College graduates typically enjoy many benefits, including higher wages, lower unemployment, and access to better jobs. One notable development in higher education over the past 20 years has been the rise of online learning. Today, prospective college students have more options than ever to earn online associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees, along with certificates, in a wide array of fields.
Online degrees are currently available in 137 popular subjects, with 28,321 unique programs offered at online schools. Notably, every school on our website is accredited by an organization recognized by the US Department of Education. On this page, we provide a list of the number of online colleges offering degrees in every subject as well as any program-specific accreditation students should pay attention to and salary statistics.
Online education, also referred to as distance or virtual learning, is the process of taking educational courses remotely via the internet. Many students are attracted to the online format because of its convenience and self-directed nature, and in some cases, because of its lower cost when all factors are taken into consideration.
Over the past decade or so, there has been a rising popularity in online learning, with enrollment in virtual learning programs increasing, even as enrollment in college programs overall has declined. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 75% of students — which equates to nearly 12 million — were enrolled in at least one distance learning class in the fall of 2020. What's more is that the number of students exclusively enrolled in online learning courses jumped up 186% between 2019 and 2020. This was primarily a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, however it does show a willingness from students to participate in degrees online.
Is It Possible to Get a Degree Entirely Online?
Although many students are aware they can take select classes online, some wonder if they can earn their entire degree online. The answer is yes. Hundreds of highly regarded colleges and universities offer 100% online degree programs that enable students to take every class online. Online programs are available from traditional schools, research institutions, specialty schools (such as religious colleges), and fully online colleges. The curriculum and coursework for these degrees are comparable to those of on-campus degrees, and the courses are often taught by the same instructors.
Hundreds of highly regarded colleges and universities offer 100% online degree programs that enable students to take every class online.
There are a few majors — such as nursing and social work — that require students to engage in experiential learning activities under the supervision of a professional. In these instances, online students are usually able to complete this requirement at an approved facility near their home.
In rare instances, a school may require online students to come to campus for brief periods of two to 10 days for orientation, lab work, or other types of in-person learning events. This requirement is usually stated on the program pages of school websites.
Fully Online Bachelor's Programs
There are numerous 100% online bachelor's degree programs to choose from at a wide range of prices. A 2020 report on online education revealed that, of online bachelor's programs, 57% are fully online, rather than hybrid.
Just like earning an on-campus degree, the first couple years of your online program will provide you with a broad education in a number of essential subjects, such as math, social sciences, language arts, and natural sciences. You'll also take several introductory courses in your major. During the last couple of years of your four-year degree program, you'll take upper-level courses and electives related to your major and possibly a minor, if you wish. Throughout it all, you'll have ample opportunities to interact with your instructors and network with peers via the school's online learning management system (LMS).
In addition, many colleges are planning to add between three and six new online master's programs each year. The same report notes that about 40% of students enrolled in master's programs are earning their degrees entirely online. The self-paced classes and flexible schedules of online programs appeal to many master's students, who are often working adults with full-time jobs and other commitments.
Types of Colleges
There are various types of schools where you can pursue an online or in-person degree, including the following:
Unique to the virtual learning landscape, some online schools enable students to graduate early, even earning bachelor's degrees in as little as two years through accelerated programs.
Public colleges and universities vary dramatically in size and scope. They typically offer bachelor's degrees in a wide range of subjects, as well as master's degrees and doctorates. Because public schools get funding from the states that operate them, they are generally able to charge lower tuition rates.
Similar to their state-run counterparts, private colleges and universities offer degree programs at all levels: bachelor's, master's, and doctorates. These schools are funded by student tuition, alumni gifts, and endowments, and they may be more expensive to attend than many public colleges. Private colleges can be further categorized:
Nonprofit: As nonprofit organizations, nonprofit private schools are required to reinvest any profits back into the school. Funds are often used to enhance facilities, hire additional instructors and staff, and expand the number of programs offered by the school.
