Best Online Colleges in California

Explore the top 25 colleges in California that offer completely online degree programs. Learn what programs are available, how long they take and how much they cost, as well as some of the fastest-growing careers in the state.

Top 25 California Colleges with Online Programs

When determining the best schools in California, you should consider factors such as flexibility, cost, prerequisites and program length. The top 25 colleges in California with online programs are listed below.

1. National University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
La Jolla $13,320 0%

National University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and offers more than 150 programs online. National offers degrees at every level, from associate's to doctoral and everything in between. Students progress through their programs quickly via 4-week courses. Programs are available in subjects such as computer science, criminal justice, public administration, education and more. Undergraduate students have a tuition rate of $370 per quarter unit while graduate students have a tuition rate of $442 to $760 per quarter unit (varies by course).

2. University of Southern California

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Los Angeles $56,225 69%

University of Southern California began its educational journey in 1880 with 53 students and now employs 4,000 faculty (full-time) and has more than 40,000 students. The school is accredited by the WASC and offers nearly 100 graduate degrees and certificate programs online. Students can pursue a graduate degree in a wide variety of subject areas, including criminal justice, law, gerontology, engineering and education. The cost of tuition varies by program, but many students have a tuition rate of $1,928 per unit.

3. California Baptist University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Riverside $33,478 95%

California Baptist University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) and was founded in 1950. The school offers 40 programs 100% online at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels. Students can earn a degree in subjects such as accounting, Christian leadership, information technology, business administration and education. Tuition rates vary by program, with undergraduate tuition ranging from $450 to $613 per unit and graduate tuition ranging from $550 to $950 per unit.

4. Brandman University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Irvine $12,380 80%

Brandman University is accredited by the WSCUC and offers more than 50 programs online, including 8 self-paced MyPath programs. The MyPath programs allow students to take courses at their desired pace for a flat-rate cost every 24 weeks. Students can pursue an online degree in business, information technology, marketing and more through either the standard online programs or the MyPath programs. Standard online students have a tuition rate of $500 (undergraduate) or $660 (master's degree) per unit while MyPath students have a cost of $3,200 (undergraduate) or $3,500 (master's degree) for every 24-week cycle.

5. Fresno Pacific University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Fresno $32,458 98%

Fresno Pacific University is accredited by WSCUC and offers online programs for undergraduate, seminary and graduate students. Online program options include graduate degrees in leadership, athletic training and sport administration, and undergraduate programs include business administration and criminology. Graduate students have a tuition rate of $560 to $830, depending on their selected program, while undergraduate students have a tuition rate of $32,954 per year (12 to 18 units per semester). Eight out of every ten faculty members here hold a doctoral degree.

Rank School Name Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
6 California State University-Stanislaus Turlock $7,072 92%
7 California State University-Chico Chico $7,608 76%
8 Azusa Pacific University Azusa $38,880 98%
9 John Paul the Great Catholic University Escondido $26,100 97%
10 Mills College Oakland $30,257 100%
11 Biola University La Mirada $40,488 99%
12 California State University-East Bay Hayward $6,983 83%
13 Shasta Bible College and Graduate School Redding $12,060 100%
14 California State University-Channel Islands Camarillo $6,817 81%
15 Concordia University-Irvine Irvine $35,400 100%
16 Humboldt State University Arcata $7,675 86%
17 California State University Maritime Academy Vallejo $7,056 73%
18 Life Pacific College San Dimas $15,654 97%
19 San Jose State University San Jose $7,796 74%
20 The Master's University and Seminary Santa Clarita $25,390 98%
21 Mount Saint Mary's University Los Angeles $41,170 100%
22 California Lutheran University Thousand Oaks $42,692 97%
23 California State University-Dominguez Hills Carson $6,942 94%
24 San Diego State University San Diego $7,488 60%
25 Point Loma Nazarene University San Diego $35,700 92%

All table data is provided by the National Center for Education Statistics.'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.

Overview of California Colleges

Like most states, there are two main types of colleges in California: public and private. Each type of school has its own advantages and drawbacks, which are highlighted below.

Public Colleges

Public colleges are generally less expensive than private colleges because they receive some funding from the state and the federal government. Public colleges are also usually bigger than private schools, which means that students may have access to more resources and networking but might also have larger class sizes.

Private Colleges

Private colleges do not receive government funding, so they are often more expensive than public schools. In addition, private colleges are usually smaller, and may provide students with more individualized attention and support.

Why Accreditation Matters for Online Colleges in California

There are a few reasons it's important for students to review accreditation for schools that they're considering for an online program. To qualify for federal financial aid, students must be enrolled at an accredited school. Also, licensure and certification for some professions (such as education or nursing) are dependent on accreditation. Accreditation also shows that a school has been reviewed by an accrediting agency and meets certain criteria (such as graduation rates and faculty).

In California, schools can either be accredited by the regional accrediting body, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, or by one of many national accrediting bodies. Students may prefer to attend a school with regional accreditation because it has two main benefits over national accreditation:

  • Transferring Courses - Credits/units earned at a regionally accredited school can usually transfer to regionally or nationally accredited schools, whereas credits earned at a nationally accredited school can only transfer to other nationally accredited schools
  • Quality Education - Regional accreditation bodies have been around longer and are considered the higher standard. To become regionally accredited, schools are usually required to meet more strict requirements (as opposed to the standards set for national accreditation). In general, this should indicate that schools with regional accreditation provide higher quality education and experiences to students.

