This ranking of the best online universities includes universities only, and excludes individual colleges (colleges that aren't part of a university system).
For a more thorough explanation of the difference of college and university, see our article: What is the Difference Between College and University?
More than three million students now take all of their courses online, an ongoing indication of the continuing popularity of online education as a viable option for students.
Students seeking an online degree have a large number of universities from which to choose.
To help you find the best accredited online university, we evaluated a large number of schools offering online associate, bachelor, master and doctoral degrees.
Each school profile in our list includes a short overview, cost information, admission requirements for undergraduate and graduate students, types of available online degrees, whether the university provides credit for experience, and more.
The 24 Best Online Universities
Penn State World Campus
Centre County, PA
Penn State World Campus serves as the online college division of Pennsylvania State University. Penn State World Campus provides over 150 online programs, including a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees and online certifications. Penn State World Campus provides students an array of services.
The online programs provide a career-focused curriculum based on the latest industry trends. The Penn State World Campus online courses are the same courses provided on campus. The Penn State World Campus students receive the same diploma as the on-campus students.
University of Florida Distance Learning
The University of Florida, an American public land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant research university, has a membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU), the association of preeminent North American research universities. The University of Florida has more than 150 research centers and institutes.
The University of Florida has well-regarded graduate degrees, including through the Hough Graduate School of Business, Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, Levin College of Law and the College of Medicine.
University of Florida Distance Learning provides over 200 undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificates online. Online students obtain the same degree as traditional students; the online degrees and the traditional programs have the same rigorous admissions standards and the same world-class faculty.
Each online program provides online students the same student support services students in residence on the main campus receive.
Northeastern University, a private, global, experiential research university, houses over 30 federally funded research centers. Northeastern University, is a leading school in cooperative education and experimental learning.
Northeastern University provides a variety of online bachelor, master, doctoral and certificate programs.
Indiana University Bloomington, a public research university, is the flagship institution of the Indiana University system and its largest university. Indiana University has a membership in the notable Association of American Universities. Indiana University Bloomington, attracts students from throughout the world.
IU Bloomington's numerous graduate-level programs include the highly ranked School of Education, Kelley School of Business, and the Maurer School of Law.
IU Online, one of the top online universities, provides online students courses developed and taught by the same professors who teach on campus. IU Online students receive an Indiana University diploma.
Arizona State University-Tempe
Arizona State University (ASU), a public research university, has one of the largest undergraduate populations in the United States. ASU emphasizes innovation and entrepreneurship.
Arizona State University provides a wide array of highly ranked graduate programs through institutions such as the W. P. Carey School of Business, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, and the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.
ASU Online, one of the best online schools, offers students an array of services, including careers services and online tutoring.
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
Twin Cities, MN
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, a public, land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant research university, is the flagship institution of the University of Minnesota system. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is also the oldest and largest campus within the University of Minnesota system.
The university includes the highly ranked College of Education and Human Development, Carlson School of Management, and the law school.
The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities offers students a variety of online undergraduate and graduate degrees.
University of Arizona
The University of Arizona, a public research university, is one of the elected members of the Association of American Universities, an organization of North America's premier research institutions.
The University of Arizona includes a wide array of graduate programs, including the James E. Rogers College of Law, the Eller College of Management, and a College of Medicine.
Arizona Online provides an array of services including academic skills coaching, a student academic success specialist, the Wildcat Career Network, and the Blue Chip Leadership program. Arizona Online provides students the same degree and professors as the University of Arizona.
Oregon State University
Oregon State University (OSU), an international, public research university, is the largest university in the state, with a total enrollment exceeding 28,000. OSU is one of only six educational institutions in the nation with a land-grant, sea-grant and space-grant designations. OSU also has a sun-grant designation.
OSU, a prominent research school, has nationally recognized programs in areas such as community health, pharmacy, conservation biology, marine biology, oceanography, agricultural sciences, fisheries, forestry, wildlife management and other areas.