For-Profit: For-profit private colleges operate like any other for-profit businesses, with profits going back to investors. There are many types of for-profit universities, career colleges, and technical schools, and many of them exclusively offer online programs.
The Experience of Online Learning
As mentioned above, online programs utilize some form of a digital LMS, to deliver course materials, submit homework assignments, and facilitate interaction among students and instructors. Some of the most common are Blackboard, Canvas, D2L Brightspace, and Moodle. Learning activities are posted on the site, which is accessible only to enrolled students, and these may include readings, lectures, homework, and other assignments. Students also are able to engage in class discussion through online discussion boards and typically complete assignments when it's convenient for them but by a set deadline.
When online college courses are structured in a way that enables students to work entirely on their own schedules, independent of one another and the instructor, it is called an asynchronous course. In some cases, however, there may be a need for students to work with each other or the instructor in real time, which makes it a synchronous course. Some schools have also created hybrid programs, in which students conduct most of their education online but are required to come to campus for short periods to engage in live learning activities.
What Is the Easiest Degree To Get Online?
What is easy for one student may be challenging for another and vice versa, which is why no one particular degree can be considered easier than others. However, for many students, earning a degree online can be easier than taking the traditional route due to flexible schedules, self-paced learning, and the availability of online student resources, such as tutoring and academic advising. Virtual learners may also find it easier to identify the best program to fit their needs because there are so many online programs to choose from without having to leave home.
When it comes to certain majors, the Education Data Initiative found that 18.3% of graduates earn degrees in STEM fields, while 16.7% graduate with a business degree. These two fields see the highest number of graduates, which may indicate a more approachable degree for an online college overall.
For many students, earning a degree online can be easier than taking the traditional route due to flexible schedules, self-paced learning, and the availability of online student resources, such as tutoring and academic advising.
What Is a Good Degree To Get Online?
When choosing a degree online, you might want to factor in your personal learning style and strengths. Online courses are often asynchronous, which means you'll most likely do a great deal of reading and writing and have somewhat less direct contact with your instructor. If technology is already a strength, you might be well suited to earn a fully online degree in data science or information technology. Similarly, software engineering or graphic design degrees will likely take place totally online as well.
An online program could indicate to a potential employer that you're well-suited to work remotely and prepared to take on a challenging role without direct supervision.
Online Degree Level Overviews
Selecting an online degree can seem overwhelming at first, but basically, there are five college degree levels to choose from:
Online associate degrees typically can be completed in two years and are available for a variety of programs. Online students who've graduated from an associate degree program will often be more competitive in the job market, especially in technical and vocational fields, compared to those with only a high school diploma or GED. Online associate degrees are also a solid stepping stone for those looking to earn and transfer credits to a four-year institution so they can continue on to more advanced degrees.
Online bachelor's degree programs can usually be completed online in four years. Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees are available online in almost any area of study imaginable, from popular subjects such as engineering to less common subjects such as personal training or data science. Graduates of an online bachelor's degree program will find themselves qualified for a wide range of jobs, or they may advance their studies by pursuing a master's degree.
Online master's degree programs are a valuable option for students hoping to pursue graduate-level education at a flexible pace, as many programs are designed to allow online students to continue full-time work while completing their studies. Online master's degrees typically take two years to complete and are available in most subjects. Many schools offer over 100 different online graduate degree options.
Obtaining a doctoral degree is one of the ultimate ways to achieve excellence in a field, and there are a variety of online doctorates available. The time required for completion of these degrees varies, depending on whether the online student is full-time or part-time. Prospective doctoral students can explore degree offerings in business, psychology, computer science, and a wide variety of other subject areas.
Popular Areas of Online Study
There are many areas of study that an online student might focus on, and deciding which subject to study in college can be a challenge. Students may select a major based on future career goals, interests, skills, or expected salary in a given field. Below are some of the most popular online degree programs:
Online business degree programs aim to develop overall analytic, writing, and project management skills as well as an understanding about how organizations function.
