Best Online Colleges and Universities 2021

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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

Rank School Location
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

FAQ

Question Answer
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.

Flexibility
At online universities, students complete coursework around their schedule. The flexibility appeals to working students balancing school with personal and professional responsibilities.
Accessibility
Thanks to online programs, degree-seekers can attend a top-ranked program without relocating. This makes online colleges more accessible than in-person options.
Convenience
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.
Savings
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.

How Does College Accreditation Work?

Scholarships for Online Students

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.

Unigo $10K Scholarship

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.
Amount: $10,000

AfterCollege Succurro Scholarship

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.
Amount: Varies

https://www.geteducated.com/free-college-scholarships/20-distance-learning-scholarships/

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.
Amount: $1,000

Undergraduate Distance Learning Degrees Academic Scholarships

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.
Amount: $500

1,000 Dreams Scholarship

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.
Amount: $1,000

Best Online Colleges and Universities 2021



  1. University of Florida
    Location

    Gainesville, Florida

    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.

  2. California State University-Bakersfield
    Location

    Bakersfield, California

    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.

  3. American University
    Location

    Washington, District of Columbia

    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.

  4. California State University-Fresno
    Location

    Fresno, California

    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.

  5. California State University-Sacramento
    Location

    Sacramento, California

    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.

  6. The University of Texas at Austin
    Location

    Austin, Texas

    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.

  7. University of Connecticut
    Location

    Storrs, Connecticut

    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.

  8. Gallaudet University
    Location

    Washington, District of Columbia

    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.

  9. University of San Diego
    Location

    San Diego, California

    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.

  10. John Brown University
    Location

    Siloam Springs, Arkansas

    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.

Popular Resources

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Advertisement AccreditedSchoolsOnline.org 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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