Best Online Colleges and Universities
Enrollment in online colleges continues to rise each year. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics reports that nearly seven million students enrolled in at least one distance education course in fall 2018 — compared to less than three million students in fall 2012.
Thanks to online learning, students can pursue their career goals from anywhere with wifi. Online learners often benefit from cheap online colleges, avoid paying room and board, and save time on commuting. This convenient learning format suits self-motivated individuals who want flexibility.
With so many online schools to choose from, finding the right one takes time. To aid in the search, we created and frequently update this list of the best online colleges. Using data like graduate success rate, accreditation status, and affordability, we rank the top 10 schools below.
In the later sections, we discuss the goals and requirements for online degrees, reasons why students often choose this learning format, and scholarships for distance learners.
Top 10 Online Colleges
||University of Florida
||California State University-Bakersfield
||University of Connecticut
||The University of Texas at Austin
||Colorado State University-Fort Collins
||Fort Collins, Colorado
||Palm Beach State College
||Lake Worth, Florida
||University of Hawaii at Manoa
||Arkansas Tech University
||Eastern Florida State College
AffordableCollegesOnline.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.
Featured Online Programs
Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.
|Can you get a college degree completely online?
||Yes, many colleges offer completely online degrees. However, some online degrees may require minimal in-person requirements like proctored exams.
|How much does it cost to get an online degree?
||An online degree’s cost varies. Some schools offer reduced tuition for online learners, and distance learners often save on commuting expenses.
|Do employers like online degrees?
||As the popularity of online learning continues to increase, more employers have begun to view degrees from online schools as legitimate. Employers generally respect degrees from accredited online schools.
|Is an online degree as good as traditional?
||Most online degrees cover the same topics as traditional degrees. To evaluate an online program’s quality, consider connecting with a program graduate, verify the school’s accreditation status, and read through course descriptions.
What Are the Goals of an Online Degree?
Online degrees help students achieve their career goals without sacrificing their current goals and values. For example, many online learners can maintain a full-time or part-time job while earning their degree. Busy parents can still attend online school and complete lessons between school drop off times.
Students can choose an online learning format that caters to their needs and goals. For example, learners who need the flexibility of online learning but want more accountability can enroll in a synchronous online program. These programs require live virtual class sessions. Alternatively, learners who desire even more freedom can select an asynchronous program that features recorded online lectures.
Why Get an Online Degree?
Online degrees feature many personal and professional benefits. The list below includes five such perks. Interested students should also talk with current online learners to discover more.
- Reduced Tuition
- Many online programs feature lower tuition rates. Some colleges even extend the same discounted in-state tuition rate to online learners. Students attending class virtually may avoid paying extra fees, such as campus maintenance and extracurricular activity fees.
- No Commute
- Students no longer need to relocate to attend their dream program or spend hours a day driving to and from class. Not only can virtual learners save money on bus fare or gas, but they also avoid paying for parking passes.
- Online learners can listen to lectures and work on assignments during the time of day when they feel most productive. Virtual students can even continue their studies while traveling.
- Practice Self-Discipline
- Students who attend class online must use self-discipline to log on to class. Since virtual professors can not directly monitor students during class, virtual learners motivate themselves to meet their educational goals.
- Avoid Paying for Room and Board
- Many colleges prefer or require in-person students to live on campus during their first year of study. Online learners can save money by living with a relative or roommate and splitting rent and grocery bills.
What Are the Requirements for an Online School?
Online schools set their own admission and graduation requirements, so prospective students should contact a school’s admissions department to learn about the specifics.
However, many programs feature similar application requirements. Online applicants can expect to turn in official transcripts and relevant test scores. Graduate students may need to submit recommendation letters and a portfolio.
Before enrolling, pay attention to capstone, thesis, or internship requirements. These program components may include in-person work. Most online colleges require students to maintain a certain GPA to remain in good standing. Undergraduate programs typically include 120-semester credits, and graduate programs feature 36- to 54-semester credits.
How Does College Accreditation Work?
Scholarships for Online Students
Learners can avoid high student loan payments and attend one of their dream online colleges by applying for scholarships. Corporations, foundations, and educational institutions all offer awards to students based on factors like academic merit and financial need. The list below includes five scholarships for distance learners.
