25 Best Online Schools for 2021 [Ultimate Guide]

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Explore Online Schools for 2021. Compare online schools, college majors, careers, salaries, and online learning programs.

We’ve identified the 25 best online schools for 2021. Compare online schools, college majors, career paths, salaries, and online learning programs.

Online Schools

The best online colleges will prepare you for the workforce just as well as brick-and-mortar schools.

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Fortunately, you’ll have plenty of accredited and highly-ranked online degree programs to choose from. It’s just a matter of finding the right one for you.

Most Popular Online Degrees & Majors

Whether you’re interested in hard science or abstract art, there’s a program out there to satisfy your interests and further your career goals.

Select the program that most interests you to jump to that section of the guide:

With the growth of online learning technologies, more and more schools are offering accredited degree programs online.


accountant working in her office

If you’re good with numbers, you might enjoy a career in accounting. You could become a bookkeeper, budget analyst, financial planner, payroll clerk and more.

Accounting degrees are available from the associate level to the doctoral level. There are also certifications like Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Chartered Financial Advisor (CFA) that can boost your resume further.

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The growth rate for the accounting industry is 11 percent, so it’s in demand. The top earners in the field can clear six figures per year, especially if they’re working in financial hot spots like Washington D.C. and New York City.

Consider an accounting major if you aren’t afraid of pouring over budgets and spreadsheets. It can be hard, detail-oriented work, but if you thrive with these kinds of challenges, you can reap a lot of benefits from an accounting job.

Business Administration

business administrators walking in office aisle

Business administration is a broad field of study that can incorporate everything from law to finance to marketing tactics. It can prepare you for work as a sales manager, data analyst, risk consultant, corporate executive and more. It’s also one of the most common foundations for a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As for your degree, you can choose to major in business administration as a general subject, or you can specialize in something like analytics, economics, human resources, information technology or business intelligence.

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One thing to note is that colleges often use the terms “business administration” and “business management” interchangeably, so even though they’re teaching the same things, they might have different titles and degree names.

  • Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)
  • Bachelor of Business Management (BBM)
  • Bachelor of Science in Business (BSB)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Business (BABA)
  • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA)

Long story short, if you’re interested in the world of business, a business administration degree can offer lots of options.


marketing manager talking to client on the phone

A communications degree is considered a generalist degree. This means that it touches on many different subjects within the field of communications, and you can take your degree and go into various industries with it.

In other words, you can’t get a communications degree and then find a job as a “communicator.” You’ll need to become something like a writer, marketing agent, political advisor, news reporter or public relations specialist.

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The good news is that the industry is on the rise. With a growth rate of four percent, there’s a growing occupational outlook for communication majors, especially for those who specialize.

Consider a degree in communications if you enjoy the study of human beings and how they engage with each other. From holding press conferences to managing a company’s social media accounts, it can offer many opportunities for the dedicated student.

Computer Science

web developer working on his computer

With multiple applications in business, finance, security and technology, computer science is a degree that can really take you places. Salaries regularly top $100,000 per year for computer science jobs, and the industry is growing quickly. Every business needs tech support.

What can you do with a computer science degree? It depends on your interests. If you enjoy building things, you can work with hardware; if you enjoy developing or troubleshooting things, you can go into software. If you have an artistic side, you might like web or app development. If you’re good with systems, you could work with big data.

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As for what you’ll learn in a computer science degree program, here are a few examples of common courses.

  • Cybersecurity
  • Algorithms
  • Programming Languages
  • Operating Systems
  • Software Engineering
  • Discrete Mathematics

Whether you’re looking to become a freelancer or a Fortune 500 employee, a computer science degree can give you the skills that you need to succeed in the digital age.

Criminal Justice

police officer checking the crime scene for evidences

Criminal justice is a popular degree program. For starters, it’s available at every level of education, including associate, bachelor’s and master’s. You can even find doctorate degrees with specializations like juvenile law and crime scene analysis.

It’s also a degree that can qualify you for work in many different fields. If you’re the action-oriented type, you might become a police officer, prison guard, bounty hunter or FBI agent. If you prefer to work in a or lab, you could apply for a job as a forensic scientist or technician.

You could even study criminal justice as the foundation for a more advanced degree in law or politics. For example, you could obtain a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice before enrolling in law school.

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You don’t have to spend all of your time catching bad guys, either. A criminal justice degree can also prepare you for a career in advocacy, addiction treatment, rehabilitation or social justice. You can focus your efforts on keeping at-risk individuals out of jail.

If you’re interested in the legal system, you should think about enrolling in a criminal justice program. It has many real-world uses, and since it’s available as both an undergraduate and graduate degree, you can pick the one that best suits your budget, career goals and time constraints.


librarian working on her computer in library

While it’s true that many education majors go on to become teachers, it’s far from the only career that will be available to you. People with a background in education can become counselors, administrators, librarians, policy planners and school board members. They can even become educators in things like public health or human resources.

