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Selecting an online bachelor’s degree program can be both exciting and overwhelming. There are more online bachelor’s programs available than ever and finding the best one for you can depend on many factors. To help with your search, evaluated hundreds of online bachelor’s degree programs based on cost, retention and graduation rates, reputable rankings, and more, creating our list of top picks for 2023’s best online bachelor’s degree programs.

We also interviewed college admissions experts Blanca Villagomez, a program counselor and coordinator for UC-Irvine, and Dana Marvin, an independent college admissions and financial aid consultant, for their insights into the college planning and application process. Using their expertise, we crafted this guide covering key facts students should know about online bachelor’s degree programs, how to research and apply to programs, and students’ most frequently asked questions about attending an online college.

What You Should Know About Online Bachelor’s Degrees

“Choosing the right bachelor’s degree program can be a challenging process as it can shape your future career and educational path,” Villagomez says. “Your job is to choose a program that aligns with your interests, budget, and goals so that you possess the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in your future career.”

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, more college students than ever have been exposed to online learning. Whether you’re a new or returning student to the world of online learning, there are a few things to understand about how online bachelor’s degrees work and what makes a program worth your time and consideration.

Class schedules

One of the biggest distinctions between online and traditional programs is when and how classes meet — if they meet at all. Many online programs deliver course content through asynchronous classes, which have no scheduled meeting times. Instead, students access all their lessons and assignments through an online portal like BlackBoard or Canvas and complete their schoolwork at whatever time is convenient for them. While these programs are very popular because of their flexibility, they require significant self-motivation, discipline, and time management skills, and are better suited for independent learners.

The other option is synchronous classes. These are similar to traditional in-person classes in that there are regularly scheduled class meetings — they just happen virtually using videoconferencing platforms. For students who want more accountability and interaction with faculty and classmates, synchronous classes may be preferable, although this is a less flexible learning format.

Program delivery formats

Students should also note whether all aspects of their desired program can be completed online. While there are many bachelor’s degrees available that students can earn without ever needing to be anywhere in person, others may have components requiring live attendance. This can mean hybrid or blended programs, which include a mixture of virtual and on-campus classes. In other cases, some program elements, like internships, clinical rotations, or student teaching, require in-person attendance at a specific location. As you start your search, consider what type of program will best fit your lifestyle, so you can seek out the delivery format you need.

Non-profit and for-profit status

Whether you’re attending school online or in-person, it’s important to know whether the school is a non-profit or for-profit institution. A school’s status can impact the quality of its programs, how it spends your tuition money, and your eligibility for financial aid and employment.

Non-profit institutions are considered the standard-bearers for post-secondary education in the U.S. These institutions by definition aren’t intended to turn a profit, instead reinvesting revenue into the school via faculty and staff salaries, infrastructure, student services, and more.

For-profit schools, on the other hand, are designed to make money. While they can reinvest their revenue into the institution, they can also use it to pay shareholders, executives, and investors, and may be tempted to cut corners to boost profits.

Our list only includes non-profit schools. If you’re considering a for-profit school, be sure to carefully research their business practices, graduation rates, and outcomes for graduates.


Another way to evaluate the quality of an institution and its programs is by checking its accreditation status. There are two types of accreditation for U.S. colleges and universities — regional and national. Both types of accreditation ensure institutions are offering quality education, although regionally accredited schools are typically held to more rigorous standards. Most schools publish their accreditation status on their websites, but you can also check the U.S. Department of Education’s database to confirm a school’s accreditation status. Both traditional brick-and-mortar and online only colleges are eligible for accreditation.

Eligibility and restrictions

Just because online learning means you can technically attend any program from anywhere doesn’t mean you can actually attend any program anywhere. In the U.S., restrictions may prevent students from attending school in a specific state or pursuing a specific degree program.  Institutions must be authorized by individual states to grant degrees to students living in those locations. Without this authorization, students aren’t eligible for enrollment. Over 2300 institutions throughout 49 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands participate in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA), ensuring their distance education programs are authorized to operate and grant degrees in multiple states.

In some cases, a student’s specific area of study may impact where they can earn their degree. For example, teachers in the U.S. must be certified, with educational requirements that may vary by state and in some cases, may require that students obtain their degree in the state where they plan to teach. It’s important to consider professional plans like this when choosing an online bachelor’s degree program.

Our Research

This list features some of the best online bachelor’s degree programs at top colleges across the country. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions.

