Why This Matters

  • 20 MILLION PEOPLE ATTENDED COLLEGE IN 2018

    It’s important to be one of them. Good news: education is more accessible than ever. Nearly 3 million students attended fully online programs, and another 3 million took hybrid courses.

  • THAT MAKES 14% OF ALL HIGHER-ED ONLINE

    Students are turning to online education in growing numbers. With on-campus enrollment declining, more universities are developing their online programs to bring in students everywhere.

  • BUT EMPLOYERS STILL WANT REASSURANCE

    Employers still view online degrees with some wariness; 39% believe online degrees are easier to pass. Finding an accredited, non-profit, reputable college can boost your diploma’s credibility.

Our Research

With the rise of online education almost every degree is now available as an online course. Hundreds of universities offer fully online programs, making it more important than ever to make sure you find the college that is the best fit for your needs. Even though online degrees are becoming more popular, employers may still be biased against an online program.

To find the top 30 Online Colleges, we wanted to find the universities that excel at online education and have the credentials to satisfy any lingering worries an employer might have. To that end, we looked at nonprofit, accredited universities that are frequently recognized for the high quality of their online degrees.

Next we assessed the reputation, online resources, and relative cost of each university to give each school an Intelligent Score. The best colleges scored well in each category, and got close to a perfect 100. (For a more detailed look into our research, check out Our Ranking Methodology.)

  • 245 Colleges
  • 50 Hours of Research
  • 776 Awards

The Top 30 Online Colleges

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Our Ranking Methodology

To find the best online colleges, we started with three basic criteria: each college needed to be nonprofit, accredited, and offer fully online degrees. Then, we evaluated each college based on three criteria:

Program Strength

In addition to accreditation, we wanted to see how well each university’s program ranked in top college evaluators like U.S. News. We also looked at how many times a college had received awards for its online programs.

Then, we created an algorithm that compares how well each university fared across multiple rankings, as well as giving bonus points for receiving multiple awards. A high score here meant that a program was more widely-recognized for the rigorousness of its program.

Online Readiness

As more students look for flexible study options, more colleges offer online degrees. That said, some colleges are better prepared to teach online degrees than others. We evaluated each school based on student satisfaction surveys — looking for how well students regarded professors and programs — and the online resources provided by the university. This helped us score each school based on how well equipped it is to teach coursework online.

Comparative Cost

While the exact cost for college depends on the degree you choose, we wanted to identify the schools which wouldn’t break the bank. We assessed how much a university charged per credit for undergraduate and graduate degrees, and how much it charged for online credit, whether in-state or out-of-state. Colleges that charged less per credit for all students earned the highest marks in this category.

This Gave Us Our Intelligent Score

We then used these three scores to calculate our Intelligent Score. The top-scoring universities all have excellent reputations, are known for the rigorousness of their online programs, and offer their degrees at competitive rates.

While some few of the schools on our list have lower scores than the others, we still view them as good options. A few, like Drexel University and North Carolina State University, had high marks for program strength and online readiness, but come at a relatively steeper cost. Depending on your choice of degree, these lower scoring schools still might be the right match for you.

This Degree Isn’t For Everyone

The largest caveat to earning a degree online is to not underestimate the amount of work required — and knowing that it’s largely isolated work. While there are programs which incorporate online students into live class sessions, many require you to study independently. Being able to study at any time is a perk for online learning, but means that your education requires perhaps more self-motivation than average — and you won’t get the networking or teamwork experience of an in-person class.

Taking a moment to identify what you’d like to get out of a degree program can help you decide whether an online college is the best option for you. If networking, tutoring, and group study sessions are important, see which colleges offer an online equivalent.

What’s Next?

As you hone in on the specific degree and college right for you, there are a few details to keep in mind. All of the universities on our list have regional accreditation, which means that the university itself has been recognized to provide quality education. However, there are accrediting organizations on the degree-level, too. Researching if there is an accreditor for your specific degree (whether business, social work, or otherwise), and then checking if a prospective school has that accreditation, adds another stamp of approval to your degree.

Additionally, the professors at a given university will be an even larger part of your academic experience than with an on-campus program. Taking a closer look at a department’s faculty, the courses they’ve taught recently, and the research they’re interested in, can help you identify whether a program meets your specific interests.

Finally, you’ll want to keep an eye on each prospective university’s state authorizations. Different states can have different requirements for higher education, and this can translate into one state not recognizing another’s authority for awarding a diploma. If you live in a different state than the university, you’ll need to make sure your home state has authorized the university to grant degrees. Most universities have a specific webpage for their information, but you can also check with the admissions office or your local Board of Education for more details.