1. Home
  2. »
  3. Best Colleges Online

The Best Online Colleges of 2017

Choosing from among the best online colleges is no longer a decision involving limited selection and questions concerning reputations and credibility. Online college education is now the norm, with many colleges and universities – even the largest and most recognizable in the nation – offering numerous distance learning options. Now, the question has shifted from deciding whether to attend an online college to deciding which online college to attend. Prospective college students who want to enroll in the best online program should start their journey by finding the best online colleges. But what makes an online college the best? That depends on several variables, many of which depend on the individual student’s needs. For many students, picking the best online college starts with accreditation and affordability.

Accreditation, Affordability and Online Learning

Accreditation verifies that a school will provide a rigorous educational program meeting the high standards of a quality education. Affordability may seem self-explanatory; however, it involves some detective work to discover what tuition, fees and other costs to consider and how to find scholarships and grants.

Accreditation and affordability represent just a small part of what this guide offers. By the time you finish reading, you should have a solid understanding of what is most important for your educational goals, and how to choose the right online college to get you there.

Best Online Colleges Ranking

The following online college ranking considers that the best online college depends on the needs of an individual student; what might be the “best” for one might not even make the short-list of another. As a result, the list below ranks schools based on many variables, including tuition, financial aid and number of online programs available. Depending on what students find most important in a school, they can tailor their college search to focus on those characteristics. By narrowing down the options with their top needs and desires, students find the best online school for them.

Curious about our methodology? We assessed each school based on qualitative measures and data from the National Center for Education Statistics, as well as information provided by the colleges themselves. Each school included is a not-for-profit, accredited institution that offers at least three fully-online programs.

number University Score Tuition & Fees Financial Aid % # of Online Programs Student-Teacher Ratio Grad Rate Credit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
1 Fort Hays State University 99.82 $$$$$ 72% 41 17:1 43% No Yes Yes

The Virtual College offers more than 40 degrees completely online. Distance learners can earn degrees either full time or part time, and can pursue their program with consecutive semester study, or they can take breaks during periods in their lives that are exceptionally busy. Students can take advantage of many services, including MyMajors, a career assessment tool offered to students through TigerTracks, the university's web portal. Online students will also use TigerTracks to access the learning management system Blackboard. Students also can take advantage of career exploration resources, as well as resources for major exploration.

2 Siena Heights University 99.75 $$$$$ 99% 62 11:1 51% Yes Yes Yes

The university has offered distance learning options since 2004, and boasts programs that are ranked in among the best in Michigan and among the top 100 nationwide. Adult-focused undergraduate programs follow an eight-week format, while blended-graduate programs follow a 10-week format. Not only do distance learners receive technical support, but they have access to degree planning, academic advisement, online library database and support, and financial advisement. Students will participate in weekly discussion "threads," and will submit and receive literature reviews and written assignments completely online. For some courses, distance learners will pair up for collaborative projects.

3 Northern Arizona University 98.84 $$$$$ 66% 78 18:1 52% No Yes Yes

Northern Arizona University offers over 45 bachelor-level degree programs that can be completed in a fully-online format. Online programs include business administration, communication studies, health sciences and criminal justice. In order to support online students, NAU gives students access to MyNAU, an online portal with information regarding their academic email account, school news and technical support. Students can also use the Cline Library through the school's website to access academic article, databases and other forms of media. The library staff is available to assist online students with research help, course guides or one-on-one phone appointments.

4 University of Illinois at Springfield 98.75 $$$$$ 93% 29 14:1 49% Yes Yes Yes

There are a wide variety of degrees offered in online formats at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, and career certifications can be completely entirely from the comfort of the student's home, making continuing education an exciting and achievable goal. There are more than 85 clubs and organizations hosted at UIS, any of which is an excellent opportunity for community engagement. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 15:1, student will be certain they are enrolling in small classes where they can get the most out of their education. State-of-the-art on-campus housing and dining facilities are available to all UIS students.

5 East Carolina University 98.72 $$$$$ 5% 57 18:1 59% No Yes Yes

A national pioneer in distance learning, the university offers more than 80 certificate and degree programs in areas like business, health and technology. Distance education faculty are the same instructors who teach traditional classes on the physical campus. Course outlines and schedules that on-campus students receive on the first day of class are accessible to distance learners through a course-specific website dedicated to online learners. Most coursework is delivered through a learning management system like Centra or Blackboard. Students will be expected to dedicate between six and nine hours per week to each course.

6 Iowa State University 98.65 $$$$$ 75% 31 19:1 69% No Yes Yes

Students can choose from a wide selection of fully online graduate and undergraduate degrees, as well as certificate programs and professional programs. The university also offers several degree completion programs, and five departments maintain their own online learning offices. Online students have access to the Academic Success Center, the ISU Library — Distance and Learning Center, the Writing and Media Center and the tutoring program in the Academic Success Center. Distance learners can also participate in supplemental instruction sessions and join the school's top-ranked learning communities. Student disability resources are available to individuals with disabilities.