If you are interested in teaching, you’ll have options there as well. An associate degree in education will qualify you for entry-level jobs in schools and daycares. A bachelor’s or master’s degree is a necessity if you want to become an independent instructor in a classroom. A doctorate degree can get you ahead if you’re aiming to join a university faculty.

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One thing to know about teaching careers is that most states have their own rules for licensure. You might need additional certifications before you can step in front of a classroom.

All things considered, however, an education degree is a flexible one, and it can be a great foundation for tomorrow’s instructors. If you love the thought of guiding the next generation, this might be the degree track for you.


journalists interviewing a politician

English degrees get a bad reputation as “useless” degrees, but this stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth. In addition to the usual careers in writing, editing and publishing, you could also take an English degree and become everything from a tech-savvy webmaster to a globe-trotting journalist.

The key is to figure out what you want to do with your life after graduation. If you’re drawn to public relations, take classes in technical writing so that you’ll be a whiz at statements and press releases. If you’re a history buff, study archiving and researching methods so that you can work in museums.

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You can also use your English degree as a foundation for further study. If you want to teach, for example, you might get a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in education. If you want to become a librarian, you can major in English and minor in library information science.

Whatever your chosen path, there’s a lot that you can do with an English degree. Don’t listen to the naysayers.


financial manager working in the office

Finance is a wide-ranging field that can cross over into business, economics, mathematics, technology, law, politics and more. It has many similarities to accounting, but it can also be an entirely separate discipline depending on the career opportunities that you want to explore.

Are you good with numbers? Consider a job as a hedge fund manager and take home as much as $103,000 per year. Do you want a steady position in insurance? Become an actuary and earn an average of $108,350 per year.

For the really big bucks, become a financial manager. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top earners in the field make $208,000 per year.

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The one downside of majoring in finance is that it can require a lot of schooling. Many positions in the industry will require a bachelor’s degree at the minimum, and it isn’t uncommon for employers to want master’s degrees and high-level certifications, too.

If you’re dedicated to your education, however, a career in finance can definitely pay off. It’s a big sandbox with many opportunities for advancement.

Fire Science

firefighters preparing to work

Fire science is exactly what it sounds like – the study of fire.

It’s more complicated than you might think. It can incorporate everything from chemistry to rescue techniques to the administrative side of emergency services, and you can specialize in certain topics like prevention, suppression, investigation and fire safety education.

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While many fire science majors are interested in careers as firefighters, there are other career options available as well. You could become an arson investigator or forensic technician; you could become a building inspector or health and safety engineer. You could even find a job in public health education with a specialty in fire response.

One thing to note about fire science is that it isn’t always offered as a straightforward major. Some schools only have it as a concentration or emphasis for an emergency management degree. Make sure to check out the specifics of their degree programs before you enroll.

Forensics / CSI

forensics scientist investigating the car and looking for evidences

Everyone knows CSI, but the reality of forensics can be even more exciting than the stuff that you see on television.

For starters, there’s a plethora of specialties and sub-specialties to choose from, so you can dive into many different subjects until you find one that calls to you. If you’re fascinated by poisons, you can study toxicology. If you aren’t afraid of blood and tissue samples, you can study criminal investigation and trace evidence analysis.

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There are also several degree options that you can pursue. An associate degree can qualify you for entry-level positions; a bachelor’s or master’s degree can open doors in advanced fields of medicine, science, law and technology.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the forensic science industry is going to grow by 14 percent in the next decade. This means that thousands of jobs are going to be ripe for the taking. Will you have the degree that you need to claim one?

Health Science

lab technician working in laboratory

The term “health science” is an umbrella that covers many different specialties in medicine, public health, social services and healthcare administration. From a biologist working in a lab to an account manager working in an office, it’s a field with abundant opportunities for those who want to serve their community.

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To fully comprehend the wide range of jobs available to health science majors, here are just a few career ideas for you.

  • Lab technician
  • Medical records manager
  • Public health educator
  • Hospital administrator
  • Occupational health and safety specialist
  • Insurance case manager
  • Community outreach coordinator

All of these careers can be kick-started with a health science degree. You might need additional qualifications for some, especially the medical-related jobs, but a health science degree is a good place to start.

Healthcare Administration

healthcare administrator talking to a patient

Doctors aren’t the only ones who keep clinics and hospitals running. There’s an entire network of healthcare administrators who work behind the scenes to handle everything from insurance claims to electricity bills. Someone has to keep the lights on, after all.

If you’re interested in healthcare administration, there are many degree options for you. The most common is a major in healthcare administration or healthcare management, but you can also study something like business, finance or information systems with a healthcare concentration.

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Are you good with a calculator? Become an accountant or finance manager in a hospital’s billing department. Do you have a technical touch? Take charge of a clinic’s digitized medical records.

Healthcare administrators are the unsung heroes of the medical industry. If you want to join their ranks, an online program can be your first step towards a healthcare administration degree.


museum tour guide guiding young students

As a humanities subject, history is another degree that gets stigmatized for a perceived lack of career opportunities. However, there are tons of things that you can do with a history degree:

  • Teacher
  • Archivist
  • Museum curator
  • Historian
  • Tour Guide
  • Translator/Interpreter
  • Writer

You could even become a lawyer or politician with a history degree. Since it sharpens your skills in reading, writing and researching, you’ll be able to tackle everything from legal briefs to ancient poetry written in long-dead languages.

