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Best Accredited Online Colleges & Universities

The top online schools in the U.S. provide undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs across a broad range of academic disciplines. Learn more about their program offerings and tuition expenses as well as pertinent information on accreditation, financial aid, and factors to consider in choosing an online college.

Best Online Colleges and Universities in the U.S.

In compiling our list of the best accredited online colleges and universities in the country, we considered a wide range of criteria including affordability, curricula, faculty and flexibility.

1. Pennsylvania State University-World Campus

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)* % Receiving Financial Aid
University Park, PA $13,988 72%

Established in 1998 as the online learning platform of Pennsylvania State University, the World Campus offers more than 150 accredited programs that are handled by the same faculty teaching on-campus at Penn State colleges. The online campus provides associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees as well as undergraduate and graduate certificates. Undergraduate and master's programs include accounting, cybersecurity analytics, business, education, nursing, psychology, human resources, communications, and engineering. At the doctorate level, the college offers a Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

2. Nova Southeastern University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)* % Receiving Financial Aid
Fort Lauderdale, FL $30,900 100%

Nova Southeastern University's online program features web-based learning through real-time electronic classrooms, an e-library and databases, discussion boards for students and faculty, and submission of schoolwork in multimedia formats. The university offers more than 65 online programs including baccalaureate degrees in criminal justice, psychology, human services, education, and health science. Master's degree options include biological sciences, data analytics, education, psychology, nursing, and public administration. Prospective doctoral students can choose among programs in dental medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, health sciences, education, computer science, cybersecurity, and information systems.

3. University of Arizona

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)* % Receiving Financial Aid
Tucson, AZ $12,467 92%

The University of Arizona's online platform offers more than 100 degree and certificate programs on a flexible schedule and with no out-of-state tuition; courses run for 7.5 weeks and students can choose from six start dates per year. Options for undergraduate programs include education, engineering, environmental science, communication, history, business, law, psychology, and public health. Among the graduate programs on offer are business administration, nutrition, nursing, education, engineering, cybersecurity, and legal studies. The university also offers graduate certificates for a variety of topics including accounting, healthcare, human rights, real estate, engineering, and mining.

4. Arizona State University-Skysong

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)* % Receiving Financial Aid
Scottsdale, AZ $10,317 82%

The online learning program at Arizona State University features over 200 baccalaureate and graduate degrees as well as a range of undergraduate and graduate certificates. Six start dates are offered for flexibility, faculty are active in their fields and over 87% of graduates from ASU land a job within 90 days. Bachelor's degree programs are available in various disciplines such as business, political science, interdisciplinary studies, digital photography, public policy, education, healthcare, engineering, and physics. Graduate program offerings include special education, MBA, public administration, behavioral health, forensic science, social work, communication, and supply chain management.

5. Southern New Hampshire University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)* % Receiving Financial Aid
Manchester, NH $31,136 75%

Southern New Hampshire University offers more than 200 online degree programs at the associate's, bachelor's, and master's levels. Classes are conducted asynchronously, and students are provided access to tutoring, an online library, and 24/7 tech support. SNHU excels in affordability, too, offering a rate of $320 per credit hour ($225 for military) for all of its online undergraduate programs. Prospective students can earn online associate's degrees in marketing, fashion, photography or criminal justice; online bachelor's programs include accounting, health sciences, history, psychology, creative writing, graphic design, computer science, geosciences, and mathematics. On the graduate level, programs include nursing, finance, education, data analytics, public health, economics, and communication.