7 Saint Leo University 98.48 $$$$$ 99% 54 15:1 45% Yes Yes Yes

Saint Leo University offers dozens of online degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as certificate programs. The school's online learning programs are designed to educate students with the necessary information and skills to help them meet their personal, professional and academic goals. Online courses are taught by experienced faculty members who are specifically trained in teaching e-learners and are available for students through various communication platforms. Students are given access to a free 10-step guide to online learning which will help them prepare for the online classroom or decided whether or not distance learning is right for them.

8 Dickinson State University 98.43 $$$$$ 63% 23 11:1 35% Yes Yes Yes

DSU gives students the opportunity to pursue eight different degree programs in the online format. Students can watch course content live or view pre-recorded classes through the Tegrity system. Distance learners have access to online tutoring through the NetTutor, and the school offers a quiz to help students determine if online learning is right for them. Students from outside the state are free to pursue online education at Dickinson, provided their state doesn't have any restrictions. Most courses are asynchronous, which means students don't have to log on at any specific time, or be online at the same time as instructors.

9 Southwestern College 98.29 $$$$$ 95% 47 8:1 54% Yes No Yes

Undergraduate students can enroll in hybrid, web-enhanced for degree programs that are offered 100 perfect online. Online instructors are the same faculty members who teach traditional courses on campus. Online students receive an orientation to help them get acclimated to the online format, and they are entitled to tech support for help with hardware, software, email or their accounts. All course content, including assignments, tests and readings, are delivered through the Blackboard learning management system. Prospective students can complete the Student Readiness Tutorial to gauge their preparedness to enroll in an online learning program.

10 University of Alaska Fairbanks 98.24 $$$$$ 43% 42 14:1 32% Yes Yes Yes

Even if students don't pursue one of the university's online graduate degrees, undergraduate degrees or certificate programs, they can take individual courses without ever visiting the campus. Courses are designed by the instructors who teach them, and distance learners will incorporate social media, blogs, video chat and new technology to complete their coursework. All courses, which are delivered through the Blackboard learning management system, are asynchronous, which means students are not required to be online at any given time. The Online Success Lab is a non-credit, short course that familiarizes students with the online learning process.

11 University of Southern Mississippi 98.19 $$$$$ 74% 26 17:1 48% No Yes Yes

There are dozens of certificate programs, undergraduate degrees and graduate degrees available either completely online or in the hybrid format. Courses are delivered through the Blackboard learning management system, which comes with 24/7 tech support, a quick guide, a getting started guide and tips. Distance learners have a wealth of resources at their disposal that are the same as those available to on-campus students. This includes a writing center, help desk, iTech, tutoring services, library services, a speaking center and a student success center. Online students can develop a deeper connection with the university by becoming a member of the school's Think Center.

12 Colorado Christian University 98.13 $$$$$ 97% 33 14:1 42% Yes Yes Yes

Colorado Christian University offers nine associate, 14 bachelors', and 11 master's degrees in the online format. The university's online degree is designed to meet the same learning expectations as the traditional on-campus curriculum. Online courses typically last between five to 10 weeks in length. Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the online course platform, Blackboard, which acts as an e-classroom where students can discuss course assignments and information with peers and educators. Blackboard can also be accessed through their smartphone app where students can access video, assignments, grades and receive update notifications.

13 University of Idaho 98.08 $$$$$ 78% 23 17:1 58% Yes Yes Yes

Because earning a college education is a time consuming undertaking, the University of Idaho is happy to provide online classes to its students, allowing for the most accessible academic schedule possible. Whether students are looking to reinforce a full in-person schedule with one extra online course, to complete their degree in an entirely online format, the staff and faculty at the University of Idaho is more than willing to accommodate the needs of all students. Nearly 130 undergraduate majors are available for students to explore, many of which offer night and weekend courses.

14 Oklahoma State University-Main Campus 98.00 $$$$$ 73% 31 20:1 61% Yes Yes Yes

Online students can choose from nearly 20 degree programs, at both the graduate and undergraduate level. The Desire2Learn (D2L) platform is the school's learning management system, which students will use to manage their coursework, organize their materials, keep track of their grades and submit assignments. OSU holds accreditation and is currently under review by the Higher Learning Commission. All students are assigned a personal advisor, who is knowledgeable about the student's particular area of concentration. Distance learners are free to participate in student programs, including the OSU Student Union, which is the largest university union of its kind in the world.

