If you are considering earning your degree online, you’re probably wanting to find the most reputable online colleges.
With so many options out there, it can be hard to know which programs come from good online colleges. Once you’ve narrowed your school search down to genuine programs, there are still many factors to consider before deciding on an online degree program.
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How do you know which are the most respected online colleges? The most trustworthy? And which one is right for you?
Most Reputable Online Colleges
Before enrolling in an online program, it’s beneficial to take the time to find the school that best fits your needs. After you’ve narrowed your school search down to online programs that will work for you, it’s critical to ensure that the programs are from reputable online schools.
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Here are some things to look for when researching online universities:
- Accreditation. Regional accreditation signifies that a school meets the highest standards set by an outside accrediting agency. Attending an accredited school, whether in-person or online, ensures that your degree is not only valid but also reputable.
- Professional reputation. You can talk to others in your chosen field to find out which schools they’ve attended. You can look at reviews on the school’s website as well. You can also dig deeper by looking at online college ranking resources.
- Student-to-faculty ratio. Yes, this can still matter in an online program. Maybe even more so because online students must typically be driven to succeed. Smaller class sizes means teachers can give more attention to individual students, offering the support they need to succeed in an online environment.
- Student services. Reputable universities with online learning generally offer all the same services you would expect to see in a traditional college setting. You can look for programs that offer advisement services, 24-hour technical support, mentoring, tutoring, and online access to libraries and research.
- Faculty credentials. You can look for a school that has highly qualified staff. You can even read the biographies of staff on the faculty page of the school’s website, paying special attention to their professional qualifications, history, and achievements.
If you can check these things off your list, then there’s a good chance your prospective school is a reputable online university.
Online Education Pros and Cons
Before enrolling, you may want to consider the pros and cons of attending an online college over a traditional, on-campus university.
Online Associate’s Programs
Online associates degrees can help you gain entry-level employment in some industries.
You may want to review your career goals before enrolling in an online associate’s program.
Online Bachelor’s Programs
A bachelors degree generally takes 4 years to complete, but you may finish faster with some online programs.
If you are an extrovert, you may miss the social connections created on a traditional campus.
Online Graduate Programs
Traditional graduate programs generally take 1 to 2 years to complete.
Some industries require a masters degree for entry-level employment.
Online Certificate Programs
An online certificate can give you a basic introduction to a new field or skill, and it generally takes 1 year or less to complete.
An online certificate often requires less time, money, and commitment.
How to Choose an Online College
There are many factors to consider when choosing an online college. It’s not like enrolling in a traditional college, where you need to find a campus that works for you in a setting that fits your lifestyle.
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With your online education, nearly every school is a possibility. There are no geographic limitations. So how do you decide which one to enroll in?
- Decide on your career goals and major. The first step is to know what field you want to study. Not all online schools offer every type of major or program. Knowing what you want to go to school for can help you narrow down your search.
- Make sure the school is an accredited program. You may not qualify for financial aid if you attend a non-accredited university. Plus, many employers only value accredited online degree programs.
- Decide how much flexibility you need. Online schools offer many formats. You can attend classes completely online, or you can take some classes online and some on-campus in a hybrid format.
- Check admissions requirements and application fees. Admissions requirements can vary between schools and programs, so it’s strategic to check your prospective school’s specific criteria.
- Check to be sure previous college credits will transfer. Not all online programs will accept your completed credits.
- Compare tuition, additional fees, and financial aid. Some programs may cost more than others or have additional fees. It can be helpful to do a side-by-side comparison of all the schools you are interested in.
It might help to make a chart or a spreadsheet of all the things you need in a school. Then you can compare each online college or online university to find the best match for you.
How Much Does Online College Cost?
Tuition rates vary greatly among the top online colleges, but you can expect to pay between $316 and $495 per credit. With an online college, you won’t have to deal with college housing or parking permits, but you might have technology fees or fees associated with distance learning.
Online degrees typically charge per credit, and most bachelor’s degrees require 120 credits. So, if a college charges $300 per credit, your online degree program would cost you at least $36,000.
It’s important to factor in other fees as well, such as books, application fees, program fees, and technology fees. Some colleges offer virtual access to all course materials, which means you don’t need to buy books, but you’re charged an additional fee for this access instead.
The average online bachelor’s degree ranges anywhere from $38,496 to $60,593. Some colleges or universities offer in-state tuition rates to all of their online learners, regardless of where they live.
Admission Requirements for Colleges and Universities
Every college and program has different admission requirements, and online colleges are no exception. So, before you apply for online colleges, it’s beneficial to check your school’s admission requirements.
Typical Undergraduate Admissions Requirements
When enrolling in an undergraduate program, you’ll likely include the following in your admissions package:
- Official high school transcript or GED equivalent
- Letters of recommendation
- ACT or SAT scores (if required)
- Personal essay
Not all schools require ACT or SAT scores. Some schools may require additional items as well, so it’s helpful to check your prospective school’s specific admission requirements.