Rank School Name Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)* % Receiving Financial Aid
6 Kansas State University Manhattan, KS $10,383 89%
7 Regis University Denver, CO $36,810 99%
8 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA $53,244 100%
9 National University La Jolla, CA $13,320 0%
10 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND $8,695 90%
11 East Carolina University Greenville, NC $7,188 81%
12 Missouri State University-Springfield Springfield, MO $7,376 91%
13 Eastern Washington University Cheney, WA $7,323 94%
14 Florida International University Miami, FL $6,546 89%
15 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ $11,564 94%
16 University of Florida Gainesville, FL $6,381 93%
17 University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg, MS $8,624 94%
18 Ball State University Muncie, IN $9,896 90%
19 Siena Heights University Adrian, MI $27,124 100%
20 Concordia University-Saint Paul Saint Paul, MN $22,275 99%
21 Webster University Saint Louis, MO $27,900 98%
22 Texas A & M University-College Station College Station, TX $11,870 76%
23 Dallas Baptist University Dallas, TX $28,870 97%
24 Indiana State University Terre Haute, IN $9,090 93%
25 Southwestern Assemblies of God University Waxahachie, TX $19,582 98%
26 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus Cincinnati, OH $11,000 83%
27 University of Missouri-Columbia Columbia, MO $9,972 85%
28 Oregon State University Corvallis, OR $11,166 86%
29 Missouri University of Science and Technology Rolla, MO $9,440 97%
30 Eastern Kentucky University Richmond, KY $9,666 99%
31 Sam Houston State University Huntsville, TX $8,296 89%
32 Old Dominion University Norfolk, VA $10,560 93%
33 Texas Tech University Lubbock, TX $9,080 78%
34 Northwestern State University of Louisiana Natchitoches, LA $7,922 97%
35 Santa Fe College Gainesville, FL $2,563 68%
36 University of Kansas Lawrence, KS $11,148 86%
37 Western Kentucky University Bowling Green, KY $10,512 96%
38 University of Iowa Iowa City, IA $9,267 92%
39 Washington State University Pullman, WA $11,584 90%
40 Oklahoma State University-Main Campus Stillwater, OK $9,019 91%
41 Holmes Community College Goodman, MS $3,110 91%
42 Champlain College Burlington, VT $41,010 100%
43 Central Michigan University Mount Pleasant, MI $12,960 95%
44 University of Memphis Memphis, TN $9,317 98%
45 University of Massachusetts-Lowell Lowell, MA $15,180 91%
46 Troy University Troy, AL $8,908 94%
47 South Dakota State University Brookings, SD $8,764 92%
48 Iowa State University Ames, IA $8,988 89%
49 Oral Roberts University Tulsa, OK $27,728 90%
50 DeSales University Center Valley, PA $37,400 100%

All statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition based on 2018-2019 school year

Learn.org's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

Why Accreditation of Online Schools Matters

Online schools undergo a voluntary accreditation process to make sure that they meet predetermined criteria to provide quality education. Students must attend an accredited college or university in order to qualify for federal financial aid or even for corporate tuition reimbursement benefits. Accreditation is crucial as well in transferring college credits; accredited schools may not accept credits earned from non-accredited institutions. It can also have an impact on employment opportunities as companies may prefer potential employees with degrees from accredited schools, or certifications that can be earned only by attending an accredited school.

Types of Accreditation

Schools with online degree programs have three types of accreditation.

National Accreditation

National accreditation is usually granted to for-profit, faith-affiliated institutions or those that provide technical or vocational training. Nationally-accredited schools are often less expensive and have more lenient admission standards. Credits earned in these schools, however, are generally not transferable to regionally-accredited institutions.

Regional Accreditation

Regional accreditation is more often geared toward public and not-for-profit colleges and universities offering four-year programs and advanced degrees. Credits earned at regionally-accredited schools are generally accepted at other institutions with either regional or national accreditation. These schools, however, often have higher tuition costs and are more selective in their admission process.

Programmatic Accreditation

While the other two accreditations are focused on institutions, programmatic accreditation is for a particular academic program or department such as business, education, dentistry, nursing, or family therapy. A school can either be nationally or regionally accredited and also hold programmatic accreditations based on their academic offerings.