15 Great Basin College 97.94 $$$$$ 4% 53 17:1 24% Yes Yes Yes

Distance learners can choose from several online associate, bachelor and certificate programs at Great Basin College. All online courses are developed and taught by the same faculty members who teach traditional courses on campus which ensures that e-students receive quality distance education. Online degree programs allow students to pursue their degrees in a way that best fits their schedules. Non-Nevada residents may be eligible for discounted prices for student fees and tuition rates. Distance learners may also have access to technical support services. GBC serves over 3,800 students through online programs.

16 SUNY Empire State College 97.75 $$$$$ 75% 38 15:1 19% Yes No Yes

Distance learners at SUNY Empire State College can complete their degrees or individual courses when and where is most convenient for them. This flexible learning approach allows full-time students to work and complete other time commitments while pursuing their education. Online learners are able to order their textbooks online and use the e-learning platforms to communicate with their peers and professors. SUNY Empire State College advises prospective students to set aside blocks of time - at least 10 hours per week - to dedicate to their online courses.

17 University of Memphis 97.71 $$$$$ 4% 43 14:1 44% Yes Yes Yes

Both undergraduate and graduate students are able to make use of the online courses offered at the University of Memphis. A wide variety of degrees available at U of M never require the student to be physically present on the campus, allowing out of state students to gain their degree without relocating. Subjects available for study exceed 300, ranging in degree level. Student athletes will be able to compete in numerous intercollegiate and club sports hosted at the U of M campus. U of M also offers one of the nation's most prestigious internship programs, promising practical real life experience.

18 University of Florida 97.60 $$$$$ 29% 52 21:1 88% No Yes Yes

Students studying in an online program at the University of Florida are able to accomplish just as much as students enrolled in traditional classes. With the added flexibility of online classes, these students are also free to continue with their daily routines uninterrupted. The University of Florida has a 96 percent retention rate in college freshman, largely due to the supportive community that UF students help to build. Student success is rewarded with scholarships and acceptance into honors programs. Honors classes never exceed 25 students, and students will have as much face time with their teacher as they feel is necessary.

19 Belhaven University 97.58 $$$$$ 98% 24 12:1 50% Yes Yes Yes

Pursuing a college degree is a time-consuming step in any prospective student's life. That's why Belhaven University allows students to complete their education in whatever format they find most comfortable, be it online, in-person, or a hybrid of the two. As the classes at Belhaven University are small and consist of cohort groups, students can not only be certain that all their educational needs will be met while completing their program, but they will also join a close-knit group of peers who will provide social and academic support. Students who are unsure of what degree they would like to pursue can have 70 areas of study to select from.

20 Goodwin College 97.54 $$$$$ 91% 57 10:1 23% Yes Yes Yes

Both traditional on-campus, hybrid and fully-online courses are available at Goodwin College. It is important for students to make sure they meet the technical requirements for online courses including access to compatible operating systems and Blackboard, the online learning management platform. Goodwin College provides online education so that every student has access to quality higher education while fulfilling other personal time commitments. Students enrolled in online courses will receive the same attention and information as students enrolled in on-campus courses. GU also encourages students to succeed by detailing ways to be a successful student on their website.

21 Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale 97.50 $$$$$ 77% 55 12:1 55% Yes Yes Yes

Whether they are continuing education, taking a few courses, or pursuing a full degree, students may be able to meet their educational goals completely online at Keiser University. Students can choose from degree programs that can be completed entirely online, on-campus, or hybrid courses, which blends on-campus and online formatting. Some entirely online degrees include criminal justice, psychology, accounting and health science. Students at Keiser will have access to various resources and student services such as employment coaching through their online career center, professional development workshops, and the school's library.

22 Northwestern State University of Louisiana 97.50 $$$$$ 48% 51 20:1 38% Yes Yes Yes

Countless students have utilized the dozens of online programs offered through Northwestern State University of Louisiana's global campus, eNSU, to achieve their academic and career goals. With online degrees available for undergraduate, graduate and certification programs, students are able to balance their busy lives with flexible class schedules. Prospective students can gauge their e-learning preparedness be complete eNSU's questionnaire on their website. This will give students the opportunity to assess their technological and personal learning styles in regards to learning at a distance.

23 Kansas State University 97.45 $$$$$ 65% 45 19:1 59% No Yes Yes

Not only do distance learners at Kansas State University have access to faculty members who are experienced in handling the specific needs of online students, but they are also provided with access to technical support services to help with any issues that may arise with the course management system, Canvas. Other resources available to online students include academic, career, and personal counseling services, military assistance programs and a virtual commencement which celebrate the academic achievements of distance learners. Online learners may also access ProctorU, an online proctoring program required for certain examinations and testing.

