Popular Online Programs
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2023 Best Online Colleges
2023 Best Online Colleges Highlights
Public online school Thomas Edison State University, located in New Jersey, is the number one best online college and one of the top schools in the country for bachelor's alumni salary. TESU has a Salary Score of 96 for bachelor's graduates, making their alumni some of the highest-paid for their major. TESU's most popular bachelor's majors are interdisciplinary studies, nursing, business administration, and social sciences. All of these programs had salary outcomes in the 95th percentile or better. Although it is a smaller program by enrollment, its health professions program earned a Salary Score of 100. All of this helped propel TESU to the top of the rankings. TESU also offers online bachelor's degrees in data science, homeland security, cybersecurity, human services, organizational leadership, and professional studies. TESU has an open admissions policy and serves 100% of its students online. Most students at TESU are adult learners and enroll part-time.
The for-profit, West Virginia-based American Public University System ranks second with a Salary Score of 92 for bachelor's programs. APUS has a wide range of bachelor's programs with high salary outcomes for recent graduates, including history, international studies, health and physical education, international relations, criminal justice, psychology, natural resources, and business administration. APUS is made up of two branches, American Military University and American Public University. Together the two online schools serve more than 95,000 online students. The vast majority of APUS students are adults over 24 years old who enroll part-time. Online students at APUS can connect with their peers through student groups and organizations such as the Association for Women in Science, the Jewish Student Association, the Esports Club, and the Homeland Security Network. APUS has an open admissions policy, making it a more accessible option for many online students.
Minnesota's for-profit Capella University has a Salary Score of 92, and top-ranked programs for alumni salary include business administration, information technology management, health administration, psychology, and human resources management. Capella offers bachelor's programs in a variety of popular fields, delivered through two main learning formats: GuidedPath offers a more traditional and structured approach, while FlexPath allows students to study on their own time through a self-paced learning model. Students can access online resources such as academic advising, writing and research assistance, career counseling, technical support, and a digital library with extensive databases, e-books, and academic journals. The university also has a mobile app that allows students to access course materials, discussion boards, and grades wherever they are. Capella serves more than 66,000 online students, most of whom are adult learners who attend part-time. The university also has an open admissions policy.
Colorado State University Global is the online branch of the public Colorado State University system. CSU Global has a Salary Score of 90 for bachelor's programs, and top-performing majors include management information systems, communications and media studies, criminal justice, business administration, and human resources management. CSU Global serves around 18,000 online students per year, many of whom are enrolled part-time and are adult students. The university has a 96% acceptance rate and serves online students from all over the country. CSU Global focuses on affordability through in-state tuition for all students, a tuition guarantee, and no student fees, making it easier for applicants to understand how much their degree will cost.
The University of Maryland Global Campus is a large public university with an online enrollment of more than 71,000 representing 80% of the school’s total enrollment. The university has a Salary Score of 87 with strong salary outcomes across nearly all majors with earnings data. Bachelor's graduates of UMGC's programs in communication and media studies, criminal justice, psychology, information science, registered nursing, and business administration are among the top performers for salary. UMGC also emphasizes support for military members and veterans by offering virtual and in-person military advisors, a mentorship program, a virtual student union for veterans, and other support services. The university offers an open admissions policy and serves a high rate of adult learners.
Western Governors University, based in Utah, is one of the largest schools in the country, serving more than 200,000 online students each year. WGU is known for its competency-based learning model and offers bachelor's programs in some of the most high-demand fields, including healthcare, IT, and education. The university has a Salary Score of 84. Bachelor's graduates of WGU's business administration, management, operations, and marketing programs earn some of the top salaries in the country for their major, with Salary Scores above 90 for each program. The university's computer science, medical informatics, and registered nursing graduates also fare well for alumni salary. WGU is a private online school that charges a flat tuition rate per semester, allowing students to take as many classes as they want and test out of ones they don't need. The flat-rate tuition model along with an open admissions policy make WGU highly accessible for students who have been traditionally underserved in higher education.