We evaluated each school’s program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, and reputation as well as the student resources provided for online students. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of online bachelor’s degree programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the U.S. News & World Report among others to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

The Top 61 Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs

Best Bachelors Degree Programs 2023

Embry - Riddle Aeronautical University - Worldwide

Penn State World Campus

Western Kentucky University

Arizona State University

Pace University

Regent University

University of Nebraska Omaha

University of Central Florida

Indiana University

Fort Hays State University

Northeastern University

California Baptist University

University of Florida

Saint Leo University

Ohio State University

Western Governors University

Thomas Edison State University

Southern New Hampshire University

CSU Global

University of Maryland Global Campus

Robert Morris University

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Purdue University

Bellevue University

UMass Amherst

Florida International University

UNH College of Professional Studies

George Washington University

Park University

Liberty University

Wilmington University

Thomas Jefferson University

Drexel University

Franklin University

University of Utah

University of South Florida

Columbia College

Auburn University

Upper Iowa University

Temple University

University of West Florida

University of Missouri

San Diego State University

George Mason University

Johnson & Wales University

Oregon State University

The Citadel

Rutgers University - New Brunswick

SUNY Polytechnic Institute

University of Iowa

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Biblical Studies & Theology

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Advice from an Expert

Blanca Villagomez

Blanca Villagomez

College Admissions and Education Advisor

Blanca Villagomez is a seasoned professional with over ten years of experience developing programs, curriculums, and initiatives supporting diverse and underrepresented student populations. She completed her master’s in Counseling at CSU Long Beach (CSULB). Her experiences navigating college as a first-generation, low-income student equipped her with a deep understanding of the educational inequities that impact student sense of belonging. Her formal training in educational counseling has equipped her with a skill set in fostering meaningful relationships with students that prepare them to graduate successfully. She currently serves as a Program Counselor and Coordinator for the University of California, Irvine (UCI). As a lifelong learner, Blanca strives to create growth experiences that help students thrive in college and beyond.

What key pieces of advice do you give to students preparing for an online bachelor's degree?

“My greatest piece of advice is to understand that success is not always linear,” Villagomez says. “Life will throw you curveballs when you least expect it, so I encourage all students to stay open-minded and flexible in adapting to increase their resilience.”

Students in online bachelor’s programs should focus on strengthening their time management and stress management skills, as these are invaluable to succeeding in an online program.

Finally, Villagomez says, “Have fun! College can be a transformative experience and a great time to learn more about yourself and others, build friendships, and take advantage of opportunities exclusive to students.”

What questions should students ask themselves when exploring online bachelor's degree programs?

  • What are my career goals? A bachelor’s degree can be a valuable asset for many careers, but it may not always be necessary. Think about your long-term career goals and how a bachelor’s degree may help you achieve them.
  • What are my motivations for earning a bachelor’s degree? External pressure from families, friends, and society at large can often make students feel compelled to pursue a bachelor’s degree. However, attending college needs to be a personal choice. Engage in self-reflection so you feel confident and grounded in your decision.
  • Can I afford it? Earning a bachelor’s degree can be a significant financial investment, so consider your budget and if you currently have access to resources to pay for tuition and other costs associated with your degree.

When is the best time to pursue an online bachelor's degree?

While it’s common for students to go straight from high school to a university, there’s no one ideal time when students should get their bachelor’s degree, according to Villagomez.

“Your decision to pursue college ultimately depends on your current priorities, life circumstances, and career goals,” she says. “Assess the costs and benefits. A bachelor’s degree typically requires four years of full-time study, so you should be prepared to commit to a significant time and effort to complete your degree.”

Will I be able to connect with classmates in an online program?

“It’s true that traditional in-person programs offer easier access to connect with peers and faculty, but online programs still offer many opportunities to foster meaningful connections through virtual community spaces and extracurricular activities (such as clubs or organizations) where you can interact with others in live sessions,” Villagomez says.

What support services are available to online students?

While on-campus programs may offer a wider variety of extracurricular activities and resources, such as research opportunities or access to a library or other facilities, online programs can still provide high-touch and personalized support services, including academic advising, tutoring services, and counseling services.

Online Bachelor’s Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How much does an online bachelor’s degree cost?

The cost of an online bachelor’s degree depends upon several variables. Here are some things students should keep in mind when considering the cost of their online bachelor’s degree.

Tuition is the primary cost associated with an online degree

Students often assume that earning a degree online will be cheaper than doing so in person, but that’s not always true, at least based on tuition alone.

Most universities charge a flat per-term tuition fee for bachelor’s degrees based on full-time enrollment. Although tuition policies vary by school, most charge the same tuition regardless of whether a program is online, on-campus, or hybrid.

