The Best Online Colleges & Universities of 2021

The Best Online Colleges & Universities of 2021

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Many of the country's top-ranked colleges and universities offer online programs for students. However, traditionally lower-ranked colleges can also offer exceptional online programs.

Many students who choose an online college prefer the flexible schedule of an online learning environment. Rather than attending class on campus, online schools let students complete coursework from anywhere. Online programs also provide a more accessible pathway to a degree. Students can enroll in the best schools online without relocating or quitting their jobs.

The best online colleges also offer exceptional student services to help online learners succeed, including online tutoring, career services, and academic advising. Graduates from the top online programs also benefit from strong alumni networks and connections with prospective employers. The best online schools build the knowledge and skills necessary for career advancement.

The following list ranks the best online colleges to help prospective students find the right programs to reach their personal and professional goals.

Top 10 Best Online Colleges and Universities

#1 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
#2 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
#3 University of Georgia Athens, GA
#4 Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta, GA
#5 Florida State University Tallahassee, FL
#6 Florida International University Miami, FL
#7 University of Wisconsin-La Crosse La Crosse, WI
#8 Harding University Searcy, AR
#9 Albizu University Miami, FL
#10 Texas A & M University College Station, TX

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4

Georgia Institute of Technology 

Atlanta, GA Apply Now

About this school

Georgia Tech enrolls nearly 40,000 students on its campus in Atlanta. This public research university also offers online programs through Georgia Tech Online. As one of the best online colleges, Georgia Tech makes affordable online degrees more accessible by charging a lower tuition rate for distance learners.

The career-focused programs at Georgia Tech include 10 fully online master's programs and three hybrid professional master's degrees. Degree-seekers can study subjects like aerospace engineering, cybersecurity, manufacturing leadership, or analytics at Georgia Tech. Graduates earn the same degrees as on-campus enrollees.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
87%
Percent Receiving Loans
27%
Admissions Rate
22%
Online Enrollment
31%
5

Florida State University 

Tallahassee, FL Apply Now

About this school

FSU offers undergraduate and graduate programs on its campus in Tallahassee, and students can also enroll in Distance@FSU to earn their degrees in a fully online format. With synchronous and asynchronous class options and experienced faculty, FSU offers flexible programs that prepare graduates for careers in tech, education, and business.

At FSU, online students can earn bachelor's degrees in social science, computer science, and criminology. Its online master's programs include business administration, educational leadership, and art education. Online learners receive academic and career advising to help them transition into the workforce. FSU also offers academic tutoring, library services, and online mentoring to support distance learners.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
83%
Percent Receiving Loans
38%
Admissions Rate
37%
Online Enrollment
42%
6

Florida International University 

Miami, FL Apply Now

About this school

FIU is a public research university in Miami, Florida, that offers more than 100 online programs through FIU Online. As one of the best online colleges, FIU prioritizes flexibility and convenience in its online classes.

FIU offers online bachelor's degrees in areas like computer science, Asian studies, biology, and criminal justice. Graduate students can also earn online master's degrees in finance, forensic science, cybersecurity, and health informatics. Distance learners receive academic development support, and FIU Online offers scholarships for online students.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
58%
Percent Receiving Loans
34%
Admissions Rate
59%
Online Enrollment
65%
7

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse 

La Crosse, WI Apply Now

About this school

Founded in 1909, UW-La Crosse is a public university that enrolls over 10,000 students every year. Degree-seekers can enroll in online programs at UW-La Crosse with both undergraduate and graduate options, advancing their education through a flexible format.

At the undergraduate level, learners can study health and wellness management or health information management in partnership with other UW campuses. UW-La Crosse also offers an online MBA, graduate programs in education, and a master's in data science. Distance learners can access student services to complete the admission and registration process, apply for financial aid, or participate in student life activities.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
71%
Percent Receiving Loans
54%
Admissions Rate
71%
Online Enrollment
25%
8

Harding University 

Searcy, AR Apply Now

About this school

Located in Searcy, Arkansas, Harding is a private, Christian university. Harding's fully online programs help students complete a degree in a flexible format. In addition to ten online degrees, Harding offers hybrid programs and online certificates.