Iowa-based Waldorf University has a strong Salary Score of 80, ranking it at #7 for best online colleges for bachelor's degrees. Its top program, with an exceptional Salary Score of 99, is criminal justice. Alumni of the university's human resources management, health administration, fire protection, and quality control majors also earn high alumni salaries for their field of study. Waldorf offers a variety of resources, including scholarships for online students, career and academic support services, and a support center for military students and veterans. Waldorf is a for-profit college serving nearly 4,000 online students each year. The university has an acceptance rate of 74%.
With a Salary Score of 80, Bellevue University has some of the top salary outcomes in the country for graduates in education, business administration, general sales and merchandising, management information systems, and criminal justice. Bellevue is a nonprofit university serving nearly 17,000 online students through 48 different career-focused bachelor's degrees. The university offers small class sizes capped at 24 students, and classes are delivered asynchronously, so students can complete classwork when it's convenient for them rather than logging in at a scheduled time. Bellevue also offers accelerated degree programs in some areas of study where students complete one class at a time with their cohort, allowing them to connect with peers and finish their degree faster. Online students at Bellevue can access services such as career support, tutoring, and student support centers such as the El Camino Latino Center and Military Veterans Service Center. Bellevue might be a good option for international students because they pay the same tuition rate as online students who have U.S. citizenship.
Southern New Hampshire University, one of the largest schools in the country with more than 198,000 online students, has a Salary Score of 79 for bachelor's degrees overall. The university showcased strong salary outcomes for business administration, management and marketing, liberal arts and general studies, allied health services, and a range of other programs. Its large size means it offers a wide array of majors in everything from data analytics to forensic psychology. SNHU serves a high rate of part-time students and adult learners, and offers features including accelerated bachelor's to master's programs, eight-week terms, six start dates per year, and rolling admissions to make it easier for students to enroll and fit college into their schedule. Online students also pay a lower tuition rate than campus-based students do. SNHU is a private university with an acceptance rate of 96%, making it accessible for many students.
Granite State College, based in New Hampshire, recently joined the University of New Hampshire as the school's College of Professional Studies. With a Salary Score of 73, UNH College of Professional Studies offers strong salary outcomes for bachelor's degrees in health and medical administration, criminal justice, human services, and psychology. The school has a long history of focusing on adult learners and emphasizes accessible education through flexible online classes and an open admissions policy. Students can access online services such as free counseling, online seminars that emphasize student wellbeing, online tutoring available 24/7, and career advising and planning services. UNH CPS primarily serves adult learners over 24 years old, and about half of students enroll part-time.
University of Phoenix is an Arizona-based online university serving more than 135,000 students each year. It's one of the largest schools in the country and is well-known in the online learning space. The for-profit university offers bachelor's degrees and certificates across many fields of study, from business to technology. The university has a Salary Score of 72 for bachelor's degrees, and graduates of the nursing, communications, marketing, and natural resources programs are top earners for their majors. Popular programs at the University of Phoenix include business administration, health and medical administration, behavioral sciences, and criminal justice. The university features multiple start dates throughout the year and students take one class at a time over the course of a few weeks rather than multiple classes over a few months. University of Phoenix has an open admissions policy.
#12 Park University
Students at private nonprofit school Park University can choose from online undergraduate programs in a wide range of fields, from construction management to social work. Online students at Park use Canvas to access course materials, participate in class discussions, and turn in assignments. Rather than meeting with their class at a set time, Park students can log in and review class materials on their own schedule, as long as they complete assignments by the due date. Classes usually run in eight-week cycles, and the university recommends taking two classes at a time to balance work, school, and other responsibilities. Park has a Salary Score of 71 for bachelor's graduates, with top-ranked programs for salary including degrees in business administration, criminal justice, management information systems, and computer software.
With a commitment to providing accessible education, Wilmington University caters to a diverse student population of more than 12,000 online learners, including working adults and part-time students. The private university offers online bachelor's degrees in more than 30 fields of study, from accounting to web design. Wilmington's Dual Credit ADVANTAGE Program allows students to earn credits toward their degree and a related certificate at the same time for many of their majors. Online students at Wilmington have access to the same student support services as their on-campus peers, including library services, tutoring, and an online student association. Wilmington has a Salary Score of 66 for bachelor's degrees, with strong alumni salary outcomes for registered nursing, behavioral science, criminal justice, and psychology majors, among others. Wilmington has an open admissions policy making it a more accessible option for online students.