Tuition at individual schools varies based on several factors, including:

  • Public versus private status — Public universities typically charge lower tuition rates than private institutions because they receive state and federal funds to make them more affordable. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in the 2020-21 academic year, the average annual tuition and fees at public institutions in the U.S. were $9,735 for in-state students and $27,091 for out-of-state students. At private institutions, the average tuition was $32,825.
  • Student residency status — As mentioned above, tuition at public universities might differ based on where students live. Public universities typically charge out-of-state students a higher tuition rate than in-state students. However, many schools have started offering the same tuition to all online students, regardless of where they live.
  • Enrollment status — For undergraduate programs, it’s common practice for schools to charge flat-rate tuition based on full-time enrollment, which is usually a minimum of 12 credits. Students who are enrolled part-time may have a lower per-term cost, but because everyone must complete the same number of credits to earn their bachelor’s, you’ll end up paying the same amount as a full-time student.
  • Student military status — Students who are active-duty service members, veterans, National Guard, or military spouses may qualify for discounted tuition, depending on the institution.

Other costs to consider when pricing online bachelor’s degrees.

However, tuition isn’t the only factor students need to consider when comparing the price of online bachelor’s degrees.

  • Technology — Having reliable hardware and software is critical for success as an online student. Essential hardware includes a good-quality computer, webcam, and microphone. Online students also need reliable access to high-speed Internet to ensure they can attend classes and submit assignments. Certain programs of study may also require specific software or hardware.
  • Fees — Online students often pay additional fees for technical support, online student services, library resources, and more.
  • Textbooks — Whether they’re hard-copy or digital, textbooks and other instructional materials can add to the annual cost of attending college.
  • Travel costs — Even in online bachelor’s programs, in-person requirements like internships, residencies, or other experiential learning opportunities may exist. Whether students travel to campus or another location to satisfy these requirements, they should factor associated costs into their budgets.

Factors that make an online bachelor’s degree more affordable

On the other hand, some common costs associated with attending a program in-person don’t impact online students.

  • Room and board — After tuition, the cost of living on campus and having a meal plan is often the biggest expense for undergraduate students. NCES reports that, for the 2020-21 academic year, the average room and board was $11,963 at public universities and $13,488 at private universities. Online students have more control over how much they pay for their housing, food, and other living expenses.
  • Learning remotely versus commuting — Not having to travel to a specific location for classes regularly means less money spent on fuel and car maintenance or public transportation.
  • Fees — On-campus students are often charged additional fees for campus services, activities, and other resources that don’t apply to online students.
  • Location — Online students have the option to live somewhere more affordable than their school’s location, which can also help save money.
  • Flexibility — Attending an online bachelor’s degree program can give you the flexibility to work a full- or part-time job and maintain a steady income while you complete your degree.

As you research online bachelor’s degree programs, collect information about tuition and additional costs from the schools that interest you. This will help you understand the true cost of your online bachelor’s degree. Schools typically publish this information on their website or in recruitment materials. If you have questions, contact their financial aid office.

How long does it take to earn an online bachelor’s degree?

In the U.S., most bachelor’s degrees require a minimum of 120 credits. This is the same regardless of whether students complete those credits online or in person. Most bachelor’s programs are structured, so students complete them in four years by taking 30 credits per academic year. According to NCES, 64% of first-time undergraduate students who entered school in the fall of 2014 graduated within six years.

Because online programs offer more flexibility than in-person classes, you may be able to complete your online bachelor in less than four years. You may also take classes at a slower pace, which would lengthen the completion time. Ultimately, the time it takes to complete your online bachelor’s degree depends on when you reach the required number of credits.

Many schools advertise accelerated bachelor’s programs that can be completed in as little as two years. However, these programs are often based on students transferring in previously earned credits that count towards their bachelor’s degree.

How do I apply to an online bachelor’s degree program?

Each school will have its own application process, which is why it’s important to do in-depth research into the schools and programs you want to apply to.

Generally, applying for an online bachelor’s degree consists of submitting an application (either the Common Application or the individual institution’s application) and supplemental application materials. Again, these may vary by school, but they typically include the following:

  • Official high school transcripts
  • Official college transcripts (transfer students only)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Essays
  • SAT or ACT scores

While standardized tests like the SAT or ACT were a required part of college applications for decades, following the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing number of schools are making these tests optional. Check with the schools to which you’re applying to find out what their standardized test policies are, and talk to an admissions counselor about whether submitting standardized test scores will enhance your application.