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The pay isn’t bad for history majors, either. Successful careers in museums and cultural centers can pay up to $70,000 per year. Teaching careers net anywhere from $40,000 – $80,000 per year. Careers in politics can exceed six figures.

A history degree isn’t for everyone, but if you’re passionate about the subject and eager to explore job opportunities in various fields, don’t let the stigma stop you from following your heart.

Human Services

counselor talking to a patient

Human services is a field where you can really make a difference in the world. It includes counselors, social workers, foster care directors, addiction specialists, public outreach coordinators and crisis intervention experts.

As you can see, it’s a broad industry. There’s a lot of overlap between subjects, and some of them even have their own degree programs.

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If you aren’t sure what you want to do, however, or if you want your degree to cover all of the bases, human services is a good choice. It’s another example of a generalist major that can prepare you for work in a variety of environments.

It’s growing, too. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, social service occupations are expected to add more than 300,000 jobs in the next decade. If you want to give back to your community, now is an excellent time for it.

Information Technology

web developer working from home

Are you handy with computers? Do all of your friends and relatives call on you for tech support? You might enjoy a career in information technology (IT).

There’s more to the profession than just advising people on their computer issues. You could take cybersecurity classes, for example, and become an expert at protecting databases. You could take computer science classes and use them as a foundation for coding, web developing or data mining.

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Information technology jobs have an average salary of $82,000 per year, so it pays to be an IT guy. The industry is also booming with a growth rate of 12 percent, so opportunity is everywhere.

Consider a career in information technology if you’re looking for specialized, in-demand jobs with a high return rate for your investment.

lawyers talking outside the courthouse

The first thing to know about legal studies is that it isn’t a law degree. You’ll need to attend an actual law school for that.

If you want to prepare for a future in the legal industry, however, legal studies is the degree for you. It’s for undergraduate students who already know that they want to become prosecutors, paralegals, judges, advocates or law librarians. It can also be a useful degree for social workers or probation officers who expect to spend a lot of time liaising with legal professionals.

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It isn’t an easy degree. Law is a notoriously difficult subject, so you’ll need to be committed to it.

Do you have what it takes? If so, think about enrolling in a legal studies degree program.

Liberal Arts

museum curators working in the museum

Liberal arts is a catch-all term that covers many subjects in the humanities, including literature, history, philosophy and the creative arts.

Some students major in liberal arts because they can’t choose between their passions. Others might choose liberal arts if they want to bring together scattered credits from different departments. It isn’t uncommon for colleges to combine their degree programs for liberal arts and multidisciplinary studies.

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There’s a risk in majoring in liberal arts since it’s a generalist degree and not a specialized one. However, it can also teach you real-world skills in everything from museum curation to foreign languages, and smart students can leverage that into a successful career in the humanities.


manager talking to his colleagues

Leaders, this one is for you. Management degrees exist for a wide variety of disciplines, so whether you’re interested in retail, finance, construction, human resources or operation chains, you can find a degree program that will put you at the forefront of the industry.

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Here’s a sample of the courses that you can expect to take as a management major:

  • Organizational behavior
  • Strategic decision making
  • Communication in the workplace
  • Time management
  • Leadership

These are just the general, entry-level classes that will teach you about understanding behavior and managing risks. You’ll need to take specialized classes for your future industry as well.


marketing officer working on her desk

Marketing can be a very lucrative career for those who are willing to put in the time. While degrees are available at every level of study, the highest-paying jobs go to bachelor’s and master’s holders with experience in the industry.

For example, chief marketing officers make an average of $172,039 per year, but this isn’t a career that you can obtain overnight. Marketing and promotions managers earn an average of $132,620 per year, but their full range is $61,930 – $208,000, so you’ll need to put in some work to get on the right side of the numbers.

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The good news is that a marketing degree can be a very engaging one. You might learn about art, music, design, mass media, consumer behavior, public relations and more. It’s a degree that can take you down many different paths depending on your interests, and it can be quite profitable as well. It’s a slam dunk in every sense.

Nursing (RN Required)

nurse working in the hospital

The popular image of nurses has them underpaid and overworked. However, the average salary for registered nurses is $73,300 per year, and the top earners in the field can take home a cool $111,220 per year.

The secret is getting an advanced degree in nursing. Instead of signing up for a short certification program, enroll in an accredited degree program that will earn you titles like registered nurse (RN) or nurse practitioner (NP).

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If you’ve already spent money on certification, don’t fret. Many colleges offer programs that will fold your existing credits and certificates into your course load. Instead of starting from the bottom, you can take what you’ve already learned and apply it towards a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing. It’s a great way to get back in the saddle and earn advanced credentials as a nursing student.

Political Science

business administrators in a meeting

As you might expect, political science is a popular major with future politicians. However, it’s far from the only career that you can consider.

