Online colleges and universities help students earn a degree in a flexible learning environment. Completing a college degree helps professionals advance their career and increase their earning potential.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professionals with a bachelor's degree in 2019 earned more than $26,000 more per year than those with a high school diploma. By transferring into an online degree-completion program, professionals with an associate degree could see a nearly $19,000 increase in their annual earnings, based on 2019 trends.
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Earning a degree also decreases unemployment rates. In 2019, high school graduates faced a 3.7% unemployment rate, while those with a bachelor's degree reported a much lower 2.2% unemployment rate.
Our list ranks the best online colleges and universities to help prospective students find the right fit. This article also introduces the benefits of an online learning format, the requirements for online schools, and scholarships for online students.
10 Best Online Colleges and Universities 2021
|#1||University of Florida Gainesville, Florida|
|#2||California State University-Bakersfield Bakersfield, California|
|#3||American University Washington, District of Columbia|
|#4||California State University-Fresno Fresno, California|
|#5||California State University-Sacramento Sacramento, California|
|#6||The University of Texas at Austin Austin, Texas|
|#7||University of Connecticut Storrs, Connecticut|
|#8||Gallaudet University Washington, District of Columbia|
|#9||University of San Diego San Diego, California|
|#10||John Brown University Siloam Springs, Arkansas|
|Can you get a college degree completely online?||Yes. Students can earn a college degree in a fully online format. Some schools cater exclusively to online learners. Others offer fully online options for some degrees and programs.|
|How much does it cost to get an online degree?||The cost of an online degree varies. In 2019, in-state public schools charged an average of $316 per credit for online degrees. Private schools charged $488 per credit.|
|Do employers like online degrees?||Many employers hire candidates with accredited online degrees. Most online universities confer the exact same degree, so employers do not know if applicants earned their degree online.|
|Is an online degree as good as traditional?||Online degrees meet the same educational standards as on-campus degrees. Many online colleges offer identical diplomas to online and on-campus graduates.|
What Are the Goals of an Online Degree?
During an online program, learners study business, education, the liberal arts, and other popular subjects. Accredited online programs offer the educational standards of an on-campus program with greater flexibility. Distance learners can complete their coursework around their work or personal responsibilities.
Students who enroll in universities online can earn an associate degree to prepare for a vocational career, pursue a bachelor's degree, or advance their career with a graduate degree. Online learners can also gain hands-on experience by completing internships, practicums, and labs in their local area.
Why Get an Online Degree?
An online degree offers several benefits over an in-person degree. For example, online learners can arrange coursework around their work schedule, choose a top-rated program in another state, and save money thanks to tuition discounts.
- At online universities, students complete coursework around their schedule. The flexibility appeals to working students balancing school with personal and professional responsibilities.
- Thanks to online programs, degree-seekers can attend a top-ranked program without relocating. This makes online colleges more accessible than in-person options.
- Earning an online degree puts control in the student's hands. Many programs offer a variety of enrollment options, accelerated classes, and summer courses to make it easier to complete a degree.
- Online learners often save money on transportation, commuting, housing, and parking costs. Many online colleges and universities offer tuition discounts for fully online students.
- Career Advancement
- Attending colleges online helps professionals advance their career without leaving the workforce. Many distance learners work while earning a degree.
What Are the Requirements for an Online School?
Online colleges and universities often set admission requirements for incoming students. At most schools, applicants must hold a high school diploma or the equivalent. Applicants with no prior college experience often submit high school transcripts and standardized test scores. Transfer students provide college transcripts to gain transfer credits. Online schools may also request letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a resume.
After gaining admission, online learners complete general education coursework, major courses, and electives. Many schools also offer online minors. Depending on the degree, learners may need to complete a thesis or capstone project to graduate from their major.
Online students qualify for many scholarships. Professional associations, private foundations, and educational organizations all offer scholarships for online learners. In addition, most scholarship-granting organizations require proof of attendance at an accredited school, which includes both on-campus and online students. Distance learners can also research scholarships based on their school, area of study, and career goals.