At Harding, degree-seekers can earn online graduate degrees in business or education. Harding also offers a master's in information systems, an MBA program, and a master's in teaching. Educators can also pursue endorsements in early childhood education, special education, or reading. Hardin's graduate school of business offers online certificates to help professionals develop their skills in specific areas.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
67%
Percent Receiving Loans
54%
Admissions Rate
75%
Online Enrollment
10%
9

Albizu University 

Miami, FL Apply Now

About this school

Founded as an institute of psychology in 1966, Albizu University operates campuses in Puerto Rico and South Florida. The university's virtual programs allow learners to enroll in flexible online master's programs.

At Albizu University, graduate students can pursue master's-level online degrees in industrial and organizational psychology and teaching English for speakers of other languages. The industrial/organizational psychology program trains students to understand corporate culture and apply their knowledge in workplace settings. Distance learners can access courses and administrative services through the university's campus portal.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
100%
Percent Receiving Loans
66%
Admissions Rate
50%
Online Enrollment
5%
10

Texas A & M University 

College Station, TX Apply Now

About this school

Founded in 1876 as Texas's first public university, Texas A&M enrolls over 69,000 students annually on its College Station campus. Texas A&M also offers distance education programs, including online degrees that meet the same standards as on-campus programs.

At Texas A&M, distance learners can earn bachelor's degrees in nursing or pursue nearly 50 different online graduate degrees. For example, the university offers an online master's in analytics, master's programs in nursing, and a master of public health program in epidemiology.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
82%
Percent Receiving Loans
32%
Admissions Rate
68%
Online Enrollment
8%
11

The University of Texas at Dallas 

Richardson, TX Apply Now

About this school

UT Dallas is a public university that offers online programs and courses in multiple disciplines to over 28,000 enrollees.

UT Dallas's Jindal School of Management offers an online MBA program where learners can expand their business training in a fully online program. UT Dallas also offers online master's programs in accounting, management science, marketing, and information technology. Undergraduate learners can also access individual courses online to earn UT Dallas credit through a flexible format.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
72%
Percent Receiving Loans
43%
Admissions Rate
69%
Online Enrollment
18%
12

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire 

Eau Claire, WI Apply Now

About this school

As one of Wisconsin's public universities, UWEC builds critical thinkers and innovators. UWEC Online offers online programs and certificates for students. In addition to degrees, learners can choose individual online courses to earn UWEC credit.

At the graduate level, UWEC offers an online MBA program, a master's in data science, and a master's in communication sciences and disorders. Learners can also pursue certificates in business, education, or communication sciences. UWEC's student services help distance learners strengthen their study skills and balance school with other responsibilities.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
67%
Percent Receiving Loans
54%
Admissions Rate
78%
Online Enrollment
28%
13

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 

Chapel Hill, NC Apply Now

About this school

North Carolina's flagship institution, UNC-Chapel Hill, dates back to 1789. UNC-Chapel Hill offers online degrees and courses as part of the state's consortium of University of North Carolina online programs.

UNC-Chapel Hill offers online master's programs in accounting, digital curation, and public health. Degree-seekers can also complete online MBAs at UNC-Chapel Hill. Undergraduates can choose from dozens of online courses offered each semester. Most online programs charge a flat tuition rate for both in-state and out-of-state students.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
89%
Percent Receiving Loans
27%
Admissions Rate
23%
Online Enrollment
14%
14

University of South Florida 

Tampa, FL Apply Now

About this school

Located in Tampa, Florida, USF enrolls over 50,000 students annually across several campuses. USF students can also choose from dozens of online programs, including online undergraduate majors in criminology, information studies, public administration, and public health. Graduate students can earn degrees in areas like curriculum and instruction, cybercrime, or applied behavior analysis.