24 Liberty University 97.43 $$$$$ 78% 104 18:1 50% Yes Yes Yes

Liberty University has provided over 95,000 students with access to distance education since 1985. As one of the first institutions to provide distance and online learning, students are able to receive the same quality of education as their on-campus peers do. With over 245 degrees that can be completed at a distance, students seeking a Christ-centered education may be able to find an online or distance program that works for them. In order to maintain their Christian values, Liberty University gives online students access to weekly ministry, convocation, and various spiritual talks through streaming services.

25 North Carolina State University at Raleigh 97.37 $$$$$ 5% 35 16:1 75% No Yes Yes

Six colleges offer online undergraduate degrees. Online graduate degrees, doctoral degrees and online certificates are available as well. Students also have the option of several programs that follow the hybrid format. Advisors are available to help prospective students decide which online program is right for them. Most programs allow students to work on their own schedule at their own pace. When it comes to education value, NC State is ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 4 in the nation, with many programs ranking in the top 30 nationwide. WolfWare, the school's online tool kit, contains the resources students will use throughout their educational careers.

26 University of Louisiana at Monroe 97.37 $$$$$ 56% 50 21:1 41% No Yes Yes

The University of Louisiana at Monroe offers the same commitment and thorough education for its online students as it does its traditional students. Students struggling to find the time to return to school often thrive in these online programs, which can often be accomplished without ever setting foot on campus. Passionate and enthusiastic faculty is devoted to ULM students, providing them with an attentive and thorough education. All enrolled students are able to make use of the numerous academic services provided at ULM, including technology support, peer leader programs, and tutoring services.

27 University of Arizona 97.36 $$$$$ 77% 29 20:1 60% No Yes Yes

All degrees earned online are identical to traditional degrees awarded by the University of Arizona. All classes are taken 100 percent online. They may be asynchronous, meaning students can move at their own pace and on their own schedule, but some classes may require students to be online at specific times on a specific schedule for discussion sessions or meetings. Students will interact through discussion boards, and are required to view lectures and complete readings. Students are not required, but are strongly advised, to participate in the online orientation. Courses are delivered through the university's learning management system.

28 Troy University 97.34 $$$$$ 45% 26 15:1 35% Yes Yes Yes

Distance learners are able to pursue full degrees through Troy University's online learning program. Levels of degrees include undergraduate, graduate and continuing education programs that can all be completed at a distance. Students may receive instruction from experienced instructors who are trained in teaching through an online classroom. Although students do not physically interact with their instructors and peers, the online learning platform allows students to discuss assignments and course information, complete course assessments and virtually interact with one another.

29 Tiffin University 97.33 $$$$$ 92% 51 18:1 39% Yes Yes Yes

Prospective students who have access to reliable technology and need to fulfill other personal or professional commitments outside of school may consider enrolling in one of Tiffin University's online degree programs. This form of learning allows students to work while pursuing their degrees. With fewer than 20 students enrolled in each course, trained instructors will be able to focus on each student and help them meet their academic goals. Online learning programs at Tiffin University are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission along with the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs, an accolade presented to a few number of schools.

30 Webster University 97.23 $$$$$ 94% 27 13:1 64% Yes Yes Yes

Taking online classes is one of the most convenient ways for students of all levels to earn their college degree. At Webster University, students are able to build their schedules to fit their individual needs. Flexible classes include online, evening, and weekend sections, as well as classes offered in the winter and summer to expedite the academic process. Learning at Webster University is a personalized experience, with small classes and plenty of faculty members to aid in student success. Webster provides a culturally diverse community—representing more than 100 countries—that facilitates a greater appreciation for personal and cultural identity.

31 Indiana State University 97.10 $$$$$ 75% 44 20:1 40% Yes Yes Yes

Indiana State University offers 18 undergraduate degree programs, as well as four certificate and licensure and 13 minor programs that can be completed entirely online. Designed for the needs of busy students who thrive when working through technology, each program can be personalized to the individual. The school offers a range of student services and resources such as an online bookstore financial aid, and access to Sycamore Express, a portal with information regarding student finances, degree completion and graduation information.

32 Judson College 97.05 $$$$$ 95% 15 9:1 43% Yes Yes Yes

Psychology, Spanish, religious studies, and criminal justice are just a few of the programs offered entirely online at Judson College. This school's uses the online course management system, Moodle, to organize and deliver e-courses. Before beginning each course, students will receive a learning contract that details the expectations of the course, required supplies such as textbooks and online services, student learning objectives and ways to communicate with the course instructor. Fully online degrees are expected to be completed in at least 128 semester-hours and allow students to fulfill personal time commitments while completing their degree.