The online branch of Catholic school Saint Leo University in Florida offers bachelor's programs in 28 different areas of study, including popular degrees such as business administration, criminal justice, psychology, and teaching. Saint Leo focuses on a holistic student support system that includes counseling services, peer tutoring, financial assistance, online student clubs, and a virtual Catholic mass each week. Bachelor's graduates at Saint Leo have a Salary Score of 66, and criminal justice, health and physical education, teaching, business administration, and sociology are among the school's strongest programs for bachelor's alumni salary. The university has an acceptance rate of 71% and serves more than 11,000 online students each year.
Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio serves a student body of more than 8,000 online students from all over the country. The university provides online bachelor's degrees in more than 30 areas of study, from business to computer science. Franklin University has a Salary Score of 62 for bachelor's degrees, with graduates of the business administration, public relations, health administration, and criminal justice programs showcasing strong salary outcomes. The university features several start dates throughout the year and offers detailed class schedules at the beginning of each course so students can plan accordingly. It also offers scholarships for online students and a tuition guarantee so students won't see their tuition increase throughout their enrollment. With an open admission policy, Franklin University is an accessible option for many online students.
#16 Columbia College
Columbia College is a private nonprofit school in Missouri offering online bachelor's degree programs across various disciplines. The college has a Salary Score of 61 for bachelor's degrees, with top-performing bachelor's programs including history, psychology, liberal arts, criminal justice, and business administration. The college serves a high rate of adult learners and part-time students through its online programs and more than 30 campuses. Online students have access to resources including scholarships, career counseling, mental health services, and tutoring. Columbia College also has locations on military bases across the country and offers student support services for military students and veterans, including virtual veterans services and military scholarships. Columbia College has an open admissions policy.
Upper Iowa University (UIU) serves about half of its student body online with an online enrollment of just over 4,000 students per year. The university offers a range of different online learning styles, including online programs that mirror traditional campus classes and self-paced programs offered online or through the mail. The university has a Salary Score of 59 for bachelor's degrees, and graduates from the school's psychology, criminology, business, and teaching programs tend to earn high salaries for their major. UIU is a private school with an admissions rate of 65%, making it more selective than some other online schools. More than half of UIU students are adult learners over 24 years old.
#18 Purdue Global
Purdue Global, the online branch of the Purdue University system, offers a broad selection of online bachelor's degrees. The university is designed with working adults in mind and serves over 66,000 online students each year. Although the university is a public school, Purdue Global's online students qualify for in-state tuition no matter where they live, and can access resources such as career counseling, tutoring, and a writing center. The university has a Salary Score of 59 at the bachelor's level, with notably strong salary outcomes for business administration, registered nursing, criminal justice, clinical nutrition, and psychology degrees. Purdue Global has an open admission policy.
Johnson & Wales University Online (JWU Online) is the online extension of private school Johnson & Wales University, serving nearly 3,000 online students each year. JWU Online offers a wide variety of bachelor's degrees with a particular emphasis on career-focused education across fields such as business, food services and hospitality, public health, and computer science. JWU Online has a Salary Score of 57, and the university's strongest online programs for salary are in nutrition, public relations, and parks and recreation management. Online students at JWU Online students have access to comprehensive resources including career services, online tutoring, and academic advising. JWU Online has an acceptance rate of 45%, making it more selective than many other online schools.
#20 DeVry University
DeVry University is a for-profit school offering online and in-person programs at campuses across the U.S. In online classes at DeVry, students interact through discussion threads, group projects, and other activities through the school's online learning platform. Classes run for eight weeks at a time and are offered both synchronously, meaning students log in at a set time, and asynchronously, where students review class materials on their own schedule. DeVry offers resources including scholarships and grants, career services, 24/7 online tutoring, and an online library. The university has a Salary Score of 55, with bachelor's programs in business administration and commerce, criminal justice, and clinical laboratory sciences leading for alumni salary.
Liberty University, one of the largest Christian universities in the world, offers an array of online bachelor's degree programs to more than 113,000 online students. With programs in fields like business, education, nursing, and criminal justice, the university offers flexible course delivery for full-time and part-time students. Online students can access resources including a writing center, online library, and academic advising. As a Christian school, Liberty offers religious student services including a weekly Christian gathering students can watch live. The university has a Salary Score of 54 for bachelor's degrees, with top-ranked programs in religious studies, criminal justice, liberal arts and sciences, management information systems, and air transportation. The private university is based out of Virginia and has an acceptance rate of 99%.
