Are you looking for the best online colleges and universities? Then you’ve come to the right place. The College Consensus ranking of the best online colleges & universities is the most comprehensive and well-rounded ranking of online schools available anywhere.
Online college education has come a long way; a child born in the same year as the first fully online degree could very well be earning their doctorate online right now. In that time, online education has gone through many changes, from scoffing and disbelief to full acceptance. While predatory, unscrupulous online “colleges” once threatened to make online degrees a punchline, today the most prestigious colleges and universities – from the Ivy League to research giants like MIT and Stanford – offer fully online programs. The best accredited online colleges for undergraduates are some of the best colleges, period.
Earning your undergraduate degree through an accredited college online offers busy working professionals a viable option if they want to earn their college degree. Online degree completion programs offer affordable options and unmatched convenience, especially when compared to their ‘brick and mortar’ counterparts. The flexible scheduling capabilities, offered by online degree completion programs, allows working professionals to earn their degree at their own pace, on their own time. Online classes can be asynchronous (accessible on the student’s schedule) or “live sessions” that take place simultaneously, sometimes with an on-campus class.
How We Ranked the Best Online Colleges and Universities
To rank the Best Online Colleges and Universities, College Consensus applied the Consensus method to online institutions. The Consensus approach to rankings is well-established and explained in full on our About page. We combine official rankings of accredited colleges and universities from the most trusted publishers with verified student ratings from reputable review sites to form an aggregate ranking that takes into account the opinions of experts and the experience of students equally. That’s the Consensus Score.
To qualify for the Best Online Colleges and Universities ranking, institutions must have a Consensus Score and offer at least 3 bachelor’s degree or bachelor’s completion programs in an online or hybrid format. Schools are ranked according to their 2021 Consensus Score.
University of FloridaGainesville, FL
The University of Florida has long been one of the nation’s best online colleges, ranked by sources like U.S. News & World Report. UF is especially known for top bachelor’s programs, business, and technology. Among the best online schools in the US, the University of Florida stands tall.
California State University-ChicoChico, CA
California State University at Chico is considered one of the best online colleges, better known as Chico state. For more than 130 years this best online school has served as an institution catering to the Latinx communities. Their campus counterpart is the home of over 100 undergraduate degrees and graduate study programs.
Appalachian State UniversityBoone, NC
Appalachian State University is one of 17 campuses in the University North Carolina system, this is the best online college for students looking to become part of a diverse group of students. Listed in the Princeton Review’s 2021 “Guide to Green Colleges”, App State is unique in being one of the best online schools to engage students in learning about how to create sustainable futures.
Eastern Illinois UniversityCharleston, IL
This collegiate heavy hitter is considered one of the best online schools that prioritizes affordability. Their tuition for some of the best online college programs is offered at the affordable in-state tuition rate. Students can take advantage of several online programs, each one building upon the idea that education should be accessible to all.
George Washington UniversityWashington, DC
Charter new paths with the best online colleges in the capital city. George Washington University offers a world class faculty, high quality education, and a distinguished graduate program. GWU has a global reach for internships, strategic educational planning and access to a network of prominent Alumni. It’s no wonder people from all over the world choose to study at this best online school.
Boston UniversityBoston, MA
Boston University has proudly held its place among some of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning. Opening its doors to 34,000 students each year it’s no surprise they are believed to be one of the best online colleges in New England. Their study abroad program is considered one of the nations best, if you want to choose from one the best online schools BU has to be top on your list.
Rutgers University-New BrunswickNew Brunswick, NJ
Known as one of the oldest universities in the country, Rutgers University is also one of the pioneers of online learning. They have championed the need for access to affordable education that will promote excellence to both their on-campus and online students. The online school’s most sought after programs are psychology, computer science, and nursing.
John Brown UniversitySiloam Springs, AR
John Brown University has garnered the title of world renowned research university, as well as being one of the best online colleges in the nation. Inspiring creativity in students that are passionate about educational excellence is their goal. What classifies as a best online school are all within the key tenets of John Brown University.