Typical Graduate School Admissions Requirements
Graduate schools and programs differ in their admission requirements, but typical requirements include:
- Undergraduate transcripts
- Letters of recommendation
- Personal statement
- Academic writing sample
- GRE or GMAT scores (if required)
Many grad programs require entrance exams, but a growing number of schools no longer require them.
A school’s accreditation status is an important factor to consider when determining which online program to choose.
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Schools voluntarily go through the process of becoming accredited. Accreditation signifies that they have met high academic standards. To see if your school is accredited, you can visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
Nationally Accredited Online Colleges
Most nationally accredited online colleges are for-profit colleges. These colleges are often held to lower academic standards than regionally accredited schools.
Regionally Accredited Online Colleges
Regionally accredited online colleges are typically nonprofit colleges and state operated. The United States has seven accrediting bodies that evaluate these colleges, but some states have their own accrediting organizations as well.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
Financial aid is available for online learners, just as it is for traditional learners. To see if you qualify for federal or state financial aid, you can visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
You can also consider any work study opportunities, scholarships, internships, fellowships, and tuition reimbursement plans. There might also be financial assistance opportunities available with the school or department you plan to enroll in. Some employers even offer financial assistance to workers who are in school.
Many community organizations and nonprofits offer scholarships as well, so you may want to check with your community organizations.
Are Online Degrees Legit?
Yes, online degrees from accredited institutions are legit, and many accredited colleges and universities are expanding their online services. A growing number of students are also moving to online courses, and many more continue to access these services.
The key to enrolling in an online program is to ensure that it is offered by an accredited school. If you’re unsure about earning a degree online, you can also check the reviews for the school you’re interested in. You can look for the average cost, the graduation rate, and the average salary after graduation as well.
How Credible Are Online Degrees?
If your school is accredited, you can earn a credible online degree. You can check a few other sources as well to ensure the credibility of an online college.
For instance, you can check for a list of credits and classes needed to graduate. If any information is missing, that may be a red flag. Credible schools also offer student services and require a certain level of attendance. They also do not generally promise unrealistic graduation dates.
Is Online School Better?
An online program might be better suited for some prospective students. Online programs can offer a flexible academic setting so you can continue to work or maintain other life responsibilities. You can attend class from anywhere, which can make it easier to meet other obligations as well.
You might be a good fit for an online program if you:
- Are highly disciplined
- Are self-motivated
- Have good time management skills
- Need a more flexible academic setting
- Have other pressing responsibilities
Fully online programs are not for everyone. Some students thrive best in the traditional, on-campus school structure.
Are Online Degrees Respected by Employers?
Most online programs do not state on the degree itself whether or not it was earned online. If you graduate from a university, this is often the case. So, employers often have no idea that you hold an online degree.
If you attend a strictly online college, then employers may know that you earned your degree online. As long as you earn your degree from an accredited institution, though, whether or not you earned it online should not matter.
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As society continues to go virtual, schools and work settings continue to follow suit. Some employers highly regard virtual learners, assuming they may be self-starters, highly motivated, and disciplined.
What Are the Most Respected Online Degree Programs?
To determine the most respected online degree programs, Investopedia looked at each school’s history, reputation, pricing, class structure, program length, specializations, and success rate.
Investopedia compiled the following list to showcase the six best degrees online:
- Best Overall: University of Florida
- Best for Value: Colorado State University Global
- Best MBA: Indiana University Bloomington
- Best for Veterans: Penn State World Campus
- Best for Nursing: Ohio State University
- Best for Computer Science: Oregon State University
It might be strategic to keep these schools in mind as you search for reputable online college courses that best fit your needs.
Is Online College Worth It
Yes, online college is worth it for many students. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists 174 occupations that require a bachelor’s degree for entry-level employment, and 101 occupations that require a graduate degree.
Employment for bachelors-level occupations is projected to grow by 10% in the next ten years, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Employment for masters-level occupations is projected to grow by 17%, the fastest for any educational level.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, professionals with masters degrees earn a median wage of $80,340 per year, while bachelors degree holders earn a median wage of $67,860 a year. In comparison, workers with associate degrees earn a median annual wage of $48,776, on average.
List of the Best Online Universities and Colleges
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.
Albizu University offers a number of online degree programs for prospective students. All tests and exams in their online programs are proctored.
Students studying in an online degree program use the school’s SunPortal to access academic programs and the online Learning Management System. They can also access a virtual library, pay tuition, and enroll in classes with this program.
Albizu University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Arizona State University offers an online school for both undergraduate and graduate students. The school offers more than 200 degree programs to choose from and 6 separate start dates. Coursework can be completed at any time, though some courses may require students to log in at specific times to complete projects or tests.