Distance learners receive both academic and technical support. USF also offers career services to help students explore different career paths after graduation.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
73%
Percent Receiving Loans
39%
Admissions Rate
43%
Online Enrollment
54%
15

University of Washington 

Seattle, WA Apply Now

About this school

UW is a public university that offers online degrees and certificates through UW Online. Students can choose from over 40 certificates that use fully online or hybrid formats, as well as online bachelor's and master's programs.

Undergraduate options include degrees in social sciences or early care and education. The online master's programs include aerospace engineering, library and information science, infrastructure planning, and education. Distance learners can also earn a master's in engineering, logistics, or computational finance.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
84%
Percent Receiving Loans
26%
Admissions Rate
49%
Online Enrollment
9%
16

Louisiana Tech University 

Ruston, LA Apply Now

About this school

Founded in 1894, Louisiana Tech enrolls 12,000 students annually on its Ruston campus. Students can also earn flexible and convenient online degrees, which use interactive courses that still meet Louisiana Tech's academic standards.

At the undergraduate level, Louisiana Tech offers a variety of programs, including an online bachelor's degree in health informatics and information management. Graduate students can earn master's degrees in engineering, English, history, and health informatics. Louisiana Tech also offers an online MBA program.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
54%
Percent Receiving Loans
32%
Admissions Rate
63%
Online Enrollment
14%
17

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

Champaign, IL Apply Now

About this school

At U of I, students can choose from over 100 online degrees and programs. The public university also offers more than 1,700 individual online courses to help learners advance their education with added convenience.

In the college of liberal arts and sciences, online learners can pursue degrees in topics like sustainability, with multiple concentration options. At the graduate level, learners can study business, engineering, and education. U of I also offers an online MBA program for business professionals seeking career advancement. The same faculty members teach both online and on-campus courses.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
84%
Percent Receiving Loans
35%
Admissions Rate
62%
Online Enrollment
35%
18

Georgia College & State University 

Milledgeville, GA Apply Now

About this school

Founded in 1889, Georgia College is a public, degree-granting institution that offers online programs with a professional focus. With graduate options in business, healthcare, and education, the online university offers career advancement opportunities and a flexible delivery method.

In the college of arts and sciences, graduate students can earn a degree in music education, criminal justice, or public administration. The college of business offers an online MBA and master's programs in logistics and management information systems. Its college of education offers educational leadership programs, and advanced practice nurses can develop their skills through the college of health sciences.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
64%
Percent Receiving Loans
44%
Admissions Rate
78%
Online Enrollment
25%
19

Truman State University 

Kirksville, MO Apply Now

About this school

Named for President Harry Truman, Truman in Kirksville, Missouri, ranks among the best online colleges, thanks to its slate of online courses. The university encourages active learning in its online classes, strengthening problem-solving skills. Truman emphasizes interdisciplinary connections and a well-rounded educational foundation, taking a liberal arts approach to the online format.

In addition to dozens of online class options for degree-seeking students, Truman also offers an online graduate certificate in data science. Distance learners can access counseling services, a writing center, and tutoring support.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
72%
Percent Receiving Loans
39%
Admissions Rate
65%
Online Enrollment
12%
20

University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point 

Stevens Point, WI Apply Now

About this school

Located in the heart of Wisconsin, UWSP emphasizes critical thinking and sustainable living. Founded in 1894, UWSP now offers flexible, online programs. Distance learners can earn accredited degrees, enroll in online courses, and pursue continuing education options at UWSP.

At the undergraduate level, online students can major in applied computing, nursing, health and wellness management, or health information management. Graduate-level enrollees can study biotechnology, data science, education, leadership, or healthcare administration, all online. Prospective students must apply to UWSP before enrolling in online courses.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
62%
Percent Receiving Loans
61%
Admissions Rate
83%
Online Enrollment
36%
21

California State University-Bakersfield 

Bakersfield, CA Apply Now

About this school

This public institution in the Central Valley offers online programs for working professionals that integrate networking opportunities and academic support. With fully online and hybrid options, the online university's flexible formatting helps working students reach their educational goals.