Who Can Apply: Each year, Berklee offers scholarships to distance learners pursuing an undergraduate-level certificate. The school offers 16 of these scholarships per term. Applicants must possess at least a 3.7 GPA, successfully complete the program’s first course, and submit a recommendation from a professor.
Who Can Apply: Twice a year, Get Educated awards $1,000 scholarships to students studying remotely at an accredited U.S. university. This organization awards these funds based on academic merit and financial need. To apply, applicants must submit a 500-word essay about what online learning means to them.
Who Can Apply: Students ages 18 years and older who plan on enrolling in college within 12 months can apply for this scholarship. Individuals can apply online or by mail by filling out a simple form. The application takes less than 10 minutes to complete since it does not require an essay component.
Who Can Apply: This organization aims to make college more affordable for first-generation students and underrepresented students. College Greenlight offers select scholarships exclusively for online learners. This scholarship platform highlights awards with varying requirements and deadlines.
Who Can Apply: Online students pursuing a degree in any major can apply for this scholarship. Applicants must possess at least 30 semester credit hours and permanent U.S. residency or citizenship. Study.com awards these funds based on academic achievement and extracurricular involvement. The recipient must provide a quote and color photograph for Study.com to publish.
The Best Online Colleges of 2021
University of Florida
UF ranks at the top of our list of the best online colleges. A public institution with a 2,000-acre campus in Gainesville, UF offers over 200 online programs to its 56,000 students. Distance learners can earn an online degree through the Warrington College of Business or the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
At UF, undergraduates can earn an online degree in business administration, nursing, public relations, or computer science. At the graduate level, UF offers online master's degrees in biostatistics, civil engineering, pharmaceutical sciences, and fisheries and exotic sciences. The university also grants online doctoral degrees.
Online learners complete rigorous courses and earn the same degree as on-campus students. Enrollees seeking affordable online colleges benefit from UF's low tuition rates. Applicants must meet UF's general admission requirements to enroll in online programs.
University of Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
California State University-Bakersfield
A public university located in the Central Valley, CSUB prioritizes global awareness and a lifelong commitment to learning. Established in 1965, CSUB enrolls over 10,000 students. The university designs its online programs for working students and helps learners advance their education in a flexible format. CSUB creates a personalized learning atmosphere thanks to its small class sizes and high level of faculty support.
The university's fully online programs include undergraduate majors in communications and sociology. Graduate learners can earn their master of business administration or a master's in management, education, or kinesiology. CSUB also offers hybrid options in education, nursing, and social work.
CSUB helps online learners through academic support and networking opportunities. California residents looking for in-state online schools benefit from CSUB's low in-state tuition rates.
California State University, Bakersfield is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
The flagship institution in Indiana's public university system, IU enrolls over 40,000 students. IU Online connects learners with over 150 online programs at different degree levels. The school counts over 6,000 online learners pursuing degrees with a flexible schedule. IU offers hundreds of online course options every semester, making it easy for learners to advance their education.
Undergraduates can major in labor studies, and aspiring nurses can complete an online RN-to-BSN program. At the graduate level, IU offers an online master of business administration program from a top-ranked business school. Learners can also pursue a master of arts in teaching, a master's in criminal justice and public safety, or a graduate degree in English or finance. On-campus faculty design and teach the online classes. Courses offer the same level of academic rigor as in-person classes.
Indiana University Bloomington is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
University of Connecticut
Connecticut's flagship state university, UConn grants degrees from its campus in Storrs. The research university also offers online courses and degrees through its online campus. Learners can earn an online master's degree or take undergraduate courses online. The online programs prioritize academic rigor and a research-based curriculum.
UConn offers online master's programs in areas including accounting, engineering, business, and nursing. The school tailors its educational technology and gifted and talented education master's programs to working educators seeking career advancement. These programs use a unique summer format.
Distance learners complete coursework using weekly module rubrics. At UConn, distance learners earn the same diploma as on-campus students. Most students work while pursuing an online master's degree. Learners also receive technical and academic support during their studies.
University of Connecticut is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
The University of Texas at Austin
With over 50,000 students, UT Austin ranks among the nation's largest universities. In addition to its on-campus courses, the public institution offers online courses through TEXAS Extended Campus (TEC). Designed for traditional college students, mid-career professionals, and learners at every age, TEC makes it easier to complete college coursework.
