The Ivies are world-renowned for the quality of their on-campus experience. They have top-notch faculty, elegant living spaces, and a level of prestige that ensures a promising career for graduates. However, they have been slow to jump on the digital education bandwagon. Some of the Ivies have no online degree programs. Others have a few, but nothing like the hundreds of degrees available from institutions such as the University of Southern New Hampshire, which has more than 200 degree offerings.


That’s starting to change, however, as administrators at the Ivy League Schools, spurred on by the need to implement digital education during the pandemic, realize that online degrees can be developed that offer the same level of rigor as on-campus classes.

Online Degree Programs vs. Massive Open Online Courses

It’s essential to distinguish between two types of online learning: online degree programs and massive open online courses, commonly called MOOCs. Both platforms feature college-level material. Both can potentially lead to a degree or certificate. But the similarities stop there.


Traditional online degree programs include the opportunity to interact extensively with professors via email, online office hours, or some other mechanism. You pay a fee for these courses, and the educational experience is just as rigorous as it would be if you were in a class. Usually, there is a cap on the number of students attending the course. Classes may be held either synchronously or asynchronously.


Conversely, MOOCs are often free or low-cost, although you may pay for a certificate. They include pre-recorded lectures delivered by a faculty member, but there is less opportunity to engage directly with the professors. They are generally asynchronous and may be taken by thousands of students at a time. Those interested in lifelong learning often take them, while traditional online degree programs are taken by motivated students intent on furthering their careers.

Which Ivy League Schools Offer Online Degree Programs?

Although Ivy League schools have been slow to adopt online education, there are examples of schools that do, including the following.

Harvard University

Harvard offers one degree-bearing program as well as a range of MOOCs. The university’s digital degree program is an online master’s in education leadership. MOOCs include courses such as a 6-Week Plan for Healthy Eating. There are 140+ online certificate courses, such as a Masterpieces of World Literature course. The certificates for these courses have a cost attached, but the course can be audited for free. Courses are taken through the external edX platform.

Yale University

Yale offers three degree-bearing programs: an executive master of public health, a physician assistant program, and a doctorate in nursing practice. There are also hybrid degree programs, such as a master’s in nursing psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner program, which features online coursework and three mandatory in-person immersion sessions. Through Coursera, Yale also has a range of MOOCs. Their offerings in business and law are particularly extensive, but there are many featuring health, the humanities, history, and more.

Princeton University

Princeton does not offer any degree-granting programs online. It does have about two dozen MOOCs. They are taught by Princeton professors and are available at no cost. Most are asynchronous, but a few are synchronous and feature course assignments such as written papers or testing. These courses include topics such as Global Systemic Risk, the Art of Structural Engineering, and the Global History of Capitalism. None of these courses offer certificates or credits at the university; they are geared toward lifelong learners.

Columbia University

Columbia has offerings at numerous levels: certificate, degree, and non-degree, and in both hybrid and online formats. Degree programs include master’s degrees in social work, biomedical engineering, and statistics. Professional development includes leadership, marketing, negotiation, and decision-making courses. Columbia’s MOOCs can be found on Coursera, edX, and Kadenze. On Coursera, for example, the university has more than 3,000 courses. One example is a specialization on Construction Project Management and Planning that includes four courses intended for engineers, architects, and construction industry professionals.

University of Pennsylvania

UPenn offers more degree-bearing programs than most Ivy League institutions, along with programs for certificates, continuing education, and micro-credentials. Master’s-level courses include computer and information technology, healthcare innovation, and nonprofit leadership. There is a doctorate in clinical social work and a bachelor’s degree in applied arts and sciences. The school partners with Coursera to provide MOOCs, which include Introduction to Financial Accounting, Robotics Specialization, and Improving Communication Skills.

Brown University

Brown University offers fully online and hybrid programs. Online offerings include master’s programs in cybersecurity and public health. Low-residency hybrid programs include master’s programs in technology leadership and healthcare leadership. A series of executive education courses are available for those in the business world, and a well-regarded pre-college program features asynchronous online and blended coursework for students to explore the college experience. Brown’s MOOC offerings are via the edX platform.

Cornell University

Cornell’s online programs include executive master’s programs in health administration, human resource management, hospitality, and public administration. They also have master’s degrees in business analytics and legal studies. Some of these programs require limited on-campus time. The university has 200+ programs for professional development through its eCornell platform, with courses in topics such as web design, data science, and business ethics. Cornell also offers MOOCs through edX and Coursera.

Dartmouth College

Dartmouth has two degree-bearing programs that are primarily online. They are a master of health care delivery science and a master in public health. The school also has several blended and online non-degree certificate programs. Through DartmouthX, the university offers online courses on a variety of topics in conjunction with edX. The courses are open to the public and free, although certificates are available for a small fee. Course topics include Retail Fundamentals, Introduction to Italian Opera, and John Milton: Paradise Lost.


How to Apply to an Online Program at an Ivy League School

The application process to apply for an online program varies depending on whether it is MOOC-based or a degree- or certificate-bearing program. MOOCs are usually simple to sign up for through the chosen platform. For degree or professional development programs, you will probably need to go through the institution’s admissions department:

  • After thoroughly reviewing your options, choose the program that offers you the best academic credentials at a reasonable price. If you have questions, admissions counselors will be available to help you determine if the program is a good fit for you.
  • Determine if there are application deadlines. For many schools, applications are accepted during winter for fall admissions. However, since online degree programs may not operate on the same schedule as the school’s on-campus courses, you may be able to submit your application at other times. As a general rule, your admissions materials should be submitted 6-12 months before you intend to start your coursework.
  • You will need to fill out an application. You may need to submit a personal essay and recommendations for an undergraduate degree. Your transcripts from any previous education may also be required.
  • If you are requesting financial aid, you will fill out a FAFSA form to determine what you are eligible for.
  • Then sit back and wait to hear from your chosen institution. It may take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months before you hear back on their decision.

Find The Best Online Degree Program For You

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Interested in a degree instead?

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