CSUB offers fully online bachelor's programs in communications and sociology and online master's degrees in management, education, or kinesiology. CSUB also offers an online MBA degree and hybrid programs in education, nursing, and social work.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
42%
Percent Receiving Loans
34%
Admissions Rate
23%
Online Enrollment
41%
22

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater 

Whitewater, WI Apply Now

About this school

This public institution is one of the top-ranked online colleges, offering flexible online degrees. The school's asynchronous class format allows learners to arrange coursework around their schedules.

At the undergraduate level, students can major in applied arts and sciences, economics, finance, business, or liberal studies. Other online options include degrees in political science, occupational safety, and special education.

At the graduate level, UW-Whitewater offers an online MBA program and master's degrees in business analytics, communication, cybersecurity, and environmental safety and health. Distance learners receive the same diplomas as on-campus students, and UW-Whitewater charges a flat tuition rate for most online students, regardless of state residency.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
58%
Percent Receiving Loans
58%
Admissions Rate
76%
Online Enrollment
34%
23

Georgia Southern University 

Statesboro, GA Apply Now

About this school

Established more than 100 years ago, Georgia Southern is a public research university offering online degrees in an asynchronous class format.

Fully-online undergraduate programs include modern languages, interdisciplinary studies, information technology, and criminal justice and criminology degrees as well as an RN to BSN program. Most undergraduate degree programs require 124 credit hours and a capstone project or an exit exam.

In addition, Georgia Southern offers online master's programs, including master's degrees in computer science, criminal justice and criminology, and public health; several business and health master's degrees and 20 degrees in the college of education.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
50%
Percent Receiving Loans
53%
Admissions Rate
68%
Online Enrollment
35%
24

University of Arkansas 

Fayetteville, AR Apply Now

About this school

Founded in 1871, U of A is a public research institution comprising 10 colleges and schools. It offers 9 bachelor's degrees that are available entirely online.

Online bachelor's options include communication, general business, supply chain management, nursing, and human resource degrees. Most bachelor's programs require 120 credits and take four years to complete.

U of A also offers online master's degrees in fields like education, science, and social work, plus doctoral degrees in education and nursing practice. Certification and licensure programs are also available online. Fully online students are eligible for in-state tuition regardless of their state of residency.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
66%
Percent Receiving Loans
37%
Admissions Rate
77%
Online Enrollment
27%
25

The University of West Florida 

Pensacola, FL Apply Now

About this school

UWF has awarded more than 100,000 degrees in its more than 50-year history as a public university. Today, UWF offers 14 bachelor's degrees online, as well as 25 master's degrees.

Bachelor's degree options include accounting, health science, maritime studies, and psychology. Online master's degree options include accountancy, computer science, English, curriculum and instruction, political science, and healthcare administration. UWF's online criminal justice program is an accelerated bachelor's-to-master's program, which saves students 12 credits.

Online courses at UWF typically run 8-16 weeks. Undergraduate degrees require up to 132 credits, and students typically complete their degrees in 2-4 years.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
44%
Percent Receiving Loans
64%
Admissions Rate
42%
Online Enrollment
63%
👏

End of list, bravo!

Ranking Methodology
Best Online Colleges & Universities badge

Online College Ranking Guidelines

Our ranking methodology includes a blend of data analysis and research (in areas such as academic excellence, strength of faculty, reputation, affordability, and range of degree programs), as well as the combined professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board. All of the online colleges and universities listed are regionally accredited, nonprofit, and offer a range of online degree programs. Our goal is to identify and rank the best accredited online colleges available to ensure the greatest satisfaction among online students.

The Best Colleges in the US By State

What Is an Online College?

An online college lets students complete degrees through an online learning format. Online colleges offer associate degrees, bachelor's degrees, and graduate degrees in many fields. Students can pursue degrees in business, education, healthcare, or engineering through online colleges. During an online degree, learners complete coursework by watching recorded lectures, participating in discussion boards, and taking online examinations.