Do you like working with people from all walks of life? Become a translator, interpreter or cultural advisor. Do you want to make a difference in your community? Go into policy or legislation.

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There are also jobs for political science majors in the fields of law, business, communications, public relations and marketing research. Whether you want to host press conferences or analyze poll numbers from behind a desk, a degree in political science could be just what you need to get ahead.


psychologist talking to a young patient

If you’ve always been curious about human behavior, a degree in psychology can teach you about the inner workings of the mind. Here’s a small sampling of courses that might catch your eye.

  • Childhood Development
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Speech and Linguistics
  • Sexuality and Human Behavior
  • Crisis Management and Response
  • Neuroscience
  • Psychotherapy

There are also specializations in psychology if you want to enter a specific field. Sports psychology, for example, might see you counseling athletes. Childhood psychology can ready you for social work and advocacy. Clinical psychology can help you treat depression, anxiety, trauma and other disorders.

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If you like having options, think about a degree in psychology. It can send you into many different fields, and with an occupational outlook that’s expected to grow by 14 percent within the next decade, there will be new jobs available every year.

Public Administration

politician being interviewed by press

Public administration is a higher calling. It incorporates elements of law, health services, social work and political science, and it can really help you make a difference in the world.

What do public administrators do? It depends on your industry. You could draft laws, build housing, host fundraisers or oversee programs for at-risk populations. You could work behind a desk, or you could roll up your sleeves and mingle with the public.

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Jobs in public administration can include both government and non-government positions. You could work for a federal agency; you could work for a nonprofit or social services organization. It’s definitely a degree that will give you options.

Social Work

social worker visiting an elderly woman in her home

Social work is a broad field. In fact, it’s so broad that you could earn many different degrees with many different specializations.

The most common is a Master of Social Work (MSW). This is considered the gold standard of the industry, and many employers will expect to see it on a resume, especially if you want to become a bonafide social worker.

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However, there are other degrees and certificates that you can pursue, and there are other jobs that you can seek. You could become a counselor, case manager, family advocate, addiction specialist, mental health consultant and more. A degree in social work is just the first step.

Why Should You Choose an Online Degree

business professional studying online

An online degree isn’t for everyone, but if you consider yourself a smart, self-motivated person who isn’t afraid of trying new things, it can offer many benefits over a traditional campus education.

  • Flexibility – With everything from rolling admissions to self-paced courses where you control your own schedule, online colleges are ideal for people who can’t fit campus learning into their busy schedules.
  • Affordability – Many online degree programs are cheaper than the alternative. They don’t have room and boarding costs, and some schools won’t charge out-of-state tuition rates for online students regardless of where they live.
  • Educational diversity – With online colleges, you aren’t limited to the degree programs offered by your local university. You can search for the exact majors or minors that you want from hundreds of online schools.
  • Accessibility – You can take online classes anywhere and anytime as long as you have an Internet connection. This means that you could take lessons indoors, outdoors, at work, during bus rides and more. You could even earn a degree while snacking at home in your pajamas.

Online degrees can also be quite convenient when it comes to learning methods. For example, lessons might be delivered through videos, chats, live streams or message boards, so you’ll enjoy a broad range of materials that suit every learning style.

Lessons are usually archived as well, so you won’t have to sit in a classroom and frantically scribble everything that the professor is saying. You can just access the digital library and watch the lecture video again.

Types of Online Courses

student studying online from home

How do online courses work? Different schools have different approaches. Not every class is delivered in the same way, so before you sign up, make sure that you understand the specifics.

  • Synchronous Online Courses (Real Time) – With synchronous classes, everyone joins a live stream or video chat at the same time, and the professor delivers a lecture while the students take notes.
  • Asynchronous Online Courses (Self-Paced) – With asynchronous classes, the professor will record videos or upload reading materials that you can access whenever you want, and you’ll determine the pace, length and intensity of your own learning.
  • Open Schedule Courses – Open schedule courses are fully independent courses that allow you to self-pace and self-teach. The only deadline might be the final exam.
  • Fixed-Time Online Courses – Fixed-time classes require you to follow a set schedule much like campuses classes; you’re just in a virtual classroom instead of a physical one. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with synchronous classes.
  • Hybrid Online Courses – Hybrid classes have both an online and in-person component, so they’ll alternate between digital classes and campus classes.

As you can see, there are many different ways to approach an online education. Make sure to research your chosen school and figure out how they do things.

Online Degree Levels

college student studying on his laptop

Online degrees are available for every level of education, including:

  • Associate’s Degree – Commonly offered by technical schools and community colleges, associate degrees are two-year degrees that can prepare you for entry-level jobs.
  • Bachelor’s Degree – One of the most common degree types, bachelor’s degrees are offered by state, public, private and even religious institutions, and they usually take around four years to complete.
  • Master’s Degree – Master’s degrees involve concentrated study in a specific field. They’re considered graduate degrees rather than undergraduate degrees like associate and bachelor’s.
  • Doctorate Degree – Doctoral degrees are highly specialized degrees that can give you the title of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), Doctor of Education (EdD) and more.
  • Certificate or Diploma Program – These programs are for students and working professionals who want to gain college-level qualifications without enrolling in a degree program.

