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Online Colleges in California The 21 Best Schools of 2017

Want to earn a degree online? California has a wide range of accredited online college options in multiple subjects at all educational levels. In 2016, 185 institutions offered the distance learning option in CA, including all colleges and universities that make up the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems. Students can also find online degrees at dozens of state community colleges, accessible via the California Virtual Campus (CVC).

Finding an online college program in California is easy. Finding the right one requires a little research and a solid understanding of what you need. The following page offers data, information, and guidance for students looking for affordable and accredited online degrees in the state. Why is accreditation important? It’s the key to qualifying for financial aid via the FAFSA. Let’s take a more detailed look at online colleges and universities in California.

Featured Online Colleges

Grand Canyon University

Founded in 1949, Grand Canyon University is a private, Christian university that offers more than 160 academic programs and more than 100 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral online degrees.

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Southern New Hampshire University

You have goals. Southern New Hampshire University can help you get there.

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Kaplan University

Helping you achieve your goals, from enrollment through graduation and beyond.

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California Higher Education Needs

California has the largest university and community college systems of any state, with hundreds of institutions providing students with accredited and affordable higher learning options. This volume of quality degree programs and courses puts California in a great position to address its increasing need for a college educated workforce. What does this mean for the economy and for students?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 20.3% of jobs in the state required a bachelor’s degree as the minimum qualification in 2012. The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) estimates that by 2025, 36% of jobs need someone with at least some college experience but less than a B.A. But here’s the problem. Less than one-third of the state’s workforce either has or will have the necessary education to meet these knowledge and skill needs. For the economy, this could mean a serious problem. For California students enrolling in degree programs, this could mean a tremendous opportunity.

Paying for College in California

One of the most important aspects of a college education – – whether enrolled on campus or online – – is making it affordable. California students have numerous aid programs to make tuition and fees much easier to tackle. At the federal level, students have the option to apply for government loans, which need to be paid back after graduation. Anyone enrolled in an accredited college program can apply for and potentially qualify for federal financial aid. The U.S. government also has the Pell Grant program, which offers assistance to students based on financial need, cost of attendance, and academic status. Unlike loans, Pell Grants do NOT need to be repaid, although they come with specific requirements, including a minimum GPA and a cap on dollar amount. Visit the Department of Education’s Pell Grant page for a list of considerations and information on how to apply.

The state of California also has a grant program for college students: the Cal Grant.

Like Pell Grants, Cal Grants do not require pay back after graduation, and award amounts depend on financial need and cost of program. For example, there are three different Cal Grants for which students can apply. Cal Grant A focuses on tuition at UC and CSU institutions, as well as a number of qualifying independent colleges. Grant A recipients must maintain a 2.4 GPA and be working toward an associate or bachelor’s degree. Cal Grant B resembles A, but can also cover living expenses. Cal Grant C assists with costs associated with technical or career education, and also provides for living expenses and non-tuition fees. Check out the state of California’s Cal Grant page for details on each.

California Online Higher Education

The expansion of online learning options in California represents another way the state is tackling the education attainment and employment needs gap. An estimated 165 California schools offer undergraduate degrees online, 101 of which do so at the graduate level. This growth helped a total student population of 2.7 million — and 284,000 online students – work toward a college degree in 2012.

284KStudents with at least one online course
2.7MTotal college students
185No. of colleges with online programs

With so many online programs in California, it may seem hard to find the right one. Which ones are accredited? Which online courses transfer to the CSU system? Which ones are close to home? The California Virtual Campus, while not an actual school, connects distance education data and information across the state. Its Distance Education Catalog helps potential online students find detailed online learning information by type (courses or programs), subject, school, and term.

The CVC also highlights Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) courses to help 2-year students become 4-year students without losing credits in the process.

Many colleges in California administer their online programs separately. For example, Cal State Online manages both fully and partially online bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees across 23 campuses and 460,000 students. The UC system has online programs for both matriculating and non-matriculating students, and large-scale universities such as the University of Southern California and Stanford University have hundreds of programs administered through their proprietary systems online. But which online learning system is the best for you?

Best Online Colleges in California: 2017-18

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California’s online learning options are as diverse as its population. CSU, UC, Stanford, and so many other colleges and universities stand out for different reasons, and provide online college students with tremendous academic and career opportunities. But which ones are the most affordable? Which colleges offer the most affordable online programs year in and year out?


Let’s take a closer look at the best accredited online colleges in California, and how they stack up against each other for 2018.