Online programs help professionals advance or change their careers while working full time. Students with personal or family obligations may also prefer the flexibility of an online college.

Many traditional colleges offer online enrollment options for students. When offered by accredited institutions, these online programs meet the same standards as on-campus programs.

Campus vs. Online Programs

Online programs offer several advantages over on-campus programs. Asynchronous online courses, which do not require set class times, offer schedule flexibility compared to traditional on-campus courses. The flexible schedule of an online program appeals to working professionals and busy students balancing school with other responsibilities. Many learners can also save on tuition, commuting, and transportation costs by choosing an online degree.

Some learners prefer the interactive nature of on-campus programs. However, many online programs incorporate discussion boards, group projects, and other interactive elements to connect students. Online programs that require lab or practicum components often let students meet those requirements at local sites. For example, online nursing programs often use local clinical placements. Some online colleges may require on-campus orientations or residencies.

Choosing an Online Program

There are several factors to consider when evaluating an online college. For example, students should research the total cost of the degree, any on-campus requirements, and concentration options to find a program that fits their goals and needs. Learn more about how to choose an online degree below.

How To Choose Your Major

Financing Your College Degree

Many online learners pay for their degrees through a mix of scholarships, grants, and loans. Online students qualify for many of the same financial aid options as traditional students, including federal financial aid. In addition to the following options, students can consider scholarships and grants offered by their institutions, or they can look into employee tuition reimbursement programs.

  • Federal Financial Aid: The federal government offers grants, loans, and other financial aid to support students attending accredited online colleges. Students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year to qualify for federal financial aid.
  • Scholarships and Grants: Many professional organizations offer scholarships and grants to support students. Eligibility requirements may include membership in a certain demographic group or a particular major.
  • Private Student Loans: Online students can apply for private student loans offered by banks and other financial institutions.
  • Work-Study Programs: The federal government's work-study program supports students by giving them part-time positions while they complete their degrees.

Learn more about how to apply for student loans or fill out the FAFSA to apply for federal financial aid.

Ask an Expert

Image of Dr. Joanna Bauer

Dr. Joanna Bauer is vice president of academic affairs and chief academic officer for Claremont Lincoln University. She believes in the value of learning and the intersection of ethical leadership, sustainable solutions and social change. Dr. Bauer has held a variety of academic administrative positions, teaching onground and online for 20 years in the areas of communication, leadership, critical thinking, conflict resolution, research, marketing, sociology, and behavioral science.

Dr. Bauer has developed faculty mentoring programs, teaching and learning centers, and student success initiatives. She has recieved 15 awards, including Outstanding Faculty, Outstanding Public Service, Excellence in Curriculum Development and Classroom Innovation, and Excellence in Mentorship.

Preferred Pronouns: She/They

What unique opportunities are available to students who study online?

Online education that has a robust, peer-to-peer learning environment, such as what we provide at Claremont Lincoln University, gives students a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the content and participate in cohorts.

With the need of students to support work/life balance, yet engage in education that fits their schedules, online delivery is a superior choice. The flexibility of when and where to learn is literally at their fingertips. Students can travel, work, parent, set their own timelines and agenda, organize and prioritize their time, build relationships with classmates, and apply studies right away into professional and personal contexts.

What should students interested in studying online know or consider before applying?

Online learning allows students to earn the same credentials and degrees as they would with face-to-face learning and often helps to improve writing, critical thinking, and professional skills in organization, time management, and self-motivation.

Potential online students should research schools that develop courses based on sound online teaching practices (peer-to-peer exchanges, innovative course design, leveraging instructional design practices, etc.) instead of those that simply take the face-to-face course and convert it to an online format.

To be an effective online student, learners must have the ability to synthesize information individually, which happens predominantly through reading or watching videos. Some questions learners can ask themselves include: How much do I like being with other people? Do I need face time with my instructor? Am I self-motivated? How do I handle challenges? Am I comfortable building community in online spaces? Can I communicate well through email and Zoom?