Indiana Wesleyan University Online (IWU Online) serves more than 11,000 online students annually and offers a variety of online bachelor's degree programs in business, education, nursing, and other popular areas of study. Students at IWU Online typically take one class at a time over the course of five to eight weeks. The Christian university offers multiple start dates throughout the year and provides services like tutoring and research assistance, career counseling, and a virtual library. IWU Online has a Salary Score of 49 for bachelor's degrees, with business administration, management information systems, and health administration majors often securing higher earning potential. The university serves a high rate of adult learners over 24 years old and has an open admissions policy.
Indiana University - East (IU East), a regional campus of the public Indiana University system, offers a variety of online bachelor's degree programs in more than 20 fields, including business, nursing, and communication studies. IU East has a Salary Score of 48 for bachelor's programs, with strong alumni salaries in math, communications and media studies, and liberal arts and sciences degrees. Students considering enrolling in an online program at IU East can try sample online classes in math, public health, life sciences, world languages, and other areas of study to see what online learning experience is like. IU East has an acceptance rate of 81% and serves more than 3,400 online students.
The University of Mount Olive is a private school in North Carolina with roots in the Baptist church. Mount Olive offers online bachelor's degrees in 13 different fields including accounting, business management, Christian studies, agricultural communication and leadership, early childhood education, cybersecurity, and justice studies. Online students at the university can use resources like online tutoring from Tutor.com, virtual peer tutoring, and career services to help them stay on track and get the most out of their education. Mount Olive has a Salary Score of 46 for bachelor's programs. The university's strongest majors for salary include criminal justice, education, and registered nursing. Mount Olive has an 83% acceptance rate and serves just under 60% of students online.
At Athens State University in Alabama, just over half of students are enrolled completely online. The school serves around 2,200 online students each year, many of whom are adult students returning to college, working during their studies, or enrolled part-time. Athens State offers degree-completion bachelor's programs and certificates for students who've completed some college but haven't finished their degree. The university offers online degree completion programs, minors, and certificates in fields such as accounting, behavioral science, education, healthcare management, supply chain management, cybersecurity, nursing, and occupational health and safety. Transfer students need at least 36 transferable credits to enroll in a degree completion program at Athens State. Online students at the university qualify for the same tuition rate as in-state students no matter where they live, and Athens State offers a range of scholarships to help lower the cost of college further. Student resources include career services, tutoring, and student success coaches to help students stay on track. Athens State has a Salary Score of 41 at the bachelor's level. The university's best majors for alumni Salary Score include biology, English, business, and computer and information sciences.
Overview of Online Bachelor's Degrees
- Private nonprofit schools made up 56% of the top 25 online schools by salary outcomes.
- Although public schools made up less than one-quarter of the list, public college Thomas Edison State University was the top online school for salary outcomes.
- For-profit online schools had higher average Salary Scores than either public or private nonprofit schools; for-profits also saw their average Salary Score improve the most since last year.
Can You Earn a Bachelor's Degree Online?
Yes, you can earn online bachelor's degrees. Online school has moved from a rarity to an increasingly common path for many. Its flexibility, affordability, and lower risk of disease spread made it a popular option during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. For some Americans, online colleges were and remain their preferred way to learn — even beyond the pandemic.
In the fall of 2020, nearly 44% of four-year public college students took all of their classes online, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Even more students were mixing and matching online and in-person classes. And at for-profit colleges, 89% of students were enrolled fully online.
Today, all varieties of nonprofit and for-profit colleges provide accredited online degrees at the bachelor's level. Because of this increased focus on online education, OnlineU has created Salary Score rankings for online schools and programs to see how graduates fare in terms of salary when compared to others with the same degree across the country. This list allows students to discover the best online bachelor's degrees based on alumni earnings.
Today, all varieties of nonprofit and for-profit colleges provide accredited online degree options for undergraduate students.