33 University of Central Missouri 97.05 $$$$$ 6% 27 18:1 53% Yes Yes Yes

Students pursuing a bachelor's degree have six online program options, and there are 14 programs available to graduate students. The instructors who teach online courses are the same faculty members who teach at the physical campus. Both faculty training and course development follow the standards set by Quality Matters, a national benchmark for online learning criteria. The university participates in National Distance Learning Week, and online students will have access to the same services as their on-campus peers. This includes tech support, advising and KC REACHE Kansas City's Regional Access Consortium for Higher Education, which pools local college and university resources.

34 University of Central Florida 96.96 $$$$$ 44% 44 31:1 70% Yes Yes Yes

As the largest university in the state of Florida, The University of Central Florida offers a number of customizable academic programs for its diverse students, including many that can be completed without ever being present on the campus. Entirely online programs include undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as 2+2 programs that are designed to work well with transfer students. With the numerous financial aid opportunities offered at UCF, 48 percent of graduates receive their degree entirely debt free. Nearly 500 million dollars in financial aid is offered every year, distributed to over three quarters of UCF's students.

35 University of Toledo 96.88 $$$$$ 85% 23 20:1 44% Yes Yes Yes

One of the most important academic developments in the last few decades is the introduction of online learning to college curriculum. The University of Toledo has fully embraced this advancement and offers a good portion of its degrees in entirely online formats. Students still interested in traditional coursework might be interested in a hybrid program at the University of Toledo, which will allow them to split their time evenly between school and home. A wide variety of financial aid opportunities will also be awarded to an University of Toledo student who has met the requisites.

36 The University of Texas of the Permian Basin 96.87 $$$$$ 86% 14 18:1 34% No Yes Yes

Some of the online master's and bachelor degrees available at UTPB are offered in conjunction with other schools from the University of Texas System through the University of Texas Online consortium (UTOC). Seven bachelor's degree programs can be taken in an accelerated, eight-week format, and the school will soon be adding a program that culminates in a bachelor's degree in political science. Distance learners will have access to student services, including counseling, student activities, mentoring, financial literacy services, career services, and admissions and academic advising. When they graduate, distance learners will have the option of full membership in the Alumni Association.

37 Emporia State University 96.87 $$$$$ 76% 22 18:1 39% No Yes Yes

Online students at Emporia University receive the exact same education as their on-campus counterparts. EU provides both graduate and undergraduate programs entirely online. For students whose schedules demand extra flexibility, online programs allow them to access course content and complete degree programs in a way that complements their time commitments. Canvas serves as the school's online academic management system and is the portal for e-education where students can discuss and submit course assignments. Buzz In and DegreeWorks are also available for students seeking university information or track academic goals such as graduation rates and academic plans.

38 Oregon State University 96.86 $$$$$ 55% 44 19:1 63% No Yes Yes

Prospective distance learners have the ability to choose from various online degree programs such as psychology, Spanish, anthropology and economics through Oregon State University's Ecampus. The school also offers over 1,000 individual courses through an online format. In order to meet the school's high academic standards, online courses are taught by OSU's highly experienced faculty who are trained to deliver online course content with the same expertise as they would in the traditional classroom. The University Exploratory Studies Program (UESP) gives undeclared students the ability to complete core courses online while exploring options for their major.

39 University of Northern Colorado 96.73 $$$$$ 79% 26 17:1 46% No Yes Yes

Without a set time to complete their coursework, students enrolled in one of the University of Northern Colorado's online programs have the freedom to earn their degree entirely at their leisure. This is a great opportunity for students who are currently employed or have other responsibilities that come before schoolwork. Incoming freshman at UNCO are notably successful, with half of enrolled students receiving a GPA between 3.02 and 3.8. Living in one of UNCO's residence halls will allow students to build social connections while also constructing a network of peers available for academic support.

40 Concordia University-Saint Paul 96.72 $$$$$ 85% 39 15:1 46% Yes Yes Yes

At Concordia University - Saint Paul, online degrees can be achieved at the associate, undergraduate and graduate levels. Online courses are delivered through an online learning management system. Distance learners will have access to a range of resources designed to help them adjust to college, complete their degrees, then shift from education to a career. Those resources include information on career profiles, various professional topics, and degree information organized by academic focuses. Students will also have access to various forms and worksheets to help them finance their education such as FAFSA waivers, federal verification guidelines, and grant and loan application information.

41 Texas A & M University-College Station 96.71 $$$$$ 54% 58 20:1 79% No Yes Yes

Online degree programs may be of interest to prospective students seeking to earn their degrees while working or fulfilling other time commitments. Texas A&M University - College Station offers various online degree programs including graduate and certification programs. Students requiring financial assistance can find information on loans, grants, scholarships, and scholarships through the Financial Assistance office. Since distance education allows Texas A&M to work with notable instructors all over the world, online students may receive more specialized instruction from experts in their disciplines.

