Best Online Colleges and Universities 2020

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Online colleges and universities continue to grow in popularity. Taking online classes is an appealing option for all degree levels, bachelors, masters, and doctorate.

Students should complete a quality bachelor’s program tailored to their needs, goals, and interests. To find the best online college, prospective students should consider factors like their career goals, schedule, and budget. 

To help students explore the best online colleges, we collect data and rank colleges and universities based on factors like retention rates, tuition, and accreditation status. This guide ranks the best online universities for earning a bachelor’s degree. We also cover other important information for prospective students, including common courses, concentrations, and scholarships. 

We encourage students to use this information as a starting point. Learners should also conduct research pertaining to particular majors and the careers they lead to, which they can begin with this career section.

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Our Top Ten Colleges and Universities of 2020

Rank School Location
1 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
2 Judson University Elgin, IL
3 LeTourneau University Longview, TX
4 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
5 Maryville University Saint Louis, MO
6 Kansas State University Manhattan, KS
7 Florida International University Miami, FL
8 Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Saint Mary of the Woods, IN
9 Johnson University Knoxville, TN
10 Peirce College Philadelphia, PA

Best Online Colleges and Universities Overview

Online schools make earning a bachelor’s degree attainable for individuals with busy schedules and tight budgets. Asynchronous and self-paced online programs offer the most flexibility. Asynchronous programs do not require set meeting times, allowing students to watch pre-recorded lectures, participate in online discussion boards, and complete assignments at their convenience within set deadlines. Self-paced programs do not require deadlines, and students can move through the curriculum as quickly or as slowly as they wish. 

Online learners seeking more structure can pursue a synchronous program. Synchronous programs require set virtual class meeting times and live chats, allowing students to engage with professors and peers in real time. Students who want a mix of online and in-person courses can choose a hybrid program. 

In addition to flexibility, many students choose online learning due to its affordability. Online students can often avoid certain expenses that on-campus students incur, such as transportation and campus activity costs. Plus, many colleges and universities allow all online students to pay in-state tuition rates regardless of where they live. 

Attending college online can also benefit individuals seeking state licensure to practice in a state other than where they currently reside. For example, a student residing in Missouri who wants to work in Florida after graduation can enroll in an online program from a Florida-based college. Most online universities tailor their programs to fulfill their own state’s licensing requirements. 

Before enrolling in an online college, students should verify its accreditation status. Accreditation indicates that a school receives regular quality assessments from a third-party organization overseen by the U.S. Department of Higher Education. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission serves as one of the top accrediting bodies for online programs.

Common Online College Courses

English: In this course, learners add to their current knowledge of the English language. This class typically requires multiple essays and term papers. The course may cover multiple types of essays, like expository, descriptive, and argumentative essays. Professors often encourage students to choose essay topics that relate to their major. Students also discover how to write with specific audiences in mind. Upon successful course completion, students can clearly communicate thoughts and ideas through the written word. Some English courses also include a literature component, teaching students to critically read and analyze classic books.

Math: In a general education math class, students refine their arithmetic and algebraic skills. Typically, professors divide this course into two sections. In the first half of the semester, students review basic math skills. The second portion prepares learners for advanced college math classes. This course covers areas like advanced addition, decimals, fractions, percentages, linear equations, and graphing. Students also learn about polynomials and how to graph variable equations.

History: Most history courses focus on American history, but some cover world history. Students can also potentially study history topics like ancient civilizations or European history. All history learners analyze past events and discuss outcomes. Students typically complete textbook reading assignments and essays. Exams often consist of multiple-choice questions about historical facts and critical thinking essay questions about historical events and their implications.

Political Science: Introductory political science courses focus on domestic and international political affairs, typically emphasizing American democracy. Students learn about the purpose of the electoral college and how the branches of government interact. Learners also study the difference between state and federal governments. This course may discuss popular supreme court cases, like Plessy v.s. Ferguson and Roe v.s. Wade, and how these events impact current politics. This class may also cover how international political systems interact and differ from one another.