University of Illinois at ChicagoChicago, IL
Finding a school among some of the best online colleges in the US is guaranteed to have the University of Illinois at Chicago on the short list. Well known for their dedication to discovery, curiosity and research. Considered the largest college in the country, learning at one of the best online schools will certainly garner graduates bragging rights.
New York UniversityNew York, NY
Representing 133 different countries around the world this best online college has more international student among their 11 global study sites than students from the US. Considered one of the best online schools in New York City, NYU is popular for visual and performing art, business management, and social sciences.
University of IowaIowa City, IA
The University of Iowa is already known as one of the best online colleges, they have also been coined the “Best Buy” of colleges. They are home to the top academic medical centers in the country, and internationally recognized for their writing program as well. What makes this big ten school one of the best online schools is the dedication they have towards student success.
University of ArizonaTucson, AZ
There is so much to say about this nationally recognized institution and best online college, the University of Arizona. They serve their students with pride, and with a passion that is fueled by their majestic surroundings in the Southwest or virtually from the convenience of ones own home. People from all over the country flock to UA’s online school for business, management, marketing and biomedical sciences.
Villanova UniversityVillanova, PA
This best online college offers a tradition that follows the Augustinian Catholic intellectual, this is the foundational teaching for Villanova University. They continue to be the only one that follows this tradition in the nation, students can expect learning to think critically and ethically within their chosen course of study, making this the best online school for ethical leadership and academic excellence.
University of Massachusetts-AmherstAmherst, MA
Located between Boston and New York City UM Amherst has a plethora of diversity and influence to offer students. It’s no surprise they are considered the best online college. They serve over 20k students each year with over 250 undergraduate, graduate and doctorate studies. They are also home to a highly supported research facilities on campus.
Clemson UniversityClemson, SC
Clemson University is known as one of the best online schools serving students nationally and internationally from their home campus in South Carolina. They are recognized by the nation for research, this best online college received over 100 million dollars in external research funding. Becoming a Clemson Tiger will connect you to an extensive network of alumni in various industries willing to support current students.
Central Washington UniversityEllensburg, WA
Prepare to succeed with Central Washington University, one of the best online colleges in Washington. National recognized and honored for diversity, affordability, this online school is known for an extensive array of master’s degree programs. They have an innovative hands-on teaching method that student benefit from learning and studying while working in the real world professional environment.
Syracuse UniversitySyracuse, NY
This is the best online school for students looking for an innumerable amount of educational pathways. Syracuse University has over 200 individualized majors, and 100 online degree and certificates. Students can excel at this best online school while taking advantage of their five study abroad centers, and international programs in more than 60 countries.
Buena Vista UniversityStorm Lake, IA
Buena Vista University is creating pathways to academic excellence. At this best online college, students will join the campaign to build a better future. Envisioning students with a builder mindset means implementing a transformative higher education model. Some of BVU’s popular programs include, management, educational, and biomedical sciences.
Radford UniversityRadford, VA
Radford University offers a classical american university experience to all students. Their online school has received national recognition for their undergraduate, as well as their graduate programs. Radford is also considered one of the best online colleges for sustainability initiatives. Known as one of the top green colleges in the country, solidifies this institutions dedication to a healthy environment for the future.
University of Central FloridaOrlando, FL
University of Central Florida is lauded as Florida’s best online school for engineering and computer science. With more than 230 degree programs in 13 campus locations in Florida, UCF is recognized by the US News & world report as the top 20 most innovative colleges.
Brescia UniversityOwensboro, KY
Brescia University began in 1925 at a woman’s college, and is now considered the best online schools for liberal arts. they are a Catholic university, and believe social and personal growth can be accomplished through education. They offer an intimate learning environment. Brescia is nationally ranked as one of the best online colleges, and their popular programs include social work, accounting, liberal arts, and liberal studies.