42 Washington State University 96.69 $$$$$ 51% 36 15:1 67% No Yes Yes

As a student enrolled in one of Washington State University's online bachelor's degree programs, students can be sure they will be granted all the same educational support as a traditional student would. This includes online tutoring, technical support, academic advisement, and live-streaming access to seminars and events. Washington State University was founded in 1890 and is today considered to be one of the nation's top-tier research universities. There are more than 200 academic programs available at WSU, ranging from bachelor's degrees to doctorates. Students who are interested in spending some time out of the country should also look into one of WSU 500 study abroad programs.

43 University of Houston-Victoria 96.69 $$$$$ 92% 18 17:1 N/A No Yes Yes

Both baccalaureate and graduate programs are offered in 100 percent online formats at the University of Houston-Victoria. When completed alongside weekend and evening courses, students will be able to fit school anywhere into their daily lives. Students looking to transfer credits from a prior university will find admissions staff more than willing to help review any previous transcripts. Academic advising services will also be available to construct a plan to move towards a student's ultimate educational goal. 16 computer labs are available on the UHV campus, allowing students to work in communal intellectual environments.

44 Davenport University 96.67 $$$$$ 89% 63 14:1 40% Yes Yes Yes

The distance learning program at Davenport University is called The Global Campus @ DU. Both graduate and undergraduate degrees are available completely online, as are certificate programs and individual courses. Students enrolled in online programs a DU are expected to save an average of $200 per credit-hour if they reside outside of the state of Michigan. The university invests in hiring experienced faculty members to help deliver and create beneficial and instructional coursework. In addition to traditional and e-learners, DU is a yellow-ribbon school which means active duty and veterans are highly welcomed at Davenport University.

45 University of Missouri-Columbia 96.64 $$$$$ 62% 38 20:1 69% No Yes Yes

Receiving a college degree is often an integral step to achieving a successful career. Unfortunately, it is often difficult for students to enter into an academic program because of prior commitments, such as work and family. However, the University of Missouri, Columbia offers online programs specifically with these individuals in mind. Students will have the freedom to complete their coursework when their schedule permits without ever having to actually be in attendance at the University of Missouri campus. Students will also be able to apply to receive financial aid; in the 2014/15 academic year, MU awarded 130 million dollars in aid.

46 North Carolina Central University 96.64 $$$$$ 81% 13 15:1 47% Yes Yes Yes

Both degree programs and degree completion programs are available at several academic levels completely online. Distance learners will have access to online tutoring in math, science and business, and students can submit their writing for analysis in the online writing lab. Students will receive and submit assignments, and conduct all coursework through the Blackboard learning management system. Distance learners will receive Blackboard training and will have access to full time tech help throughout their time at the university. Students are kept up to date with an online newsletter, and they have 24/7 access to the NCCU Online Office of E-Learning.

47 Columbia College 96.63 $$$$$ 24% 43 34:1 38% Yes Yes Yes

Online learning at Columbia College - which includes associate, bachelor's', master's, and certificate programs and over 350 online courses - utilizes interactive, web-based technology to educate students in various fields of study. Several degree programs can be earned completely online. Distance learners can engage with an academic advisor specific to their program and are encouraged to speak with their advisor before enrolling. Online learning coursework, assignments, and grades can be accessed through the Desire2Learn learning management system. Students are expected to commit the same amount of time and effort to the e-courses as they would in the traditional classroom.

48 Clemson University 96.63 $$$$$ 59% 35 16:1 82% No Yes Yes

All distance learning programs at Clemson University can be taken completely online, and a special site has been established specifically for distance learners. Since courses are asynchronous, students can work at their own pace and are not required to be online at any specific time. Classes require the same amount of time as traditional college coursework, at least six to eight hours per week. All on-campus services are available online or by phone. Clemson University has been continuously accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges Commission on Colleges.

49 Mercy College 96.62 $$$$$ 88% 51 19:1 29% Yes Yes Yes

Distance learners at Mercy College can choose from over 200 individual courses or over 30 fully-online undergraduate and graduate programs. Mercy gives students to choose from three distance learning options including pure online courses, which requires students to follow the same course meeting times and deadlines as on-campus learners, blended online courses which splits their time between on-campus and online, and web-enhanced courses, which uses the online learning management system, Blackboard, to extend on-campus learning capabilities. Prospective students can evaluate whether they have the technological requirements needed for successful online learning through the school's website.

50 Western Kentucky University 96.61 $$$$$ 37% 69 18:1 44% No Yes Yes

The distance learning program at Western Kentucky University gives non-traditional learners the ability to pursue their degrees in a way that best complements their individual learning styles and busy schedules. WKU offers over 80 degree programs that can be completed entirely online along with over 1,700 individual courses. The school also offers a lot of the same resources on-campus students have access to including online webinars, tutoring, writing center, orientation, and coaching on public speaking. In order to ensure accessibility to their online courses, students are also provided with technical support services.