Biology: Biology refers to the study of living organisms. This course offers an overview of topics like cellular functions, behaviors, and origins of plants and animals. It may also cover evolution, ecology, and cellular molecular biology. Students expand their scientific vocabulary and learn about the principles of genetics. Most biology courses include lecture and lab components. During the lab component, students may examine cells through microscopes, dissect organisms, and perform small experiments.

Online College and University Concentrations

Many online bachelor’s programs offer concentrations that allow students to tailor their studies to their interests and goals. Concentrations vary from minors. A concentration relates directly to the student’s major. While a minor may complement a major, it may not directly relate to the major. However, both minors and concentrations allow students to specialize their knowledge and skills.

Typically, broad fields of study, like English, math, and education, offer concentrations. For example, special education programs may offer concentrations in early childhood development, assistive technology, or visual impairment. Undergraduate concentrations usually require 9-12 credits, which may or may not be included in the major’s requirements. 

Before selecting a concentration, students should research their desired career path. The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes helpful information about potential careers. Individuals can also browse job postings to familiarize themselves with common job duties and pick a concentration accordingly.

Online College and University Requirements

Online students must typically meet the same requirements as on-campus students. Admission requirements vary by school, but most online bachelor’s degrees require a high school or GED diploma. Some schools require a minimum GPA. Applicants may also need to submit an essay, ACT or SAT scores, or letters of recommendation. Most applications also require a nonrefundable application fee ranging from $25-$50. 

The letters of recommendation should come from teachers and employers who can speak to the applicant’s readiness for undergraduate study. Learners should ensure they give their writers at least several weeks to complete the letters. 

Once students receive admittance, they must still meet requirements to qualify for enrollment each semester, like refraining from plagiarism and maintaining a certain GPA. Students who benefit from university-sponsored scholarships usually must meet additional requirements, like community service hours.

Online College and University Scholarships

Against the Grain Scholarship:

Against the Grain promotes leadership and positive identity among Asian Americans and awards scholarships in five different categories. These awards range from $1,000-$1,500. High school seniors or college students with a minimum 3.0 GPA, U.S. citizenship, and at least 25% Asian or Pacific Islander heritage may apply. 

The organization reserves different scholarships for various majors. For example, the Artistic Scholarship awards learners studying visual or performing arts, mass communication, or journalism. Similarly, the #LiveLikeLyly Memorial Scholarship awards learners studying graphic design or fashion.

Earnest Scholarship:

Art and business students may apply for this scholarship from Earnest, a student loan refinancing provider. The organization offers a $5,000 scholarship to 50 undergraduate and graduate students each year. To apply, individuals must submit an essay of 800-1,000 words on how college will help them achieve their dreams. 

Earnest awards this scholarship solely based on the essay, so it does not require a minimum GPA or certain major. However, recipients must maintain full-time enrollment status. The application opens in February, and students must submit their application by May.

Gates Scholarship:

This scholarship goes to 300 minority high school students each year who plan to attend a four-year undergraduate program. The scholarship covers their tuition. Applicants must hold a minimum 3.3 GPA and demonstrate financial need and leadership skills. They must also be U.S. citizens. Additionally, recipients must qualify for a Federal Pell Grant.

Love Your Career Scholarship:

Applicants must complete an essay of 1,000-3,000 words about three steps they plan to take to achieve a fulfilling career. Applicants must also interview a professional who works in their intended role and report on what they learn. A judging panel selects one recipient each semester, and the winner gets $1,000. Students applying for the fall semester award must submit their essay in a PDF format in September, and winter applicants must submit their application by January.

2020 Top Accredited Online Colleges and Universities

Learners should consider their personal needs and preferences when selecting an institution. The ranking below factors in aspects many students value, including accreditation and affordability. Students can use this list as a starting place when researching the best online colleges and universities.