Cost of Earning an Online Degree in California

The cost of earning a degree online in California can vary by school and degree program as well as student. The overall cost of an online degree program involves both direct and indirect costs, discussed below.

Direct Costs

Most schools separate direct program costs into two categories: tuition and fees. Tuition is the largest cost associated with completing a program, and can range from $250 per unit to $2,000 per unit. Other fees for online students can include technology fees, registration fees and course materials fees. These itemized fees can add up to several thousand dollars over the course of an online program.

Degree Units Required (example) Example Tuition Total Program Tuition
Bachelor's Degree 120 $500/unit $60,000
Master's Degree 42 $660/unit $27,720

Indirect Costs

Online students should consider the indirect costs associated with their programs. Online programs have specific technical requirements which include regular internet access and a personal computer. Students who do not have a computer that meets the requirements will need to purchase one that can handle loading and maintaining various websites and programs.

Saving Money with Transfer Credits

Students who have already earned some college credits can often transfer them into their online programs, saving both time and money. Undergraduate programs usually allow up to 75% of the curriculum to be waived for qualifying transfer credits. Students with qualifying associate's degrees are usually able to transfer around 60 credits into their undergraduate programs. Graduate programs may be more particular about which credits can be transferred in, but still usually allow students to transfer some number of courses into their new program.

Scholarships and Financial Aid for Online Students in California

Students interested in applying for financial aid to fund their online program in California should first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA is completely free to use and shows students some of the types of aid that they can qualify for. In addition, students can use a variety of resources for finding other types of aid, such as California Colleges, a resource provided by the State of California, and Career One Stop, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. Students can also find scholarships and other types of aid through their schools, which may offer private awards to their students.


Work-study programs allow students to earn some (or all) of their program costs by working while they are in school, typically in part-time positions in an area related to their chosen program.

Student Loans

Students can obtain loans for their online programs through private and government lenders, but private loans should only be used as a last resort. Government loans generally do not require payments while students are in school. In addition, government loans offer flexible, income-based repayment plans and low, fixed interest rates.

Loan Forgiveness

Students who pursue work in qualifying public service and educational fields can have some of their student loans forgiven. Additionally, some employers offer loan repayment incentives to new and existing employees.


There is a multitude of scholarships available to students based on criteria such as academic performance and area of study, as well as scholarships offered to essay contest winners. Students can also find scholarships through the Career One Stop site that are specific to their geographic areas (such as the Bay Area). As an example, some scholarships available to online students in California are listed below.

Annette and Ernest Keith Memorial Scholarship

This scholarship awards $500 to graduating students who are in the top 10% of their class and plan on attending a 4-year college in California full-time.

Switzer Environmental Fellowship

$15,000 is awarded each year through the Switzer Environmental Fellowship, which is given to students in California or New England who are passionate and committed to improving the quality of the environment.

SPROWT Scholarship for Women

Female students in California who are considered nontraditional (such as online students) can earn $2,500, regardless of their field of study.

Career Outlook and Earning for California Graduates

There are hundreds of jobs that are continuing to grow in California, many of which are available to graduates of online programs. Some of the fastest-growing careers in California are summarized below.


Statisticians use statistical and mathematical methods to review and apply data to solve problems in various industries, such as business and healthcare. The average wage for statisticians in California was $99,860 in 2018, while the national median salary for statisticians was $87,780. Most statistician positions require a master's degree, but individuals with a bachelor's degree may be able to work in entry-level positions. Those who are interested in becoming statisticians should pursue a degree in mathematics, computer science, economics, statistics or a similar quantitative subject.

Software Developers

Software developers create applications for mobile devices and computers. Developers of applications in California had an average salary of $127,950 while systems developers had an average salary of $131,700 in 2018. Software developers typically need to have a bachelor's degree in a field such as computer science or software engineering.

Operations Research Analysts

Operations research analysts help organizations find solutions to various problems using analytical and mathematical processes. This can include gathering information from customers and sales records, using simulations and other methods to review the information, and creating applicable and effective solutions to solve any identified problems. They typically need a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions in fields such as operations research, engineering, analytics or computer science. Operations research analysts in California had a mean salary of $95,470 in 2018, well above the national median salary of $83,390.

Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses who deliver primary as well as collaborative care to patients, usually specializing in specific fields (such as family, adult, or pediatric care). Nurse practitioners need to have a master's degree in their field of practice, licensure, and clinical practice hours as completed in their graduate program. The mean salary for nurse practitioners working in California was $133,780 in 2018, while the national median salary for nurse practitioners was $107,030.

Interpreters and Translators

Interpreters and translators translate languages through written, spoken or sign language. They work in various settings, including schools, courtrooms, conference and meeting venues, hospitals and more. Many interpreters and translators have a bachelor's degree in their chosen second language, but most employers do not require a specific degree field as long as candidates are fluent in at least two languages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those working in California had an average salary of $58,180 in 2018.

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists help people who have been injured to regain movement and manage pain through physical activities. Physical therapists need a doctoral degree in physical therapy and applicable licensure. Individuals interested in pursuing physical therapy may also work in supportive roles, such as physical therapist aides or assistants, which are available to graduates of undergraduate programs. Physical therapists in California had a mean salary of $97,110 in 2018.

Job Title Average Salary (2018, California) Estimated Job Growth (2018-2028, national)
Statisticians $99,860 31%
Software Developers $127,950 to $131,700 21%
Operations Research Analysts $95,470 26%
Nurse Practitioners $133,780 28%
Interpreters and Translators $58,180 19%
Physical Therapists $97,110 22%

Salary and outlook data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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