The bachelor’s degree serves as the basic minimum for many professions. It’s also the first step to professional advancement when pursuing a graduate degree. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the bachelor’s degree is among the most popular online degrees available. With so many students seeking this very important degree, schools have developed curriculums and programs to meet the demand and give students as many options as possible for their online education. But all this comes at the expense of simplicity: Various online delivery methods, multiple majors and accelerated programs can make choosing the right online bachelor’s degree program confusing or intimidating. That’s where this guide comes in. We’ll provide a comprehensive overview of the online bachelor’s degree and help students find the best program for their needs.
The bachelor’s degree is the foundational degree for most careers. It provides a strong basis for future professional growth and advancement; however, the level of growth and compensation potential will depend on the chosen field. The following table gives aspiring students a general idea of what a few popular academic subject areas typically pay upon graduation.
|Subjects||2014 Median Pay|
|Emergency Management Director||$70,500|
Students looking for a quick list of schools where they can earn their bachelor’s degree should begin with these rankings. Taking multiple school characteristics into consideration, we decide which schools should be ranked higher than others. These characteristics are clear and ready for browsing by interested students, allowing them to better to understand our methodology and how we decided on the final rankings.
To find the best colleges of 2016-17 for earning an online associate degree, our researchers and higher education experts collected and analyzed data from every accredited postsecondary institution in the United States. The goal? To see which colleges offered the most notable balances of academic rigor, program availability, student support and affordability for online learning. The specific criteria and scoring metrics for the ranking are as follows:
*PBV: is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or “bang for your buck” – of an online degree.
|Rank||University||Location||Score||Annual Tuition||# of Online Programs||Financial Aid %||Student-Teacher Ratio||Grad Rate||Credit for Experience||Placement Services||Counseling Services||University Information|
|1||Dickinson State University||Dickinson, ND||99.79||$6,050||20||63%||11:1||35%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|2||Siena Heights University||Adrian, MI||99.29||$22,740||38||99%||11:1||43%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|3||Fort Hays State University||Hays, KS||99.22||$4,469||21||72%||17:1||41%||No||Yes||Yes|
|4||Davenport University||Grand Rapids, MI||98.47||$15,072||21||89%||14:1||40%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|5||Judson College||Marion, AL||98.30||$16,258||15||95%||9:1||37%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|6||Northern Arizona University||Flagstaff, AZ||98.05||$8,728||23||66%||18:1||49%||No||Yes||Yes|
|7||East Carolina University||Greenville, NC||97.95||$6,143||18||50%||18:1||58%||No||Yes||Yes|
|8||Columbia College||Columbia, MO||97.34||$6,582||22||24%||34:1||42%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|9||Saint Leo University||Saint Leo, FL||97.31||$20,110||16||99%||15:1||43%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|10||Granite State College||Concord, NH||97.20||$7,065||35||N/A||12:1||50%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|11||University of Louisiana at Monroe||Monroe, LA||97.16||$6,963||20||56%||21:1||37%||No||Yes||Yes|
|12||University of Memphis||Memphis, TN||97.01||$8,619||17||40%||14:1||40%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|13||Baker College Center for Graduate Studies||Flint, MI||96.77||$8,280||16||72%||13:1||25%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|14||Western Kentucky University||Bowling Green, KY||96.59||$9,140||21||37%||18:1||50%||No||Yes||Yes|
|15||Southwestern College||Winfield, KS||96.35||$24,835||19||95%||8:1||51%||Yes||No||Yes|
|16||Tiffin University||Tiffin, OH||96.35||$21,535||18||92%||18:1||33%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|17||Liberty University||Lynchburg, VA||96.21||$21,000||20||78%||18:1||46%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|18||Colorado Christian University||Lakewood, CO||96.09||$20,935||13||97%||14:1||40%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|19||Mercy College||Dobbs Ferry, NY||95.84||$17,766||19||88%||19:1||34%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|20||University of Florida||Gainesville, FL||95.72||$6,313||15||29%||21:1||85%||No||Yes||Yes|
|21||Oregon State University||Corvallis, OR||95.70||$9,122||16||55%||19:1||61%||No||Yes||Yes|
|22||Florida International University||Miami, FL||95.62||$6,497||14||48%||26:1||49%||No||Yes||Yes|
|23||Concordia University-Saint Paul||Saint Paul, MN||95.56||$20,200||15||85%||15:1||47%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|24||Southwestern Assemblies of God University||Waxahachie, TX||95.41||$19,450||16||73%||16:1||38%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|25||Indiana State University||Terre Haute, IN||95.40||$8,416||15||75%||20:1||43%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|26||Troy University||Troy, AL||95.26||$7,564||12||45%||15:1||35%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|27||University of Nebraska at Omaha||Omaha, NE||95.24||$6,750||12||49%||16:1||46%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|28||Dallas Baptist University||Dallas, TX||95.07||$23,650||12||86%||13:1||54%||No||Yes||Yes|