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. University of Florida
    Location

    Gainesville, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1853 and now the third-largest university in Florida by student population (over 55,000 in 2018), the University of Florida (UF) offers more than 100 undergraduate majors and over 200 graduate programs. U.S. News & World Report ranks UF's online bachelor's programs among the best in the nation (No. 4 out of 353 schools).

    This online college offers online undergraduate programs in popular fields like psychology, business administration, health education, and computer science. Just like their on-campus counterparts, online students can access the Career Connections Center (CCC), one of the top-ranked career centers in the country. CCC services include career counseling, resume and interview preparation, and online workshops.

    Every year, UF holds one of the largest job fairs in the southeastern U.S. that online students can participate in from anywhere in the world.

    University of Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

  2. Judson University
    Location

    Elgin, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Although Judson University became an independent entity in 1963, it traces its roots back to 1913 with the founding of the Northern Theological Seminary. Today, the university ranks among the top regional universities in the Midwest (No. 72 out of 162 schools), enrolls more than 1,250 students, and offers over 60 undergraduate programs.

    Judson offers online degrees through its Adult Professional Program. Students can pursue a bachelor of arts in applied psychology, business administration, human services, or organizational leadership. The length of time it takes to earn an online bachelor's degree depends on a student's educational background at the start of their program.

    Transferees with an associate degree from an accredited institution and a cumulative 2.0 GPA meet the general education requirements of the school and can take junior-level courses.

    Judson University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

  3. LeTourneau University
    Location

    Longview, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1946 on the site of a former Army hospital, LeTourneau University (LETU) began as an all-male institution. Today, it enrolls more than 3,150 men and women and offers two- and four-year degrees and graduate programs across eight academic schools. U.S. News & World Report includes LETU among the top regional universities in the West (No. 25 out of 128 schools).

    Like other online universities, LETU offers online degrees in several fields of study, including computer information systems, criminal justice, human services, and aviation management. Just like on-campus students, online enrollees can access the services offered at the Student Success Center including academic and career counseling.

    Students can transfer prior learning credits earned from recognized programs such as the DANTES Subject Standardized Tests, Advanced Placement Exams, and College Level Examination Program.

    LeTourneau University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  4. University of Central Florida
    Location

    Orlando, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of Central Florida (UCF) was established in 1963 as the Florida Technological University with an initial graduating class comprising 423 students. Today, UCF enrolls nearly 59,000 undergraduates and offers more than 220 majors across 13 colleges. The university ranks among top universities offering nline bachelor's programs (No. 16 out of 353 schools).

    UCF offers more than 20 bachelor's programs completely online. Students can choose from a variety of disciplines including health informatics and information management, social sciences, technical education and industry training, and legal studies. The online bachelor's programs at UCF only accept students transferring from another accredited institution. The length of time it takes to complete an online undergraduate degree depends on a student's academic background at the start of their program. Many programs offer asynchronous classes, making online classes even more flexible and convenient.

    University of Central Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  5. Maryville University
    Location

    Saint Louis, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Maryville University started out in 1872 as an academy for young women. Today, the university enrolls more than 10,200 young men and women who come from all 50 states and 58 countries. Maryville University offers more than 90 programs at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels.

    The university also offers over 0 online degrees, many of which can be completed without any campus visits. Students can earn a degree in one of several available academic arenas such as management information systems, organizational leadership, forensic psychology, and sustainability.

    Maryville University adheres to a liberal transfer credit policy; however, students must have earned the credits (with a grade of C- or higher) from an institution with regional accreditation. Some online programs validate licenses or industry-recognized certification programs, which can then be transferred as credit hours toward a degree.

    Maryville University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

  6. Kansas State University
    Location

    Manhattan, KS

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Kansas State University (K-State) began in 1863 as Kansas State Agricultural College, the country's first land grant university and the only one in the state. K-State currently enrolls more than 22,000 students and offers more than 250 undergraduate majors and over 165 graduate degrees and certificate programs. U.S. News & World Report includes K-State in its rankings of the best schools for online bachelor's programs (No. 58 out of 353 schools).

