According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 7,313,623 students enrolled in at least one distance education course at degree-granting postsecondary institutions in fall 2019. The year 2021 is an ideal time to pursue an online degree. With the future of social distancing uncertain, enrolling in an online program ensures a smooth, uninterrupted educational process.
If virtual learning seems like a good fit for you, keep reading to discover the best online college for your goals. In addition, we offer information on how online college works, scholarships, and online college resources.
Why Study Online?
The best online degrees offer many benefits. Distance learners can save money on education, living, and commuting expenses. Most schools charge a lower tuition rate for distance learners, and online students can live at home to avoid high room and board costs. In addition, online learners do not need to pay for gas or parking passes.
Virtual learning also provides pacing flexibility. Many online courses follow an asynchronous format. Students can watch pre-recorded lectures and engage in online discussion boards at their own convenience. People with full-time jobs can earn their degrees outside of traditional business hours.
Students wanting more accountability can look for a synchronous online program. Synchronous classes include set virtual meeting times and live chats with professors and classmates.
Popular Questions About Online Schools and Degrees
Timing depends on the education level pursued. An associate degree online takes learners about two years to complete. A bachelor's degree online takes about four years to finish.
Schools nationwide offer online degrees for nearly any major. Some programs may include a few mandatory in-person requirements for licensure purposes, like clinical rotations for nurses.
Many online colleges and universities publish accreditation information online. However, you can quickly verify a school's accreditation status by using the U.S. Department of Education's lookup tool.
Yes. Most schools accept transfer credits from other accredited schools. Credits tend to transfer best between schools with accreditation from the same agency.
Yes. Learners can attend an online college located in any state to pursue an online degree. Most schools charge a rate similar to in-state tuition for distance learners.
No. Colleges typically feature the same application process and admission requirements for both online and in-person learners. However, this varies by school.
Accreditation for Online Schools
The best online colleges all hold accreditation. An institution earns this accolade for regularly receiving quality assessments from a third-party organization that the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee.
Schools can earn regional or national accreditation. Employers generally view regionally accredited schools as more prestigious than schools with national accreditation. Individual degrees can earn programmatic accreditation. The best online universities offer programs with accreditation through the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.
Scholarships for Online Students
To reduce college expenses and avoid high student loan debt, learners can apply for scholarships. Some schools, organizations, and private companies offer scholarships reserved for online learners.
Scholarships usually feature competitive applicant pools, so consider applying for multiple awards each year to increase your chances of earning one. Most scholarships require recommendation letters, essays, and official transcripts, so applicants must start the process early.
Each year, we update a list of the top 50 college scholarships with their award amounts and requirements. Refer to this list to find current college scholarships.
Best Online Colleges and Universities
Finding the best online college often poses a challenge. To help students find the right school for their needs, we create and frequently update this ranking of top online colleges. By gathering data on accreditation status, graduate success rates, and cost, we evaluate these schools rigorously. Learn more about our methodology.
One of the best online colleges, the University of Florida offers more than 25 online majors in fields such as business administration, microbiology and cell science, and criminology. Just like on-campus enrollees, online students can access a range of student services including tutoring, career planning, and financial aid. The university also maintains many of its library resources online, making them easily accessible to distance learners.
UF offers several undergraduate and graduate degrees online, as well as certificates and professional development programs. Many of the university's online offerings follow the same curriculum as on-campus programs. However, some programs with specialization areas, such as UF's bachelor of arts in business administration, may not always offer all specialization courses online.
Many of the university's programs with internship or practicum requirements allow online students to complete the experience in their home community.
Located on the oldest continuous site of higher education in the Sunshine State, Florida State University enrolls more than 41,000 undergraduate and graduate students annually. FSU offers online degrees at the bachelor's, master's, specialist, and doctoral levels.
Undergraduate students can pursue some of the best online degrees in computer science, criminology, public safety and security, and social science. The computer science program offers a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science degree. FSU also offers several undergraduate and graduate certificate programs.
The College of Criminology and Criminal Justice offers specialized studies in criminology comprising 21 credits. The programs target non-majors with an interest in switching to a career in criminal justice. Students can transfer these credits toward a bachelor's in the field.
The Office of Distance Learning provides academic and career counseling, assessment and testing services, and financial aid information.
University of Central Florida
Offering more than 100 fully online programs, the University of Central Florida features online certificates, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral programs. Many of the online programs at UCF follow an asynchronous delivery format, giving students the flexibility to pursue a degree while working full time.