|29||Northwestern State University of Louisiana||Natchitoches, LA||94.93||$6,786||13||48%||20:1||36%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|30||Bellevue University||Bellevue, NE||94.81||$6,450||36||51%||32:1||31%||Yes||No||Yes|
|31||Indiana Wesleyan University||Marion, IN||94.58||$24,102||15||50%||16:1||70%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|32||Texas A & M University-College Station||College Station, TX||94.34||$9,685||13||54%||20:1||80%||No||Yes||Yes|
|33||Penn State World Campus||University Park, PA||94.24||$17,502||15||37%||17:1||86%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|34||University of Houston-Downtown||Houston, TX||94.16||$5,594||13||34%||22:1||12%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|35||Northern State University||Aberdeen, SD||94.01||$7,563||11||67%||18:1||46%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|36||University of Houston-Victoria||Victoria, TX||93.94||$5,483||10||92%||17:1||N/A||No||Yes||Yes|
|37||University of Central Florida||Orlando, FL||93.93||$6,368||12||44%||31:1||65%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|38||Old Dominion University||Norfolk, VA||93.93||$8,970||15||41%||20:1||49%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|39||Ferris State University||Big Rapids, MI||93.84||$10,556||11||63%||16:1||53%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|40||Dakota State University||Madison, SD||93.73||$7,506||11||58%||16:1||42%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|41||Wayland Baptist University||Plainview, TX||93.59||$12,960||12||33%||10:1||36%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|42||University of Massachusetts-Lowell||Lowell, MA||93.51||$12,447||12||59%||18:1||54%||No||Yes||Yes|
|43||Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale||Fort Lauderdale, FL||93.07||$16,936||10||77%||12:1||60%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|44||Eastern Kentucky University||Richmond, KY||92.77||$7,920||10||41%||15:1||37%||No||Yes||Yes|
|45||Missouri State University-Springfield||Springfield, MO||92.76||$7,008||10||51%||20:1||55%||No||Yes||Yes|
|46||National University||La Jolla, CA||92.70||$12,384||39||1%||20:1||23%||Yes||No||Yes|
|47||Goodwin College||East Hartford, CT||92.58||$19,400||10||91%||10:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|48||University of North Dakota||Grand Forks, ND||92.56||$7,741||11||30%||19:1||52%||No||Yes||Yes|
|49||University of Maryland-University College||Adelphi, MD||92.51||$6,744||27||3%||22:1||4%||Yes||No||Yes|
|50||Hawaii Pacific University||Honolulu, HI||92.47||$21,130||10||78%||13:1||40%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Online learning is very popular at the bachelor’s level, and this growth has been steady over the years. In 2003, 13.5 percent of college students at public four year colleges took at least one course online. Ten years later, that percentage rose to 32.7.
However, not all degree programs attract the same level of interest among students. Some are more difficult to complete, while others provide better job prospects at graduation. Also, there are some offered only in a blended or hybrid format, with in-person requirements that can’t be met online. The following chart lists a few of the most popular subject areas and links to additional information about online degrees in those subjects.
The online bachelor’s degree usually takes four years to complete, although with the self-pacing available in most online programs, students can change that expectation a bit. For instance, some students may choose to take an extra few years to complete the program. On the other hand, some might shave a full year off their time in college if they’re willing to overload on courses and attend summer classes. However, for the typical bachelor’s degree timeline, students should expect to take four years to complete the 120 to 130 credits needed to graduate.
Getting college credit in high school is one of the best ways to save time and money on higher education. Students can do this by taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses, usually during their junior and senior years, and then obtaining a passing score on the AP exam. Many colleges and universities will grant college credit for general education courses to students who make a passing score on the exam. This means students can skip one, two, three or even more college classes, putting them as much as one semester ahead of their peers when they begin their freshman year. Tack on summer courses and an extra class every few semesters, and a student can have a bachelor’s degree in hand in three years.
For students who are not as academically talented or ambitious, the high school years will be filled with researching and applying to colleges, as well as preparing for and taking entrance exams, such as the SAT or ACT. Students will also complete the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, during the first half of their senior year.
In most programs, students will take general education classes during their freshman year. If extra academic review is necessary for help with fundamental concepts, students may begin their freshman year with remedial classes, such as mathematics and English. Most classes taken during the freshman year aim to teach or reinforce basic skills needed for success in college, such as reading comprehension, writing and critical thinking. During this year, students may want to start thinking about choosing a major and/or minor.
This is when students usually declare their major, or at least begin to take courses related to their intended major, such as the prerequisites. Students will also continue with general education requirements and may even have a chance to take an elective or two. An elective is a course completely of their choosing that isn’t required for a major or needed to meet general education requirements.