OSU Ecampus provides a variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The world-class OSU faculty members who teach on campus develop all of the OSU Ecampus courses and programs. Ecampus graduates obtain the same transcript and diploma as the on-campus students.
Drexel University, a notable private research university, has one of the oldest, largest, and best-known cooperative education programs in the United States. Drexel University has a reputation for its interdisciplinary approach to applied education.
Drexel University served as a pioneer in technology-enhanced education for working adults.
Drexel Online, one of the best online colleges, provides an array of online degree and certificate programs. Drexel University's schools and colleges on campus provide the online degrees. The notable campus faculty members teach the online students. Drexel Online provides students a variety of services.
The online degree programs have the same accredited curricula as their on-campus equivalents.
Drexel University offers study abroad opportunities for all virtual students - the University has built some of the study abroad opportunities into the curriculum.
Florida State University
Florida State University (FSU,) a public space-grant and sea-grant research university, has a wide array of graduate schools. FSU has over 50 individual research centers and institutes. FSU offers a large number of undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees.
Florida State University, one of the best online schools in the nation, offers an array of undergraduate and graduate programs and professional certificates. All of Florida State University's undergraduate degree programs are advanced standing degree programs.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
The University of Massachusetts Amherst, a public research and land-grant University and the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts system, is one of the nation's top universities for research based on national and international rankings, academic citations, and research funding.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst provides a variety of undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees.
UMass Amherst's online classes, degrees, and certificate programs provide the same rigorous academic standards and high quality university faculty as the on-campus programs.
The online degrees are the same as a traditional UMass Amherst degree.
Washington State University
Washington State University (WSU), a public research land-grant university, offers more than 200 fields of study. WSU provides online degrees through Washington State University Global Campus.
WSU received recognition for numerous programs, including plant science, animal science, food science, veterinary medicine, architecture, and chemical engineering.
Washington State University Global Campus offers a variety of online degree and certificate programs.
University of Missouri, Columbia
The University of Missouri, a public, land-grant Research University and the state's largest university, provides more than 300 degree programs in 20 academic colleges. The University of Missouri is the flagship campus of the University of Missouri System.
The University of Missouri, one of the nation's top research institutions, is also one of the public universities which has a membership in the notable Association of American Universities.
Mizzou Online provides an array of online degrees and certificates. The faculty, instructors and staff who deliver on-campus education create online classes and degree programs.
University of Central Florida
The University of Central Florida (UCF) a public, space-grant University, is the largest college, based on enrollment, in Florida, and the University is the second largest overall among U.S. colleges and universities.
The University of Central Florida provides numerous programs for graduate students, including those through the College of Business Administration, the College of Education, and the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
UCF Online, among the best online colleges, offers students online undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs. UCF Online provides online students a wide range of student services such as career services, the University Writing Center, online academic resources, academic advising, online access to UCF libraries, and more.
Kansas State University Global Campus
Kansas State University (KSU), a public research university, provides over 250 majors and programs. The university has nearly 100 centers and institutes, including the Biosecurity Research Institute and the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility.
Kansas State University Global Campus provides distance education for students throughout the world. Kansas State University Global Campus provides student services specifically for distance education students.
George Mason University
George Mason University, (GMU), a public research university, is the largest public research institution in Virginia. GMU provides a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees and professional degrees.
George Mason University is known for biotechnology, the performing arts, electronic journalism, history, economics and other fields. The University includes the well-regarded George Mason School of Law.
Mason Online, one of the best online schools, provides a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate and consortia programs. Online students have access to the same services offered to on-campus students. The George Mason University faculty who teach face-to-face teach the online courses.
University of Denver, University College
The University of Denver (DU), a private research university, is the oldest independent private university in the Rocky Mountain Region of the United States. The University provides a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
The University of Denver has numerous centers and institutes. The university houses the well-regarded Sturm College of Law.
University College serves as the college of continuing and professional studies at the University of Denver. University College provides career-focused content for busy adults.
