Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (2024)

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Suzie GlassmanEducation Writer

Suzie loves researching, interviewing experts and breaking down complex information into understandable and actionable advice to help others improve their lives. Based in Denver, Suzie and her husband are parents to a 14-year-old boy, a 12-year-old girl and two rescue dogs.

  • Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (4)

Suzie Glassman

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (5)

Suzie GlassmanEducation Writer

Suzie loves researching, interviewing experts and breaking down complex information into understandable and actionable advice to help others improve their lives. Based in Denver, Suzie and her husband are parents to a 14-year-old boy, a 12-year-old girl and two rescue dogs.

  • Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (7)

Education Writer

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (9)

Brenna SwanstonDeputy Editor

Brenna Swanston is an education-focused editor and writer with a particular interest in education equity and alternative educational paths. As a newswriter in her early career, Brenna's education reporting earned national awards and state-level accolades in California and North Carolina. Since 2018, she has worked in the higher-education web content space, where she aims to help current and prospective students of all backgrounds find effective, accessible pathways to rewarding careers.

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Reviewed

Brenna Swanston

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (12)

Brenna SwanstonDeputy Editor

Brenna Swanston is an education-focused editor and writer with a particular interest in education equity and alternative educational paths. As a newswriter in her early career, Brenna's education reporting earned national awards and state-level accolades in California and North Carolina. Since 2018, she has worked in the higher-education web content space, where she aims to help current and prospective students of all backgrounds find effective, accessible pathways to rewarding careers.

  • Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (14)

Deputy Editor

Reviewed

Updated: Feb 22, 2024, 9:47am

Editorial Note: We earn a commission from partner links on Forbes Advisor. Commissions do not affect our editors' opinions or evaluations.

Years ago, employers might have scoffed at the idea of online school—but those days are long gone. The distance learning landscape has changed significantly in recent years, and online degrees from accredited institutions now hold the same esteem as traditional degrees.

Today, online college is a convenient and cost-effective higher education option that allows you to earn your degree without sacrificing too much of your professional or family life.

We’ve used a strict methodology to rank the best nonprofit, accredited colleges offering online bachelor’s degrees. We take into account each college’s credibility, affordability, student outcomes and student experience. We’ve also provided tips on how to find the right online college for your goals and learning style.

Why You Can Trust Forbes Advisor Education

Forbes Advisor’s education editors are committed to producing unbiased rankings and informative articles covering online colleges, tech bootcamps and career paths. Our ranking methodologies use data from the National Center for Education Statistics, education providers, and reputable educational and professional organizations. An advisory board of educators and other subject matter experts reviews and verifies our content to bring you trustworthy, up-to-date information. Advertisers do not influence our rankings or editorial content.

  • 6,290 accredited, nonprofit colleges and universities analyzed nationwide
  • 52 reputable tech bootcamp providers evaluated for our rankings
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Best Online Colleges

  • Florida State University
  • Northwestern University
  • San Jose State University
  • San Diego State University
  • University of Central Florida
  • Simmons University
  • Fresno Pacific University
  • California State University-East Bay
  • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University
  • Baptist University of Florida

1

Florida State University

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (15)

Undergraduate Tuition

$180/credit (in-state)

Overall Student Retention Rate

94%

Overall Graduation Rate

81%

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (16)

$180/credit (in-state)

94%

81%

Editor's Take

Florida State University’s distance learning program offers six online bachelor’s programs covering computer science, criminology, financial planning, interdisciplinary social science, and public safety and security.

Through a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous classes, online students experience the same courses and faculty as on-campus students. They also have access to various support systems, including academic tutoring, online mentoring, library services and technical support.

Distance learning students pay a lower tuition rate than on-campus students, plus a distance learning fee. This fee helps pay for technical support, curriculum development, support services and course mentors.

What To Know

  • Our Flexibility Rating: Learn on your schedule
  • School Type: Public
  • Application Fee: $30
  • Online Enrollment Options: Full-time
  • Notable Online Programs: Bachelor of Science in criminology, Bachelor of Arts in computer science
  • Notable Scholarships Available: Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program
  • In-Person Requirements: No

2

Northwestern University

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (18)

$2,179/course

98%

95%

Editor's Take

Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, offers five online bachelor’s degrees through its School of Professional Studies. Offerings include enterprise leadership, information systems, social sciences, strategic communications and health sciences.

Courses cater to students’ busy schedules and take place entirely online with no in-person or location-based requirements. Online students pay a $125 distance learning fee per class.