View More

Finding the Best Online Colleges for You: Five Steps

The path to finding the best online education isn’t set in stone. Rather, it requires serious contemplation on the student’s part. For example, what are their future goals? What aspects of higher education most appeal to them? Which aspects are a “must have” for them? The following five step process takes these questions and more into account. We’ll cover the major things prospective college students need to consider, including choosing the online delivery method, ensuring accreditation, making sure the school fits with future career goals, choosing which degree to get and how to pay for college.

Step 1: Know Your Best Online Education Options

The path to finding the best online education isn’t set in stone. Rather, it requires serious contemplation on the student’s part. For example, what are their future goals? What aspects of higher education most appeal to them? Which aspects are a “must have” for them? The following five step process takes these questions and more into account. We’ll cover the major things prospective college students need to consider, including choosing the online delivery method, ensuring accreditation, making sure the school fits with future career goals, choosing which degree to get and how to pay for college.

There are several types of online programs available, but some of them might not be entirely online. Why not? Take nursing, for instance. Nursing degree programs, especially those at the undergraduate level, require a student to participate in hands-on clinical work in order to graduate. This means the degree program cannot, by its very nature, be entirely online. Therefore, it’s a hybrid program.

So, what are some other differences between fully-online and hybrid programs? Let’s break them down.

  • Fully-online

    A fully-online program is exactly what it sounds like:a college program that can be completed 100 percent online, with no need for the student to accomplish any degree requirements on-campus. Lectures are often provided in a video or audio recording, with communication and completion of assignments taking place over email or a special online system, such as Blackboard. Many schools offering fully-online programs have partnered with online education companies, such as Coursera. It is important to remember that even though every aspect of the class is online, this in no way means it’s less challenging than what a student will encounter in a classroom setting. Students should expect to spend roughly the same amount of time in class and complete homework as they would in a traditional, on campus setting.

  • Hybrid

    Sometimes referred to as a blended program, hybrid online programs are similar in most aspects to fully-online programs, but they do have an in-person or on-campus curriculum requirement. This can include lab or clinical requirements that necessitate the student to come on campus or to an approved site, at least once during a particular class, to complete an assignment. The big advantage of hybrid programs is that they allow colleges to offer a much wider range of online degree options. On the other hand, hybrid education means students must take into account the necessity of traveling to an approved location (which might be nearby) or the college itself (which could be across the country). Also, the hands-on requirement must be completed at a set time or place, which means the ability to study at a pace comfortable for the student might not be as possible as it would be with a fully-online option.

At the best online colleges, an online program or course can be delivered in a variety of ways. Some are more flexible and accommodating than others. Let’s look at the variety of options available.

  • Open schedule

    A type of asynchronous learning, open schedule provides students with the most amount of flexibility. The school will dictate certain course deadlines, such as when a certain project or assignment must be finished. As long as students meet this deadline, they can study wherever and whenever they want.

  • Fixed time

    A type of synchronous learning, the fixed time format expects students to “attend” class at a certain time, but allows students to show up for class from anywhere, whether it’s at home, work or on the go. This format might feature live lectures provided over streaming video, live video chats and the like, which means a student must log on at a certain time and stay for a certain duration.

  • Synchronous

    This broad type of online learning format has a certain level of pacing that the student must maintain throughout the program, such as logging into class at a particular time or watching a lecture at a specific time on a certain day. It is flexible, however, in that students can be anywhere in the world and still attend class, if they have a reliable internet connection.

  • Asynchronous

    Asynchronous learning allows students to complete most, if not all, classroom requirements on their own timetable and pace, as long as certain deadlines are met. These deadlines are typically widely spaced; for instance, perhaps a student must complete all work for a course within a four-month timeframe. Asynchronous learning provides the greatest level of flexibility in that students can take the class anytime and anywhere.

Step 2: Check the Online Colleges’ Accreditation

Accreditation gets a lot of attention, and for good reason. To achieve accreditation, a school’s academic programs are reviewed by an independent organization, which confirms the school meets certain educational standards.

Put another way, accreditation is confirmation that a program provides an education filled with pertinent, tangible information a student can use to advance their professional or academic career. There are several different types of accreditation available; understanding the differences can help students make a more informed decision on their college or program choice.