Related Degrees:Finance is another popular specialty for those seeking an online business degree. An online finance degree can potentially lead to a career in financial management, budget analysis, and financial advising. Students hoping to pursue business careers related to business management or administration might be interested in learning more about online human resources or management degrees.
Related Degrees: Those who'd like to learn about crime from a social perspective may be interested in an online criminology degree. There are multiple degree levels available, even an online doctorate. Those interested in detective work might try exploring online options for undergraduate degrees and graduate degrees in forensic psychology or forensic science.
Art design encompasses a broad spectrum of creative disciplines — from digital design in animation and video games to product design in fashion and jewelry.
Related Degrees:Graphic design and web design degrees are popular routes for online students who are interested in the digital marketing aspects of art design. Conversely, art history degrees are widely available for traditional art enthusiasts. Finally, musicians may be interested in pursuing a degree in music, where they can take an in-depth look at production, composition, and theory.
For those who are passionate about teaching, pursuing an online education degree will provide the skills necessary to make a difference in the lives of young students.
The broad umbrella of liberal studies is a smart choice for online students who are hoping to expand their worldview and develop stronger critical thinking and communication skills.
Related Degrees: The field of liberal studies includes a wide array of online courses, from English to anthropology, physics to mathematics, and psychology to music. Since career paths for graduates of online liberal studies degrees vary widely depending on the program of study, looking over our more specific subject pages will help prospective students learn more about the many available options.
Engineering may be the ideal field of study for anyone who enjoys applying scientific and mathematical skills to solve real-world problems.
Related Degrees: Interested students should also research what engineering specializations appeal to them, as online programs are available in areas such as electrical engineering, civil engineering, software engineering, and mechanical engineering, to name a few specific areas. Graduates of an online engineering degree program may find work at research labs, governmental agencies, large corporations, construction sites, or small companies.
Health Care Administration
Health care administration degrees offer an understanding of modern health care systems that are designed to meet the needs of patients.
Related Degrees: Some people assume that degrees related to health care can't be earned online because they often require hands-on, experiential learning modules via practicums, fieldwork, or internships. However, many accredited colleges and universities have overcome this barrier and are now offering online degrees in a wide range of health-related subjects: nursing, pharmacy, nutrition, personal training, public health, respiratory therapy, and medical or dental assistance.
Computer science looks at everything — from web development to network maintenance — all through the lens of complex technologies and analytics.
Related Degrees: A specialization in cybersecurity means students will investigate, analyze, and solve complex issues related to network and system safety. Computer programming, on the other hand, involves writing code and developing software that allows computers to operate in the first place.
Online students considering an online degree in English may be surprised to discover how versatile this option can be, as coursework focuses on developing analytical and critical thinking skills as well as effective writing and communication abilities.
Related Degrees: Some English students focus their degree on creative writing. This specialization involves developing storytelling techniques through scriptwriting, poetry, and other writing mediums. There are also those who prefer to focus on journalism instead because they want to write for news organizations about current issues.
Related Degrees: IT degrees can fall into many categories, depending on a student's personal interests. There's software engineering, which works on program development for computer systems; computer science, which involves highly technical and analytical computer design and development; as well as geographic information systems, which looks at the earth's surface through technological tools and techniques.
From preventing the spread of infectious diseases to encouraging schools to provide healthier lunches for children, an online public health degree teaches professionals how they can improve the well-being of individuals, communities, and the population at large.
Related Degrees:Health science programs are interdisciplinary as they look at health care management through policy, patient-support and health care data. Health care informatics follows a more direct route through information by offering students an understanding of medical terminology, health care IT, and systems administration. Then, there's health care administration, which involves the daily management of an organization's health care systems.
Choosing and Applying to an Online Program
Once you've determined the subject you would like to pursue, you'll need to decide which online degree programs to enroll in. There are several important factors to consider when selecting the specific program that will best meet your needs: the reputation of the school for teaching that subject, any options for adding a concentration or area of emphasis, and whether you can customize your degree program through your choice of electives.