Who Can Apply: Unigo awards a scholarship several times a year. Applicants must provide an essay on the stated topic to qualify for the award. Only legal U.S. residents attending school in the U.S. qualify, including online learners. The committee evaluates applicants based on the essay's originality and persuasiveness.
Who Can Apply: Current students pursuing an accredited degree in any field, including online degrees, qualify. Applicants need a minimum 2.5 GPA and must complete an online scholarship application. During the application process, students provide information on their work experience, honors, skills, and education.
Who Can Apply: An award for online learners, the Get Educated scholarship awards funds to U.S. citizens attending an accredited online program. Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA and must submit a 500-word essay as part of their online application. The scholarship also requires transcripts and a copy of the applicant's FAFSA form.
Who Can Apply: Offered by Study.com, the distance learning scholarship awards funds to students earning an associate or bachelor's degree online. Applicants must attend an accredited institution with at least one year of coursework remaining for their degree. The scholarship also requires a digital photograph of recipients.
Who Can Apply: Women attending a two-year or four-year institution can apply for this scholarship. The award covers the cost of textbooks, instructional programs, and other educational costs. Applicants must demonstrate financial need and submit two recommendation letters plus an essay to qualify for the award.
Best Online Colleges and Universities 2021
A public research institution in Gainesville, UF enrolls more than 55,000 students annually. UF offers over 200 online degrees and certificates. Thanks to its many program options, UF appeals to learners seeking online colleges with a variety of majors.
Undergraduates can major in diverse fields like anthropology, business administration, criminology, and computer science. The university offers online master's programs in areas including international business, sustainable design, urban planning, and educational leadership. Degree-seekers can also enroll in an online master of business administration program. Unlike many other online colleges and universities, UF offers online doctoral programs in educational leadership, nursing practice, higher education administration, and classical studies.
Applicants must meet the university's general admission requirements. UF supports distance learners through financial aid opportunities. The university offers a tuition discount for Florida residents.
University of Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
A public university founded in 1965, CSUB grants degrees from its 375-acre campus at the southern end of the Central Valley. CSUB also offers online degrees. Through CSUB Extended Education, students can earn a fully online or hybrid degree.
Undergraduates can earn fully online bachelor's degrees in communication and sociology. The university also offers online master's degrees in education, management, and kinesiology. The school's online master of business administration program helps professionals advance their careers and pursue supervisory positions. In addition to its fully online programs, CSUB offers hybrid degrees in nursing, social work, and education.
CSUB promotes a personalized learning environment by prioritizing small class sizes. Designed for working students, CSUB's programs help students reach their educational goals in a flexible format.
California State University, Bakersfield is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
A private research university in Washington, D.C., AU enrolls 14,000 students annually. AU also offers online programs as one of the nation's best online universities. Online courses at AU meet the same academic standards as in-person courses while prioritizing flexibility.
AU offers fully online master's degrees in areas like economics, international relations, and business. AU also draws on its close relationship with the Department of Homeland Security to offer an online master's degree in counterterrorism and homeland security. Undergraduates can supplement their on-campus classes with online courses. Online learners benefit from access to library services, a writing lab, and tutoring services.
American University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
A public institution in San Joaquin Valley, Fresno State enrolls over 25,000 students annually. Fresno State ranks as one of the best online universities thanks to its fully online graduate programs and hybrid undergraduate programs.
Fresno State offers a variety of fully online graduate programs, including master's degrees in teaching and language arts instruction. Fresno State also offers an online master's in educational leadership program. Nurses can pursue an online doctor of nursing practice. At the bachelor's level, Fresno State offers hybrid programs in business administration, liberal arts, and nursing.
California State University, Fresno is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Founded in 1947 as part of California's state university system, Sacramento State enrolls over 30,000 students annually. The school grants degrees from its 300-acre campus in the state capital and through online programs. The university offers several online and hybrid programs at the bachelor's and master's level.