Accreditation Process

Accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation are in charge of developing evaluation standards and implementing peer evaluations for assessing academic institutions. Since accreditation is a continuing process, schools must periodically submit themselves for review in order to maintain their accredited status. The procedures for accreditation vary among accreditors but they generally involve the following:

  • Self-study - In this phase, schools must provide written reports explaining how they are able to meet or surpass the accreditor's criteria as well as their plans for improvement.
  • Peer Review - This phase involves an independent team evaluating the self-study reports and conducting a site visit to verify details in the reports. During a site visit, team members may interview students, faculty, and other administrative personnel.
  • Accreditation Report - After the peer review and site visit, the team submits an accreditation report that lays out the school's strong points, weaknesses, and areas for improvement as well as the team's recommendations.
  • Decision - The accrediting agency reviews the findings of the self-study, peer review, and site visit, and hands down a decision on whether accreditation should be approved, denied, or placed on provisionary status. Schools are entitled to an appeals process following the agency's verdict.
  • Monitoring - As part of the monitoring process, accredited schools may be required to submit financial statements, curriculum reports, or planning details. The accrediting agency may also conduct interim reviews if there are unsettled issues from the evaluation.

Overview of Online Degree Programs

All degree levels are offered online and degrees earned online are exactly the same as those completed on campus, provided that the college or program is duly accredited. However, there are some differences when it comes to pacing, delivery and practical components.

Asynchronous vs. Synchronous

Some programs are asynchronous, meaning students absorb the material, complete their coursework and take tests on their own time. Asynchronous programs usually have deadlines to turn in assignments (a couple of times per week or once a week, for example) and allow students to work when and how they choose.

Conversely, synchronous programs ask students to virtually 'attend' class by logging in and participating via video conferencing software. These programs approximate the traditional classroom experience better than asynchronous ones but they don't allow as much flexibility.

Practical Components

Some degree programs can be completed 100% online with no internships or visits to campus required. Others ask students to come to campus once for orientation or a handful of times throughout the program to meet with other students and attend seminars.

For professions where real-world experiences are necessary for learning, licensure or certification (such as teaching, or nursing), colleges may instruct students to come to campus and complete a residency, clinical experience or internship. When it's available, students are often allowed to arrange for these hands-on opportunities closer to home.

Costs of an Online Degree

The expenses involved in pursuing an online degree vary depending on the school and type of program. In-state students pay $38,496 on average for an online bachelor's degree at a public college while out-of-state students pay $54,183 on average. Meanwhile, the average tuition cost for a baccalaureate degree at a private school is $60,593. Some online schools offer a single tuition rate regardless of a student's residency status while others provide a reduced rate for online programs.

Most colleges charge a per-credit rate. Some might charge a per-course rate and others offer flat-rate tuition, charging one flat fee for the semester regardless of how many credit hours the student is taking. Students can often save on tuition by taking advantage of military discounts, federal financial aid and scholarships (more on this below).

Miscellaneous Fees

Online students typically don't have to pay fees associated with on-campus attendance such as recreational fees or a health service fee. There are expenses, however, that are unique to online programs such as distance learning fee and technology fee. Some programs or courses may also require additional fees. In lieu of an out-of-state fee charged in on-campus programs, some schools impose a cheaper non-resident surcharge for online courses. Students typically also have to pay for assessment fees, graduation fees, and a one-time application fee.

Other Expenses

While getting a degree online can save costs on housing, meal plans, and other campus living expenses, students will have to invest in things like a reliable internet connection and a personal computer. Online learning may also still incur travel costs as some programs require on-campus residency or in-person attendance at testing centers for assessments and exams.

How to Choose an Online School

In choosing an online college or university, students should look into the following factors.

Public vs Private

In general, public colleges are less expensive than private schools; the average in-state tuition cost for an online bachelor's program at a public school is $316 per credit for the 2019-2020 academic year while private schools charge an average of $488 per credit. Private colleges usually have smaller class sizes while public schools tend to have a larger student body and offer more programs across a broad range of academic fields.