UCF waives some campus-based fees for online enrollees. On average, when compared to on-campus cost per credit, undergraduate and graduate online students save about $33 and $42 per credit, respectively. Online enrollees can also apply to many of the financial aid programs available to on-campus students.
Online programs at UCF include 25 bachelor's and 34 master's degrees. UCF also offers online doctor of nursing practice and doctor of philosophy in nursing programs.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers online programs at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Associate degree-holders and community college transferees can choose from 18 bachelor's degree-completion programs in areas like computer and information sciences, business management and administrative services, and conservation and renewable natural resources.
At the doctoral level, students can pursue an online doctor of education degree in diversity and equity in education, human resource development, global studies in education, or learning design and leadership. The university also offers an online doctorate in public health.
Online enrollees can access the extensive library resources at any of the university's three main campuses. They can also access academic and career services, tutoring and research assistance, and financial aid opportunities.
University of South Florida-Main Campus
Founded in 1867, the University of South Florida offers more than 150 academic fields of study, many of which are available online. For example, USF offers a bachelor's degree online in areas like criminal justice, environmental policy, information studies, and public administration.
At the master's level, students can enroll in online MS and MA programs in areas like education, global sustainability, engineering, and behavior and community sciences. The school's online master's program in education offers 10 specializations, including instructional technology, TESOL, and special education.
USF also offers an online doctor of philosophy in career and workforce education. Additionally, students can choose from more than 100 online graduate certificate programs, most of which enrollees can complete without any campus visits.
San Diego State University
San Diego State University offers some of the best online degrees in fields such as healthcare and fitness, business, construction, and government and politics. SDSU's bachelor's degrees online are designed as degree-completion programs, requiring applicants to hold at least 60 prior credits.
The online bachelor's programs cover fields such as civil engineering, criminal justice, American Indian studies, and public health. In addition to undergraduate programs, SDSU offers seven online master's degrees and 17 professional certificate programs. Students can also explore online bootcamps in digital marketing and cybersecurity.
Online enrollees can access tutoring services, academic and career counseling, and job search assistance.
Florida International University
As one of the best online colleges, Florida International University hosts more than 54,000 on-campus and online enrollees annually. FIU offers more than 100 bachelor's and master's degrees online, as well as several undergraduate and graduate certificates and professional licensure programs.
Online students gain access to a range of student services, including tutoring, academic advice, and career counseling. Additionally, online learners can apply for many of the financial aid opportunities open to on-campus students.
The online professional licensure programs at FIU meet the educational requirements for Florida. However, licensure regulations vary between states, so distance learners should research the licensure requirements in the state where they plan to work.
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
The University of Minnesota -- Twin Cities features more than 45 online degrees at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Students can also choose from 28 online certificates and professional licensure programs, making UMN one of the best online colleges.
The bachelor's degrees online include fields such as tribal administration and governance, agricultural business, applied health, and criminal justice. These programs function as degree-completion programs, so applicants must hold an associate degree or at least 60 transferable credits from an accredited school.
The federal agencies overseeing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) recognize the University of Minnesota as a certified education provider. Many of the university's online bachelor's degrees and certificate programs fall under WIOA's list of approved educational programs. Students enrolled in these programs can apply for tuition assistance and fee waivers.
The University of Alabama
The College of Continuing Studies at the University of Alabama offers more than 70 online programs, including bachelor's, master's, specialist, and doctoral programs.
UA features online bachelor's degrees in 12 fields of study, including commerce and business administration, early childhood administration, human environmental sciences, and public health. The university also offers 37 online master's degrees and an online doctor of nursing practice program.
Although non-resident online students pay out-of-state tuition, they can apply for several departmental grants to help cover the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition. The university gives online enrollees access to tutoring services, academic and career counseling, technical support, and writing assistance.
Louisiana Tech University
Louisiana Tech provides 13 online programs: a bachelor of science in health informatics and information management and 12 master's and graduate certificate programs. Undergraduate online enrollees can transfer up to 60 general education credits from another regionally accredited school.
The BS in health informatics and information management is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education. The program requires enrollees to complete volunteer hours in a relevant workplace setting. Online students can complete this requirement in their home community.
Online master's degrees encompass fields such as engineering and technology management, industrial engineering, English, and history. Although students can earn an MBA without any campus visits, the university does not currently offer any concentration coursework for the degree online.
Louisiana Tech supports online enrollees through various services such as tutoring, career counseling, and financial aid opportunities.
Online College Resources