Some online schools only offer certain types of degrees, so make sure to do your research before you enroll.

Understanding How Online College Works

college student watching an online class

If you’re new to the world of online colleges, you might be wondering how it’s done. The short answer is “it depends,” but speaking very generally, it looks something like this:

  • Course Lectures – Lectures are usually recorded or live streamed so that students can access them anywhere as long as they have an Internet connection.
  • Interaction with Classmates – Students can have discussions and debates through chat rooms, forums, video conferencing apps and school-based messaging systems.
  • Interaction with Professors – Depending on the course, professors might engage with students through email, video conferences and other forms of digital communication.
  • Class Assignments and Homework – Assignments will vary by course. They can include everything from essays and quizzes to lab simulations and monitored home experiments.
  • Presentations – Presentations can be pre-recorded, live streamed or delivered through software like PowerPoint.
  • Exams – Exams are usually monitored with webcams or special browsers to prevent cheating. Some colleges might require you to take proctored, in-person exams through local schools or learning centers.
  • Graduation – Some schools offer online commencement ceremonies, or they might invite you to campus to enjoy graduation events and activities just like a “traditional” student.

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It’s important to note that every school has their own policies and procedures for online programs. For example, one school might allow you to waive fieldwork requirements for your degree while another will expect you to complete the fieldwork locally. You should always ask about these things before you make any commitments to a particular degree program.

Online Learning Management Systems Used by Top Online Colleges

college student studying online

The foundation of any online program is its learning management system (LMS). This is the portal where you can access things like grades, tests, transcripts and homework assignments. There are many different LMS platforms out there, but here are a few of the most common.

  • Blackboard Learn – Blackboard Learn is a virtual learning environment that presents everything from calendars to media libraries in a clean, organized format.
  • Coursera – Best known for its free online classes, Coursera is also an example of a well-developed learning management system. If you can navigate Coursera, you can probably navigate your school’s e-campus.
  • D2L Brightspace – Commonly used by community colleges, Brightspace is an all-in-one platform for everything from class registration to tuition payment plans.
  • Instructure Canvas – Using bold, bright colors, Instructure Canvas offers a student dashboard that’s organizationally efficient as well as aesthetically pleasing.
  • LoudCloud – LoudCloud is an LMS that integrates assignments, exams, grades, message boards and everything else that students need for an online education.
  • Moodle – As a free product, Moodle can be used by both students and professors who are interested in creating their own unique learning space.
  • Sakai – In addition to the usual LMS features, Sakai also allows its users to create personal workspaces where they can upload documents, manage calendars, organize assignments and leave themselves reminders.
  • Schoology – Schoology takes LMS platforms to the next level with special features such as “badges” that professors can assign to students for good grades, perfect attendance and more.
  • Worldclass – is another great all-in-one platform for college students that will coordinate their assignments and track their grades to help them achieve their educational goals.

If your school uses a different system, don’t fret. There are many different LMS platforms out there, and they don’t have to be well-known to be efficient.

Choosing the Best Online College

college student studying at home

With thousands of online colleges to choose from, how are you supposed to know which one is right for you?

It’s probably a good idea to make a checklist. Not only will you be able to identify the most important aspects of a degree program, but you’ll also have a tool to compare and contrast different schools once you start looking.

Here are just a few things to put on your checklist:

  • Tuition – How much does each credit cost? Are there special deals for online, accelerated or full-time credits?
  • Accreditation – An accredited school has met certain educational standards and is eligible for federal financial aid like FAFSA.
  • Transfer credits – Many schools have transfer agreements with other institutions in the area, so look at how they count, convert or limit credits.
  • Class types – Some online schools have self-paced and self-directed classes; others operate on fixed schedules or have regular deadlines and virtual attendance requirements.
  • Online support – A good online college will have a neat and organized e-campus with plenty of student support.

Another big thing to consider is your future degree. If you already have a major in mind, you’ll want to find a college with an accredited and well-developed program for it. This is one piece of advice that applies to online and brick-and-mortar schools.

Applying to the Best Online Universities

college student studying at home

You’re ready to take the plunge into online learning. What are the next steps?

  • Do your research – Look at different schools and make note of their prices, degree programs, admission requirements and application deadlines.
  • Fill out the FAFSA – The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will determine if you’re eligible for things like grants, loans and work-study programs.
  • Fill out an application – Sites like the Common Application will let you submit the same basic information to multiple colleges without having to fill out the paperwork again and again.
  • Work on your essay – Most college applications will require a personal essay, so seek out some samples and templates before you try to write your own.
  • Ask for letters of recommendation – These can come from teachers, coaches, pastors, bosses and anyone else who can vouch for you.
  • Submit your documents – Depending on the school’s admission requirements, they might ask for various transcripts and test scores, so have them ready when the time comes.

Another thing to remember is that these steps can take time, so don’t wait until the last minute to submit a college application. Transcripts alone can take several weeks to be mailed to your new school.

Why is Accreditation Important?

