Online degrees are creating new opportunities for students in a wide range of subjects, and at every level of higher education. As accredited online degree programs grow in availability, an increasing number of students are taking online courses in subjects like business, information technology, engineering, healthcare, criminal justice, political science, and more. Online associate, bachelor's and master's degrees are creating convenient and flexible pathways for students to further their education, advance careers, and improve salary potential. But what are the best online degrees? More importantly, what are the best online degree programs for your career goals?
Our list of the best online degrees is designed to help you answer these important questions. But before we get to that, we thought you should know what other students are saying about their experiences in online education.
According to the Survey of Online Learning by the Babson Survey Research Group (2015), nearly six million students take at least one of their college courses online. Just over 28% of students in higher education take at least one online course, with more and more students taking online college courses at major, public non-profit universities. Online education is creating new opportunities, and students are taking advantage.
That's the good news. Now here's the great news — online students love their degree programs! According to the survey, students attending online college report a level of satisfaction that is 21 percent higher than that of traditional, on-campus students.
Why are online degree students so much happier? We asked, and online students told us that they actually experienced better classmate interaction and stronger support from professors than they had ever experienced in a traditional classroom. Look for these features as you choose the best online degree program for your needs.
Whether you're seeking an online college degree at the associate or bachelor level, or you plan to earn an online master's degree, read on to find the very best online degree for you…
We base our selections on many different factors, including Bureau of Labor Statistics salary information, employer demand for the online degree, employment growth in fields relevant to the degree, interesting subject matter, and job satisfaction for jobs associated with the degree. The list includes online master’s programs and online bachelor’s degrees as well as several online associate degree programs.
Note: We source career and median annual salary information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The numbers quoted for median annual salary reflect data from surveys taken in 2018.
Check out our recently updated college ranking list and online degree overviews:
Students who earn online degrees in accounting gain a foundation in business and commerce. An accounting degree prepares students to manage money and offer consultation in a wide range of settings.
Graduates of accounting programs pursue careers in public accounting, corporate accounting, and accounting for government organizations. Accounting professionals need in-depth knowledge of tax laws and processes to succeed. Accounting professionals ensure that the books stay balanced and that all monetary transactions remain lawful.
Online degrees in business administration prepare students for careers in leadership. At the associate level, students develop key managerial and administrative knowledge and skills, preparing for middle-management jobs. At the bachelor’s level, students prepare for upper-level management positions. With a master’s degree, students may lead entire companies.
Business administration programs focus on business leadership and operation. These online college degree programs blend leadership models with business theory and practical application. Many include field experience opportunities and concentration options.
Online degrees in counseling prepare students to aid clients in understanding how to succeed both physically and mentally over a lifetime. While counselors in different areas of practice offer different, niche services, the fundamental goal of helping people through counseling services remains steady across all discipline areas.
Individuals interested in studying counseling choose from programs in several areas, including general counseling, mental health and substance abuse counseling, rehabilitation counseling, school and career counseling, or marriage and family counseling. Counseling programs typically incorporate theoretical and practical coursework, as well as research and field experience.
Online college degrees in criminal justice provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue criminal justice careers. For individuals passionate about maintaining legal order, this field of study leads to lucrative, lifelong careers.
At the associate level, students focus on the functional and practical aspects of the criminal justice systems, including police officer and correctional officer training. Moving up to a master’s degree, students gain the knowledge required for success in administrative roles in criminal justice. Graduates of the best online degrees in criminal justice maintain legal order through an array of jobs and functions on the street, in the penal system, and in government.
Early Childhood Education
For individuals who enjoy working with very young children, an online associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in early childhood education provides entry into a rewarding career.
The early childhood education degree online focuses on the educational and developmental needs of preschool children. Students in these programs typically engage in a blend of coursework and field experience. At the graduate level, students also complete research projects. Some programs provide specialization options, allowing students to pursue study in special education, early intervention, or early childhood care program administration.
An online master’s degree in education prepares students to pursue advanced, specialized roles in education, in addition to teaching.
Master’s in education programs assume that students already possess practical experience in teaching through a bachelor’s degree and through work experience. These programs, resulting in a MA or MS degree, build knowledge and skills through examining theories of education, research, and contemporary issues in education.
Students should not confuse these degrees with an MA in teaching, which focuses primarily on the in-class experience. Master’s in education programs typically incorporate a specialization, such as curriculum and instruction, school counseling, leadership and administration, or higher education. Furthermore, not all master’s in education programs focus on education in schools; some focus on education in the workplace.
An online master’s in educational administration or education leadership develops the knowledge necessary to lead educational programs and organizations.