At Sacramento State, undergraduates can earn a fully online bachelor's in criminal justice or career and technical studies. The university also offers hybrid programs in early childhood education, nursing, and psychology. At the graduate level, learners can enroll in an online master's program in accountancy, curriculum and instruction, or nursing. Sacramento State also offers a hybrid executive master of business administration program. The university reports some of the nation's lowest tuition rates.
California State University, Sacramento is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
The state's flagship public research institution, UT Austin dates back to 1883. Today, the university enrolls more than 50,000 students annually. UT Austin offers online programs through TEXAS Extended Campus (TEC). Designed for traditional students, mid-career professionals, and nontraditional learners, TEC provides continuing education, professional training, and online courses for college credit.
TEC offers self-paced and semester-based online courses. The self-paced options appeal to self-directed learners seeking the greatest flexibility. The semester-based courses adhere to UT Austin's academic calendar. Online learners complete activities and assignments divided into learning modules. Thanks to the variety of course formats and flexible options, UT Austin ranks among the nation's best online colleges and universities.
The University of Texas at Austin is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
A public institution that hosts over 32,000 students annually, UConn promotes innovation and a global approach to higher education. Degree-seekers can take online classes or pursue a graduate degree in a fully online format. Designed for working professionals, the flexible online delivery method helps students advance their education and pursue new career opportunities.
At UConn, graduate students can enroll in an online master's program in accounting, educational technology, or engineering. The educational technology program uses a unique two-summer format to help educators expand their skills around the academic calendar. Learners can also pursue an online master's degree in energy and environmental management, human resources management, or family nurse practitioner.
In addition to fully online programs, UConn offers low-residency graduate programs. The university also offers technical support and resources for accessing distance learning materials.
University of Connecticut is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
A private institution chartered to educate deaf and hard-of-hearing students, Gallaudet University dates back to 1864. Today, the university offers the only interpretation degrees taught in an American Sign Language (ASL) immersive environment. The Washington, D.C., institution also ranks as one of the best online universities thanks to a variety of online programs.
Gallaudet University offers an online bachelor's degree-completion program for students with prior college experience. Learners can major in psychology or deaf studies. The university also offers online master's programs in sign language education, school counseling, and clinical health counseling.
Gallaudet University offers a unique online master's in deaf education, which trains teachers of deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Degree-seekers choose a specialization in educating students with disabilities or ASL and English bilingual early childhood education.
Gallaudet University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
A private Catholic institution founded in 1949, USD prioritizes social innovation, intellectual exploration, and change. USD offers several online graduate degrees, including master's degrees in education, criminal justice, and information technology. Degree-seekers can also earn an online master's degree in applied data science, cybersecurity operations and leadership, or applied data science. USD also offers online master's programs in healthcare informatics and law enforcement and public safety leadership.
USD supports students throughout their educational journey. Prospective students work with a personal enrollment advisor to gain admission. Once admitted, incoming students work with a program advisor to enroll in classes and complete financial aid requirements. Academic advisors for each graduate program also guide learners through their degree requirements.
University of San Diego is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
A private Christian university founded in 1919, JBU grants degrees from its campus in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. As an interdenominational university, JBU emphasizes both faith and learning in its liberal arts programs.
JBU offers some of its most popular undergraduate programs in an online format, including psychology and a general liberal arts degree. Learners can also pursue a bachelor's degree in organizational leadership or management online. Online graduate options include a master of business administration, a master's in leadership, and a master's in counseling. JBU also offers an online master's in cybersecurity and several education master's degrees.
John Brown University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
The flagship campus of Indiana's public university system, IU dates back to 1820. Today, IU Online connects degree-seekers with over 170 programs offered by multiple campuses of the IU system. Learners can earn an associate, bachelor's, or graduate degree in a fully online format.
Nurses can earn an online RN-to-BSN degree. The university also offers specialized graduate degrees, including an online master of arts in teaching that emphasizes biology or chemistry education. Students can also enroll in an online master of business administration program. The university's online graduate certificates help learners strengthen their skills in focused areas and prepare for further graduate study.
Many online classes run asynchronously. Distance learners gain access to success coaching and academic advising.
