More people are going back to college all the time, regardless of age. If you’ve thought about this yourself, you probably have a few questions about how others are pulling it off. Isn’t college expensive and time consuming? Well, yes and yes; but it doesn’t have to be.
With the rise of online colleges and degree programs in the last two decades, college has become more accessible and affordable than ever. Degrees can be earned from the comfort of your own home. Along with more colleges than ever before offering “lifelong learner” programs, seniors can now take some courses free of charge. Today, the idea of earning a degree (or two) later in life is very real and very accessible.
Earning a college degree, at any point in life, can be personally rewarding, especially if you are passionate about a subject. Moreover, studies show that continuing education can actually improve your life expectancy. But where to start? We’ll help you in your search for the right degree by profiling 21 of the best online degree options available. Whether you have head-scratching questions about the nature of existence, you finally have time to read the great literary classics, or want to know more about the lives of your own ancestors, there is a degree on this list for you.
Before diving in though, consider a few important matters:
Is Online Education Right for You?
Online education can be quite a change from a traditional campus program, but change can be good. It comes with a number of benefits, with perhaps the greatest being that you can earn the education that is right for you on your own schedule, without having to leave your home or rearrange your life.
It also comes with challenges, learning to use the required technology being primary. But this is a challenge easily overcome with the aid of college resources, as well as your family and friends. Overall, the benefits of online education outweigh the drawbacks. If you want to earn a degree, consider online education. Begin your educational journey with our Online Colleges Source.
Are Online Schools Accredited?
The best online schools are affiliated with regionally accredited colleges and universities, and so enjoy regional accreditation themselves. Regional accreditation is the gold standard for colleges and is essential when considering degree programs. If you aren’t sure which schools are accredited and which aren’t, stick to our ranking articles, like The 45 Best Online Bachelor’s in General Studies Programs. Our rankings only feature regionally accredited colleges and universities.
If you have any other questions on accreditation, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?
Otherwise, read on to find the best degree for you!
Interested in understanding diverse human cultures? Anthropology may be the degree for you. By combining aspects of humanities, social sciences, and the hard sciences, anthropology examines human behavior in the context of culture. Anthropology programs provide opportunities to focus your studies on a particular region or culture, or to take a more general approach. Regardless, an anthropology program has students examining the interweaving developments of human behavior, culture, and values over history, to better understand our many differences, why those differences exist, and what commonalities we may have.
Anthropology includes four broad categories of study: cultural, physical, linguistic, and archaeological. Whether you have questions about the marriage ceremonies of 15th century indigenous peoples in Peru, the pagan origins of Stonehenge, the evolution of postcolonial English dialects, or why soccer in America is called football everywhere else, anthropology may have answers.
Want to learn more? Check out The 10 Best Online Bachelor's in Anthropology Degree Programs.
Art provides a window into human experience that other fields just can’t offer. A degree in art history offers a thorough study in the development of art through the years, covering creative schools of thought, theories of creation and criticism, historical developments, the artistic canon, and the state of art today. Individuals with a degree in art history typically pursue careers in art museums or art education, and though that may not be your goal, you will emerge from an art history program with advanced, professional-level knowledge in the field.
Art history typically blends aesthetic theory and criticism with cultural history, and students often specialize in a particular region, culture, or period, such as the Flemish masters, the French impressionists, or American modernism. Some schools also offer unique programs that draw on anthropology to frame the study of art specific to different ethnic or indigenous groups. If you are passionate about art, earning a degree in art history can be a rewarding path of study.
Want to learn more? Check out The 6 Best Online Master’s in Art and Art History Programs.
For Christians, whether lifelong or newly converted, earning a degree in biblical studies can be a personally and spiritually rewarding experience. Whether as ministry or theology programs, biblical studies investigates the ins and outs of the major Christian text, examining the development of the Bible and Christian thought through the ages, including issues of interpretation and how biblical teachings can be applied in modern life and contemporary vocations.
Offered by private Christian schools, the scope and focus of a biblical studies program is often determined by the particular denomination affiliated with the college. If you are interested in pursuing a degree in biblical studies, you should note the particular values of whichever school you consider to ensure compatibility with your own.
Want to learn more? Check out:
- The 15 Best Online Associate in Ministry Programs
- The 9 Best Online Bachelor’s in Ministry Programs
- The 6 Best Online Master’s in Ministry Programs
- The 10 Best Online Associate in Theology Programs
- The 10 Best Online Bachelor’s in Theology Programs
- The Top 20 Master’s in Theology Online Programs
- The Top 10 Graduate Programs in Christian Apologetics
An online degree program in classics may seem like a paradox, but part of the study of classics involves finding new ways to look at ancient things, and online education aligns with that goal. One of the oldest types of programs available, the study of classics incorporates aspects of ancient cultures, history, and languages not only to understand the ancient world but also to better situate the modern world as a product of ancient cultural practices.