Online Schools Accreditation

You’ve probably heard a lot about accreditation during your college search. To put it simply, it’s a review process that schools undergo to prove their educational standards, and it’s a way for students to know that the institution is legitimate.

There are several types of accreditation.

Regional Accreditation

Most schools have regional accreditation. It comes from six different U.S. accrediting boards that have divided the country into regions, and it’s considered the gold standard of the industry.

National Accreditation

National accreditation is given to trade schools, vocational schools and religious schools. It’s legitimate, but it comes from special accrediting boards rather than the usual authorities in regional accreditation.

Online Schools Regional vs. National Accreditation

Regional vs. National Accreditation

The biggest difference between regional and national accreditation is that they operate within their own networks, so you might have problems if you’re trying to transfer credits from one to the other. For example, if you spend two years at a nationally-accredited school, a regionally-accredited school might or might not accept those credits if you transfer.

Programmatic Accreditation

Programmatic accreditation is given to specific departments and degree programs. For example, a law school might have programmatic accreditation from the American Bar Association, or a mechanical engineering program might be accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

For more information about accreditation, check out the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. They have a database that you can search if you’re curious about the accreditation of a specific school.

Financial Aid & Scholarships

financial aid for online degree students

Many students need help with the cost of college. Fortunately, there are ample financial aid opportunities out there, and they can be applied to online degrees just as easily as campus-based degrees.

The gold standard of financial aid is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). As its name suggests, it’s completely free to apply, and it can offer several types of assistance:

  • Grants
  • Loans
  • Work-study programs

college student studying online

Some of the financial aid offered by FAFSA is “need-based.” This means that you might qualify for a certain amount of assistance based on your income level or family circumstances. Another possibility is getting “merit-based” financial aid if you have good grades.

You should also look into things like scholarships, tuition reimbursement programs and private loans. These can offset your college costs even if FAFSA isn’t covering as much of your tuition as you’d like.

At the end of the day, however, you should still apply for FAFSA. It’s a well-developed system that will automatically determine your eligibility for different kinds of help, and it’s even considered a prerequisite for other financial aid opportunities. For example, it’s quite common for scholarship programs to ask about your FAFSA information when you apply. Employers can also require the FAFSA before they give tuition help.

Best Online Colleges for Military

What Are the Best Online Colleges for Military?

Online degrees are a great option for military students. You’ll just need to make sure that you’re enrolling in a good program. Here are a few questions that you might ask yourself about potential colleges.

  • Do they offer flexible, self-paced classes that will accommodate your busy schedule or allow you to take breaks for deployments?
  • Will they give college credit for life or military experience?
  • Do they accept benefits from the GI Bill and other forms of military-based financial aid?

Are Online College Degrees Legitimate?

As long as you’re attending a reputable, accredited school, your online degree will be just as “real” as a campus-based degree. In fact, most colleges don’t even acknowledge the difference on their transcripts.

No one will know that you were enrolled in an online program.

Are There Any Accredited Online Colleges?

college student studying in a cafe

Many online colleges have been fully accredited by regional or national institutions. They’re just digital versions of their campus counterparts. For example, a university might offer the exact same classes and degree programs in both a “campus” and “e-campus” format. They teach the same things, and they might even have the same professors, textbooks and homework assignments, but one is delivered virtually and one is not.

What Are the Best Online Degree Programs?

Everyone has their own opinion about the best schools and the most valuable degree programs. If you want to separate the good from the bad, however, there are a few specific things that you can look for –

  • Accreditation – Does the school have regional, national or programmatic accreditation?
  • Online class delivery – Are they synchronous or asynchronous? Do they have flexible, self-paced options? Is there a well-developed online learning system like D2L or Blackboard Learn?
  • Acceleration – If you want to earn your degree as quickly as possible, what your options for dual degrees, summer classes, CLEP credits and other acceleration methods?
  • Academic quality – Do they have the same standards for online classes as campus-based classes?

There are many other things to consider as well, including tuition, degree specializations, graduation rates, acceptance rates and student-to-faculty ratios.

Do Online Courses Include Any In-Person Requirements?

college student studying at home

Many online programs can be completed without any face-to-face interaction at all. Some might have lab work or fieldwork requirements, but the school will usually allow you to make alternative arrangements.

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Occasionally, an online degree will have an unavoidable in-person aspect like clinical rotation hours or supervised student teaching. In these cases, you’ll fulfill the requirements locally after the school has approved the location and conditions.

How Are Online Course Exams Administered?

Schools handle online exams in different ways. One option is to administer timed tests through special software that doesn’t allow common methods of cheating. Another option is virtually proctored exams that are administered through companies like Proctorio. These companies might monitor your webcam or record your screen during the test to ensure that you aren’t looking up answers.

Some online degree programs still require in-person exams. You’ll need to go to a local community college or learning center to sit for it.

How Long Does It Take To Earn a Degree Online?

college student studying at home

Here’s the average time frame for college degrees –

  • Associate degree – Two years
  • Bachelor’s degree – Four years
  • Master’s degree – One to three years
  • Doctoral degree – Four years

You should know, however, that these time frames are only a guideline. You can get your degree faster or slower depending on how many credits that you need and how many that you take per semester.

