
  • Ample academic and career counseling services
  • A high percentage of online programs

Explore Featured Programs

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

How to Choose the Right Online School as a Working Adult

So, how do you decide on an online school? You can start by looking for schools that are prepared to help working adults reach their academic and career goals.

BestColleges' ranking methodology considers various factors, including graduation rates and the availability of academic and career counseling services.

Melissa Venable

Ask Melissa

Melissa Venable, Ph.D., online education advisor and former principal writer for BestColleges, explains why you should consider certain benchmarks when choosing an online school.

  • Enrollment, retention, and graduation rates: An institution's enrollment, retention, and graduation rates provide one perspective on quality and student satisfaction. While these numbers certainly don't tell the whole story, they do provide evidence of how many students are enrolling, how many continue in their programs after their first semester or academic term, and how many complete their degree.
  • Federal financial aid support: Federal student aid is the largest source of financial assistance for college students in the U.S. But before you accept federal aid, it's important to understand the ins and outs of grants and loans, such as how much you should borrow and what you might owe. Schools that accept federal aid should have a strong support system for students who are eligible for this aid.
  • Credit for life experiences: Some schools have programs in place to evaluate work and life experiences for academic credit. Getting credit for work and life experience that applies toward degree requirements can mean taking, and paying for, fewer courses.
  • Academic and career counseling services: Many students enter college with some idea of their career and employment goals, but that's not the case for everyone. Working with academic advisors and career development professionals can help you reach your goal of graduation.
  • Percentage of online programs: Schools that offer multiple programs online typically have committed the resources necessary to ensure their success and the success of online students. This could include using the latest technology to deliver courses and providing faculty training for online teaching, as well as offering access to various student support services.

Summary

“Overall, working students have a lot to think about before adding online education to their schedules. Finding a school and program that is committed to your success means researching and comparing the variables that are most important to you, such as finances, career development, and support services.”

Melissa Venable, Ph.D., online education advisor and former principal writer for BestColleges

Pros and Cons of Online Learning

Taking classes online is a much different experience than attending school in person, with various benefits and challenges.

According to BestColleges' 2023 Online Education Trends Report, more than 1 in 4 online students struggle with work-life-school balance. However, more than 1 in 3 online students (42%) prefer the convenience of online programs when managing existing commitments.

So, let's review what you can expect from online learning — both the good parts and the challenges you might face:

Pros

  • Check
    Flexibility to learn on your own schedule
  • Check
    Learn from anywhere
  • Check
    Save time and money on commuting

Cons

  • X
    Requires more self-discipline
  • X
    More technical requirements
  • X
    Potential social isolation and loneliness

What It's Like to Earn a Degree Online as a Working Student

“My overall experience [with earning a degree online] was really good. I loved my program, but I'm not going to lie — it was extremely challenging to work full time, and go to school, and try to balance everything else in life, with taking care of the house and maintaining relationships and friendships, just because you just don't have as much time, so things can fall to the wayside. But I powered through, and it ended up being a really good experience — just challenging.”

Amy Jay, Master's in communication and leadership, Gonzaga University

Explore More Featured Programs

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

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Colleges for Working Adults

Can I get a bachelor's while working?

Yes, you can work full time while earning a bachelor's degree. Many working adults prefer online programs, which tend to be more flexible, allowing them to better balance work and school.

Many online programs also offer asynchronous class options, which let working students learn at their own pace and more easily manage their workload.

Going back to college can significantly boost your employment opportunities and earning potential, according to the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities. The average lifetime income of a bachelor's degree holder is around $2.8 million.

You're also about two times more likely to be unemployed if you only have a high school diploma compared to individuals who have a bachelor's degree.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, top-paying online degrees include economics, information systems security, and finance. Economists earned a median salary of $115,730 in 2023, while information systems security analysts and people in financial occupations earned $120,360 and $79,050, respectively.

Other degrees that typically lead to jobs paying more than $50,000 a year include a bachelor's in accounting and a bachelor's in public relations.

Online degrees typically cost about the same as traditional in-person degrees. However, online students can save money on certain in-person costs, such as campus fees, room and board, and meal plans. Additionally, some public schools offer in-state tuition rates to all online learners.

Page last reviewed on December 20, 2023.

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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