George Mason UniversityFairfax, VA
George Mason University is holds on to the strong ideals that academic excellence is the key to progress. No wonder they are considered one of the best online schools in Virginia. GMU offer over 211 degrees to 40,ooo students, that represent 130 countries from all over the world. This best online college sets community progress as the measurement for the institutional success.
California State University-East BayHayward, CA
California State University East Bay has one of the best online schools in California. CSU East Bay is known for their business administration, psychology, and health sciences degree programs. In the last 60 years, CSU East Bay has evolved into a best online college to inspire students to reach for the stars. They are also one of the first schools to adapt to online learning with more than 15 percent of instruction offered online.
Webster UniversitySaint Louis, MO
Webster University has created history for the last 200 years, and along with their excellent campus programs they are known as one of the best online colleges. Providing resources and stewarding a generation to become experts of their professional field of study, Webster University continues to raise the bar in academic excellence.
SUNY College at OswegoOswego, NY
Nationally known as the best online schools in the SUNY network, they offer over 110 online undergraduate programs. Founded in 1861 this institution sports some impressive facilities; they recently invested 750 million is the modernization of their buildings. This best online college is situated on 700 acres in the lakeshores of Lake Ontario, offering 60 plus undergraduate majors, and 40 plus master’s programs.
Rutgers University-NewarkNewark, NJ
Rutgers University in Newark is widely known for their diversity as well as being one of the best online schools in New Jersey. RU Newark offers popular online majors such as psychology, criminal justice, and accounting. Composed of eight different schools, they are one of three campuses that make-up Rutgers University.
University of UtahSalt Lake City, UT
Having one of the highest graduation rates in the country, it’s not hard to call the University of Utah one of the best online colleges in the nation. They are best in the nation for the major of technology commercialization, and are known for affordable in-state-and out-of-state tuition. It’s no wonder that they are one of the best online schools in the Rocky Mountains.
Colorado State University-Fort CollinsFort Collins, CO
Colorado State University located in Fort Collins is known for their research work in sustainability with their research investment surpassing 300 million dollars. This best online college is passionate about going green! Some of Colorado State’s popular programs are biomedical sciences, engineering, and marketing. No other school can compete with the dedication to excellence experience at CSU Fort Collins.
Westminster College (UT)Salt Lake City, UT
Westminster College offers students a virtual classroom experience like no other. Students will be able to participate in extensive hands on experiences, even though their coursework is delivered online, which is one aspect of Westminster that makes it one of the best innovative online colleges.
Washington State UniversityPullman, WA
Washington State University is definitely one of the best online colleges, with their large offering of classes that are delivered one hundred percent online. They pride themselves on serving many adult learners, as their average student age is 31. They also boast a diverse student body with many clubs and organizations available for student involvement.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens PointStevens Point, WI
The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Online offers a flexible online campus that is considered one of the best online colleges in the Midwest. Their offerings include associate’s degree programs, bachelor’s, as well as master’s degrees fully through distance learning. Another reason they are considered one of the best online schools are their extensive student support resources available.
The University of West FloridaPensacola, FL
The University of West Florida has an online arm called UWF Online that is considered one of the best online colleges in Florida. They are military friendly, affordable, and they have a myriad of degree and certificate offerings. The transfer policy makes it easy to matriculate in and out of this best online school.
Saint Louis UniversitySaint Louis, MO
Saint Louis University offers one of the best online schools with over 75 degree programs that are all accredited. One aspect about their programming that brings this school to the list of best online colleges is the focus on adult learners in particular. All of their programming emphasizes career preparedness in such fields as accounting, criminal justice, business, and health care management.
University of South Florida-Main CampusTampa, FL
The University of South Florida offers one of the best online colleges with an extensive list of bachelors and masters degree programs. Whether you want to study cyber crime, health informatics or something else on their extensive list, you can be sure you will be getting a high quality education at one of the best online schools.
