The Best Online Colleges in California

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Online colleges in California allow students in the nation's most populated state to pursue the college experience that best suits their needs.

Approximately 3 million learners attend one of California's public colleges and universities each year, according to the state's Public Policy Institute. Community colleges and private institutions also see strong numbers, and have begun to broaden their distance offerings, allowing students to attend a California college online.

California is home to a variety of popular schools as well as a few lesser-known options that offer quality programming. California's workforce is both strong and competitive, meaning that learners need to set themselves apart by acquiring additional skills and credentials.

Selecting the best school and program goes a long way in this regard, but the sheer number of available opportunities can make the decision difficult. Our guide to the best online colleges in California is designed to help prospective learners assess their options and select the program that best meets their needs. It also answers a few common questions about online college in California and offers a ranking of 25 of the best schools and programs in California.

Top 10 Online Colleges in California 2020

#1 San Diego State University San Diego, CA
#2 Biola University La Mirada, CA
#3 Mount Saint Mary's University Los Angeles, CA
#4 California State University-Northridge Northridge, CA
#5 Azusa Pacific University Azusa, CA
#6 California State University-Chico Chico, CA
#7 California Baptist University Riverside, CA
#8 University of La Verne La Verne, CA
#9 California State University-Sacramento Sacramento, CA
#10 California State University-Stanislaus Turlock, CA

The Best Online Colleges in California

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4

California State University-Northridge 

Northridge, CA

About this school

California State University, Northridge, has promoted the welfare and intellectual development of its learners since 1958. The public institution offers comprehensive programming to nearly 40,000 degree-seekers each year. One of the largest single-campus schools in the U.S., CSUN fosters an active, inclusive learning environment.

CSUN offers online bachelor's degrees in areas like public sector management and liberal studies. The school administers both of these offerings as degree-completion programs for learners with previous college credit. Each program requires 120 credits, which most degree-seekers complete in two years. Both programs use a cohort model, meaning students progress through coursework with the same group of peers throughout the program.

Learners take synchronous and asynchronous courses that promote flexible, collaborative learning. Potential classes include organizational management, policy analysis, business rhetoric, and cultural theory.

Applicants need at least 60 transferable credits with a minimum cumulative 2.0 GPA. These credits must cover written and oral communication, critical thinking, and quantitative reasoning. International students must also supply recent TOEFL test scores.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
54%
Online Enrollment
32%
5

Azusa Pacific University 

Azusa, CA

About this school

Established as a Christian training school in 1899, Azusa Pacific University values community, service, and scholarship. The private, nonprofit school operates 10 schools and colleges that offer over 100 programs, including degrees in finance, business, science, and the arts.

APU offers online bachelor's degrees in business administration, nursing, criminal justice, and psychology. Requirements vary by program, but each degree comprises 120 total credits. The degree-completion programs in business, psychology, and criminal justice require at least 15 transfer credits, but learners can transfer up to 70 credits toward the degree. The RN-to-BSN program requires an active RN license.

The fully online programs feature asynchronous courses. Each course of study involves practical experiences designed to integrate conceptual knowledge with practical skill.

Degree-seekers interested in attending this online school in California must submit official transcripts, recent SAT/ACT scores, recommendation letters, and a brief personal statement.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
63%
Online Enrollment
58%
6

California State University-Chico 

Chico, CA

About this school

A public institution, California State University, Chico, has provided quality programs since it was founded as a normal school for teachers. Established by legislative action in 1887, Chico State is the second-oldest campus in the California State University system. The school offers traditional and online programs in over 100 areas of study.

Chico State offers fully online bachelor's degrees in social science, liberal studies, religious studies, and sociology. These degree-completion programs focus on upper-level coursework with the expectation that learners have already completed general education requirements.

New degree-seekers can begin these programs during the fall or spring terms. Applicants must submit transcripts with a competitive GPA. The school also requires SAT/ACT scores, two recommendations, and verification of citizenship.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
66%
Online Enrollment
47%
7

California Baptist University 

Riverside, CA

About this school

California Baptist University is a private, liberal arts institution affiliated with the California Southern Baptist Convention. Founded in 1950, the school integrates academic rigor with spiritual and social development. CBU's programs teach versatile, transferable skills grounded in the Christian faith.

CBU offers over 20 online bachelor's degrees in areas like accounting, human services, marketing, public health, and organizational leadership. Designed for busy learners with previous college experience, each program requires 40-50 core major credits, which many degree-seekers complete in 16 months or less. CBU meets all legal requirements for delivering online education in 37 U.S. states.

