Best Online Colleges in California 2021

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California is home to numerous colleges and universities, many of which offer online degrees. Students earning the best online degrees in California prepare for careers in the state’s fastest-growing industries, such as healthcare, software development, and finance. Individuals with a bachelor’s or master’s degree often enjoy more career opportunities than candidates with only a high school education.

In-state learners at California public schools receive discounted tuition rates. Students must meet certain requirements to qualify for in-state tuition, which often include living in the state for 366 days prior to enrollment. Military members receive exceptions for some residency requirements in California.

Students researching the most affordable online degrees in California should also consider each prospective school’s academic resources for online learners. Institutions may provide virtual career and academic counseling, library services, and tutoring. Learners should also ensure that each prospective school holds accreditation.

Top 10 Best Online Colleges in California

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  • How long does it take to earn an online degree?

    Full-time students usually need four years to earn a bachelor’s degree. Master’s degree-seekers typically require 2-3 years. Graduation time varies based on enrollment status.

  • What kinds of degrees can I earn online?

    For students attending online college, California programs include options at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Some programs require in-person coursework, internships, or practicum experiences.

  • Do I need to be a resident of California to study at an online school in California?

    Out-of-state students can pursue many of the best online degrees in California. However, some programs, such as those that grant licensure, may not accept out-of-state learners.

  • How long does it take to become an official resident of California for college?

    To qualify for in-state tuition rates, students must typically have resided in California for at least 366 days prior to enrollment. Learners with specific circumstances, such as K-12 educators taking courses to transfer their teaching license, may qualify for exceptions.

Best Online Colleges in California 2021

The following list features the best online colleges in California for 2021. Factors that influence the ranking include tuition rates, available online degrees and certificates, student support services, and institutional financial aid. Learners can visit each school’s website and contact an enrollment counselor for more information.

  1. Bethesda University

    Anaheim, CA



    Accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools and the Association for Biblical Higher Education,Bethesda Universityis committed to growing a faith-based learning community by serving students who wish to balance Christian values with theological education. The school offers a fully online Bachelor of Arts in Religion, which is a 4-year program requiring 126 hours of coursework. Graduates often enter into vocational ministry or use their undergraduate work to acquire a higher degree. The Master of Arts in Biblical Studies is a 2-year program involving 60 hours of work, and the Master of Divinity is a 3-year program consisting of 96 hours. These master's programs are also available 100% online, and graduates use their training to enter the workforce as pastors or enhance their professional skills and knowledge. Hybrid and online courses are also offered to supplement on-campus courses in religion, music, early childhood education and business administration.

    To apply, you must submit an application and fee, official transcripts, a copy of a photo I.D. and a Christian testimonial essay. Nonreligious students are welcome to apply and must submit a personal essay in lieu of a testimonial. If you are transferring from another institution, you can fill out a credit transfer and application form in order to determine any credits that may apply to your program. Opportunities for financial aid exist in the form of loans and grants. The school's Scholarship Committee also awards 15 different annual and semester scholarships to both undergraduate and graduate students.

  2. California State University-Chico

    Chico, CA



    The Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditsChico Distance & Online Education, a division of California State University, Chico. Members of the CSU faculty teach fully online programs and many courses use live video streaming and interaction. Courses begin in both fall and spring, and although they are designed to accommodate a flexible schedule, some are more structured than others. Students can complete a bachelor's degree in social science, liberal studies, religious studies or sociology. There is also an option to receive a master's degree in nursing or a certificate for career and life planning. Students interested in working toward a bachelor's degree in social work can participate in a hybrid option, which combines online work with 2 weekend campus visits per semester.

    Depending on the degree of choice, you'll need to complete 2 years of curriculum at a community college or 60 units at a 4-year college, in order to qualify for online programs. The length of time to complete coursework ranges from 2-4 years, and graduation requirements vary for each program. Make sure to reviewstate authorization statusesto ensure that your program of choice is accepted by your state. Online students are supported throughout their academic experience with the help of an advisor, as well as access to the school's library, bookstore and technical support. The school encourages students to get connected to the CSU community by watching available recordings of campus workshops, guest speakers and conferences. Scholarship and financial aid opportunities are the same for online and on-campus students.