Community College vs University

Students who are looking to earn an associate's degree or complete the first two years of college at a lower tuition cost may consider going to an online community college. Universities are the main option for those who want to pursue a bachelor's degree or postgraduate studies.

Flexibility

As we mentioned above, schools offer synchronous and asynchronous courses and one might fit your learning style and schedule better than the other. For instance, a recent high school grad might prefer the conventional classroom experience that synchronous courses offer while a working professional or parent might like the flexibility of a self-paced course. There are programs that combine both synchronous and asynchronous courses.

Residency Requirements

Depending on the program, some colleges require certain days of on-campus residency, usually for purposes of networking, group work and discussions, or instructor assessment. Common programs with a residency component include nursing, counseling, and MBA.

Credit Transfer Policy

Students who have earned course credits at another institution or who aim to apply for graduate studies should look into the credit transfer policy of an online school. Those interested in online community colleges can check if these schools have transfer agreements with four-year institutions. Transfer agreements provide a pathway to ensure that credits earned at a community college can be applied to a bachelor's program.

Faculty

The quality of online education that a school offers depends largely on their roster of professors and instructors. It is important to review faculty credentials including advanced degrees, professional experience in their chosen discipline, and training in online teaching.

Student Services

A good online school should have robust support services to help students succeed in their online education. Important services include 24-hour technical support, career counseling, access to academic advisors, librarian assistance, and financial aid counseling.

Financial Aid for Online Students

Online students can gain access to various forms of financial aid from the federal or state government, schools, employers, and private organizations.

FAFSA Requirements

A basic requirement in applying for government funding as well as some private grants is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA form, which can be completed online and must be filed every school year, may require the following information:

  • Social Security number
  • Parents' Social Security number for dependent students
  • Driver's license if available
  • Alien Registration number if not a U.S. citizen
  • Federal tax information
  • Records of untaxed income
  • Information on assets such as cash, investments, and businesses

Grants and Scholarships

Students can avail themselves of grants and scholarships based on financial need, academic performance, chosen area of study, or particular background (e.g., children of veterans or police officers, students in foster care).

Federal Pell Grant Program

Federal Pell Grants are available to students in high financial need who are pursuing their first undergraduate degree. The grant amount changes every year; for 2020-21, the maximum award is $6,345.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

The FSEOG is available to high-need students enrolled in participating schools. Each school gets a certain amount of funding every year, and the grant money, between $100 and $4,000 per year, is awarded to eligible recipients until the funds run out. Students are advised to apply as early as possible.

State Scholarships

State grants and scholarships are generally available to qualified state residents and may be need-based, merit-based, career-based, or focused on a specific demographic. Some scholarships may only support students enrolled in certain state schools.

School Scholarships

Some online schools offer scholarships based on academic excellence or outstanding leadership skills. There are also school grants specifically for women, veterans, children of alumni, and employees of nonprofits, among others.

Student Loans

Student loans are a form of financial aid that, unlike grants and scholarships, must be repaid with interest.

Federal Loans

Federal loans, provided by the U.S. Department of Education, have fixed interest rates and come in four types.

  • Direct Subsidized Loans - These are loans available to high-need undergraduate students.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans - These are loans offered to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students with no requirement to prove financial need.
  • Direct PLUS Loans - Graduate and professional students, as well as parents of undergraduate students, may apply for these loans. Financial need is not a requirement but applicants must undergo a credit check.
  • Direct Consolidation Loans - Students can merge all their federal education loans under a single servicer. The fixed interest rate is the average rate of all loans to be consolidated.

Private Loans

Private student loans are managed by banks, credit unions, and other financial organizations. These loans may have a fixed or variable interest rate, but they are often more expensive than federal loans. In order to qualify, borrowers should have a good credit record or a cosigner.

Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program

The FWS program employs high-need students on a part-time basis to subsidize school expenses. The type of work, when available, is often related to community service or the student's field of study. Students are paid directly and apply their earnings to tuition and other college-related expenses.