As you conduct your school search, you might also want to investigate the school's online learning environment before making your final choice. Below are some useful questions to ask a school advisor:
Are online courses entirely asynchronous, allowing you to complete work on your own time, or are elements of the courses synchronous, requiring you to be online with the instructor at specific days and times?
Does the school require you to come to campus for any live learning events, and will you have the time and resources to attend these sessions?
Will you be able to meet the expected demands of the courses in addition to your other commitments?mpus for any live learning events, and will you have the time and resources to attend these sessions?
Will you have access to financial aid and student support services if enrolled online?
Once you've settled on one or more programs, you're ready to apply. Prospective students use the same process to apply for online programs as they do for traditional programs, and they must meet the same admissions standards for schools online.
One of the most important factors in choosing an online degree program is ensuring it has been accredited by an approved, independent agency. Accreditation means that the college or university has undergone a thorough evaluation. In this process, coursework, faculty, and student resources have been determined to meet high standards for quality and value.
All of the schools listed on our website have been accredited. View our accreditation page to learn more about specific types of accreditation and how they impact transfer credits and financial assistance.
Cost of Online Degrees
At each college degree level, programs are available at a wide range of prices. The most expensive component of any online college degree is tuition.
One way to compare tuition across schools is to multiply each school's per-credit tuition rate by the number of credits you'll need to earn to graduate.
When checking school websites for these data points, be sure to locate the correct tuition rate for the level of degree you're pursuing. Some schools charge different rates for on-campus and online students or different rates for in-state and out-of-state residents. Notably, however, many online schools charge out-of-state students the same rate as in-state students, which can cut down the cost when compared to on-campus programs.
However, all prospective students need to factor in a number of other expenses when calculating the potential cost of an online degree. Some items to consider include books and supplies, annual and one-time-only fees charged by the school, interest on student loans, childcare costs, and transportation costs related to on-site learning activities.
Are There Free Online Colleges?
Although there are a few online school programs that tout tuition-free degrees, these programs are not really free, as they charge application, enrollment, and testing fees that, when added up, can be comparable to the tuition at some online schools.
However, many states, community colleges, and four-year universities offer "last-dollar" scholarships for students whose federal and state aid don't cover the full cost of tuition.
Financial Aid Considerations and Resources for Online Students
At most schools, online students are eligible for financial aid packages, just like their on-campus counterparts. The most desirable forms of financial aid are grants, scholarships, fellowships, and work-study programs, generally provided by the federal or state government or by the schools themselves. Students do not have to repay the aid that comes from these sources.
Some students may also be eligible for other types of financial assistance. For instance, active duty military and veterans, along with their dependents, are often entitled to tuition discounts. Some schools also have partnerships with organizations, and members or employees of these organizations may gain access to tuition assistance. Federal and private loans are another useful option, although students will need to pay back the loans with interest. For the vast majority of financial aid programs, the application process begins by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
Perhaps the one circumstance in which online students will face a different financial situation than traditional students is at the doctoral level. Many on-campus PhD candidates secure "fully funded" degrees. Essentially, they receive a tuition-free education and possibly even a stipend in exchange for teaching and contributing to research projects at the university's research facilities. Because these fully funded programs require the recipients to be on campus to perform the work, online PhD candidates are generally not eligible for these programs.
We've put together a Guide to Financial Aid for Online Students, where you can find detailed information on the various types of aid available, the application process, tax implications, and additional resources.
Jobs You Can Get With an Online Degree
People who have earned their degrees online are often equally eligible for jobs requiring a college education as those who've attended college in person.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has identified quite a few occupations that are expected to grow substantially over the next decade, and many of these require degrees that can be obtained online.
Another option for a successful career with a two year degree is through a paralegal associate degree. While this role may offer a lower median salary ($31,050) than a nursing career, it can be a great starting point for those interested in a career in the legal field.