What To Know

  • Our Flexibility Rating: Learn on your schedule
  • School Type: Private
  • Application Fee: $75
  • Online Enrollment Options: Accelerated, full-time, part-time
  • Notable Online Programs: Bachelor of Science in information systems, Bachelor of Science in Enterprise Leadership
  • Notable Scholarships Available: School of Professional Studies scholarship
  • In-Person Requirements: No

3

San Jose State University

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (19)

Undergraduate Tuition

$450 to $495/credit

Overall Student Retention Rate

85%

Overall Graduation Rate

75%

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (20)

$450 to $495/credit

85%

75%

Editor's Take

Students enrolled in one of San Jose State University’s seven online degree programs enjoy a flexible learning environment that allows them to participate in classes according to their schedule and on weeknights and weekends.

Courses are offered year-round through five eight-week sessions, allowing motivated students to graduate in as little as two to three years. Students pay tuition per unit, with 50 to 60 units required to complete a program.

What To Know

  • Our Flexibility Rating: Learn around your 9-to-5
  • School Type: Public
  • Application Fee: $70
  • Online Enrollment Options: Accelerated, full-time, part-time
  • Notable Online Programs: Bachelor of Arts in anthropology, Bachelor of Science in public health
  • Notable Scholarships Available: Spartan scholarships
  • In-Person Requirements: No

4

San Diego State University

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (21)

Undergraduate Tuition

$2,871/year (in-state)

Overall Student Retention Rate

89%

Overall Graduation Rate

N/A

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (22)

$2,871/year (in-state)

89%

N/A

Editor's Take

San Diego State University’s global campus offers a combination of online and hybrid undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Courses are self-paced, allowing students to complete coursework during times that fit their busy schedules. The same faculty who teach on-campus courses also teach their online counterparts.

Online students are responsible for technology, student engagement, associated student fees and general tuition. Those fees help the university create an immersive online experience and provide a dedicated support team.

What To Know

  • Our Flexibility Rating: Learn on your schedule
  • School Type: Public
  • Application Fee: $70
  • Online Enrollment Options: Full-time, part-time
  • Notable Online Programs: Bachelor of Science in business administration, Bachelor of Science in criminal justice
  • Notable Scholarships Available: Aztec scholarships
  • In-Person Requirements: No

5

University of Central Florida

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (23)

Undergraduate Tuition

$105/credit (in-state)

Overall Student Retention Rate

93%

Overall Graduation Rate

73%

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (24)

$105/credit (in-state)

93%

Editor's Take

With more than 30 online bachelor’s degree programs to choose from, students at the University of Central Florida can find courses that match their interests and career goals. Many courses combine online and on-campus students, ensuring all students receive the same education regardless of how they attend.

Online students pay lower tuition rates than those attending in person, even with a distance learning fee of $18 per credit.

What To Know

  • Our Flexibility Rating: Learn around your 9-to-5
  • School Type: Public
  • Application Fee: $30
  • Online Enrollment Options: Full-time, part-time
  • Notable Online Programs: Bachelor of Science in lodging and restaurant management, Bachelor of Arts in political science
  • Notable Scholarships Available: Charlotte Willis Memorial Endowed Scholarship
  • In-Person Requirements: No

6

Simmons University

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (25)

Undergraduate Tuition

$500/credit

Overall Student Retention Rate

81%

Overall Graduation Rate

82%

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (26)

$500/credit

81%

82%

Editor's Take

Simmons University, located in Boston, Massachusetts, began offering online undergraduate and graduate programs in 2013. Today, the university provides nontraditional learners with an immersive digital experience with dedicated mentors and support staff.

Undergraduate programs are women-centered, while graduate programs are open to all. Students interact face to face with instructors and classmates through live online sessions, and they are encouraged to join student clubs and organizations.

What To Know

  • Our Flexibility Rating: Learn on your schedule
  • School Type: Private
  • Application Fee: Free
  • Online Enrollment Options: Full-time, part-time
  • Notable Online Programs: Bachelor of Arts in communication, Bachelor of Science in nursing
  • Notable Scholarships Available: N/A
  • In-Person Requirements: No

7

Fresno Pacific University

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (27)

Undergraduate Tuition

$525 to 550/credit

Overall Student Retention Rate

75%

Overall Graduation Rate

67%

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (28)

$525 to 550/credit

75%

67%

Editor's Take

Fresno Pacific University’s online degree completion programs feature flexible and convenient options for working professionals who’ve completed some undergraduate courses and are looking to complete a degree after taking time off or starting a family.

Courses are taught in six- and eight-week intervals, allowing students to enroll at times that suit their schedules. Online learners also pay less per credit than those who attend in person.

What To Know

  • Our Flexibility Rating: Learn on your schedule
  • School Type: Private
  • Application Fee: Free
  • Online Enrollment Options: Accelerated, full-time, part-time
  • Notable Online Programs: Bachelor of Arts in social welfare, Bachelor of Arts in criminology
  • Notable Scholarships Available: Mennonite Brethren Scholarship
  • In-Person Requirements: No

8

California State University-East Bay

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (29)

Undergraduate Tuition

$7,105/year (in-state)

Overall Student Retention Rate

75%

Overall Graduation Rate

67%

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (30)

$7,105/year (in-state)

75%

67%

Editor's Take

California State University East Bay offers various fully online and hybrid bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Online students log in three to four times weekly to access course materials, turn in assignments, participate in discussions and take exams.