Courses last eight weeks and include recorded lectures, threaded discussion boards, and interactive video conferences. Students have access to a 24/7 academic success center and a career services center.

Applicants need a high school diploma or GED with a minimum 2.0 GPA. They must also submit transcripts and consult with one of CBU's academic advisors.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
55%
Online Enrollment
67%
8

University of La Verne 

La Verne, CA

About this school

Formed by members of the Church of the Brethren in 1891, the University of La Verne promotes ethical reasoning, civic engagement, and lifelong learning. Composed of four schools and colleges, the private, nonprofit institution hosts seven regional campuses in southern California. La Verne offers on-campus and distance learning opportunities to over 8,000 degree-seekers each year.

The school offers online bachelor's degrees in business administration, criminology, educational studies, information technology, public administration, and organizational management. Credit requirements vary, but most programs require 40-78 credits, depending on transfer pathways.

La Verne administers these accelerated programs entirely online through an innovative digital learning environment. Students can transfer up to 88 credits toward their degrees. Applicants must be at least 25 years old with previous college credits. They must also submit transcripts.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
69%
Online Enrollment
72%
9

California State University-Sacramento 

Sacramento, CA

About this school

California State University, Sacramento, emphasizes philanthropy, public safety, and student success. Established as a junior college in 1947, Sac State now offers comprehensive programming in over 150 areas of study. The public institution also works to improve the region through environmental research and entrepreneurship.

In addition to several hybrid programs, Sac State grants fully online bachelor's degrees in criminal justice and career and technical studies. Both courses of study cater to busy learners and working professionals, sometimes offering course credit for work experience. These degree-completion programs require 39-48 credits, which many students complete in two years while maintaining their employment.

Students take eight-week courses that use a mostly synchronous format. Courses cover topics like instructional design, career development, crime and punishment, social science research methods, and investigative techniques.

Applicants need significant prior credits and at least seven years of professional experience. They must also submit unofficial academic transcripts, a recent resume, and a work verification letter.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
51%
Online Enrollment
33%
10

California State University-Stanislaus 

Turlock, CA

About this school

California State University, Stanislaus, is a public research institution that enrolls over 10,000 degree-seekers each year. The school's 228-acre suburban campus consists of four divisions: business, education, science, and the arts.

Stan State offers online degrees, including an online bachelor of arts in gender studies and an online bachelor's degree-completion program in nursing. The gender studies program requires 120 credits and offers concentrations in history, society, and inequality; culture, ideology, and representation; and ethnicity, nationality, and sexuality. The gender studies program uses a mix of synchronous and asynchronous coursework.

Nursing students take flexible, asynchronous courses that allow them to continue working while earning the degree. Nursing applicants need a current nursing license and at least 60 transferable credits with a minimum 2.75 GPA.

Applicants to the gender studies program need a high school diploma and recent SAT/ACT test scores. They also need a minimum 2.0 GPA on any transfer credits.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
58%
Online Enrollment
29%
11

Concordia University-Irvine 

Irvine, CA

About this school

Managed by a private education system based in St. Louis, Missouri, Concordia University Irvine is affiliated with the Lutheran Church. Ninety-eight percent of its nearly 4,000 students receive some form of financial aid each year.

CUI offers 120-credit, online bachelor's degrees in business administration and leadership, Christian education leadership, healthcare management, leadership studies, and organizational psychology. The Christian education leadership program offers a pathway to professional certification. Some courses feature an asynchronous format, while others meet biweekly with live lectures and discussion components.

Prospective degree-seekers must hold an accredited associate degree with a minimum 2.4 GPA and submit official academic transcripts and a 500-word statement of intent. Additional program-specific requirements may also apply.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
63%
Online Enrollment
63%
12

William Jessup University 

Rocklin, CA

About this school

William Jessup University is a private, nondenominational Christian institution that helps students develop core skills in quantitative reasoning, communication, and critical thinking.

Jessup offers online bachelor's programs in psychology, business, computer science, criminal justice, and healthcare administration. Unlike many other online schools in California, Jessup does not require transfer credits or an associate degree. Each program requires 128 credits, which most degree-seekers complete in four years or less.

All programs use a cohort model, meaning learners progress through coursework with the same group of peers throughout the program. Seasoned faculty facilitate all learning experiences through seven-week sessions. Degree-seekers gain access to Jessup's library resources, success center, and career planning department.