1. California State University-East Bay Hayward $5,472 California State University-East BayLearn More 52% 9 27:1 38% No Yes Yes
2. Alliant International University-San Diego San Diego $16,842 Alliant International University-San DiegoLearn More 100% 5 12:1 N/A No Yes Yes
3. Humboldt State University Arcata $5,472 Humboldt State UniversityLearn More 49% 5 23:1 40% No Yes Yes
4. California State University-Chico Chico $5,472 California State University-ChicoLearn More 41% 4 25:1 56% Yes Yes Yes
5. National University La Jolla $12,384 National UniversityLearn More 3% 75 20:1 38% Yes No Yes
6. California State University-Fullerton Fullerton $5,472 California State University-FullertonLearn More 37% 5 25:1 53% No Yes Yes
7. San Diego State University San Diego $5,472 San Diego State UniversityLearn More 23% 4 28:1 66% No Yes Yes
8. Shasta Bible College and Graduate School Redding $10,400 Shasta Bible College and Graduate SchoolLearn More 60% 8 5:1 0% Yes No Yes
9. SUM Bible College and Theological Seminary Oakland $7,800 SUM Bible College and Theological SeminaryLearn More 64% 4 10:1 75% No No Yes
10. Bethesda University Anaheim $9,000 Bethesda UniversityLearn More 30% 6 10:1 78% No No Yes
11. Golden Gate University-San Francisco San Francisco $14,640 Golden Gate University-San FranciscoLearn More N/A 23 12:1 N/A No Yes Yes
12. World Mission University Los Angeles $5,040 World Mission UniversityLearn More 14% 4 7:1 0% Yes No Yes
13. Touro University Worldwide Los Alamitos $14,400 Touro University WorldwideLearn More 33% 9 13:1 N/A No No Yes
14. The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Los Angeles Los Angeles $11,550 The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Los AngelesLearn More N/A 4 8:1 N/A No Yes Yes
15. Brandman University Irvine $12,000 Brandman UniversityLearn More N/A 23 16:1 N/A Yes No Yes
16. Azusa Pacific University College Glendora $11,208 Azusa Pacific University CollegeLearn More 4% 5 17:1 N/A Yes No Yes
17. Horizon University San Diego $9,000 Horizon UniversityLearn More N/A 3 7:1 N/A Yes No Yes
18. Southern California Seminary El Cajon $13,860 Southern California SeminaryLearn More N/A 4 9:1 0% No No Yes
19. Pacific Oaks College Pasadena $19,872 Pacific Oaks CollegeLearn More N/A 5 6:1 N/A Yes No Yes
20. John F. Kennedy University Pleasant Hill $23,292 John F. Kennedy UniversityLearn More N/A 4 5:1 N/A Yes No Yes
21. Palo Alto University Palo Alto $15,669 Palo Alto UniversityLearn More N/A 4 15:1 N/A No No No
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California Scholarships & Grants

Pell Grants and Cal Grants are two ways to make your college education more affordable. But if qualifying for a grant seems unlikely, or if you have your eyes set on an advanced degree, California students have a wide range of scholarship opportunities to explore. Check out these five scholarships for CA students:

1. Latinos in Technology Scholarship

The Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley launched the Latinos in Technology Scholarship to invest in the higher education of the local Hispanic community. The Foundation will award up to 100 Latino students who wouldn’t have the opportunity to enroll in college without the financial grant.

Scholarship Amount: Up to $30,000

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2. Ralph Hale and Martha L. Ruppert Educational Scholarship

This scholarship targets students considered “late bloomers”, who have showed academic improvement despite starting high school or college with a relatively low GPA. Qualifying students likely would not receive scholarship money otherwise due past academic performance.

Scholarship Amount: Up to $10,000

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3. Horatio Alger State Scholarship

Horatio Alger scholarships help students who have overcome challenges to show academic and career promise. Eligible applicants must be U.S. citizens, enrolled full time in high school, and have a gross family income of less than $55,000 annually. See below for the full academic and extracurricular requirements.

Scholarship Amount: Up to $10,000

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4. Krishnan-Shah Family Scholarship

This scholarship aims to support students with clear financial need, strong academic potential, and who interact with their community. Applicants must be a first-generation college student and a graduate from a high school in either Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda, or Santa Cruz counties.

Scholarship Amount: Up to $40,000

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5. Law Enforcement Personnel Dependents Grant Program

A needs-based scholarship for dependents and spouses peace officers, Department of Corrections, and California Youth Authorities employees, and full-time firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Scholarship Amount: Up to $12,192

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Find Colleges in California

Find the California online colleges with the accreditation and affordability you need with our complete database of schools in the state.