University of Oklahoma-Norman CampusNorman, OK
The University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus, or OU Online is known for being one of the best online schools with over 30 graduate programs and over 15 graduate certificates. Embedded in the online programming are extensive support services for students and many financial aid opportunities. This best online college has found ways to connect industry experts to their online programs, while giving students real world experience.
University of DenverDenver, CO
DU Online is one of the best online colleges, especially for adult learners. Their average student age is 33. You will find their students living in 50 different states and 10 countries. Their programs are known for being affordable. One aspect of DU Online that makes it one of the best online schools is their best program offerings including topics like business, leadership, and management, humanities, law/legal studies and policy.
Simpson CollegeIndianola, IA
Their stellar online programs place Simpson College on the list for best online schools. The online format has many degree completion programs in subjects such as psychology. Each course lasts five weeks and is run Monday through Sunday. This best online college is perfect for those who have busy schedules to fit their academics into.
Concordia University-Saint PaulSaint Paul, MN
Concordia University-Saint Paul Online is referred to as CSP. This best online college follows the christian liberal arts framework of their campus that has offered classes since 1893. The programming that makes this one of the best online schools includes business, technology, criminal justice, sport management, exercise sciences, and data analytics, among others.
Westfield State UniversityWestfield, MA
One of the best online colleges in the US is Westfield State University. Many adult learners are attracted to their vast offerings for degree completion programming. They also have many minors that are delivered online including in subjects like art, sociology, business, finance, psychology, economics and finance. In addition, this best online school has many mentoring opportunities for students.
Florida International UniversityMiami, FL
Florida International University, or FIU Online is one of the best online colleges due to their commitment to the student body and the subsequent resources offered. In fact, they have over 100 online programs and over 54,000 students. In addition, flexibility is the name of the game at this best online school. You can log in at any time from anywhere in the world to complete your interactive coursework.
LeTourneau UniversityLongview, TX
LeTourneau University is considered one of the best online colleges as they took the prestige that their Plano, Texas campus has cultivated and take it to a virtual learning environment. This best online school is in partnership with the Christian Polytechnic University. Not only are their offerings extensive when it comes to degree programming, they also have many pathways that lead to professional licensure.
University of KansasLawrence, KS
The online programming at the University of Kansas is called KU Online. As one of the best online schools, you will see that they cover their bases when it comes to offering extensive online classes, certificates, and degree programs. In addition, this best online college has a myriad of non credit programs including fire and rescue.
Loyola University ChicagoChicago, IL
Loyola University Chicago has its own virtual campus called Loyola Online. There are many aspects of this virtual campus that make it one of the best online colleges. Jesuit values are emphasized in all of their programming. Some of their unique offerings contribute to their place on the best online schools list. This includes topics such as bioethics and pastoral studies.
Rochester Institute of TechnologyRochester, NY
Not only is Rochester Institute of Technology considered one of the best online colleges, but they are also a leader in online education. They have a myriad of offerings that lead to alternative credentials that lead to lucrative career paths. They have over forty years under their belt of providing virtual learning offerings. Their 550 online courses showcase the ways they have become one of the best online schools.
University of IdahoMoscow, ID
The University of Idaho considers it an important part of their mission to offer high quality online and off campus learning opportunities, so it’s no surprise that they are on the best online colleges list. The Engineering Outreach Program is a critical resource for many of the classes offered. Many on campus classes are filmed and placed on line directly following the class session, which helps to achieve the name as one of the best online schools.
Drexel UniversityPhiladelphia, PA
Drexel’s catchphrase says it all, Learn from the Best with the Best, a sentiment that places Drexel University on the list for best online colleges. They make it look easy to offer experiential learning opportunities for virtual students. Their virtual facilities alone, including virtual simulation labs can grant them a place on this list of best online schools. Some of their programs enable students to participate in on campus residencies.
Creighton UniversityOmaha, NE
One of the aspects of Creighton University that places it on the best online colleges list is the customizability of their over 30 degree programs. Even though the classes are virtual, they still boast a community learning environment that supports its place as one of the best online colleges.
