Best Online Colleges in California
There are 416 degree-granting postsecondary schools in the Golden State, which is the most among any U.S. state. Our ranking list of the best online schools in California features the top 24 with programs that offer a high return on investment. Online colleges in California offer a range of subjects as diverse as the state's population and job market. An unprecedented funding boost may make them more affordable, accessible, efficient, and equitable. On this page, we provide an overview of higher education in California, popular degree programs, the cost of an online degree, careers in the state, and frequently asked questions.
2020 Online Colleges in California Ranking Details
For each school, we conducted manual research to provide prospective students with more details about the schools' online programs. Explore online degrees offered and accreditation information below.
Overview of Higher Education in California
California has more residents than any other state and a significant number of higher education institutions to match. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), California has 214 colleges offering bachelor's degrees. Perhaps due to this accessibility, the U.S. Census shows that approximately 34% of Californians hold a bachelor's degree or higher as compared to the national rate of 32%. This high rate of educational attainment could indicate fierce competition for available jobs requiring a bachelor's degree for entry. Overall, 2.7 million students attended California's universities in 2019, including 49 public four-year colleges, 154 two-year colleges, and 145 private non-profit colleges.
Approximately 34% of Californians hold a bachelor's degree or higher as compared to the national rate of 32%.
Online Colleges in California
According to our manual research, 159 schools in California offer fully online degree programs, which are increasing in popularity. The schools ranked above as the best online colleges in California offer both bachelor's and graduate degrees with a wide range of options. Some programs are 100% online and others are hybrid, meaning that 50% of coursework is conducted online and 50% is completed on campus. Online courses are usually asynchronous, allowing students to log in at any time. Popular schools, such as UCLA, may not offer fully online degrees, but they have online courses that transfer to degree programs.
Completing an online bachelor's degree in California generally takes full-time students up to four years to complete. Meanwhile, an online master's program typically only takes two years of full-time study or longer for part-time students. Admissions requirements are similar across schools and generally include high school and college transcripts, a 2.5-3.0 minimum GPA, and an application fee of approximately $70. However, always check with a program advisor to confirm enrollment and degree completion processes.
Popular Online Degree Programs in California
Below are the most popular bachelor's degrees throughout California's higher education system:
Accreditation For Online Colleges in California
Students looking for the best online degree programs in California may want to choose from accredited schools. Accreditation signifies quality in education and may be necessary to use financial aid. Schools can receive national, regional, and programmatic accreditation. All of the schools featured on our rankings list are regionally accredited, which is often the preferred type because of its tighter regulations and standards. The WASC Senior College & University Commission (WSCUC) is the regional accrediting agency in California, so prospective students can check the WSCUC directory to verify institutions' accreditation status.
Cost of Online Degrees in California
California's in-state community college tuition rates and fees are cheaper than anywhere else in the nation. Online community colleges can serve as a stepping stone to bachelor's degree programs, which are sometimes more expensive in California than the national average. So, to lower college costs, a student can earn an associate degree or general education credits at a two-year school and then transfer to a bachelor's degree program.
The cost of a bachelor's degree varies widely in California, ranging from relatively low costs for in-state students at public schools to over $50,000 a year at some private colleges. According to our manually researched data, the median tuition cost for an online bachelor's degree is $13,919 a year. This cost is nationwide and not specific to California but can serve as a helpful starting point to better understand what a student might pay for an online degree.
Interested applicants should research individual programs because costs can differ by degree, delivery mode, or residency status — even within the same school or university system. California is a member of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, so students enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program in a participating state may be eligible for reduced tuition rates.
California is a member of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, so students enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program in a participating state may be eligible for reduced tuition rates.
Financial Aid for Online Students in California
There are several financial aid resources available that may help students pay for college. Completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can determine eligibility for federal and state aid. Additionally, private organizations and foundations may offer scholarships, which don't require repayment. A school's financial aid office may have more information about ways to make college affordable.
The State of California also offers several aid programs to help students cover college expenses. These awards include the following:
Current high school seniors and recent graduates who fall into the low or middle income bracket can apply for two different grants that help pay college tuition and fees. Students must submit their high school GPA and complete a FAFSA or California Dream Act Application (CADAA) to be eligible for this award, which varies based on financial need and type of institution.
The Chafee is designed for students who spent at least one day in foster care between 16 to 18. Applicants must be less than 26 years old, having been raised in foster care between the ages of 16 and 18. To apply, they need to first complete the FAFSA or CADAA. Grants pay up to $5,000 and can be applied toward tuition or living expenses while attending college.
This program is designed for undocumented students, DACA recipients, U-Visa holders, students with Temporary Protected Status, and those who meet non-resident exemption requirements. Students must reapply annually, have unmet financial needs, and complete a minimum of 150 volunteer hours each semester. There are 2,500 awards available for $1,500 per semester, which can reach a maximum of $3,000 per academic year.
This program helps students pursuing teaching careers pay for college tuition. Students must be enrolled in a teacher preparation program and plan to work in a high-need field to apply for up to $20,000 in awards.
For more information on funding an online degree, see our Guide to Financial Aid for Online Students.
California Employment Outlook
California's unemployment rate was 6.9% as of November 2021 and has been declining since the highs reported in 2020. California industries experiencing the highest demand include government, leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, education and health, and trade and transportation. Some top employers in these industries include Kaiser Permanente, the military, Amazon, and UCLA Health.
Wages throughout California tend to be higher than other states and the national average. For example, the annual mean wage in San Jose and the South Bay area is $93,450, which is significantly higher than the national mean of $56,310. Similarly, the San Francisco and East Bay Area has a mean wage of $81,840, while the Los Angeles and Long Beach area is at $63,660.
One sector that is thriving in California is technology. Centered in Silicon Valley, this industry is hiring college graduates at steady rates. However, it's important to remember that no industry is fully insulated from fluctuations. For example, the state's green energy sector lost 71,000 jobs in 2020, and the industry isn't expected to return to pre-2020 levels until 2023.
With this in mind, we've identified several lucrative jobs in California predicted to grow faster than the 8% national average, and they only require a bachelor's degree:
Frequently Asked Questions About Online Colleges in California
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Bachelor's Degree in California?
It can take full-time students about four years to complete a 120 credit-hour bachelor's program. Transfer students with either an associate degree or 60+ credits may complete an online bachelor's program in under two years. However, it generally takes part-time students longer.
What is the Fastest Way to Get a Bachelor's Degree Online?
Some schools offer accelerated degree programs, where each class takes approximately six to eight weeks. Full-time students may finish accelerated bachelor's programs in as little as 12-18 months.
Are Online Degrees Respected?
Employer acceptance of distance education and online degrees has been steadily increasing. In a survey published in 2019, approximately 61% of employers reported that credentials earned online are of "general equal quality" to those earned in-person. In addition, about 71% of HR leaders reported hiring candidates with online degrees, a percentage that may increase with the recent overhaul to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.