Classics programs typically focus on ancient Greece and Rome, which involves learning and translating Latin and ancient Greek, reading works of classical theater, poetry, and philosophy, analyzing ancient mythology, and studying historical events and how they have shaped the modern world. Some programs also incorporate aspects of Middle Eastern cultures, especially in regard to how they intermingled with ancient Greek and Roman cultures. A degree in classics gives you a rich understanding of the origins of modern western culture, with the tools to understand contemporary cultural issues in light of thousands of years of history.
Similar to classics, comparative literature programs examine literature in languages other than English as a way to understand the development of culture and society, both regionally and globally. However, comparative literature extends well beyond the classics mold. As the name suggests, comparative literature compares the literature of multiple cultures, with students typically choosing to focus on two or three languages from different linguistic families, such as German, Japanese, and Arabic. Also, students of comparative literature cannot exclusively focus on ancient languages; they must incorporate modern languages as well.
Comparative literature combines literary criticism, anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, theatre, and other liberal arts fields to develop a holistic understanding of human society across cultures through language and literature. If you are interested in understanding the modern world through a wide array of cultural influences, comparative literature may be the degree for you.
Ever dreamed of writing a novel? Or becoming a humor columnist? What about wearing black turtlenecks and espousing poetic meditations on life, truth, and the rising cost of gasoline? While a degree in creative writing can’t guarantee you will be successful at any of these (pulling off a black turtleneck takes a natural talent for fashion, after all), it can help you develop the knowledge and skills necessary to cultivate your own creative work.
Creative writing programs often allow students to specialize in a discipline — such as fiction, poetry, or nonfiction — and may include instruction from accomplished authors, class workshops, writing projects, and literary criticism. Whether you think you have what it takes to write a bestseller, or you just want to better understand how a bestseller may be written, creative writing degrees are among the most personally rewarding degree paths available.
Want to learn more? Check out The Best Online Bachelor’s in Writing Programs.
Bull markets, bear markets, conspicuous consumption, conscientious investing, and “no new taxes”; what does any of this mean? The world’s many markets and their behavior determine countless aspects of our daily lives, and if you want to unravel the mysteries of these often obtuse terms, a degree in economics may be right for you. In short, economics programs study how the world handles money, where the money is spent, who is spending it, how much is being spent and on what, as well as what governments and consumers have to say about it.
By combining aspects of statistics, sociology, history, philosophy, political science, business, and finance, economics programs develop a holistic understanding of the state of the world’s money today. If you think money makes the world go ’round and are curious as to why this is the case, an economics degree may provide the answers you seek.
Want to learn more? Check out The Best Online Bachelor’s in Economics Programs and The Best Online Master’s in Economics Degree Programs.
If you enjoy a good book, or feel that writers are the guiding voices of their era, a degree in English can help you dive deep into the study of literature. Not to be confused with creative writing, English degree programs examine the relationship between English literature and the development of English-speaking cultures. While creative writing programs focus on the production of writing, English programs focus on the understanding and analysis of literature.
Most English degree programs take a comprehensive look at English literature, with curricula that include courses in various eras (such as medieval and modern), regions (such as American and British), and schools of criticism and theory. Additionally, students often choose to specialize in a particular focus area — such as the beat generation or English literature in postcolonial India — or on a particular author — such as William Shakespeare or David Foster Wallace. If you want to explore the study of literature and examine its roles in society and cultural development, an English degree may be the path for you.
Want to learn more? Check out The 25 Best Online Bachelor's in English Degree Programs.
Whether or not you are part of an ethnic minority group, the study of the history, culture, struggles, and values of various ethnic groups in America can be a fascinating and illuminating experience. Most colleges offer Pan-African studies degrees, which focus on the history of African people in diaspora. Many colleges also offer similar programs focusing on Asian-Americans, Native-Americans, Muslim-Americans, Latin-Americans, and Jewish-Americans. With so many options, you can easily find a program that suits your personal interests.
Ethnic studies programs incorporate aspects of history, philosophy, anthropology, art history, music history, English, sociology, and political sciences to examine specific ethnic cultures in America. Beyond focusing on a large group, students may choose to specialize in certain subcultures, or on particular ways of understanding a culture, such as through apartheid, diaspora, sociological theories, or music. Regardless of the particulars, if you want to understand the place of a particular ethnic group in America or in the world, a degree in ethnic studies can be a great place to start.