Some schools and programs require further evaluations, like interviews, auditions, or aptitude tests. You can find information about a particular school’s admissions process and requirements on its website or by contacting its admissions office.

It’s also important to be mindful of start terms and deadlines to ensure you can be considered and admitted for your desired start date. Many online programs offer multiple start terms and rolling admissions, but there may be cut-off dates by which to turn in all application materials.

Is earning an online bachelor’s degree worth it?

“Earning an online bachelor’s degree can be a convenient and flexible way to pursue higher education,” says Villagomez. “Bachelor’s degrees have long opened the door to fulfilling careers, higher earning potential, and further educational opportunities.”

Employers increasingly look for bachelor’s degrees as the minimum level of education for eligible job candidates. A bachelor’s degree can get you access to hundreds of jobs in fast-growing fields, such as chemical engineers, marketing managers, computer and IT managers, film and video editors, and more.

Having a bachelor’s degree can also help safeguard against unemployment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, the unemployment rate for individuals with a bachelor’s degree was 3.5%, compared to 4.6% for those with an associate’s degree, and 5.5% for those with no college degree.

Bachelor’s degree holders earn a median weekly salary of $1,334, compared to $963 for associate’s degree holders. This amounts to a difference of $371 per week, or $19,292 per year.

However, Villagomez adds, “The value of an online degree can depend on various factors, such as the reputation of the school and the program, student support services, the accreditation of the degree, and the specific career or educational path students are pursuing.”

It’s also important to remember that what you get out of a degree program depends a lot on what you put into it. Earning an online bachelor’s degree requires motivation, discipline, and enthusiasm. You must prepare to prioritize your education to get the total value out of your program.

How to Choose the Right Online Bachelor’s Degree Program

Before plunging into online bachelor’s program research, check in with yourself to confirm that this educational path is right for you.

Says Villagomez, “A bachelor’s degree program can be challenging and requires a lot of independent study and self-motivation. But if you enjoy learning and are able to work autonomously, you may be well-suited for an online bachelor’s degree program.”

For students debating between online and in-person programs, she adds, “It can be helpful to weigh the pros and cons of each option and consider factors such as your field of study, learning style, budget, and career goals.”

Additional factors that students can consider when deciding between an online or in-person program include: how much flexibility they need, whether their academic interests lend themselves to online study, the quality of the online program and school, what type of college experience they want, their ideal learning environment, and how much support they’ll need.

Once you’re ready to select an online bachelor’s program, Villagomez and Marvin recommend these steps:

Step 1: Choose your area of study

“An online bachelor’s degree requires an investment of your time, money, and energy,” Villagomez says. “It’s important to reflect on your motivations for pursuing a degree and what you’re passionate about learning. Consider your long-term career goals and how a degree will help you achieve them.”

Having a long-term goal can also help you understand the complete picture of your educational journey. For example, you might find that a bachelor’s degree isn’t necessary for your intended career. Or you may learn that you’ll need additional education, like a master’s degree, to qualify for all potential jobs in your field.

Think about why you want a bachelor’s degree. Are you seeking foundational knowledge to prepare you for an entry-level position in a particular field? Do you want to pursue graduate study? Are you focused on earning potential and return on investment? What specific skills and knowledge do you want to gain from this experience?

There are many ways to explore potential career paths. “Taking classes in a variety of subjects and joining clubs or organizations related to your interests can help you discover what you enjoy and provide insight into different fields,” Villagomez says. “Internships allow you to gain hands-on experience in a particular field and understand what it’s like to work in that industry.”

Networking is key too. “Start becoming comfortable with networking as it will be one of the most important skills needed to access opportunities,” says Villagomez, who recommends talking to instructors and teaching assistants. “You’ll be surprised at how willing people can be in sharing their stories and advice.”

You may also want to consider what type of bachelor’s degree you want. There are several to choose from, including Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), and more. While all equally valid, they each have slight differences based on specific coursework, number of credits, and approach to curriculum.

Ultimately, being as specific as possible about what you want from your online bachelor’s degree program gives you a good starting point for your search.

Step 2: Research schools and programs

Keep those answers in mind as you move on to step 2, which is learning more about schools and programs. There’s no shortage of options for online bachelor’s programs, so using filters based on your personal needs and preferences can help in narrowing down your choices.

Villagomez recommends students use filters like available majors, cost of attendance, school reputation and ranking, access to financial aid, faculty expertise, available student support services, and extracurricular activities to find schools that may be a good fit.