Students typically enter these online degree programs with work experience and seek to advance professionally. These programs prepare students for administrative roles at the college level, as well as for directing employee training programs in corporations or agencies. The best online degrees in this field typically include a blend of coursework, fieldwork, and research—examining theories of education, educational administration, and their applications.
Online degree programs in finance prepare students to handle money. However, while accountants keep the books balanced, financial professionals typically focus on how businesses or individuals use their existing money to invest.
An online bachelor’s or master’s degree in finance prepares students to engage with finance in a variety of roles. Some students specialize in financial analysis, examining how corporations use their finances and offering consultation based on their findings. Others may take a more administrative role as financial managers, while others still may focus on investment, brokerage, and loan management. Students develop in-depth knowledge of markets, money, theories of growth and decline, and how to employ this knowledge safely, legally, and profitably.
With an online degree in graphic design, students engage in an interdisciplinary study that combines elements of art, design, business, and marketing.
Bachelor’s in graphic design programs blend coursework, portfolio projects, and field experience to prepare students for a range of careers. For individuals seeking to apply their artistic passion and skills professionally, a graphic design degree offers the necessary technical and practical knowledge. Individuals with graphic design degrees may find success as freelancers or in a variety of full-time positions at corporations, marketing agencies, or non-profit organizations.
Online degree programs in health informatics prepare students for careers storing, organizing, and analyzing health data. Constant advances in medicine and medical technology have created an ever-growing need for data management.
Health informatics sits at the intersection of information technology and healthcare science. Health informatics professionals must understand enough from both fields to effectively organize, analyze, and utilize health data in diverse settings. Students in these programs engage with curricula that combine the practical and theoretical aspects of technology with healthcare. A bachelor’s in health informatics prepares students for careers, as well future graduate study.
An online bachelor’s degree in health services degree takes a broad approach to the study of the healthcare industry.
Though students in these programs may immediately pursue a career, many use a bachelor’s in health services degree to prepare for graduate study in a specialized field. Because of this, many bachelor’s in health services programs come with specialization options in areas like healthcare administration, medical informatics, emergency medicine, or mental health. Students with online college degrees in this space earn a strong foundation for roles in the health professions.
Online degree programs in healthcare administration prepare students for leadership roles in healthcare organizations.
Graduates of these programs enter careers as hospital or medical practice administrators, but may also apply their knowledge in human resources or social services. Healthcare administration degrees cover key dimensions of the healthcare business. Rather than working as doctors or physician assistants, healthcare administration professionals blend medicine, business administration, and insurance to oversee healthcare staff and ensure that healthcare organizations run smoothly.
An online bachelor’s degrees in healthcare management prepares students to pursue managerial roles in a variety of healthcare settings.
Students in healthcare management programs develop the skills and knowledge necessary to perform crucial roles in the management of health clinics and hospitals. Though related to healthcare administration, healthcare management programs emphasize the management of healthcare services as a whole, rather than the specific management of staff.
Bachelor’s in healthcare management programs include interdisciplinary curricula, drawing on principles of medicine and business—as well as research and field experience components. Some programs include unique specialization options that prepare students for careers in niche disciplines.
Individuals with an online degree in human resources study the lifeblood of all businesses and organizations: people.
Human resources professionals ensure that businesses run smoothly by taking care of the people that constitute the business. With a bachelor’s or master’s in human resources degree, students prepare for administrative or managerial careers that ensure that employees receive fair treatment, timely payment, streamlined benefits, and a forum for reporting. Human resources professionals exist at multiple levels in corporations, including entry-level, middle-management, and executive-level roles.
As the name suggests, an online bachelor’s in human services degree prepares students to serve others in several general and niche professions.
Online bachelor's degree programs in human services focus on the analysis and improvement of state support systems and services. Individuals in this field study community and society as a whole and offer services like career counseling, substance abuse counseling, and medical assistance to clients. Many bachelor’s in human services programs offer specialization options and blend coursework with field experience.
In the age of cloud computing, smartphones, cybercrime, and technological advancement, the demand for knowledgeable information technology professionals remains high.
With an online degree in information technology or computer science, students develop the in-depth technical knowledge and skills needed to advance corporations, government agencies, schools, banks, and other financial organizations. Graduates of these programs emerge with an in-depth understanding of the operation, integration, and maintenance of computers and technology.
Individuals holding an online degree in management will be in a position to lead organizations toward growth, development, and profit.
Online degree programs in management cover fundamental management concepts, including personnel management, financial management, human resources management, organizational management, and marketing management. Many online college degree programs provide students with concentration options to focus their studies in specific management areas. With an associate or bachelor’s degree in management, graduates pursue entry-level management positions or prepare for future graduate study.