Applicants need a high school diploma or equivalent. They must also supply a personal essay, letters of recommendation, and a professional resume. Students can transfer up to 90 credits toward their degrees.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
59%
Online Enrollment
70%
13

Touro University Worldwide 

Los Alamitos, CA

About this school

Touro University Worldwide is the online division of the larger Touro College and University System. Founded in 2008, TUW offers affordable and accessible educational opportunities rooted in the Judaic tradition. The school serves over 19,000 degree-seekers annually.

TUW offers 120-credit, online bachelor's degrees in psychology, social work, business administration and management, and health sciences. The health sciences program offers concentrations in healthcare administration, health education, and long-term care administration.

Most learners graduate in just over three years. The fully online programs primarily feature eight-week courses. Applicants must hold a high school diploma or GED and submit transcripts indicating a minimum 2.0 GPA. Students can transfer up to 90 credits toward their degrees.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
50%
Online Enrollment
23%
14

California State University-Channel Islands 

Camarillo, CA

About this school

Founded in 2002, California State University, Channel Islands, operates a scientific research station on the Channel Islands and focuses many of its efforts on biological conservation. CSUCI supports learners through interdisciplinary instruction and multicultural engagement.

CSUCI offers online bachelor's degrees in nursing and business administration. The business program is a degree-completion program that features asynchronous eight-week courses. Potential course topics include business finance, principles of marketing, and entrepreneurial management.

CSUCI's RN-to-BSN program combines online coursework with in-person clinical requirements. Most learners complete the program in just over one year. Applicants must hold an active RN license and satisfy course prerequisites in anatomy and physiology.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
55%
Online Enrollment
50%
15

California State University-East Bay 

Hayward, CA

About this school

California State University, East Bay, boasts one of the most diverse student populations in the country. Established as a state college in 1957, the public research institution offers over 125 undergraduate programs.

An early online education adopter, Cal State East Bay confers fully online bachelor's degrees in over 15 areas of study, including business, gender studies, hospitality and tourism, human development, and recreation administration.

Most of these programs require 120 credits. Learners studying hospitality and tourism can specialize in event planning, lodging, or food and beverage. The business, gender studies, and human development programs also offer specializations that let students tailor the degree to their interests.

Applicants need at least 60 transfer credits with a minimum 2.0 GPA. All applicants must also consult with a Cal State admissions representative prior to matriculation.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
48%
Online Enrollment
37%
16

California State University-Monterey Bay 

Seaside, CA

About this school

California State University, Monterey Bay, is a public research institution that hosts nearly 7,000 degree-seekers each year through programs in science, technology, business, and the humanities.

CSUMB offers a variety of online programs. For example, its School of Computing and Design offers a fully online bachelor's degree-completion program in computer science. The program uses a cohort model, meaning students move through the program with the same group of peers. Students take synchronous courses built around regular video conferences with faculty and colleagues.

Courses cover topics like internet programming, database systems, and data science and intersectionality in the digital world. Learners can begin the program during the spring or fall. Many degree-seekers complete the 13-course program in two years or less. Graduates can pursue careers as developers, software engineers, and technology project managers.

Applicants need at least 60 transferable credits earned at an accredited institution with a minimum 2.0 GPA.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
60%
Online Enrollment
50%
17

California State University-San Bernardino 

San Bernardino, CA

About this school

Established in 1965, California State University, San Bernardino, promotes integrity, social justice, and student success. The school confers over 125 bachelor's degrees in a variety of disciplines, including online programs.

CSUSM offers a fully online bachelor's degree-completion program in criminal justice and a hybrid bridge program in nursing. Designed for learners with some academic experience, the criminal justice program focuses on corrections law enforcement, victimization, and terrorism. Applicants need at least 60 transferable credits that satisfy the school's prerequisite requirements.

The hybrid RN-to-BSN program combines online study with face-to-face interaction. Approximately 80% of the program's requirements can be completed online. Learners study topics like disease and injury prevention, care across the lifespan, professional ethics, and healthcare policy. Applicants need an active RN license and transferable credits in microbiology, chemistry, and human physiology and anatomy.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
57%
Online Enrollment
29%
18

Simpson University 

Redding, CA

About this school

Simpson University is a private, Christian institution established in 1921. Originally formed as a Bible college in Seattle, Washington, SU now serves over 1,000 learners from its main campus along the Sacramento River in California. The school values accountability, community, excellence, and service.

SU offers online bachelor's degree-completion programs, including programs in psychology and organizational leadership. Designed for students with some work experience and a strong interest in interdisciplinary study, these programs require 12 courses and a capstone portfolio. Most degree-seekers graduate in 12-16 months.

Learners can take one five-week course at a time using the school's intuitive learning management system. Possible course topics include ethics in human relationships, social psychology, and theories of personality.