Once you start diving deep into specific schools and programs, there are some additional questions you should ask to help you evaluate schools:

  • What opportunities will I have to meet and interact with classmates?
  • How are communications between students and faculty handled? How much interaction will I have with the faculty?
  • What support services are available to online students?
  • Are there any in-person requirements for completing this program, such as internships, student teaching, clinical rotations, or practicums?
  • What is the overall culture of the institution?
  • What scholarship and financial aid opportunities are available?

There are many ways to gather this information, including visiting the school’s website and social media platforms, contacting admissions representatives, and requesting digital or print admissions materials.

“Whenever possible, attend virtual informational sessions to gain a better sense of the program and the school,” says Villagomez. “This can help you get a feel for the culture and community at the university and determine if it is a good fit for you.”

She also reminds students that they don’t have to go through this process alone. “As you conduct your research, keep track of your findings and consult with a trusted teacher, school counselor, or mentor to help you understand your options,” Villagomez says. “They can provide valuable guidance and recommendations on how to choose the right fit.”

Step 3: Select the school(s) to which you’ll apply

After completing your research, you’ll want to select the specific programs to which you’ll apply.

The number of schools you apply to is up to you. Some students who want a specific program or school may only apply to that institution. Others may apply to several to increase their chances of acceptance or competitive scholarship offers. The right number of schools to apply to is the one that works best for you.

Make a list of the schools to which you’ll apply, including their specific application requirements and deadlines, to help you stay organized with your application submissions and responses.

Step 4: Prepare and submit your application

Once it’s time to submit your applications, the specific requirements from each school will guide your next steps, which will likely include the following:

  • Requesting official transcripts from your high school (if a first-time undergraduate student) and college (if a transfer student)
  • Preparing for and taking standardized tests like the SAT or ACT
  • Writing admissions essays
  • Requesting letters of recommendation from teachers, employers, or community members

If you are applying to multiple schools, confirm with them whether the application materials should be submitted individually or together. Many schools now accept all application materials electronically, which helps streamline the process. Additionally, this is when you will prepare for any additional admissions steps, such as interviews or auditions.

Step 5: Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Your research should also include learning about the various costs associated with the programs you’re applying to, including tuition, fees, and additional expenses. You’ll also want to explore scholarships, assistantships, grants, work-study, and financial aid options.

Being realistic about what you and your family can afford to pay for a bachelor’s degree can help you choose the right school and avoid significant student loan debt post-graduation, says Marvin.

“I have conversations every year with students and families about how the best school is always the one that fits the needs of that particular child,” she says. “A major consideration for many families is cost of attendance. If attending a pricey college is going to put a family into major debt and require potentially dangerous financial decisions, like taking out a second mortgage, it may mean a hard conversation about choosing a different school.”

Marvin advises students to explore all other funding avenues, including scholarships and grants, before turning to student loans. “Scholarships and grants, both from the school and from outside organizations, as well as state grants, can lower the amount students need to borrow, or completely cover the cost of tuition,” she says. Another option is checking if the school offers a payment plan, which allows students to spread out tuition payments over the term.

If loans are necessary, Marvin has tips for being strategic about borrowing and repaying.

“If you qualify for federal loans, take those before looking into private loans,” she says. “These loans are great because qualification doesn’t depend on a credit score. There are income-driven repayment plans and different ways to determine how much monthly the student will pay once they have graduated.”

Marvin also encourages students only to borrow what they need, even if they are approved for more, and start paying back the loans as soon as possible.

“I wish I knew in college that you don’t have to wait until you graduate to start repaying your loans,” she says. “If you make an extra few hundred dollars during a summer job or your parents get a big bonus from work, you can use that money to start paying off your loans while you’re still in school. Paying off a few hundred or thousand dollars before finishing school can make a huge difference to those loan amounts post-grad.”

Online Bachelor’s Degree Scholarship Database

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"Commencing at Community College" Essay Scholarship

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"Follow Your Own Path" Essay Scholarship

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"Mom to Scholar" Scholarship for Mother

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"Outstanding Undergraduate" Essay Scholarship

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100 Black Men National Scholarship Program

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AANAPISI Scholarship

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ABC Humane Wildlife Women in STEM Academic Scholarship

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Academy of Special Dreams College Scholarship Fund

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ACFEF Scholarships

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Learn More About Online Bachelor’s Degrees

Have additional questions about earning an online bachelor’s degree? Our research team and undergraduate experts have provided answers to students’ frequently asked questions about online bachelor’s degrees, including how much an online bachelor’s degree costs and if students can finish their bachelor’s degree online. You can find these resources below, along with additional information about financial aid, standardized test prep, applying to programs, and more.

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