How Can I Avoid an Online College Scam?

college student studying in library

For every great online college, there are others that only want your money. Here are a few danger signs of a scam:

  • No accreditation – Unaccredited schools haven’t been through any review processes by the U.S. Department of Education or Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
  • Overinflated tuition and a lack of financial aid – Beware any school that asks you to pay huge sums of money upfront, especially if they don’t offer financial aid like FAFSA to offset your costs.
  • Exaggerated claims – You can’t get a four-year degree in four months. They’re just trying to reel you in with false promises.

If you think that you’ve found a fraudulent school, plug its name into a search engine. There might be bad reviews or watchdog alerts about it.

What Colleges Are Available Online?

college student meeting his instructor online

Online classes are available at every type of college institution, including:

  • Community Colleges – These are two-year schools that offer associate degrees and transfer programs for bigger colleges.
  • Professional & Career Colleges – Another kind of “short-term” college, these are technical and trade schools that prepare students for specific jobs, careers or industries.
  • Public Colleges – Public colleges are four-year universities that are funded by the government. Every state school is a public college.
  • Private, Not-for-Profit Colleges and Universities – These colleges aren’t funded by the government, but they don’t turn a profit for investors and shareholders. They run on private donations and endowments.
  • Private, For-Profit Colleges and Universities – For-profit schools are run like businesses that are expected to make money.

You’re the only person who can decide which school has the right online degree program for you.

Universities Offering Bachelors Degree Programs Online

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Bismarck State College

Bismarck State College campus

North Dakota is home to several large public postsecondary schools, one of which is Bismarck State College. Bismarck State College opened in 1939 and has been helping students secure two-year associate degrees, workforce certificates, and diplomas.

BSC also has two four-year degree programs for students interested in information technology or energy management.

Bismarck State College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Concordia University – Saint Paul

Concordia University St Paul campus

Concordia University-Saint Paul started in 1893 as a private university that is affiliated with the Lutheran Church. It now serves more than 5,000 students through a student-centered distance-learning format.

With a multitude of study options that lead to undergrad and graduate degrees, Concordia University strives to prepare all students for the next level career opportunities.

Concordia University-Saint Paul is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Dickinson State University

Dickinson State University campus

Striving to provide young people and adults with higher education options since 1918, Dickson State University is a public institution located in North Dakota. DSU has a variety of 2-year, 4-year, and grad programs in a small class environment that is filled with new-age technology. It unique courses allow students to obtain an education online or on-campus.

Dickinson State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Drexel University

Drexel University campus

Drexel University has been bringing high-end private education to those who seek bachelor and graduate degrees since 1891. DU focuses on providing students a way to connect with their community and their world through co-ops, internships, and study abroad programs.

Building up students to inspire them to be leaders in their field is propriety to Drexel University.

Drexel University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Everglades University

Everglades University campus

Everglades University has grown significantly since its start in 1990. Today it has several private campus locations around Florida and a path for students to obtain undergrad and graduate degrees in about fifteen different programs. Everglades University has vamped up its virtual learning programs to be able to give more students educational options.

Everglades University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Florida International University

Florida International University campus

With an extensive blend of research centers, libraries, museums, and campuses, Florida International University has an extensive history of proving public, global educational options since 1965.

For students looking for engaging, interactive programs to acquire an undergrad, graduate, or doctoral degree, FIT has a plan for them, on-campus or through distance learning.

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

Indiana University

Indiana University campus

1820 marked the start of one of America’s top research colleges when Indiana University was introduced to the community.

Indiana University took advantage of growth and development opportunities to become a world-renowned public school that now offers hundreds of programs leading to two-year, four-year, MA, and doctoral degrees. IU also promotes community awareness to all students.

Indiana University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Johnson University

Johnson University campus

With tuition that is less than the national average and more than seventy-degree programs, Johnson University has been working to help students advance in higher education since they started in 1893 as a private, faith-based postsecondary school.

Offering all levels of advanced educational degrees, Johnson University has online and on-campus learning.

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

Judson University

Judson University campus

Judson University is an evangelical Christian that understands the importance of adding liberal arts to program learning. It began in 1913 in Elgin, Illinois, as a private school for those looking to add a spiritual context to their undergrad or graduate degree program.

Some of the top majors offered at Judson University include business, psychology, communications, and worship arts.

Judson University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Kansas State University

Kansas State University campus

As a public university that opened in 1863, Kansas State University prides itself on the ability to research thousands of students globally every year to provide a passion for academic achievement.

K-State has an array of programs that allow students to achieve an undergrad, MA, or doctoral degree through an online format or traditional education options.

Kansas State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

LeTourneau University

LeTourneau University campus

Initially opening in 1946 to help veterans from the war to receive workforce development, LeTourneau University is a spiritual-based school than now serves students of religious dominations better their education.

With an enrollment of over 3,000 annually, LeTourneau University has a variety of routes for online and campus-based undergraduate and graduate degrees.