Rochester Institute of Technology
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), a private doctoral university, is known for its fine arts, imaging science, computing and engineering, programs. RIT includes the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. RIT is known for its career focused education.
The university offers over 200 academic programs. RIT attracts students from more than 100 countries.
RIT Online utilizes the high quality of RIT and customizes it for online learning.
University of Alabama
The University of Alabama, a public research university, is the oldest and largest of the public universities in Alabama. The University of Alabama is the flagship of the University of Alabama System.
The University of Alabama provides a variety of online bachelor, master, doctoral and graduate certificate programs.
University of New Mexico
The University of New Mexico, the flagship institution of New Mexico and a public research university, provides bachelor, master, doctoral, and professional degree programs in a wide array of fields.
UNM Online, #1 in the collection of best online colleges in New Mexico, provides online students access to an array of services including to the University of New Mexico's Career Services Office and the Center for Academic Support (CAPS) which provides a variety of services, including interactive online tutoring.
Colorado State University, Fort Collins
Fort Collins, CO
Colorado State University (CSU), a land-grant, public research university, provides over 150 degrees from eight colleges. CSU is the flagship institution of the Colorado State University System.
CSU Online, one of the best online colleges, has notable programs in biomedical sciences, environmental science, engineering, agriculture, human health and nutrition, and more.
CSU's online students receive the same education, learn from the same faculty members, and obtain the same degree as students at the Fort Collins campus. CSU Online provides a variety of degrees, credit and noncredit courses, certificate programs, digital badge programs, and MOOCs.
Online students have access to a variety of campus resources made available online.
University of Cincinnati
The University of Cincinnati, a comprehensive public research university, based on enrollment, is the second largest university in Ohio, and one of the 50 largest universities in the nation. The National Science Foundation selected the University of Cincinnati as one of the top 25 public research universities.
The University of Cincinnati provides a large number of programs. The University has numerous nationally ranked programs. The University of Cincinnati originated the co-operative education model.
University of Cincinnati Online provides the same programs, faculty and academic excellence as the University of Cincinnati.
University of Cincinnati Online provides students the opportunity to create an academic path which fits their lifestyle and career goals.
New Brunswick, NJ
Rutgers University - New Brunswick, a public institution, is the flagship campus of New Jersey's state university. The University is one of the United States' original land-grant institutions.
Rutgers-New Brunswick has over 175 research centers. The university awards one of the highest numbers of doctorate degrees a year among schools in the United States. Rutgers University has a membership in the notable Association of American Universities.
The online degree programs provide all the advantages of an on-campus education - same small classes, same one-on-one attention, and the same world-renowned faculty.
University of Arkansas, Global Campus
The University of Arkansas, a public land-grant, doctoral research university, is the flagship campus of the University of Arkansas System. The University provides over 200 undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. The University of Arkansas has over 50 research centers.
The University of Arkansas Global Campus, among the best accredited online colleges in the nation, works with units throughout the Fayetteville campus, industry and business leaders, and other institutions to offer people access to educational opportunities which can help them advance in their careers or start new careers.
Our list includes traditional universities providing a sufficient amount of online programs to qualify for our list.
We have selected the best accredited online universities based on factors including academic quality, the number and types of online degree program options available, the faculty, online teaching methods, academic influence, awards, and available financial aid. For more information on our ranking methodology see our College Calculator.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Can students lower the cost of online education?
Students can lower the cost of their online degree through gaining some credits for prior learning without taking classes. Typically, students must pay for Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) credits but at a reduced price compared to university courses. All PLA credits may not transfer from one university to another.
Over 80 percent of online undergraduate students have transfer credits from previous courses they can use to meet their degree requirements. Students who already competed courses should review the transfer credit policy of prospective universities.
Can I get financial aid?
Students should find out if their selected university has approval from the U.S. Department of Education to provide federal student aid. Many universities provide online learners financial aid. Online learners and traditional students applying for federal financial aid need to attend a school which has accreditation from an accrediting agency which received recognition from the U.S. Department of Education.