Regional accreditation refers to an organization that limits its accreditation to schools located within a certain geographical region of the country. In contrast with regional accreditors, national accreditors will accredit schools anywhere in the country, although they tend to focus on a particular type of learning, such as vocational training, or the delivery method, such as online learning. The type of school and its location will determine the type of accreditation it receives. Some of the primary regional accrediting bodies in the United States include:

  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges

  • Higher Learning Commission

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education

  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

  • WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Sometimes referred to as specialized accreditation, programmatic accreditation doesn’t accredit the schools themselves, but rather, the specific programs offered by those schools. While a national or regional accrediting body looks at the school, a programmatic accrediting body will look at a specific program to ensure it meets certain minimum requirements for a specialized area of knowledge. A few examples of programmatic accreditors include:

  • The Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology

  • The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business

  • Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

  • The American Bar Association

If students intend to enroll in a program subject to programmatic accreditation, they should determine if both the school and the program itself is accredited. It’s entirely possible for a school to be regionally or nationally accredited, but not have a particular program accredited. Obtaining a degree from a program that isn’t accredited (while the school itself is accredited) doesn’t mean the student’s degree is worthless! However, it could be far less valuable to the student if future employers or graduate schools give less weight to the chosen area of study. This can mean getting a job or transferring to another school becomes more difficult.

Accreditation is not only important to ensure a degree will be worth more than the paper it’s printed on. It’s also necessary to obtain financial aid. Most scholarships, grants, loans and work-study programs have eligibility standards that require students to attend an accredited post-secondary institution.

Step 3: Look at Your Career Goals

To find the best online college, prospective students must first figure out what they want to gain from completing their chosen program. Since some careers require certain degrees to meet minimum eligibility requirements, it’s important that a student prepares for that career from early in the college search.

For example, to be a professor at a university, a doctorate degree is almost always necessary. To become an attorney, earning the undergraduate degree and then attending law school is a must. So before deciding on a school to attend, students must first determine their ultimate career objective, then backtrack from there and figure out how to achieve each step. To help figure out these steps, consider the following:

Students should ask themselves where they ultimately want to take their professional career. Some careers will have degree requirements, such as a minimum of a bachelor’s or master’s degree, while others will have knowledge, experience or skill-based requirements that a degree can help them obtain.

To learn more about possible career goals and the degrees that can help take you there, look at some the following subject guides:

Step 4: Select Your Degree Level

Choosing a degree from among the best online colleges will require taking many things into consideration. For example, a person’s ultimate career goal will primarily dictate the area of study they choose. Then, the student’s potential time commitment will decide what kind of class format the student can take. For instance, if a student has a full-time job or significant financial responsibilities, they will probably need to enroll in an online program that offers asynchronous learning. Finally, the student must confirm the program is accredited.

But there’s still more to think about, including the degree level. Online degrees are now available at many levels, from the associate (which typically takes two years) up to the doctoral degree (which might take a total of seven years or more).

Earning an associate degree online can take the same amount of time as working toward a traditional associate degree. But through the wonders of asynchronous learning, very committed students can obtain their online associate degree in as little as 18 months. Depending on their goals, a student should choose an associate degree that meets immediate professional objectives but also provides the flexibility of serving as a first step toward a bachelor’s degree. This can be especially helpful if they decide to continue their education in the future.

Popular online associate degrees:
  1. Paralegal studies
  2. Medical assisting
  3. CNA
  4. Information technology
  5. Accounting

Median annual salary of associate degree holders: $42,588

Step 5: Get Your Finances in Order

Paying for school is a major hurdle for many potential online college and university students. Not only can the financial cost be high, but the financial aid process can be daunting and confusing. We can help alleviate some of this confusion by explaining how to determine a program’s true cost of attendance. Remember, tuition is not the bottom line! There are other costs to consider. Let’s break them all down so you can make a more informed decision.

At a private online college or university, there will be one tuition rate for all online students. But at a public online college or university, there may be two or more tuition rates for those who choose to study online. Let’s take a closer look. Usually, the in-state rate is lower. This is available only to students who are legal residents of the state in which the school is located. Students who are not residents of the state are charged the more expensive out-of-state tuition rate. However, some schools set a tuition rate somewhere in the middle for students enrolling in certain fields of study or those from neighboring states that participate in special reciprocity agreements among schools and states.

Many public online colleges and universities are shifting toward one tuition rate for all online students, regardless of residency. In some schools, this uniform tuition is the same as the in-state tuition rate. At other schools, out-of-state online students pay a rate that’s higher than the in-state rate, but lower than the out-of-state on campus rate. When choosing the right school for you, make certain any comparisons include the correct rate for online learning.

To be eligible for most financial aid awards, students must complete the FAFSA, or Free Application for Financial Student Aid. While this application is technically for students applying for federal financial aid, most states and schools that offer their own financial aid packages require students to complete the FAFSA as well. The FAFSA provides a snapshot of a student’s financial situation, which helps states, schools, organizations and others determine how much to award students who seek need-based awards.

Resources

Choosing a college is a major decision, one that deserves careful consideration and planning. For further assistance in choosing just one of the best online colleges available, look at the following resources.