  3. San Diego State University

    San Diego, CA



    Students can take a short survey, or even access a course demo, to determine if online education atSan Diego State Universityis the right fit. TheCollege of Extended Studies, which is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission, offers a number of hybrid and fully online courses for SDSU and non-SDSU students. Fully online options include the completion of a bachelor's degree in business administration or master's degrees in educational leadership, hospitality, public administration, public health and regulatory affairs. There is also a hybrid master's degree in rehabilitation counseling. Length of time for completion and workload is dependent on the program, as well as the amount of prior credits being transferred. For those seeking an accelerated track to employment, a series of online career training programs are available for completion in as little as 18 months.

    Programs prepare students for a variety of careers, such as medical office managers, medical interpreters, certified healthcare and eldercare mediators and paralegals. There is also an abundance of professional development offerings, including certificates in grant writing, forensic psychology and human resource management. If you simply want to pick up a new skill, SDSU offers several 6-week, non-credit enrichment courses covering subjects such as photography or creative writing. Not all states recognize online degrees from SDSU, so it is important to check which coursework will be applicable in your location of residency. Students enrolled in for-credit courses have access to a number of campus resources, including the library, Blackboard Learn and financial aid opportunities.

  4. Azusa Pacific University

    Azusa, CA



    As a faith-based Christian university accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission,Azusa Pacific Universitypromotes a balance of school, work and family through its diverse range of hybrid and fully online offerings. Students can pursue a master's degree in screenwriting by engaging in online courses throughout the fall and spring, and on-campus courses during the summer. Fully online programs include a teacher librarian services credential or a Master of Arts in Leadership, among other options. Certificates and degrees vary in their prerequisites, requirements for graduation and program duration. Courses are implemented through the online platforms Sakai and Canvas, which allow students to engage in real-time chats, discussion forums, videos and podcasts. Although classes will have assignments and exams with deadlines, students move at their own pace and can access work at any time of day.

    There are a number of resources to support your online experience at APU, including technical support, online assistance from the writing center and access to the library, career search tools and software tutorials. For incoming freshman and transfer students, the school's admissions team looks at a student's academic records, as well as their involvement in church and the community. Transfer students can use the website Transferology to determine which coursework will qualify for APU programs. For help in paying tuition, the school grants 5 general scholarship opportunities for incoming freshman and 3 for transfer students. There are also a number of field-specific financial awards.

  5. California State University-Fullerton

    Fullerton, CA



    Students working to complete a bachelor's degree in sociology or business administration have the option to do so in an online format atCalifornia State University, Fullerton. Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission, the school's online programs are taught by CSUF on-campus faculty. Residents outside of California will need to verify that their state acknowledges CSUF coursework. The Bachelor of Sociology degree involves 17 classes, which each last 6 weeks. This allows for the program to be completed in 3 years. Although students maintain flexibility in their day-to-day schedules, the program follows a cohort model, providing structure for when each specific class will be taken. This model encourages students to build a sense of community, and provides networking opportunities. In order for students to qualify for this program, they must have completed 60-69 units from a community college or regionally accredited learning institution with a minimum 2.5 GPA.

    The Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration also follows a cohort model. However, students are able to design their class schedule and move through the program at their own pace. Students must have earned 63 units by completing an Associate Degree for Transfer in Business from a California community college or completing at least 30 approved general education units and 21 approved lower-division business units. The online advising center is available to assist students as they move through their educational experience and the career center provides online resources to help students connect with jobs in various fields such as market research and public relations.

  6. University of California-Berkeley

    Berkeley, CA



    At theUniversity of California, Berkeley, there are many options foronline learning. The MOOCLab Initiative led to the development of dozens of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which are free online classes on topics ranging from market analytics to emotional intelligence. For a small fee, students can receive a certificate upon completion. The school is also affiliated with EdX, which connects students to hundreds of verified and credible courses throughout the world. MicroMasters are fully online programs offered at a reduced rate compared to their on-campus equivalents. From supply chain management to artificial intelligence, students earn a certificate that can be transferred to the university for credit toward a master's degree.