It is important to note that whether online or face to face, students still have access to student and academic support resources, along with support from the faculty member.

What skills or habits help students who choose to study online be successful?

One of the best aspects of online learning is the flexibility and how busy people can mold their schedules to fit daily life. Other skills or habits include being able to self-start, even when things are boring or challenging; being able to connect while learning primarily with the written word; being willing to take creative/academic risks and learn new skills; and being willing to meet people with a wider diversity than in a given geographic or professional context.

For organization of the coursework, it is helpful to have a course calendar and add everything in the calendar with reminders (not forgetting reading and reflection time).

What makes online degrees valuable from an employer's perspective?

Beyond the programmatic content, there are specialized skills that online learners develop because of the increased diverse nature of the cohort, as well as the professional skills needed to be successful.

Online degrees show employers that students are patient, motivated, self-directed, independent, and self-disciplined. Online students need to be able to communicate in a variety of ways to diverse audiences, including written and presentation skills, and this translates directly to the workplace in meetings, emails, videos, and the like.

Another big one is collaborating with peers and teams in the workplace. They can also learn skills such as self-starting, encouraging innovation, willingness to embrace change, willingness to grow as a writer, willingness to be in community with diverse viewpoints, and a high motivation to follow through. All of these make for exceptional, creative, and collaborative team members, no matter the context.

Do students with an online degree have the same opportunities as students who study in traditional brick-and-mortar settings?

Definitely, and in fact probably more, in terms of participation, communication, and diversity.

Instead of a classroom with students from the same campus, online students have the opportunity to actively interact with a much broader group. This means developing and improving the skills of cultural competence, emotional intelligence, mindfulness, dialogue, collaboration, conflict resolution, embracing diverse ideologies, and new ways of thinking about law, policy, gender, education, and civic spaces. They also typically have access to a wider variety of faculty.

Additionally, in many brick-and-mortar classes, the emphasis is on "sage on the stage," or lecture learning, where a student can hide in the back of the large room and not participate. In online courses with discussions, students must participate in the discussion.

These communication skills are invaluable in the workplace and beyond. For job opportunities, brick-and-mortar students have to prove academic chops, plus digital and soft skills. Online students demonstrate mastery or near-mastery of both by virtue of how and where they studied.

In the past, online education was not accepted as widely as traditional academic institutions, but since COVID-19, online learning is gaining new support from many of those skeptics, who are now embracing it because it complements the work-from-home procedures that many had previously disliked.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online Degree Program?

Earning an online bachelor's degree typically takes four years, while most master's programs take two years. Some online schools offer accelerated pathways to degrees, which reduce completion times.

What Can I Do With an Online Degree?

Graduates with an online degree can pursue careers in fields like business, education, and healthcare. An online degree from an accredited institution meets the same licensure and certification requirements as an on-campus degree.

How Is Online College Different From On-Campus College?

Students enrolled in online courses often complete coursework on their own schedules rather than attending class at a set time, though some online programs still run synchronously. However, the material, instructors, and requirements are often the same in online and on-campus programs.

Are Online Courses Harder?

Some students find online courses harder than in-person courses, especially if they have trouble focusing or staying self-motivated. Many online schools offer resources to help students transition to an online learning format.

Are Online Degrees Recognized?

Yes. Online degrees earned at an accredited online college meet the same academic standards as on-campus programs. They also meet the same licensure requirements, unless otherwise stated.

Are There Year-Round Online Programs?

Yes. Many online schools operate on a year-round schedule, including summer terms, to help students earn their degrees faster. Most online colleges offer multiple start dates throughout the year.

Do My Credits Transfer to an Online College?

Credits earned from a regionally accredited institution usually transfer to online colleges. Some online colleges also offer credit for work experience, military training, or prior learning.

Take the next step toward your future with online learning.

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.

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