Fine Arts/Studio Arts
If you have always dreamed of being a great painter or sculptor, or you are just really curious as to how the greatest artworks have been produced, a degree in fine arts or studio arts can give you the insight and skills necessary to create masterpieces — or at least a few decent drawings. Unlike art history programs, which study and analyze the development of art through the ages, fine arts and studio arts programs focus on the personal creation of new art.
These programs typically blend portfolio work, studio lessons, theory, and criticism to develop a foundation of skills and knowledge in the creation of art. While students will specialize in a particular medium and style, such as printmaking, oil painting, or clay sculpture, arts programs will include general coursework in all areas of practice so as to make sure students emerge well rounded. Whether you have been making art your whole life, or are ready to jump in for the first time, fine arts and studio arts degrees can lay the path toward mastery.
Want to learn more? Check out The 6 Best Online Master’s in Art and Art History Programs.
Having trouble settling on one thing to study? Don’t know what you want to be when you grow up? A degree in general studies may be the right choice for you. General studies, sometimes called interdisciplinary studies, takes a general approach to education, as the name implies. Just because it is general, however, it should not be mistaken as simple. Rather, a general studies degree takes a general approach in order to develop a comprehensive, wide-ranging foundation of knowledge that draws on diverse fields of study.
A general studies degree program typically uses a traditional liberal arts core curriculum, with foundational coursework in a broad selection of areas, and offers students opportunities to focus on and combine areas of their own choosing, such as philosophy, literature, and art history. If you just want a solid grounding in the development of western thought, or you don’t like the idea of being pigeonholed in one subject, consider pursing a degree in general studies.
Want to learn more? Check out The 45 Best Online Bachelor’s in General Studies Programs.
If you’re looking for a better understanding of this planet and all its nooks and crannies, a degree in geography could be an illuminating experience. Geography programs generally split into two camps. Some students may choose to specialize in human geography, studying the placement of towns, cities, villages, and the shifting of national borders. Others may choose to specialize in natural geography, examining the shifting shapes of the natural world.
While cartography is part of the typical geography curriculum, geography degrees involve more than drawing maps. Students use aspects of various physical sciences to understand why the world has developed in the way that it has, how we relate to it, and how we can expect it to grow and change, with or without humanity.
Want to learn more? Check out The 5 Best Online Bachelor in Geography Degree Programs.
History buffs might want to consider getting serious and earning a full-scale degree in the subject. More than just memorizing names and dates, history degrees develop a holistic foundation of knowledge of select aspects of history as a way of understanding the past, present, and future. Much more philosophical than the average textbook might lead you to believe, history degree programs examine and employ various interpretive theories toward understanding key events, figures, and cultural movements, and even mundane, forgotten aspects of lifetimes long past.
Most history programs combine a general study of world and American history with specialization options in specific aspects of history, such as modern American history or Ancient Roman history. If understanding the world of those who came before us fascinates you, a degree in history may be an ideal choice.
Want to learn more? Check out The 25 Best Online Bachelor's in History Degree Programs.
Do the many languages of the world fascinate you? Have you thought about learning one yourself? A degree in a modern language will let you do all of that and more. As the name implies, a degree in a modern language, such as Spanish, German, or Japanese, educates students in languages that are in active use, as opposed to a “dead” language, such as Ancient Greek or Old English. A degree program in a modern language does more than just develop speaking fluency, however; it develops a deep understanding of the language within the cultural history of its native speakers. If you are interested in a foreign country’s history and culture and want to gain an intimate understanding of it, a degree in a modern language may be the way to go.
It should be noted, however, that modern languages degree programs (even online programs) always include a study abroad component. For example, if you study Spanish, you would need to complete a study abroad experience in Spain in order to experience the language in its place of origin. This can be a very exciting experience but may not be right for everyone.
Do you play music or just love to listen to it? A degree in music history can provide you with a wealth of knowledge about the origins of your favorite music and all the ways music has developed up to this point. Even if you never pick up a guitar or crack your knuckles over a piano, studying music history can lead to a newfound depth of appreciation for music.
All music history programs use a general curriculum that takes a broad approach to the study of Western music through the ages, examining different movements in its development. On top of that, students may choose a path of specialization in a particular style and era, such as baroque classical or post-bop jazz. Most programs only focus on classical or jazz music, but some allow students to specialize in other forms, including rock, bluegrass, and country, or more exotic traditions, such as African music or Asian music.