Indiana University Bloomington is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Founded in 1890, Savannah State enrolls around 3,700 students annually. A public historically black college and university, Savannah State offers online programs that incorporate interactive technologies to build a collaborative virtual classroom. Learners collaborate with classmates, communicate with instructors, and participate in real-time meetings to complete their degree.
The school's online business administration degree appeals to working students seeking flexibility. Enrollees complete coursework at their own pace while earning an accredited degree. In addition to fully online courses, Savannah State offers hybrid courses. Online students gain access to leadership development training, virtual connection opportunities, and academic advising.
Savannah State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Chicago's only technology-focused university, IIT trains students in engineering, science, business, and applied technology. Founded in 1890, IIT offers several online degrees, including undergraduate and graduate programs in biochemistry, computer science, physics, and applied mathematics. Master's students can also study analytical chemistry or artificial intelligence online.
Distance learners can join a variety of student organizations, many of which hold their meetings virtually to increase participation. Learners can also participate in a first-year experience to connect with their peers and transition to the university.
Illinois Institute of Technology is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
A private institution located in Babson Park, Florida, Webber dates back to 1927. Today, the university runs several residential campuses and multiple online programs. The school offers online bachelor's degrees in areas like computer information systems, criminal justice management, business, and management.
At the graduate level, Webber students can pursue an online master's degree in criminal justice management or an online master of business administration. The master's programs emphasize leadership and management skills. The university uses rolling admissions, allowing incoming students to submit an application at any time. Nearly 97% of Webber students receive financial aid.
Webber International University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Located in the Napa Valley, PUC is a Seventh-day Adventist Christian institution. PUC ranks as one of the best online colleges thanks to its free online courses. The college lets students take their first online class for free and choose from two additional classes at a discounted rate. After earning accredited college credits, online students can transfer to another school or pursue an online degree at PUC.
PUC's online class options include introductory courses in biology, French, statistics, and sociology. Applicants must submit an application with transcripts. PUC's online students receive counseling support and access to spiritual and social activities.
Pacific Union College is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Founded as Georgia's first women's college in 1836, Wesleyan enrolls a small number of undergraduate and graduate students each year. The college offers online degrees designed for women balancing school with other responsibilities.
Students can choose from online bachelor's degrees in business, accounting, or psychology at Wesleyan. The business program offers specializations in strategic management, organizational behavior, sports management, and healthcare administration.
Online learners complete coursework on an accelerated schedule. With five sessions per year and eight-week courses, students can earn more credits faster than they would on a traditional schedule. Wesleyan also offers full-time and part-time schedules. The college accepts applications on a rolling basis.
Wesleyan College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Founded in 1851 as a private Catholic institution in Indiana, Marian educates service leaders and followers of the Franciscan values of peace, stewardship, and justice. Marian offers online programs designed for working learners.
The school offers online bachelor's degrees in business administration, nursing, and health and human services. The business administration program offers concentrations in management, human resources management, and project management. The school also offers an accelerated online RN-to-BSN program and an online associate degree in paralegal studies.
Marian uses an accelerated course format to help learners complete their degree sooner. Online learners can participate in study-abroad opportunities to gain international experience.
Marian University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Founded in Melbourne in 1958, Florida Tech specializes in educating professionals living on the Space Coast. Through Florida Tech Online, learners can earn undergraduate and graduate degrees through a fully online format. Florida Tech Online uses an asynchronous learning format, which appeals to students balancing coursework with other responsibilities.
Learners can earn online undergraduate and graduate degrees in areas like finance, business, criminal justice, and management. The school also offers online programs in aviation management, cybersecurity, and project management.
Depending on the course, students may participate in interactive media, connect on discussion boards, and watch videos. Courses feature weekly assignments to keep students on track toward earning their degree.
Florida Institute of Technology is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
A private Catholic university in Central Florida, Saint Leo dates back to 1889. The university emphasizes liberal arts study from its main campus north of Tampa. Learners can also pursue online degrees through Saint Leo WorldWide.