Applying to an Online Bachelor's Program
The application requirements for an online bachelor's program are usually identical to the requirements for an on-campus program. In general, applicants must provide the following:
- Official high school transcripts or their equivalent, with at least a 2.0 GPA
- SAT or ACT scores
- Letters of recommendation from teachers, counselors, coaches, or other mentors
- An entrance essay, usually personal and reflective
- Official transcripts from postsecondary colleges (transfer students only)
Some online schools provide accommodations to students who do not meet the minimum GPA requirements, such as probationary admission or the opportunity to give supplemental information to add context.
What To Expect From an Online Bachelor's Degree
While programs differ by institution and subject, there are some general features that you're likely to find in the best online bachelor's degree programs:
Types of Online Degrees
Students may enroll in hybrid programs, which blend online and in-person learning, while other degree programs are exclusively online. Ultimately, determining the best online undergraduate programs should depend on the student's preferred style of learning.
The extent to which a degree can be completed entirely online depends on the particular program. Some majors, such as nursing, often feature in-person requirements. These can include internships in the student's local community, on-campus orientations or intensive sessions with a student's cohort, or lab hours at a college or other professional laboratory for science students.
How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Bachelor's Degree?
An online undergraduate degree is designed to take four years of full-time study to complete. This allows students enough time to properly learn a subject and evaluate their academic goals. However, some students may take more time to finish by studying at a part-time pace.
Alternatively, some of the best bachelor's degrees offer ways for students to fast-track their graduation. Accelerated programs feature shorter terms that run year-round to allow students to take more courses each year. Students may be able to shave a year off the time needed to graduate.
Check a school's credit transfer policy for another way to reduce the time spent earning your degree. Several schools offer credit for prior learning assessments that award academic credit to students with previous professional or military experience. Students can also demonstrate mastery in a subject by completing a portfolio or taking CLEP exams for credit that can be applied toward their degree.
Additionally, an online degree completion program is designed for adult students who have started but not completed a four-year degree, and they offer a faster and less expensive way for students to finish without starting over again. Applicants must have earned a minimum number of academic credits from previous institutions, usually between 50 and 60, or else substantial career or military experience.
If you are interested in finishing your degree faster than the traditional four years, read our suggestions on how to graduate early with a bachelor's degree.
Will I Be Able to Work While Earning My Online Bachelor's Degree?
Most online bachelor's degree courses are delivered asynchronously to accommodate students' busy schedules. Asynchronous courses offer the most flexibility since students can view pre-recorded lectures and complete online coursework when it's convenient for them. In contrast, synchronous classes require students to log in at set times during the week.
Is an Online Bachelor's Degree Legitimate?
Accredited online degrees are legitimate. The process of choosing the right college should always include accreditation. If a recognized agency has certified the quality of a school's online programs, then the credential is just as meaningful and respected as a diploma earned through in-person learning.
Which Accreditation Is Best For Online Degree Programs?
Fraudulent accrediting agencies give a stamp of approval to low-quality online colleges. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) is a national accreditor that certifies the quality of schools with online programs. Additionally, when researching the best online undergraduate degrees, consider schools that are listed in the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP).
Finally, some majors feature professional organizations that accredit individual programs, such as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) for engineering.
What Is the Easiest Degree to Get Online?
This question can't be answered in absolute terms because each person's strengths and weaknesses are different. It's better to decide on the best online universities for bachelor's degrees by considering which one will benefit your learning style and future career aspirations. In other words, there is not just one program we can crown as the “easiest online degree.” The easiest degree will likely vary from student to student based on their out-of-school commitments, academic background and abilities, and interest in the program they’re studying. This last point is backed up by research showing that students perform better in subjects they are interested in. This data may help students choose the best online bachelor degree programs based on their interests.
While this is a notable data point, you should also consider these important factors that can make a degree easier to obtain:
Admissions requirements. More competitive admissions requirements make it harder for a student to get their foot in the virtual door. You should look up an online college’s acceptance rates before applying. This allows you to take stock of your own abilities and interests and get a better idea if you would be admitted into your desired school.
Instructor expectations. Competitive colleges maintain their edge by offering classes that can’t be found elsewhere or faculty members who are at the top of their fields, so expect a higher level of performance.