University of Missouri-ColumbiaColumbia, MO
The catch phrase for the University of Missouri-Columbia is New Normal. Same Quality Education. There are many things that this school offers making it one of the best online colleges including the over 40 degree programs that they offer. These program offerings span over three schools including school of natural sciences and mathematics, school of humanities, arts, and sciences, and the Robert W Plaster School of Business.
Rutgers University-CamdenCamden, NJ
Rutgers University-Camden makes the list as one of the best online colleges. They have a variety of high achieving degrees including an RN to Bachelors of Science in nursing and a masters in business administration with a myriad of other options. Their online campus ensures flexibility and convenience for those requiring an alternative to classroom learning. As one of the best online schools, their students achieve an education that offers the same quality you will find on campus.
Oregon State UniversityCorvallis, OR
Oregon State University is known for being one of the best online colleges. Their campuses span throughout the lush state of Oregon in such cities as Portland, Newport, Corvallis, and Bend. In addition, their online campus also offers a lot to write home about. In fact, they have their own eCampus that boasts over 80 distinct programs and over 1500 online classes. The eCampus enrolls over 24,000 students that live across the globe. It comes as no surprise that this is one of the best online colleges.
How Credible are the Best Online Colleges?
The process required to accredit a college or university includes an intensive investigation by a federally recognized accreditation organization. The U.S. federal government hand-picks these associations and gives them their stamp of approval. With the authorization bestowed, these councils then evaluate the credibility of an entire school, or just a specific program. Accreditation associations follow strict requirements to determine the answer to the question – How credible are online degrees? When an institute of higher learning meets (or surpasses) the established, rigid accreditation standards, the government sanctioned councils receive authorization to issue an accreditation to the school or a program.
Accredited online degrees are available in many fields of study from several of the top colleges and universities. The best online colleges are evaluated from differing perspectives, by a diverse set of industry experts (according to each national publishers’s choice of methodology), then aggregated here on College Consensus. Online schools are ranked in descending order of their 2021 College Consensus score. Prospective students should also consider other metrics when choosing a distance learning program. These include: just how affordable the school is, how convenient and accessible the online program is, and, the overall reputation of the school and/or the degree program. Students are advised to take the time to define their education goals, their scheduling needs and their career aspirations before they begin to narrow down potential online degree programs of interest.
When you’re considering going to school, your schedule or current situation may not allow you to go away. Many people ask why get an online college degree, but there are a number of online college programs available that can accommodate these needs.
There are a couple of things to consider when choosing an online college:
- Does the online college have your major?
- Make sure the program and all classes you need are offered online.
- Look at the fees and admission requirements.
- Compare with other online colleges.
- Find out their financial aid policies.
- Research the faculty.
Why Does Accreditation Matter for Online Colleges?
If you go through a program that is not accredited, your degree may be viewed as worthless. If your major is one that also needs to be certified or licensed, they will not accept credits from a program that is not accredited. Additionally, employers may frown upon degrees obtained from colleges that do not have accreditation.
National vs Regional Accreditation
While many people may just think about a school being accredited, there is a huge difference between national and regional accreditation. Regional accreditation is for a specific region in the country and may not want to accept transfer credits from nationally accredited institutions. There are six regional accreditation agencies:
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
National accreditation schools are usually for-profit and have technical, career, or vocational programs. They offer accreditation to schools that focus on religious education or career. These schools also generally accept credits from other designated nationally accredited schools as well as regionally accredited schools.
Individuals pursuing a degree at an online college will be able to determine the best one by doing the research. That means looking at the program, reading all the online course descriptions, speaking with a counselor, looking at credit transfers, how well the technology is, and their support. These areas will give you a broader picture of whether the school is one that will be a good fit. Looking at a ranked list of the best online colleges to compare each one can help with your selection process.
How Much Do the Top Online Colleges Cost?
