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Online College Programs Methodology

We offer an extensive list of accredited, fully online options based on all relevant degree programs.

Key Takeaways:
  • This process is achieved by hiring contractors to manually research and collect the appropriate online degrees. In other words, any school with the program in question at the specified degree level qualifies for inclusion if it meets our online eligibility requirements.
  • We offer additional data points when available, including Salary Score, median starting salary, and online enrollment.
  • All of the programs on our page are regionally accredited colleges.

Fully online status: Schools with programs that require some on-campus coursework were still considered for our rankings if the amount of in-person work required was limited to two weeks or less per year, allowing students to work around job or other responsibilities.

About the Data

Salary Score

Salary Scores represent alumni salaries after graduation within specific programs and degree levels. This rankings system — proprietary to Optimal — allows readers to compare real-world salary outcomes for the alumni of their desired majors across universities. Armed with this data, prospective students can gauge which specific program might offer the highest financial outcome for graduates.

Salary Scores are calculated using data from College Scorecard, a resource provided by the U.S. Department of Education. To calculate a school’s overall Salary Score by level, we compared alumni earnings for each individual program to the same programs at schools across the country. In this way, a degree program at one school was evaluated against the same degree program across all schools.

Online Enrollment

This data point is included on our broader program lists, and it represents the total number of undergraduate and graduate students enrolled exclusively in distance education courses. This data is directly from the National Center for Education Statistics. Importantly, this data represents the school overall, but it is not specific to a given program.

Data Limitations

Like any data set, the data used for our rankings has some limitations and shortcomings. College Scorecard and IPEDS data are not separated by online versus on-campus students, so schools with records that contain both online and on-campus data may not have data specific to online graduates.

The earnings data used in our Salary Score is based on alumni in entry-level positions. This does not take into account alumni's potential for growing their income as their careers develop, and only includes the earnings of students who received federal financial aid.

To protect student privacy, College Scorecard suppresses student count and earnings data that could be personally identifiable. This impacts the data coverage and accuracy for some programs. More information can be found in College Scorecard’s data documentation.

Information on offered online degrees is manually collected from school websites. If you are a school representative and have corrections or additional data on your school's offerings, please contact us.


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