Our Financial Aid Guide for Online College Students provides vital information about financial aid opportunities. These include financial aid such as Federal Direct Subsidized Loans, Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Grants, Lifetime Learning Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit, Parent Plus Loans, Grad Plus Loans, and more.
Are Online Degrees the same as Traditional Degrees?
Typically, accredited universities provide students the same degree whether they earned it online or on a campus.
Do employers respect online degrees?
Online degrees have gained respect over the years. As more prominent universities provide online degrees, employers accept them more than in the past. Many students seek their online degree while working full-time, many employers view this in a good way.
Employers, especially for schools not well known, often seek verification the school has appropriate accreditation. Many employers are more interested about the university and the type of degree graduates obtained than if they acquired the degree online or as a residential student.
What types of learning environments do universities provide to help students succeed?
Many online students log into a Learning Management System (LMS) to take course lectures. Students can view their syllabus and grades; access course materials; contact professors, classmates and support services; and monitor their progress on lessons.
Some courses deliver live lectures using video conferencing tools and also provide students pre-recorded lectures they can download. Classes typically provide discussion boards which give students the opportunity to communicate via posts. Many classes provide a forum for questions. Some courses provide videoconferencing and students can communicate via email, telephone and social media.
Can Students obtain their Degree faster from a university online?
In some cases, yes. Students can take classes on their own schedule. Some students learn faster than other students and because they don't have to attend a traditional campus classroom on a set schedule, students can complete their classes at their own speed. However, the number of credit hours required to complete online degrees are the same as traditional degrees.
Are universities that offer online degrees accredited?
Prospective students should confirm the accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Universities need this type of accreditation to provide U.S. Government student financial aid and loan guarantees. Typically, the regional accreditation covers the online degrees. Prospective students, including online undergraduate students, online graduate students and international students should also make sure their online school has authorization to operate in their state of residence.
What is the difference between Regional and National Accredited online schools?
Higher education accreditation is regional or national. Regional accreditation is the gold standard of accreditation. A regionally accredited college and regionally accredited university typically only accept transfer credits from other regionally accredited universities and colleges.
The United States has six major regional accrediting organizations along with an accrediting agency for community and junior colleges. Regionally accredited universities are typically eligible for all corporate tuition reimbursement plans. Regionally accredited schools have recognition for providing a comprehensive education.
Regionally accredited schools allow students to easily transfer credits between them, if a student seeks to change schools or take a graduate degree program at another school. Regional accreditation organizations oversee the quality of public and private, for-profit and not-for-profit higher education institutions. These include:
- research universities
- liberal arts colleges
- state colleges
- special-purpose institutions in the arts, sciences, and professional fields
- religiously affiliated institutions
- military academies
- tribal colleges
- community colleges
Regionally accredited online schools typically have higher standards to meet than nationally accredited schools. There are accredited online colleges and universities across the nation. Make sure your online accredited college has higher education accreditation.
Do some universities provide online bachelor's degree completion programs?
Yes, these programs give students with a two-year associate degree or the equivalent of one to two years of college a pathway to complete the remaining credits they need for a bachelor's degree through online coursework.
Students who qualify for an online bachelor's degree completion program typically already have roughly half or more of the 120 credits required for a typical four-year undergraduate degree program.
However, at some universities the completion programs accept students with only 30 credits. Students can complete their bachelor's degree requirements online via a program of study which may include general education courses, elective courses, and/or courses within their major. Students can typically complete these programs in three or four semesters.
How long does it take to complete an online degree?
Online bachelor's degrees typically take four years to complete, online master's degrees typically take two years to complete, and many online PhD programs take three to seven years and longer to complete, depending on the subject, the number of transfer credits and other factors.
The length of time to complete an online degree depends on factors such as how many credits an online student has already acquired, if the school provides Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) credits, and how many classes they take at one time. Some colleges provide online accelerated bachelor's and master's programs, which students can complete faster than a basic degree program.
What are accelerated online degrees?
Accelerated online degree programs allow students to obtain their degree much faster than a traditional degree. Online colleges provide accelerated undergraduate and graduate degrees. Some online accelerated programs consist of short classes online.