    UC Berkeley Extension also features a number of online professional certificate programs, including paralegal studies, advanced biosciences and health advocacy. Some of these courses are ongoing, allowing students to sign up for and complete their work anytime throughout the year. Other classes have a fixed schedule. Duration and requirements for completion differ for each program. Most courses use a combination of readings, podcasts, audio or video conferencing, as well as small group work, to keep students connected and engaged. For information regarding prerequisites, transfer credits or state reciprocity, visitUC Berkeley Extension. Here you can also get in contact with your field-specific representative, who can assist you in your online experience. All UC Berkeley programs are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

  7. National University

    La Jolla, CA



    TheNational Universityis a veteran-founded, nonprofit university striving to provide flexible and affordable options to military personnel and students throughout the globe. Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, NU offers over 90 fully online degree programs, in which students can earn credentials, certificates, associate, bachelor's and master's degrees. Fields of study cover education, health care, social sciences, engineering, criminal justice, arts, science and math. The 4-week courses begin every month, providing students with the convenience to enroll any time throughout the year. Classes involve lectures, readings and presentations. NU maintains an interactive format to help students feel connected to their instructors and peers. Financial aid and scholarship opportunities are available for all students. Military personnel and their families receive additional tuition discounts and veterans or active-duty students under the post 9/11 GI Bill pay little to nothing while enrolled.

    Online students are linked with academic and financial aid advisors for assistance in their educational experience from start to finish. On top of this, students have access to a number of online resources, including the National University Systems Library, writing center, math center and Student Concierge Services. For military students, the Veteran Center can be reached through phone, email or live chat to assist in transitional support, networking and employment opportunities. The Career Center also features a number of online workshops, career exploration assessments and an online job portal. Some recent NU alumni are now employed as disaster relief nurses, nonprofit executive directors, game show producers and fire chiefs.

  8. California State University-Northridge

    Northridge, CA



    California State University-Northridgehas designed its online degree programs specifically for working adults - mid-career professionals who want to build upon their marketable skills, in particular. This is manifested in several ways throughout its programs. Courses are offered in a cohort format, so that each group of students works through the entire program together from beginning to end, with the goal of creating a strong learning community. The curriculum design is employs an intentional synthesis between the learning experience and the professional world to help build critical thinking skills and sophisticated professional abilities.

    CSUN also emphasizes a high-touch, proactive and comprehensive approach to student support, with the use of guidance from a faculty academic lead and program support coordinator for each program. While most of the available online programs are master's degrees (e.g. engineering management, public administration and social work), there are 2 available bachelor's programs online - liberal studies and public sector management, which are upper-level degree completion programs (60 credits) that can be completed with lower-level undergraduate credits.

  9. California State University-Dominguez Hills

    Carson, CA



    For a school with more than 14,000 students comprising its student body,California State University-Dominguez Hills'small class sizes (which average 11:1) are impressive. These small classes (which include online courses) promise personal attention throughout the completion of degree programs. CSUDH offers comprehensive academic advisement for all students, and up to 70 semester units will be accepted for transfer (except for upper-division community college courses).

    CSUDH touts itself as "one of the most recognized distance learning schools in the country," offering 9 degree and multiple certificate programs. Students can earn bachelor's degrees in applied studies, nursing and quality assurance; master's degrees in areas such as business administration, science nursing, and negotiation, conflict resolution and peacebuilding; or a certificate in areas such as community college teaching, sport and fitness psychology or technical writing, among other high-demand degrees.

  10. California Lutheran University

    Thousand Oaks, CA



    California Lutheran Universityis committed to helping students pursue their passions and, above all, discover their purpose to ultimately help transform their communities and the world. The school prides itself on small classes (15:1); its alumni numbering about 30,000 alumni worldwide; and the 97% of students who gain employment or attend grad school upon completion of Cal Lutheran's undergrad degrees. Cal Lutheran's online offerings are primarily in the graduate school.