At Saint Leo, undergraduates can earn online bachelor's degrees in business, creative writing, education, information technology, and human services. Saint Leo also offers online bachelor's programs in criminal justice, instructional design, religion, social work, and psychology. The university's online master's programs include business, education, and other high-demand fields.
Saint Leo's online programs blend a liberal arts education with core Catholic values. The university supports online learners through student advising, career services, and student life programs.
Saint Leo University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Based in Angola, Indiana, Trine enrolls 2,200 students annually. The school's online division, TrineOnline, prioritizes accessibility and convenience. Incoming students work with Trine staff to earn transfer credits and schedule their courses. More than 45 courses through TrineOnline use free textbooks, saving students money.
Trine offers online associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees in areas like business administration, criminal justice, technology, and healthcare. Registered nurses can earn their bachelor of science in nursing online at Trine, while business professionals can advance their careers with a master's degree in organizational leadership.
Trine prioritizes hands-on experience in its programs, connecting students with project and internship opportunities in their local community. Academic tutors, financial aid staff, and career services help students complete their degree. The university's generous transfer credit policy gives students credit for prior knowledge and experience. TrineOnline classes start every eight weeks.
Trine University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
A Christian university located in Redding, California, Simpson enrolls over 1,000 students annually. At Simpson, students can pursue bachelor's degree-completion programs and master's degrees through the school's distance-learning division.
Learners with prior college credit can complete a bachelor's degree in psychology or organizational leadership online. The psychology program incorporates behavioral sciences, research methods, and development coursework. Undergraduates also take core courses in the Bible and Christianity.
Simpson offers online master's degrees in areas like organizational leadership, education, and ministry leadership. Learners complete programs in a cohort, progressing through the curriculum with the same group of students.
Simpson University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
A private Christian college located in Lake Wales, Florida, WU dates back to 1968. Today, WU enrolls nearly 1,200 students annually. The university's online programs educate learners from a Christian perspective.
Degree-seekers can earn online bachelor's degrees in areas like agricultural studies, criminal justice, Christian ministry, and education. The university's online bachelor's in business administration program emphasizes management, accounting, and finance training. Majors strengthen their leadership and critical thinking abilities while studying core business concepts.
WU also offers an online general studies program that grants an associate degree and meets the general education requirements for a bachelor's degree.
Warner University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
A private institution with campuses in Chicago's downtown loop and Lincoln Park, DePaul is the nation's largest Catholic university. DePaul's online programs let students take classes and earn degrees through a flexible format. The programs rely on digital learning tools, experienced online faculty, and unique courses to offer an exceptional online education.
DePaul offers a variety of online degrees in areas like data science, information technology, and game programming online. DePaul also offers online degrees in education, business administration, computer science, and health informatics.
DePaul prioritizes small classes in its online programs. Online learners can also participate in local internship opportunities. The university's career center connects online learners with job opportunities.
DePaul University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
A private Christian university founded in 1924, Harding enrolls more than 5,000 students annually. Located in Searcy, Arkansas, the school integrates Christian ideals into its higher education programs. Harding ranks among the best online universities thanks to its variety of online program options.
At Harding, students can choose from 10 fully online programs. The College of Education offers a fully online master's in teaching, as well as online endorsement options in fields like gifted and talented education, special education, and dyslexia education.
Through the Graduate School of Business, learners can pursue online graduate certificates in data analytics, entrepreneurship, information assurance, and project management. The university also offers a fully online master of business administration program.
Harding University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
A public university located in Macomb, WIU dates back to 1899. Today, WIU offers online classes and degrees for undergraduate and graduate students. WIU ranks among the best online colleges thanks to its tuition discount for out-of-state students and multiple degree options.
The school offers an online bachelor's degree in accounting with specializations in management accounting and taxation. The school's RN-to-BSN program offers an online route to nursing education. WIU also offers online business majors in management, human resources management, and supply chain management. Additionally, students can earn online bachelor's degrees in anthropology, sociology, and economics.
At the graduate level, degree-seekers can earn a master of business administration, a master's in education, or a master's in public safety administration online. All online students pay the same tuition rate regardless of residency.
Western Illinois University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.