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U.S. colleges and universities have long been a popular destination for international students seeking higher education. Thanks to the rise in online learning, it’s easier than ever for international students to earn degrees from U.S. institutions.

Our list reviews the best online degrees for international students. It also provides key information to consider when planning to enroll in an online degree program, including regulations and how to apply as an international student.

Blanca Villagomez, a program coordinator and counselor at the University of California, Irvine, provides insight into the pros and cons of attending an online degree program as an international student and how they can set themselves up for success.

What International Students Should Know About Online Degrees


Earning an online degree as an international student requires careful research, as many regulations govern how and where they can earn degrees from U.S. institutions.

For students who wish to remain in their home countries while earning their degree, the best bet is to find an accredited, fully online college designed to accommodate international students living abroad. Students should contact their school’s admissions department or international student office to verify eligibility, as requirements and guidelines vary by school.

Meanwhile, international students who plan to come to the U.S. on a student visa cannot complete a fully online degree program. However, they are eligible for hybrid programs that combine in-person and online classes. Again, students should always speak to an international admissions representative to confirm their eligibility and requirements before applying to a program.


“I recommend that international students conduct thorough research on the visa requirements for studying in the U.S.,” Villagomez says. “The F-1 visa is the most common visa type and requires students to be enrolled full-time in an online or in-person program.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security updated rules regarding student visas and online courses. These rules are still in place as of early 2023, although they are subject to change.

To understand the complexities of attending college in the U.S. as an international student, Villagomez encourages students to talk to an international student counselor at their school. Counselors can offer guidance for navigating the enrollment process and connect you with other international students who can provide insights into the experience.


Accreditation is a key factor international students can use to verify that the school they’re attending will provide them with a quality educational experience. In the U.S., there are two kinds of accreditation — regional and national.

Regionally accredited schools are held to more rigorous academic and quality standards, making this the more widely accepted type of accreditation. The majority of public and private non-profit two- and four-year colleges in the U.S. are regionally accredited. Employers generally prefer candidates who have degrees from regionally accredited schools. Some professions, such as counseling, require students to earn their degrees from a regionally accredited school in order to qualify for necessary licenses and credentials.

Accreditation can also impact a student’s ability to transfer to a different college or pursue an advanced degree. Schools with regional accreditation only accept credits and degrees from other regionally accredited institutions. This can limit future educational options for students who receive their undergraduate degree from a nationally-accredited school.

Nationally-accredited schools tend to be for-profit vocational or technical colleges. International students considering a for-profit school should carefully research its retention, graduation, and employment rates.

You can confirm a school’s accreditation status by searching for it in the U.S. Department of Education’s accreditation database.

Pros and Cons of Earning an Online Degree as an International Student

Earning an online degree has unique advantages and disadvantages that students should consider when deciding if they should enroll in a U.S. college.


  • tickFlexibility:

    “The flexibility to attend classes remotely can be beneficial for students who thrive on setting their own schedules and working at their own pace,” says Villagomez. Students can choose either synchronous classes, which provide the opportunity to attend classes virtually from anywhere and interact with faculty and classmates, or asynchronous classes, which allow students to review lessons and complete assignments according to their own schedule.

  • tickDiversity:

    Because students come from all over the world to study at U.S. colleges, international students will meet not only American students but peers from Asia, Africa, Central America, the Middle East, and more. “This can be a great opportunity to interact with students from a variety of cultures and backgrounds,” says Villagomez. With this in mind, many U.S. schools have organizations and events specifically for international students to connect with each other.

  • tickProgram availability:

    “Online programs can sometimes offer a wider range of courses and degree programs than traditional on-campus programs,” says Villagomez. “For students who have specific academic interests and career goals, this can be helpful in obtaining the necessary education without limiting students to a handful of choices.” Some of the most popular degrees among international students, including computer science, business and management, and engineering, are also widely accessible through online learning.


  • tickLack of networking/social opportunities:

    Unlike on-campus programs, online degrees don’t offer the same opportunities for connecting with classmates. For international students living in the U.S. and earning a degree online, this may lead to a sense of isolation. It can also make it more challenging for international students to build their network, a valuable professional asset. To combat this, Villagomez recommends international students be proactive in seeking out ways to connect, like online clubs and virtual gatherings.

  • tickMore independent learning:

    While some international students may like the type of autonomous learning common in online degree programs, for others, it can be a detriment. Students coping with language barriers, cultural differences, or challenging material will have to be more proactive in seeking help. Additionally, says Villagomez, “Online programs may not provide the same level of hands-on experience as on-campus programs. It’s important for students to assess their career goals to ensure they will graduate with the necessary skills and training to enter the workforce.”

How to Apply to an Online Degree as an International Student

“International students should be aware that the admissions process varies across U.S. schools,” Villagomez says. She encourages students to contact the international admissions office or coordinator for the schools they’re interested in to confirm admissions processes and requirements before applying.

A key element of applications for international students is the language proficiency test. Most schools require international students to submit scores for exams like the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). This ensures that international students who speak English as a second language have the necessary reading, writing, and speaking skills to succeed in a setting where English is the primary language.

International students should also note that many U.S. schools require an official transcript evaluation to translate grades and GPAs from different grading systems into a standard format. World Education Services (WES) is the most commonly used transcript evaluation service. Students should consider the time to submit documents and get a transcript evaluation when planning their applications.

Other materials that are common in applications for U.S. schools include the admissions application itself, letters of recommendation, personal statements, resumes, and interviews.

Paying for an Online Degree as an International Student

Tuition for online degree programs in the U.S. varies based on multiple factors, including the school’s status and a student’s residency.

Colleges in the U.S. are either public, which means they receive state and federal funding in addition to tuition revenue, or private, which means their revenue comes solely from tuition, endowments, investments, and other private types of funding.

Public universities tend to have lower tuition, but many charge different tuition rates based on where a student lives. Out-of-state students typically pay more in tuition than in-state students, although, for online programs, some schools have started charging students the same tuition regardless of where they live.

To receive their visa, international students must provide documentation showing they can afford to pay for their tuition, books, living expenses, and travel costs. This is in part because international students are not eligible for federal student loans, which are commonly used by domestic students to pay for college.

However, says Villagomez, “The good news is there are many scholarships that don’t require citizenship and can help international students afford their education.” This can include merit-based scholarships awarded by the student’s institution, as well as scholarships from outside organizations and groups.

“It’s essential for international students to be proactive in their search for financial aid options,” says Villagomez, who recommends students start by talking to the financial aid offices of the schools they’re considering.

Best Online Degrees for International Students

Best Online Degrees for International Students

Penn State World Campus

University of Florida

University of Massachusetts

Boston University

New Mexico State University

University of Missouri

Northeastern University

Indiana University

Arizona State University

University of Minnesota

University of Arizona

Oregon State University

University of Oklahoma

Utah State University

Mississippi State University

University of Alabama

Drexel University

WSU Global Campus

University of Central Florida

University of Denver University College

Colorado State University

Rochester Institute of Technology

University of Cincinnati

Kansas State University

Central Michigan University

University of Louisiana Monroe

Texas Tech University

University of Arkansas Global Campus

Liberty University

Robert Morris University