Learners can choose between self-paced or semester-based online courses at TEC. The self-paced courses allow motivated learners to begin classes at any time and complete assignments at their own pace. Students who prefer more structure can take semester-based courses. TEC also offers professional training and continuing education opportunities. Prospective students do not need to apply to UT Austin to enroll in TEC classes.
The University of Texas at Austin is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Colorado State University-Fort Collins
Fort Collins, Colorado
Founded in 1870, CSU is a public land-grant institution located in Fort Collins. Distance learners can earn an undergraduate or graduate degree through CSU Online. One of the best online colleges, CSU offers various programs that use the same faculty and academic standards as the university's on-campus programs.
At CSU, students can earn an online bachelor's degree in the liberal arts, computer science, or economics. CSU also offers unique online programs, like its majors in agricultural business, horticulture, and natural resource tourism.
At the graduate level, degree-seekers can study agricultural sciences, applied statistics with a data science specialization, sports management, or computer science. The university also offers an online master of business administration and multiple online graduate programs in education and engineering. CSU's graduate certificate options include an online ski area management program.
Colorado State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Palm Beach State College
Lake Worth, Florida
Established in 1933, PBSC is Florida's first public community college. PBSC offers online associate and bachelor's degrees through its eLearning programs. Distance learners benefit from online tutoring support, a flexible learning environment, and the ability to easily transfer into a four-year university.
Students can choose a business administration program that prepares graduates to transfer into a bachelor's program. The program builds foundational knowledge in business, with coursework in areas like marketing, finance, and accounting.
PBSC hosts a student online course support and advising center to assist distance learners. The center helps learners build their online study skills and manage technical problems. Distance learners may need to take proctored exams. Prospective students must apply to PBSC in order to register for online classes. PBSC offers online classes exclusively to Florida residents.
Palm Beach State College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Hawaii's flagship public research university, UH Manoa grants degrees from its scenic campus in Honolulu’s Manoa Valley. Degree-seekers who prefer a flexible schedule can enroll through UH Online. The university offers over 50 online programs, including certificate, associate, bachelor's, and master's programs.
Through UH Manoa, online learners can earn a bachelor's degree in economics, social work, or interdisciplinary studies. UH Manoa ranks as one of the best online colleges for students interested in ocean studies. The college features an online social sciences of the oceans major. At the graduate level, the university offers nursing, education, social work, and business programs.
UH Online offers academic and student support tools for learners. In addition to enrolling at UH Manoa, degree-seekers can choose online options at Hawaii's public community colleges and other four-year campuses. Prospective learners must apply to a specific UH campus to register for classes online.
University of Hawaii at Manoa is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Arkansas Tech University
A public institution located in Russellville, ATU offers online undergraduate degrees through the College of eTech. ATU's online options include three bachelor's programs. These programs emphasize convenience and personalized support from academic advisors. Online learners work with advisors to customize their educational experience.
ATU's online bachelor's programs include a degree in organizational leadership, a bachelor of applied science, and an interdisciplinary studies program. In the organizational leadership major, learners build supervisory skills while studying workplace learning and organizational change. The applied science major allows transfer students with an associate of applied science to earn a bachelor's degree. Similarly, the interdisciplinary studies program operates as a degree-completion track for students seeking an accelerated course of study.
Online learners also benefit from access to training programs in hundreds of applications through the Virtual Training Center.
Arkansas Tech University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Eastern Florida State College
A public institution in Brevard County, EFSC enrolls 25,000 students on its campuses and through its virtual campus. The college's online program helps learners complete degrees in high-demand fields. EFSC grants associate and bachelor's degrees through its online program that offers over 250 courses.
EFSC prioritizes small class sizes and accessibility. The college designs courses for working professionals and uses interactive tools to engage students. Distance learners receive personal attention and access to learning resources to support their studies. The college offers online courses during five terms each year.
Students can earn an online RN-to-BSN degree. Enrollees can also pursue a bachelor's in organizational management with specialization options in banking, business, healthcare management, and public safety management. The college also offers online degrees in computer information systems technology and applied health sciences.
Eastern Florida State College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.