A traditional college course lasts 16 weeks, but for example, an accelerated bachelor's program may compress courses into shorter five-week, eight-week or 10-week sessions. Students in accelerated programs may need to log into their online learning platform every day. In some accelerated programs students take more basic courses at a time or more condensed courses at a time. Students earn their degree faster through studying more.
Students take just as many courses to complete an accelerated bachelor's degree as a traditional degree. In some cases, accelerated online programs are less flexible than other online degrees. Some accelerated online master's programs provide undergraduate students the opportunity to earn credits toward a master's degree while completing their bachelor's degree.
These accelerated degrees typically take students four years to complete a bachelor's degree and one year to complete a master's degree (instead of the typical two years).
How many courses can a student take at the same time?
In some online bachelor's degree programs, students can select the number of online courses they take at one time. In some online degree programs, students must adhere to a set curriculum as part of a cohort.
These students progress through the online program with other designated classmates who begin and finish at the same time. Many cohorts programs require students complete a set number of courses each term.
What are advantages of an online cohort program?
The cohort structure provides students the general flexibility of online education combined with opportunities for networking. Online cohort programs give students the opportunity to establish stronger relationships with other students. Cohort programs typically have a high level of academic involvement.
Cohort programs, due to the bonds students often have with their cohort classmates, can help keep students motivated to complete their degree. Cohort students typically offer their classmates support. They rely on each other as academic resources and sources of encouragement.
Many online cohort programs provide some virtual interaction, with many of the cohort programs providing some online courses held live where students communicate via videoconferencing. Some cohort-based online programs require the students to attend a campus residency together, often at the beginning of the online degree program.
Universities offer a popular way to attain higher education: distance learning. This includes online bachelor's degrees that offer unparalleled flexibility and accessibility. Students can work through course materials and assignments at their own pace, streamlining their time management.
Choosing the best online university has become a major challenge due to the proliferation of options available for online learners. We parse the data and provide school search information on behalf of students.
The value of online college degrees is a hotly debated topic, with some wondering is online college worth it. But don't let that stop you! Top-ranked universities like Thomas Edison State University offer rigorously designed virtual programs that are widely recognized.
In-person degrees still exist for students who prefer traditional programs at colleges and universities, but the convenience and flexibility of online programs can be hard to resist. Ultimately, it's all about finding the right fit for your unique needs and goals. Whether you choose an online degree program or in-person, education is an investment in your future.
Financial Aid Resources:
Financial aid is crucial for students and understanding the options available is key. Don't be intimidated by the application process for undergraduate and graduate levels – it's worth it in the end, especially for those looking to advance their education without taking on a mountain of debt.
Our Financial Aid Guide for Online College Students is packed with information and has all the forms you need. Check it out! It's crucial to keep in mind that many universities offer financial aid to offset tuition costs, making higher education accessible to all, including international and out-of-state students.
See our Financial Aid Guide for Online College Students for more information and to find the relevant financial aid forms.
Benefits of Online Colleges and Online Programs
Crafting a personalized routine is a crucial aspect that numerous online learners take into account when opting for an advanced education through online degree programs. The capability to work at their own pace, without jeopardizing daily obligations, distinguishes them from traditional on-campus programs. The top online college must offer superior education and support success, while providing supported online degrees.
For students enrolled in online programs, evaluating not just school rankings but also the support and resources available for distance learners is of utmost importance. The finest online college will exhibit a unwavering commitment towards fostering the growth and success of students, no matter their location or schedule.
Both traditional programs and online institutions of higher education offer diverse programs and resources that aid in student success. Online college programs are gaining immense popularity for their flexibility and practicality. The capacity to learn at one's preferred pace and schedule is an alluring option for many learners.
Ultimately, the best online school should provide top-notch education and support student success. Although traditional on-campus programs possess certain advantages, the comfort and adaptability of online college make it an ideal choice for distance learners who aim to advance their education at their own pace.