Marketing is a critical part of creating brand-recognition, selling products or services, and fostering positive public impressions. Individuals with a bachelor’s in marketing provide the expertise necessary for implementing successful marketing strategies.
A bachelor’s in marketing online degree program covers theoretical and practical approaches to marketing. Graduates of these programs learn how to develop and execute marketing and advertising strategies and campaigns, manage marketing teams, and direct public relations. A bachelor’s in marketing prepares students to enter a range of careers as well as pursue future graduate study.
Medical assistants help ensure that medical practices function effectively by performing a variety of helpful duties.
Medical assisting online degree programs provide the education necessary to enter careers as medical assistants in hospitals, private practices, clinics, and residential treatment centers. Medical assistants support doctors and nurses by performing clinical and administrative duties, including greeting patients, preparing exam rooms, updating records, and scheduling appointments.
With an online associate degree in medical coding, or a certificate or diploma, students learn to navigate the complex world of medical coding and health insurance.
Accurate medical coding ensures that patients receive the coverage and benefits owed to them by their health insurance providers. Medical coding professionals communicate between health insurance companies and medical offices to determine coverage, code bills, and settle payment and billing disputes.
Online degrees in nursing at the bachelor’s and master’s level allow registered nurses (RN) to build on existing knowledge and to earn a degree that expands their career potential.
Individuals may become registered nurses by completing an associate program and earning a registered nurse certification. Without a bachelor’s or a master’s degree, however, many nurses find their career opportunities limited. After earning these degrees, graduates pursue careers as nurse practitioners, nurse instructors, nurse administrators or managers, and as specialized nurses in a variety of areas.
Businesses rely on project managers to oversee projects efficiently and accurately. Online college degrees at the BA or MA level in project management help students develop the knowledge and skills necessary to fill crucial roles in businesses and agencies.
Project management online degree programs blend coursework, research projects, and field experience to engage students with fundamental concepts in the field. Project management professionals pursue careers in marketing, logistics, sales, technology, and construction. Accordingly, project management online degree programs often provide specialization options.
Students earning online degrees in psychology pursue a wide array of careers dedicated to helping people through the application of psychological principles.
At the undergraduate level, students engage with fundamental concepts in psychology, building a foundation of knowledge that can be applied in professional settings and future graduate studies. At the graduate level, students engage with advanced concepts, research, and fieldwork, often specializing in specific areas. Even for students not seeking psychology careers, the concepts gained from earning a degree in psychology prove useful in fields like business and law.
For individuals interested in promoting health awareness, engaging in advocacy, and pushing for policy changes, a master’s in public health may be one of the best online degrees available.
Public health combines aspects of medicine, community organizing, education, and public policy to maintain and improve the health of communities. Public health professionals work in schools, nonprofit groups, research labs, and government agencies to serve people’s health interests. Master’s in public health programs often provide routes for specialization, allowing students to pursue careers in health education, public policy, epidemiology, public health research, and biostatistics.
Online degrees in social work prepare students to pursue careers centered on helping people at all stages of life.
While many graduates of social work programs pursue careers as social workers, graduates may also perform similar roles in different, relevant areas of practice, including counseling, community services, and probation. Some social work programs provide specialization options for those interested in specific areas of practice. A master’s in social work helps students assess the needs of clients and aid them in accessing the resources needed to achieve their goals.
For individuals who feel a spiritual calling, an online bachelor’s in theology degree may be an ideal academic path.
With a bachelor’s in theology, graduates enter religious occupations, such as the clergy, but may also pursue careers in social work or religious education. Offered at religious schools, bachelor’s in theology programs develop in-depth knowledge of religious concepts and texts, often include field experience, and sometimes come with unique specialization options.
What Are the Best Accredited Online Colleges?
The Best Schools ranks the best online colleges in the country in each state for each type of degree. Students interested in the above programs should check out our ranking articles, such as the 50 Best Online Colleges for 2019, to determine the school and program that best fits their education, career, and salary goals.
Choosing the Best Online Degree for You
Online degrees provide invaluable flexibility for busy individuals seeking to advance their education. Interested in some of these online degree programs? Dive deeper and check out our ranking articles to find the best school for you. Not seeing anything above that fits your specific needs? No problem. Plenty of degrees at all levels are available in the online format. Everyone should earn the degree they want from the school they want, and online degrees make that possible. If you don’t see something above that fits you, check out our other degree and school ranking articles—in areas like economics, information security and assurance, or graphic design, for example.