By a student’s third year, they should be working toward their major, with the majority of their course load fulfilling the requirements of that major. General education courses may continue, although most students should be done with those classes by now. Students will also begin taking electives, looking into internships and searching for other opportunities that grant vital experience in their chosen field.
The final year of college is filled with finishing up the last of the major course requirements and making post-graduate plans. During the first semester, senior students should meet with their academic advisor and make sure they have the necessary credits to graduate and obtain their chosen major. If something is missing or incorrect, the student will still have time to make necessary course changes in order to graduate on time. The senior year is also when students will have the greatest opportunity to take elective courses and learn about an area of study purely for the sake of learning something new.
If graduate school is in the cards, choosing and applying to schools will take place during the senior year. This could include studying for and taking a graduate entrance exam. If entering the workforce is the plan, students will be attending job fairs, finishing a resume, participating in networking events and applying for jobs during their final year. Senior papers or projects are also completed during these last two semesters of the undergraduate college career. Finally, those lucky enough to have post-graduate plans lined up before graduation will need to resist the urge to slack off.
Though the cost of an online bachelor’s degree can vary widely depending upon the school, student’s location and chosen field of study, it isn’t unusual to find online programs are cheaper than their brick-and-mortar cousins. Despite often being more affordable, online bachelor’s degree programs will often have costs not normally associated with the on-campus programs. Let’s take a look at the various costs—or lack thereof—for an online program.
Each school has its own tuition policies concerning online programs. At some schools, online students pay a special tuition rate that’s different from what on-campus students pay. At other schools, online students pay the in-state rate. Then there are rare schools that ignore the fact that the student is attending online and charge them the respective in-state or out-of-state rate. However, this tuition policy is relatively unusual, with most online students either paying a special online tuition rate (which is lower than the out-of-state rate) or an in-state tuition rate.
Avoiding the cost of moving to a new location or the expenses of living on campus can lead to major cost savings for those enrolled in distance education. Even when enrolled in a local school, by attending class from home or work, students can avoid the additional commuting costs of going to campus several times a week. This can easily amount to several hundred dollars and hours lost—hours that could otherwise be spent working or taking on an additional course to graduate sooner.
Many online programs impose fees not found in traditional programs. They usually revolve around the cost of the course delivery software, like Blackboard or Canvas, or technology requirements. The costs of these technology fees can vary, from a nominal fee each semester to over $100 per class. Over the course of four years, this can result in significant costs. However, these costs will usually not be high enough to make online learning more expensive than on-campus learning.
Even though a course or program is online, there may still be on-campus or in-person requirements. This is common for majors and areas of study that are inherently hands-on, such as medicine and engineering. To meet these requirements, students may have to travel to the campus or a particular location approved by their school. Depending on the student’s distance from that necessary destination, this can result in hefty travel expenses several times each academic year.
Online students must have easy and extended access to a personal computer with broadband internet. For on-campus students, having a person computer with broadband internet in their home or dorm room is a convenience, but for online students, it’s an absolute necessity. Prospective college students without a personal computer or consistent broadband internet access will need to factor in these purchases when calculating how much it will cost to attend their chosen online program.
Students seeking the bachelor’s degree online will generally have the same opportunities for financial aid as their on-campus counterparts. This means tuition discounts for military service, private scholarships, grants and federally subsidized loans are fair game. There is one caveat, however: the school must be accredited in order for students to receive the maximum amount of financial aid available to them. Practically all financial aid, even private scholarships, will include eligibility rules that require students to attend a postsecondary institution that’s accredited by an agency recognized by the United States Department of Education.
The financial aid application process will revolve around completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. This is the official application for those seeking federal financial aid, such as subsidized loans, grants and work study. Students interested in learning more about federal financial aid can check out the official government website, Federal Student Aid.
Though the FAFSA is great for obtaining federal aid, it’s also an integral part in almost all other forms of financial aid. Most schools and states require students to complete the FAFSA in order to receive financial aid that is specific to that state or school. Even many private scholarship organizations will want applicants to complete the FAFSA. In situations where the FAFSA is not directly needed to apply for a specific scholarship or grant, many grants or scholarships are “last dollar” awards. This means they only pay for what federal financial aid or other forms of financial aid won’t cover. And to get these other forms of financial aid, students must complete the FAFSA. So, one way or another, a FAFSA is necessary and should be considered as important as the college application itself.
Students looking for the best bachelor’s degree programs have a number of things to consider. What’s best for one student may not be best for another. That’s why we developed the following rankings. These rankings examine multiple factors, such as cost of attendance, programs offered and location of the school. This makes it easier for prospective college students to find the best bachelor’s degree program to meet their needs.Start your School Search