Students can also accelerate their degree progress by taking courses year-round or choosing accelerated classes with shorter completion times. They can finish within two years by attending full time and completing prerequisite courses before beginning.

What To Know

  • Our Flexibility Rating: Learn on your schedule
  • School Type: Public
  • Application Fee: $70
  • Online Enrollment Options: Accelerated, full-time, part-time
  • Notable Online Programs: Bachelor of Arts in ethnic studies, Bachelor of Arts in human development
  • Notable Scholarships Available: Pioneer Scholarships
  • In-Person Requirements: No

9

Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (31)

Undergraduate Tuition

$2,277/semester (in-state)

Overall Student Retention Rate

90%

Overall Graduation Rate

56%

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (32)

$2,277/semester (in-state)

90%

56%

Editor's Take

Located in Tallahassee, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University is a historically Black university that offers a variety of online undergraduate and graduate degrees.

The university’s online courses allow students flexibility and convenience through asynchronous lectures and live learning opportunities. Students can progress through each program at a pace that works best for them.

What To Know

  • Our Flexibility Rating: Learn around your 9-to-5
  • School Type: Public
  • Application Fee: $35
  • Online Enrollment Options: Accelerated, full-time, part-time
  • Notable Online Programs: Bachelor of Science in information technology, Bachelor of Criminal Justice
  • Notable Scholarships Available: No
  • In-Person Requirements: No

10

Baptist University of Florida

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (33)

Undergraduate Tuition

$420/credit

Overall Student Retention Rate

74%

Overall Graduation Rate

62%

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (34)

$420/credit

74%

62%

Editor's Take

Located in Graceville, Florida, the Baptist University of Florida is a private Christian school whose mission is to graduate students with strong academic and ministry skills. All of the university’s courses and majors are available online, allowing students to participate anytime and from any location with an internet connection.

Online courses cost the same as campus courses, but distance learners may save money on housing and parking fees.

What To Know

  • Our Flexibility Rating: Learn on your schedule
  • School Type: Private
  • Application Fee: Free
  • Online Enrollment Options: Full-time, part-time
  • Notable Online Programs: Bachelor of Arts in history and social studies, Bachelor of Arts in elementary education
  • Notable Scholarships Available: Strickland Scholarship
  • In-Person Requirements: No

Should You Enroll in an Online Program?

More than 58% of four-year college students took distance education courses in the fall of 2021, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), indicating that online college has become a popular choice. But is it right for you?

Consider the following when comparing online and in-person degrees.

Your Outside Commitments

Whether you work an irregular schedule or have a busy personal life, your school schedule should adapt to your needs.

Online programs with asynchronous classes usually work best for people who need to plan their assignments around their other commitments. Asynchronous formats provide a high level of flexibility, allowing learners to view lectures and complete assignments at their convenience.

If you can manage a few hours of live instruction each week, a program that blends asynchronous and synchronous classes could work well for you. Synchronous classes have set meeting times for interaction with your instructor and peers, with many schools offering convenient weekend and evening classes to suit working professionals.

Your Budget

If you plan to attend a public college in another state, be aware that you could get charged an out-of-state tuition rate, which is usually considerably higher than in-state tuition. However, some schools offer a special online tuition rate for all distance learners, making out-of-state learning more affordable for online students.

Also, by attending college online, you may avoid some of the costs you’d pay if you attended in person, like on-campus housing and commuting expenses.

Your Learning Preferences

If you appreciate the face-to-face learning you get in a traditional classroom, online learning could be a challenging change. Many modern online programs offer interactive activities with peers and instructors, but you might still miss the social aspect of working with others in person.

Some students struggle to stay motivated to work on their assignments when learning at home. With that said, taking some time to prepare for online classes may help you feel more confident in an online learning environment.

Best Online Colleges By State

  • Best Online Colleges In Arizona
  • Best Online Colleges In California
  • Best Online Colleges In Florida
  • Best Online Colleges In Georgia
  • Best Online Colleges In Indiana
  • Best Online Colleges In Massachusetts
  • Best Online Colleges New Hampshire
  • Best Online Colleges In New York
  • Best Online Colleges In North Carolina
  • Best Online Colleges In Pennsylvania
  • Best Online Colleges In South Carolina
  • Best Online Colleges In Texas
  • Best Online Colleges In Virginia

Pros and Cons of Online Degrees

While the flexibility of an online degree may sound tempting, consider the pros and cons before committing to a virtual education.