What Is the Best Degree To Make Money?
Starting salary is an important metric to consider before deciding what career to pursue. This is true for two reasons. First off, students want to ensure they are setting themselves up for a financially stable future. Second, with the high cost of tuition, the younger generation of students is looking for ways to pay off their large amounts of student debt.
Some of the best college degrees to make money fall under the umbrella of engineering. This isn't surprising considering the complexity of this field when it comes to blending math with science and physics. Engineering graduates may earn an average salary of $64,292, with engineering technology graduates falling just below at $58,272. The table below outlines the fields with the highest paying salaries, along with the corresponding degree programs.
What Degree Should I Get if I Want to Work From Home?
While some have been forced to work from home during the pandemic, many workers have come out the other side with a desire to maintain their new work environment. Some fields have long benefited from remote work, such as information technology and web design. Degrees that revolve around computer programming and development, such as software engineering, may also afford a work-from-home lifestyle. A business degree may also be a good start to work from home, especially as many companies have completely shifted to remote work environments since the pandemic.
Is Getting an Online Degree Worth It?
Earning an online degree offers the same level of academic benefits as a traditional degree. Your degree likely won't even specify that it was achieved online. However, online degree programs have their pros and cons, depending on a student's comfortability studying in a remote environment.
Let's take a look at the potential benefits and drawbacks of earning a distance learning degree:
Online classes work around your lifestyle. Having the ability to attend classes on your own schedule is ideal if you work full time or have other time constraints, like family obligations, that make it challenging to attend traditional classes.
With a wider selection of programs, you're more likely to find the best program to fit your career goals and budget without having to move to a different location.
An online degree could significantly increase your lifetime earning potential, including access to higher-level, better-paying jobs. According to the BLS, people who've earned bachelor's degrees earn, on average, earn about $500 more per week than those who have a high school diploma. Multiplied out over a typical career, that amounts to $26,000 more per year and around $1 million more over a 40-year span.
Earning an online degree is more affordable than a traditional university program. According to statistics from the Education Data Initiative, online degrees cost $600 less than in-person degrees. Students also save $3,400 per year on transportation costs and spend $1,380 more on a school's meal plan.
Online classes require more time management and self-discipline.Dr. Wendy St. Pierre, a professor for the online program at the University of Maine at Augusta, notes that distance education requires students to create their own structure and manage their coursework effectively. She's observed that some students struggle to set aside enough time to complete assignments, which can negatively impact their grades.
Students will need to overcome the technological learning curve for online degree programs. Schools that offer online degree programs are forced to host their coursework on a LMS, which means that students must learn these digital platforms before they can begin to study the actual course information.
Graduates with associate degrees earn $800,000 less than traditional four-year university graduates, according to a 2021 study by Georgetown University. Because many online degrees are two-year associate level programs, this means that by opting for an online associate degree, you may earn less than your four-year counterparts.
If a student hopes to graduate early, there are some things that can be done to speed up the process. The best option is to choose a 100% online accelerated degree program at an accredited online college. Accelerated programs usually feature up to several short terms scheduled consecutively year-round, which means graduation requirements can be met in about two years. You'll find that there are accelerated programs available in many fields, including business, marketing, and health, so you can choose among many subjects to study.
Accreditation is the most important indicator that a school has been thoroughly reviewed by the U.S. Department of Education, or their approved regional accreditation organizations. So, you should always check to make sure your chosen school is accredited, and avoid promises of quick and easy degrees, flat fees (instead of fee schedules for tuition costs), and limited information on the programs, curricula, or faculty.
That being said, master's degrees have higher standards of academic excellence than bachelor's degrees. So, is an online master's degree respected? Do people take online master's degrees seriously? The answer is also, yes. Online master's degrees hold just as much weight as online bachelor's and associate degrees.
There are other questions worth asking as well. Such as, do employers care if your degree is online? As long as the degree didn't come from a so-called "diploma mill," it will be valued as a legitimate academic achievement.
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