For those who love wisdom, philosophy is king. Not just for prophets of the armchair or barstool, philosophy has been a serious study of inquisitive minds since anyone first thought to write it down (in other words, a very long time). Whether you have questions about the nature of truth, existence, and reality, you want to determine the core of morality, or you just adore logic, philosophy can be one of the most rewarding fields of study.
A degree in philosophy typically includes two components. The first comprises a general survey of Western philosophy in ancient, medieval, modern, and sometime postmodern periods. The second component comprises a specialization in a particular school of thought, such as metaphysics or aesthetics, or on a particular philosophical problem, such as the trials of philosophy in the age of quantum mechanics. Whichever path you may choose, a degree in philosophy leads to greater wisdom and deeper questions.
Politics, for better or worse, determines a great deal of the course of current events and our daily lives. If you want to better understand why governments make the choices they do and the source of the reasoning for their decisions, studying political science is the place to start. A political science degree develops a strong grounding in political theory, history, and analysis.
In a political science program, you engage in a curriculum that provides a general study of dominant political theories such as capitalism and communism, discusses the history of nations and key political decisions, and examines motivations for political shifts. Additionally, students may specialize in a particular area of focus, such as applying a political theory to a current issue, analyzing the governing practices of a particular country, or analyzing the political struggles of marginalized groups.
Want to learn more? Check out The 25 Best Online Bachelor's in Political Science Degree Programs or The 5 Best Online Master's in Political Science Degree Programs.
The human mind is an enigma, and psychology attempts to unravel its many mysteries. More than just asking patients to drape themselves across a chaise lounge and talk about their childhood, psychology takes a wide variety of approaches to parsing the secrets of human behavior and emotion. A degree in psychology develops a strong foundation in the many different aspects of the field.
Psychology degree programs use a general curriculum that surveys the history of psychology, dominant theoriticians and their theories, case studies, and different areas of practice in the field. You may choose to pursue a variety of specialized areas of study, including social psychology, applied psychology, developmental psychology, experimental psychology, and abnormal psychology. If you want to better understand the complexities of the human mind, a degree in psychology is not a bad place to start.
Want to learn more? Check out The 50 Best Online Bachelor’s in Psychology Degree Programs or The 25 Best Online Master’s in Psychology Degree Programs.
Have you ever wondered why sports fans often riot after their team has notched a major win? Or why so many people fall for phone scams? Earning a degree in sociology can help you answer these questions and more. Similar to psychology, sociology examines human behavior. However, rather than focusing on individual behavior, sociology focuses on the behavior of the group.
Sociology degree programs typically use a general curriculum that includes coursework in the history of sociology, dominant theoriticians and their theories, case studies, and contemporary problems. Additionally, sociology students choose to specialize in areas such as applied sociology, sociological theory, sociology and politics, or the study of specific groups of people. If you want to know why, as social creatures, we do the things we do, a degree in sociology may be the right choice for you.
Want to learn more? Check out The 25 Best Online Bachelor's of Sociology Degree Programs.
If you have a lifelong dream of commanding the stage, or just really enjoy a well-executed Broadway musical, earning a degree in theatre arts can be a rewarding experience. While the study of acting is a big part of theatre arts programs, many use a holistic approach that incorporates all aspects of participation in theatre.
You will develop a broad foundation of knowledge in subjects including acting, directing, script writing, stage management, set design, lighting design, and the history of theatre. You may also specialize in a particular area of passion from among these subjects. If you want to develop a working knowledge of the theatre, a degree in theatre arts may be the right choice for you.
Women’s and Gender Studies
Whether you’re a woman, a man, or identify as LGBTQ, a degree in women’s and gender studies can help illuminate the struggles, successes, and concerns of a major part of the global population. Women’s and gender studies focuses on women and LGBTQ populations around the world. Similar to ethnic studies, a degree program in women’s and gender studies employs an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on philosophy, critical theory, anthropology, history, political science, sociology, and psychology.
The curriculum for a women’s and gender studies degree typically includes general coursework in areas such as the history of the particular group being studied and its struggles, theories of the field, and contemporary issues affecting the group. Students may also choose to specialize in a particular area of study, such as applying sociological theories to current gay rights activism or examining the socioeconomic struggles of women in Uganda. Whatever your chosen focus, women’s and gender studies can help develop a deeper understanding of gender issues in the modern world.
Whichever path you may choose, earning a degree as a lifelong learner should be about personal enrichment. Whether some of the above-mentioned degrees catch your interests or line up with your passions, the best degree for lifelong learning is the one that excites you, keeps you interested in growing, and enhances your quality of life through personal satisfaction.
If you’re still browsing, check out the 100 Best Online Colleges for 2018.