    Most students interested in business management can pursue their degrees online in theMBA Programand themaster of science in management program. Note that not all MBA degrees (including the Executive MBA) are offered completely online. Each individual program offers different formats (e.g. the Executive MBA is a hybrid program), so students should verify the format by individual program. Educational leadership students can also pursue their degrees in a hybrid format (60% on campus, 40% online) through themaster of arts in educational leadershipor adoctorate in higher education leadershipand fully online in adoctorate in educational leadership program.

Accreditation for Online Schools in California

Colleges and universities offering the most affordable online degrees in California should hold regional accreditation from the WASC Senior College and University Commission. The Department of Education charges regional accrediting agencies to evaluate postsecondary institutions in certain geographic areas. Regional accreditation signifies that a school meets high standards for academic quality.

Schools that deliver online degrees also need national accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). DEAC specializes in distance learning and evaluates whether online programs deliver the same education as on-campus programs. DEAC accreditation indicates that all students receive the same learning outcomes.

Why Study Online?

Many online programs deliver coursework asynchronously, allowing students to view recorded lectures and complete assignments at convenient times. This scheduling flexibility often benefits degree-seekers raising children or working full time.

Online learning also allows learners to consider schools and programs outside of their geographic area. Even students in other states or countries can pursue the best online degrees in California. However, some programs may restrict applicants to California or U.S. residents.

The most affordable online degrees in California offer low tuition rates, and distance learners often save on transportation and housing costs. Additionally, schools typically waive campus fees for online students. Online degree-seekers also avoid costs associated with relocating.

Professional Organizations for Students in California

Students can increase their chance of securing a job by joining professional organizations aligned with their major and career aspirations. Organizations such as those below accept student members in California. Membership benefits often include access to scholarship opportunities, mentorship programs, and professional development options.

  • American Historical Association The AHA represents professional historians, history teachers, and students in the field. Student membership benefits include discounts on office supplies and books, free publications, and access to a career center. The association also offers a joint membership program with the Community College Humanities Association and the American Political Science Association.
  • Association for Women in Science AWIS supports women in STEM fields through scholarship opportunities, a career development center, and leadership development programs. Degree-seekers join as junior members and receive benefits including a subscription to AWIS Magazine and access to webinars and virtual networking events. AWIS works to influence public policy and promote anti-racism initiatives.
  • California Teachers Association Affiliated with the National Education Association, CTA represents more than 300,000 K-12 public school educators throughout the state. Student members receive benefits including liability and life insurance, continuing education courses, and discounts on professional supplies. CTA also administers numerous scholarships and awards.
  • Future Business Leaders of America FBLA serves more than 200,000 middle school, high school, and college students. Student members can apply for scholarships from the organization and read FBLA's professional publications. FBLA hosts a national conference with in-person and virtual networking opportunities. Members who excel academically may qualify to join the organization's prestigious Phi Beta Lambda honor society.

Scholarships for Online Students in California

In-state students pursuing the best online degrees in California often pay competitive tuition rates. However, learners can further reduce out-of-pocket expenses by applying for scholarships. The scholarship opportunities below can help degree-seekers minimize debt. Each of the following scholarship programs accepts applications in 2021. Students should research each award’s eligibility requirements, application requirements, and deadline.

CAA Youth Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: Children of active-duty firefighters and police officers can apply for this scholarship from the California Alarm Association. The scholarship committee considers each applicant’s high school GPA, extracurricular activities, and community service. Interested students apply by April 12.

Amount: Varies

CACESF Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The California Association of Collectors, Inc., awards this competitive scholarship to California high school seniors who plan to attend an accredited college or university within 12 months of graduation. Applicants submit an essay explaining the importance of maintaining good credit.

Amount: $1,500-$2,500

Single Parent Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Single parents living in the San Francisco Bay area can apply for this scholarship. Capture the Dream, Inc., accepts applications from April 1 to June 30 and awards the scholarship for the following fall semester.

Amount: $1,000

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