ASU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Colorado State University offers online programs for prospective students interested in distance learning. Each class is a month long, potentially allowing students to graduate faster.
Coursework can be completed at any time. Those who wish to transfer into the program may transfer in a maximum of 90 qualifying credits for a bachelor’s degree and 9 qualifying credits for a master’s degree.
CSU Global is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University offers online programs through Canvas and EagleVision.
Canvas is an educational, cloud-based system used to share media files, and EagleVision is a platform designed to replicate classroom experiences. Virtual labs are also available. Applicants must apply online with official transcripts from any schools previously attended.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Florida International University offers online programs for those interested in obtaining undergraduate or graduate degrees or professional certificates. Students use Canvas to log into online classrooms, interact with faculty and students, and communicate via message boards. Courses are not self-paced but have multiple start times per year.
Florida International University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Florida State University offers 61 separate programs in their distance learning program. The school offers options for undergraduate and graduate students to take classes in a synchronous format, an asynchronous format, or a mixture of the two. All exams are proctored at approved facilities or online through a secondary service.
The Florida State University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Georgia Institute of Technology offers a number of online master’s degree programs and their Massive Open Online Courses for those interested in taking free online classes. M.O.O.C graduates receive a verified certificate of completion at the end of each course.
The Georgia Institute of Technology is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Harding University offers an online option for students interested in obtaining bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees or professional certificates. The courses are designed to allow students to complete classes at their own pace. Applicants must apply online and need to submit all required test scores, transcripts, and immunization records.
Harding University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Liberty University offers an online school. Online students may complete the coursework at their own pace. While it may vary, a majority of the online classes are 8 weeks long. Applicants may apply online. Unofficial transcripts may be submitted initially, but official transcripts must be sent to the school within 60 days of the admission decision.
Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Ohio State University offers an online school for those interested in obtaining associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees. Those interested but unsure if an online program is for them may take a readiness assessment to learn what their program may be like.
The Ohio State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Oregon State University offers more than 1600 online classes and more than 100 programs. An online course demo may be taken if a student is unsure if an online program is right for them. Those interested in studying at Oregon State online may apply online with official transcripts.
Oregon State University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Pennsylvania State University offers an online school option for students interested in obtaining bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degrees in 13 different fields, such as business or nursing. Those interested in studying at the school must submit a self-reported academic record and complete the admission requirements for their chosen program.
The Pennsylvania State University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Southern New Hampshire University offers online college programs for those interested in receiving bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Online classes are self-paced, allowing students to complete weekly assignments when they can. Applicants must submit an online application and speak with an admissions counselor.
Southern New Hampshire University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Texas A&M University offers a distance education option. Though there is only one undergraduate program that can be taken online, the online school offers 53 graduate degrees and 44 certificates. Those interested in studying at the school must submit official transcripts and test scores when they apply.
Texas A&M University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The University of Arizona has an online global campus with more than 50 different programs. Bachelor’s degree courses are 5 weeks long, while graduate degree courses are 6 weeks long. Doctoral capstone projects are 9 weeks long. Applicants must submit all required documents by the time they complete their 4th credit at the school.
The University of Arizona is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
The University of Central Florida offers online degree options for students interested in obtaining an undergraduate or graduate degree in Criminal Justice, Engineering, Healthcare, Hospitality, or Leadership and Management.
Applicants can transfer into an undergraduate program or apply directly into a graduate degree. Official transcripts and test scores must be submitted.
The University of Central Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The University of Florida offers an online learning option for students interested in obtaining a degree or certificate in one of the 25 majors that the school offers.
Admission requirements vary from program to program. Students may choose to take as many courses per semester as they’d like and may take classes whenever they best fit into their schedule. A semester may be taken off without any penalties.
The University of Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The University of Georgia offers online programs for students interested in earning a degree or a certificate or in taking a single course. The online classes allow students to complete coursework at their own pace using the e-Learning Commons platform. Applicants must be enrolled at the University of Georgia to take online classes.
The University of Georgia is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The University of Illinois—Chicago offers online classes and bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs.
Classes may be asynchronous or real-time based depending on each professor’s choice. Admission requirements vary from program to program, though it is not required to take individual courses when taking classes as a non-degree seeking student.
The University of Illinois Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
The University of Wisconsin—La Crosse offers degrees online for mature students interested in obtaining bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Classes may be asynchronous or synchronous. Applicants can apply online with official transcripts. Admission requirements vary from program to program.
The University of Wisconsin – La Crosse is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Getting Your College Degree Online
Colleges and universities are expanding their online services, and employers widely recognize degrees online as valid.
When choosing an online program, it’s necessary to ensure that it’s reputable and trustworthy. One way to do this is to double check that you are enrolled in an accredited program.
Online colleges can enable you to further your education and enhance your skillset according to your own schedule. If you are ready to earn your degree online, you can start school online now by exploring accredited online schools.