Benefits

On the plus side, most online college courses are taught by the same professors and have the same expectations and requirements as in-person courses. Plus, your degree won’t specify how your courses were delivered. Online students also qualify to apply for loans, grants and scholarships.

The overall cost of your degree may also be less if you attend online, even if the tuition is the same. You can save money on common expenses like commuting, parking, dining and housing. However, check to see if the college charges a distance learning fee, and understand how that will impact your overall costs.

Potential Drawbacks

Distance learning could be challenging if you’re not technologically savvy or have outdated or slow equipment. Some courses are taught live, meaning you’ll have to show up on time with a reliable internet connection to get the most out of class.

Also, not all learning styles are well-suited to online college. You’ll have to be organized and motivated to stay on top of your courses and complete your assignments without the structure of scheduled class times.

Even though online programs offer virtual interaction opportunities, you may miss out on the social aspect of interacting face to face with classmates and professors.

Accreditation for Online Colleges

There are two types of accreditation to look for in online colleges: institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation is the most important distinction.

You must attend an accredited higher learning institution to qualify for federal student aid. Institutional accreditation signifies that a college meets a strict set of standards set by a third-party organization approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education. Accreditation standards include having highly qualified faculty, quality academics, positive student outcomes and a dedicated mission statement.

Programmatic accreditation applies to a specific degree program within a college or university. This designation is not generally mandatory but could be necessary for specific fields like nursing or law if you plan to apply for graduate programs or professional licensure.

CHEA’s online directory offers a searchable list of accredited institutions.

How To Choose an Online College

The great news about earning an online degree is that you have a variety of top online colleges to choose from. Here are a few factors to consider before deciding where to earn your online bachelor’s degree.

Consider Your Future Goals

How will your degree help further your career or future education? If you’re working full time and want to graduate quickly, look for a college with an accelerated program. If your schedule is demanding and you’re not in a hurry to graduate, consider a part-time or asynchronous program for added flexibility.

Are you planning to attend graduate school to earn a master’s degree or a doctorate? If so, consider attending an online bachelor’s program at a university that also offers graduate programs in your field. This could make your transition to the next level easier.

Understand Your Expenses and Financing Options

The online colleges listed in the guide charge from as little as $105 per credit for in-state students to more than $500 per credit, translating to between $12,600 and $60,000 for a 120-credit bachelor’s degree.

By comparison, annual undergraduate tuition and fees in the 2021–22 school year averaged $9,596 at in-state, public universities and $34,041 at private colleges, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). For a four-year bachelor’s degree, this totals around $38,400 and $136,200, respectively.

Financial aid is a great way to make online college more affordable. You can apply for loans, grants and work-study opportunities by filling out the FAFSA®. You can also check with the school’s financial aid office for information about scholarships and third-party loans.

How To Apply to an Online Program

You can apply to most online programs through the university’s web-based application. Here’s a basic guide for completing the application process:

  1. Navigate to the university’s admissions website to review the requirements and application deadline.
  2. After confirming you’ve satisfied the requirements, create an account and complete the application.
  3. Provide any requested supplementary documentation, such as letters of recommendation, official transcripts and college essays.
  4. After you’ve applied, you can track your application status on the college’s applicant portal.

Some schools use the Common App to make the application process even easier by allowing students to use a single application for multiple colleges.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Online Colleges

Is online college a good option?

Yes, in many cases, online and in-person degree programs demonstrate the same academic rigor. Plus, online programs allow busy students the flexibility to watch lectures, study and complete assignments at their convenience, and the resulting diploma does not specify whether it was earned online or on campus.

Are online college degrees respected?

Yes, employers recognize that online college degrees from accredited universities and degree programs meet the same academic standards as traditional degree programs. Also, diplomas typically don’t indicate whether a student attended online.

How do I know if an online college is legitimate?

Legitimate colleges hold institutional accreditation, which indicates that an accrediting body has determined that a college’s coursework, faculty and academic outcomes meet strict quality standards. You can find a college’s accreditation status on its website and verify it with the listed accrediting body.

What online degrees are popular?

The most popular undergraduate majors are in business, health professions and related fields, according to NCES data. This data includes online degrees.

How long does it take to earn an online degree?

Most online degree programs mimic the length and timing of traditional on-campus offerings. Associate and master’s degrees typically take two years, while a bachelor’s degree takes four. You may be able to finish faster if your college offers an accelerated track or accepts transfer credits.

How do I choose an online college?

Start by finding an accredited college that offers a distance learning degree in the field you want to study. Then, compare options to see which best suits your schedule and can help you meet your future goals. Next, consider your budget and financial aid resources to choose a program you can reasonably afford.

How do I apply to an online college?

Most online colleges use a web-based application form that provides guidance on what materials you need to submit. Application materials might include a high school transcript and a college essay.

Best Online Colleges Of 2024 (2024)

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