Online colleges are very popular, with more people choosing online education to further their careers or attend colleges or universities that may have otherwise been unattainable. Depending on the program, online college may be cheaper than a traditional program making it an even more attractive option. Costs vary depending on the school and program, so it is very important to look at all the costs associated with the online degree. While the tuition and fees may be the same in some instances, personal expenses will not be a factor. Some colleges do have technology fees based on the materials students receive. This should be helpful for prospective students who are wondering how much does it cost to get an online degree.
It does not really matter if an online student is in-state or out-of-state, but there are some schools that will charge an in-state tuition rate. Even with students in-state, the college may choose to charge an online tuition charge. Speaking with the admissions counselor and financial aid personnel will help determine whether an out-of-state charge will apply.
Paying for an online degree is almost the same as paying for a traditional degree. The student should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine whether they qualify for grants and loans. If the student works, asking the employer whether they have a tuition reimbursement program can help offset additional costs. Students should apply for tax credits and use any Veterans benefits that may be available. There are tons of scholarships out there that can also help pay for an online degree. The financial aid person at the college should be able to assist with this process.
Beyond being convenient, online schooling provides opportunities and flexibility for students who have other things going on. Online schools give you choice even if you live across the country. Online classes work around the student’s schedule, allowing them to have a job, take care of children, or learn at their own pace. Students who choose online schooling also build a network of colleagues they can tap into well after those classes are over.
One of the most convenient things about online school is not having to go anywhere. Students can learn from the comfort of their home, or anywhere they have a remote connection. Open scheduling helps solve the challenges of life, and it saves time and money. With online colleges, students are exposed to instructors all over the world they would not have access to. Guest lecturers and the top professors are the norm. Online education also provides different ways of testing and is very effective for students who can learn in a technology-based setting.
How Do Online Colleges Work?
Students log into the school’s online portal to access teacher lectures and online class materials. There, the students are also put into groups when needed and have a chance to interact with other students via the discussion board. Virtual lectures are at a set time each week. The beauty of online classes is that they take the same time and have the same assignments that occur within the traditional classroom. As long as the student logs into the class and participates as required by the professor, they will have a good chance of passing the class if their grades are up to par.
An online degree has the same learning requirements as a traditional degree in a different setting. The quality and level of education are not diminished. This type of learning style just offers flexibility and convenience to students who may have other obligations that interfere with them attending classes at a brick-and-mortar institution. Students attending accredited online colleges go on to have lucrative careers just like individuals who sat in a classroom. The learning style is different, but the degree is the same.
Will a Degree from an Online Colleges Help Me Make More Money?
The pay scale for most workers depends upon a host of factors that include one’s experience, background and work-specific factors. However, one’s educational background is likely to be one of the most important determinants that holds the key that opens the doors to increased responsibilities and compensation. Even if the diploma you hold is from one of the top online degree programs, you may only realize a significant bump in salary if the degree you hold is related to the job you are applying for. The higher the degree you attain, the higher the salary.
Graduates of top online degree programs find job opportunities where there once were none; salary amounts that far exceed their current pay scale. Undergraduate online programs are the first step towards a more advanced degree that will ultimately, provide leadership opportunities in the industry of your choice. It is best to match an online degree program with a student’s salary and career objectives.
What About Accelerated Online Bachelor Degree Programs for Working Adults?
Working professionals must earn their online degree in a way that allows them to continue to receive a paycheck, and to continue living their preferred lifestyle. Accelerated Bachelors Degree programs for adults are designed to for working learners to quickly learn new skills that will help advance their career and improve the salaries earned.
Accelerated bachelor degree programs for working adults essentially condense coursework that is typically covered in four months, into five through eight-week semesters, depending upon the density of the material taught. Accelerated bachelor degree programs are a great option for working professionals who prefer to focus on one course each semester. Fast track online programs typically require students to attend classes year-round. This is one of the ways that allow students to earn their degree quickly.