Top 5 Best Online Colleges for Today's Students

Many colleges today recognize the need for more flexibility in education and are responding with online options and benefits that make quality education available to more students. We searched for schools that ranked highly in several areas to help you find the best online college for you.

Our Selection Criteria for Top Online Schools

We considered several factors when it comes to online schools and programs to make sure our top picks have the education you want and need.

Online Teaching Experience

More and more schools are offering online courses, training and full degree programs, though this format is still relatively new. Several components go into developing a successful online program, and we made sure to evaluate the experience level of each school. In addition, we checked accreditation status, brand recognition and student success rates. Since technology is the cornerstone of online programs, we considered schools' investment in the latest technologies, online teaching methods and alumni support for enrolled and recently graduated students.

Convenience & Flexibility

Being able to study around a busy work or family schedule is one of the key benefits of enrolling in an online program. In our search, we looked for schools that offered open and/or year-round enrollment as well as class scheduling flexibility. As an online student, you want to be able to access your course materials, lectures and assignments on your timetable. Not only that, but when you're on the go, having mobile availability through smartphone and tablet apps can make a huge difference in keeping up with your studies.

Online Platform

When you're busy, being able to find what you need easily is important. We evaluated the online platforms of several schools to find the best learning environment. Our main considerations were simple navigation, personalization features and options that let you communicate with your instructors and peers.

Program Variety

Schools with a wide diversity in degree levels and majors got extra consideration, since an important aspect of your education is to make sure you learn what you need to meet your future career goals. Extra points were given if the school offered the option of changing your field of study if you change your mind halfway through your program because your interests shift. The best schools we found offer associate degrees up to doctoral degree programs in an array of subjects, as well as both undergraduate and graduate certificate programs and stand-alone courses.

Program & Class Availability

A school can have the right programs, teachers and delivery system, but if you can't enroll in the course you want because of limited availability, those things don't really matter. We looked for schools that offered the most program and course availability so you can make sure to get the full benefit from the convenience of online learning.

Access to Support

As an online learner, you need support for both your academic questions and technical issues. The best schools offer online student support around the clock, seven days a week so you can keep studying without delays or interruptions. To make sure you'd have all the support you need, we looked for schools that had multiple options, including online, phone and in-person options.

Scholarship Availability

Sometimes you might get a break with tuition by enrolling in an online degree program, though college can still be expensive. We found schools that offer generous scholarship opportunities for online students and specific majors that could apply to your particular situation.

Our Top Schools List

Now that you know what we looked for, check out our school picks, and find out what makes them top online colleges.

1. Kaplan University

In the areas of program diversity, technology, flexibility and support, Kaplan University really shines. You have associate through doctoral degree programs to choose from in a range of fields. Kaplan uses the latest technologies, including mobile education, for online programs. And you can try before you buy, checking out classes for up to three weeks before having to pay for them.

As far as quality in education goes, Kaplan University was ranked by U.S. News & World Report in 2014 as being among the top schools with online bachelor's degree programs. The master's and doctoral programs in nursing also helped Kaplan get ranked among the best online graduate nursing programs. The school offers over 100 certificate and degree programs in fields ranging from law and healthcare to business and education.

2. Grand Canyon University

Students who attend Grand Canyon University can pursue online doctoral degrees in fields like business and leadership, education, health care, nursing, psychology and theology and youth ministry. In addition to all of its doctoral programs, the university also offers dozens of master's degree programs and bachelor's degree programs. Another reason that Grand Canyon University caught our attention is because students enrolled in an online program can take one class at a time, making it easier to fully focus on their course.

3. Walden University

Walden University made our list because students in certain online programs are able to take part in virtual residencies. They might also be able to take part in virtual field experiences. Walden University illustrates the flexibility that is available to students by also giving the option of completing an in-person residency in place of a virtual one.

In addition to its flexibility, Walden offers program variety to students. You can pursue an online bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree at Walden. Available fields of study include counselor education and supervision, health services, human services, public health, business, psychology, public policy and administration and education.

We also like that Walden makes faculty/student interactions an important part of their education programs. As a Walden University student, you can call or email your instructors. The university also has an easy-to-use learning environment.

4. Full Sail University

As an online student at Full Sail University you have access to a wide variety of support services. From the very start of your time as an enrolled student, you'll be able to take advantage of their career development program. This program includes networking, along with help with job searches and portfolio and resume development. Another notable service is Full Sail University's technical support. For its online programs, the university uses a web-hosted platform that students can use to communicate with their classmates.

The entirely online degree programs at Full Sail University prepare students to pursue employment in the media and entertainment industries. The university offers bachelor's degree programs in game design, media communications and web design and development, as well as master's programs in business intelligence, creative writing and innovation and entrepreneurship, among other fields.

5. Ashford University

Students who enroll in Ashford University's Forbes School of Business can choose from over 20 online bachelor's degree programs. Some of the fields of study available are consumer and family financial services, eMarketing, real estate studies and sustainable enterprise management. The university also offers many master's programs, some of which focus on business administration, organizational management and public administration. Students could also pursue an associate degree at Ashford in areas like early childhood education and military studies. The university's schools of education, liberal arts, and health, human services and science offer associate, bachelor's and master's degree programs.

Ashford University offers accelerated online programs that are ideal for students who want to earn their degrees quicker. Ashford has undergraduate courses that are only 3 credits and are designed to be completed in just five weeks. It also has graduate courses that could be finished in six weeks.

Disclosure: Some or all of the schools listed may be partners of

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:

The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

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