LeTourneau University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Maryville University

Maryville University campus

Maryville University was created in 1972 as a way to bring private higher education to those who seek to better their careers. Today they serve students across the globe who want to obtain undergrad, MA, and Ph.D. educational levels. Maryville University puts the learner first while implementing cutting-edge technology in all programs offered.

Maryville University is regionally accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Mercer University

Mercer University campus

Mercer University began in 1833 as a private school located in Georgia. Teaching with global needs in mind, Mercer University steps outside of traditional education and stretches throughout the world via distance learning opportunities and face-to-face learning to provide a diverse array of programs qualified students.

From undergraduate to doctoral degrees, MU takes learning to the next level.

Mercer University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Minot State University

Minot State University campus

North Dakota is home to Minot State University, which has been bringing public education to the community since 1913.

With its many four-year and graduate programs, Minot State is a leader in environmental and health research that seeks to better the world for humanity. With many programs to choose from, including technology, health, and science, MSU ranks high in instruction.

Minot State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Misericordia University

Misericordia University campus

Misericordia University is an all-embracing, private school that began in 1924. Students at Misericordia University take part in a faith-based educational program that promotes kindness, justice, and generosity in all they do. There are thirty-eight-degree paths that lead to an undergraduate or graduate degree in one of six academic fields.

Misericordia University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Mount Vernon Nazarene University

Mount Vernon Nazarene University campus

Founded in 1968, Mount Vernon Nazarene University is one of Ohio’s esteemed private liberal arts colleges. Offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees, MVNU gives personal attention to each student by providing small class sizes and academic services where needed. Their online platform allows busy students to continue their education.

Mount Vernon Nazarene University is officially accredited and/or recognized by the Higher Learning Commission.

Oklahoma State University

Oklahoma State University campus

Oklahoma State University – Oklahoma City, commenced in 1961 and has been providing public education to thousands of pupils every year. OSU-Oklahoma City has over forty paths that allow students to follow and gain instruction in one of six disciplines, including liberal arts, science, technology, and health sciences.

Oklahoma State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Purdue University

Purdue University campus

In 1869, Purdue University rose to existence as a public postsecondary school and had been going strong ever since.

Purdue reaches students around the nation and international with its diverse distance learning education that allows students to earn associates to master’s degrees in a variety of academic fields. Research-based studies are at the forefront of PU.

Purdue University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Rutgers University

Rutgers University campus

Rutgers University provides a route to an undergrad or graduate degree to students seeking a public education with a private school feel.

Rutgers U began in 1766 and strived to help develop programs and innovations to better the community. Allowing students to participate in class via virtual learning is one way that RU makes a difference for all students.

Rutgers is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Thomas Edison State University

Thomas Edison State University campus

Serving students since 1972, Thomas Edison State University allows students to gain an affordable public education through untraditional learning-based opportunities.

Some students look to learning portfolios, work or military experience, and other unconventional ways to learn at TESU. There are more than a hundred study options for students to gain an associate, four-year degree, or a graduate degree at TESU.

Thomas Edison State University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

University of Alaska – Fairbanks

University of Alaska Fairbanks campus

Receiving land, sea, and space grants, the University of Alaska – Fairbanks has strived to link learners with a public higher education since 1917. Today they have more than 8,000 students that reach across the globe that are looking to earn an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral degree in an array of program majors.

UAF is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

University of Alaska – Southeast

University of Alaska Southeast campus

Created in 1972, the University of Alaska – Southeast can provide unique experiences to students looking to obtain an undergraduate or graduate degree through a public postsecondary school. It has access to some of the most unparalleled campus location that helps to bring discovery to many programs offered at UAS.

The University of Alaska Southeast is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

University of Central Florida

University of Central Florida campus

The University of Central Florida has been known for its vast space and educational programs since its commencement in 1963 as a public educational academy. With hundreds of degree tracks to help students find the field of study that fits their experience and knowledge, UCF offers all degree options, from undergrad and up.

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

University of Florida

University of Florida campus

Opening in 1853, the University of Florida connects students with postsecondary degree programs in a variety of different majors.

Offering a range of degrees from undergrad to doctoral degrees, the University of Florida challenges students to integrate research outlets into their learning tracks. Public education at this university meets the needs of traditional and nontraditional students.

The University of Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

University of Mary

University of Mary campus

As a religious private school, the University of Mary opened in1959 and accepts students from all backgrounds and beliefs.

Each degree program at U of Mary is enhanced with professionalism, respect, and civic-minded views. It has more than 50 bachelor’s degrees, fourteen master’s degrees, and four doctoral that are grounded with a liberal arts foundation.

The University of Mary is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Attending One of the Best Online Schools

college student studying in a cafe

A good online college can open a lot of doors for you, especially if you’re a busy or non-traditional student who would struggle in a campus setting.

Online degrees are just as legitimate as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, but they’re much more accessible for the modern learner. Consider applying to an online program if you’re ready to earn a degree.

Ready to start your journey?
Joy Cromwelle
Joy Cromwelle
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration. Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.