    Students can choose an online bachelor's program in fields such as nutrition and health, human development and family science, educational studies, and food science and industry. K-State offers online learners the same comprehensive student services that they offer on-campus students. Online enrollees can avail of career counseling, academic advisement, and one-on-one tutoring assistance. K-State's career center also helps online students in their job search after graduation.

    Kansas State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

  7. Florida International University
    Location

    Miami, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Florida International University (FIU) began in an abandoned airfield in 1972 with an initial enrollment of 5,667 students. FIU now enrolls over 48,000 students and comprises 10 academic colleges offering more than 190 degrees. U.S. News & World Report includes FIU in its list of schools offering the best online bachelor's programs in the country (No. 52 out of 353 schools).

    Students can select from over 100 online degrees offered by FIU in a variety of disciplines, including health services administration, logistics and supply chain management, public policy and service, and public relations, advertising, and applied communication. FIU assigns success coaches to specific online programs to help participants maximize their educational experience and define their career objectives. Online students can also take online leadership workshops to increase their chances of employment after graduation.

    Florida International University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  8. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
    Location

    Saint Mary of the Woods, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) began in 1840 as an all-women's school known as Saint Mary's Female Institute. It started admitting men to its distance learning programs in 2005 and became fully coeducation in 2015. Today, SMWC enrolls over 1,700 men and women, offers more than 30 associate and bachelor's programs, and is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one the top regional institutions in the Midwest.

    SMWC offers 13 online bachelor's degrees in several academic disciplines, including health administration, human resource management, professional writing, and information technology. SMWC follows a generous transfer credit policy. Students can transfer up to 30 credits toward an undergraduate program from an accredited school. SMWC also accepts credits from the College Level Examination Program and other standardized tests.

    Online students can access the services offered at the Student Resource Center, such as tutoring sessions, career counseling, and writing assistance. SMWC assigns an academic counselor to online students to help keep them on track.

    Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

  9. Johnson University
    Location

    Knoxville, TN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Johnson University (JU) began as the School of Evangelists in 1893 before becoming Johnson Bible College in 1909. It achieved university status in 2011 when it finally took on its current name. Johnson University offers more than 70 programs in its Tennessee and Florida campuses as well as online.

    JU offers online bachelor's degrees in the following fields: applied linguistics, business administration, intercultural studies, ministry leadership, and pastoral care and counseling. JU participates in the Tennessee Transfer Pathways Program. Resident students with an associate degree from a Tennessee community college can transfer their associate credits toward an on-campus or online JU program.

    The Academic Support Center offers a variety of services to both on-campus and online students including term paper writing assistance, how to perform college-level research, tutorials, and career and academic counseling.

    Johnson University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  10. Peirce College
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Established in 1865 as Union Business College, Peirce College began as a school focused on providing educational opportunities for soldiers returning to the state after the Civil War. Today, Peirce exclusively serves the unique educational needs of working students. Peirce enrolls over 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 92% of whom are over 21 years old.

    Peirce offers nline bachelor's degrees in 11 fields of study, including health information administration, human services leadership, technology management, and human resource management. The college supports a flexible transfer credit policy. Some programs accept up to 102 transfer credits from an accredited institution or a community college partner. Most programs accept up to 90 transfer credits. Students can also submit professional certifications and results from credit-by-exam programs for consideration as college credits.

    Peirce College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

Why More Students Are Choosing College Online

Among the many reasons students choose to attend online programs, flexibility is a common consideration, according to the 2019 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report. Working professionals and busy students with personal responsibilities often need scheduling flexibility to earn their degree while fulfilling other obligations.

Cost is another important consideration for online students. Distance learning is often more affordable than on-campus programs, since online learning typically reduces or eliminates costs associated with housing and transportation. Many states participate in reciprocity agreements through which students can qualify for in-state tuition rates at certain out-of-state schools.

Students with health problems or mobility issues can also benefit from online education, which allows learners to study from home and in environments where they can access necessary medical services. Additionally, many online programs allow learners to enroll part time or complete coursework at an accelerated pace.

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