Program length. It is easier to stay motivated in a shorter program, suggesting that brevity can translate to an “easy” degree. But on the other hand, a short program may try to pack more information in less time. This could make it more difficult for some students to balance work and family commitments with a heavy courseload.
Online student support. The best online bachelor's degree programs will likely provide better academic services to distance learners, such as tutoring, career coaching, or writing help. This is especially important if you anticipate difficulties in subjects that will be core to the program you want to pursue.
Cost of an Online Bachelor's Degree
The rising cost of tuition weighs heavily on many students. For this reason, it's important to learn ways to save money in college. All of our college program lists include manually collected tuition data to provide a transparent view of tuition costs. In general, private colleges tend to charge more than public colleges. It's also helpful to keep in mind the long-term financial impact after graduation, which is why our lists also include alumni salary for each individual program.
Although tuition is the biggest portion of any degree's expense, it's not the only cost associated with higher education. Schools charge fees that vary by institution and program type. For example, some online students pay technology fees each term, and there are also fees for applying to a college in the first place and for covering the cost of graduation in the final semester. Additionally, online students need reliable high-speed internet access as well as supplies, such as books, e-books, and sometimes specific software.
Financial Aid for Online Students
Online students apply for financial aid in the same way as campus students and are eligible for most of the same funding to cover some or all education costs. Some private scholarships endowed by an institution's alumni may only apply to campus students, so check with a school's financial aid office before applying.
The first step in the process is to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines how much federal aid a student qualifies for. Federal aid includes gift aid that doesn't need to be repaid: grants based on financial need, scholarships based on merit or family background, and work-study programs that provide tuition waivers for students. The government also offers student loans at interest rates that are generally more favorable than loans from private sources.
Most states and colleges also use the FAFSA to determine aid eligibility. They may offer grants and scholarships, and some states have work-study options similar to the federal program.
Salary Outcomes for Online Bachelor's Graduates
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that earning a bachelor's degree leads to higher earnings and a lower chance of unemployment over the course of an individual's career. Bachelor's graduates earn a median $500 more each week than high school graduates and about $360 more than those with an associate degree. These positive salary and employment prospects improve with each degree a student attains. Alumni of terminal doctoral and professional degree programs earn a median $600 more each week than bachelor's graduates and experience less unemployment.
Which States Host the Most Online Schools With Top Salary Scores?
Indiana led with three colleges in the top 25: Purdue Global, Indiana Wesleyan University Online, and Indiana University - East. However, they were concentrated towards the bottom of the list, at #18, #22, #23, respectively.
Minnesota and New Hampshire also have multiple online colleges featured in our top 20 rankings, with two apiece.
Minnesota’s Capella University and Walden University mirror Arizona’s top online schools: They are all private for-profit colleges. However, Capella’s #4 ranking and Walden’s #10 spots beat out any of Arizona’s schools.
That said, these two fully online Minnesotan schools teach just over 17,500 students. That is a fraction of the nearly 139,000 online students enrolled in Arizona’s three ranked schools.
New Hampshire and its two schools — Southern New Hampshire University Online (#9) and Granite State College (#10) — enroll more than 88,000 online students. However, Granite State has just over 1,500 online students, while Southern New Hampshire University Online enrolls nearly 87,000 online students, making it the second largest online school by enrollment on our top 20 list. It trails Utah’s massive Western Governors University (#6), the state’s only ranked school, with over 98,600 students enrolled.
How Does School Type Impact Online Schools’ Salary Scores?
Top 25 Breakdown by School Type
Most of the schools to rank in the top 25 online schools are private nonprofit institutions, making up just over half of the top 25. Public nonprofit colleges made up nearly a quarter of schools, while for-profit schools made up one out of every five colleges here.
Even though many of these online schools are private, their tuition rates are far lower than those of the top colleges on the on-campus bachelor's list. This can mean a better return on investment for some students, especially those who don’t need or want in-person education or the on-campus experience.
Among school types, for-profit online schools have received the highest average Salary Scores and seen a big jump from last year. This also means that for-profit online schools significantly outperform for-profit on-campus schools for bachelor’s degrees.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that the data used in Salary Score only includes salary data for students who finished their degree. This is especially relevant since for-profit schools tend to have lower completion rates than public ones.