Applicants need at least 60 transferable credits earned at an accredited institution. They must also submit transcripts with a minimum 2.5 GPA, professional references, and a personal statement of commitment.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
60%
Online Enrollment
62%
19

California State University-San Marcos 

San Marcos, CA

About this school

California State University, San Marcos, is a public research school that provides exemplary teaching through innovative curricula and interactive technologies. The school's 340-acre suburban campus consists of four colleges that administer over 100 programs of study.

CSUSM offers fully online bachelor's degrees, including degrees in fire protection services, sociology, and nursing. The nursing and sociology programs feature accelerated, eight-week courses and multiple start dates per year. Nursing applicants need an active RN license.

CSUSM sets itself apart from other online schools in California by offering a unique fire protection services degree, the only program of its kind in the state. Created with working and aspiring firefighters in mind, the program covers topics like wildland urban interfaces, fire laws and public safety, mental health, and fire ecology. Applicants need at least 60 transfer credits.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
55%
Online Enrollment
37%
20

California State University-Dominguez Hills 

Carson, CA

About this school

Located in the heart of Los Angeles, California State University, Dominguez Hills, serves nearly 20,000 degree-seekers each year through programs in business, human services, arts, and the humanities. The public research institution comprises six colleges, including an extended education school that focuses on innovative distance learning experiences.

CSUDH offers online bachelor's degrees in nursing, applied studies, and quality assurance. These degree-completion programs require a significant number of transfer credits. The quality assurance and applied studies degrees blend psychology, business, and manufacturing, preparing students for careers in strategic communication and operations management.

The RN-to-BSN program features flexible, asynchronous coursework. The curriculum covers topics like pathophysiology, health assessment skills, and healthcare informatics. Applicants must meet course prerequisites and have an active nursing license and at least 60 relevant transfer credits earned at an accredited institution.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
45%
Online Enrollment
21%
21

San Diego Christian College 

Santee, CA

About this school

A private, evangelical Christian university, San Diego Christian College fosters an integrative learning environment where degree-seekers can cultivate professional expertise. Established in 1970 by local religious leaders, SDC offers 35 undergraduate and graduate programs in the arts, science, and education, including online programs.

SDC offers online bachelor's degrees in business management, Christian ministries, communication, human development, leadership, and psychology. Each program requires 120 credits, which most degree-seekers complete in four years or less. Some programs, like business management, also have options for minors and specializations. Degree-seekers can select from 10 different start dates throughout the year.

Applicants must submit official college transcripts verifying a competitive GPA. Those with fewer than 24 transfer credits must provide high school transcripts. Candidates must also submit a short essay.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
44%
Online Enrollment
64%
22

Hope International University 

Fullerton, CA

About this school

Founded in 1928 as a Bible seminary, Hope International University empowers learners through academic programs and professional training initiatives. The private, nonprofit school is affiliated with the Church of Christ.

HIU offers online bachelor's degrees, including degrees in criminal justice, business administration, Christian ministry, and human development. The school also offers an online bachelor's program in liberal studies with an emphasis on teacher preparation in K-12 contexts. Learners in the human development program can choose from concentrations in behavioral psychology, mental health and counseling, family studies, addiction studies, or graduate studies.

All programs feature flexible, asynchronous coursework. Applicants must submit a 250-word essay and transcripts demonstrating a minimum 2.5 GPA. The essay should discuss the applicant's strengths and weaknesses along with their intentions for pursuing a degree. HIU maintains articulation agreements with a variety of online colleges in California to facilitate seamless transfers.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
44%
Online Enrollment
79%
23

National University 

La Jolla, CA

About this school

National University is a private, nonprofit institution founded in 1971 by retired military leaders and local business officials. The university hosts 20,000 undergraduate and graduate learners each year through six schools and colleges.

Degree-seekers can choose from over 80 online bachelor's degrees in areas like digital media design, sociology, strategic communications, and allied health. Each program requires 180 quarter credits split between general education and major requirements. NU delivers courses in convenient, four-week sessions using cutting-edge technologies. Courses feature an asynchronous format and begin monthly.

The school offers rolling admissions. Admission requirements include official academic transcripts and biographical information. Additional program-specific requirements may also apply.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
36%
24

Bethesda University 

Anaheim, CA

About this school

Loma Linda University offers undergraduate and graduate programs in behavioral medicine and allied health. Established in 1905, the private, nonprofit institution maintains affiliation with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, preparing learners to assist underserved populations throughout the world.

LLU administers online bachelor's degrees in advanced practitioner respiratory care, healthcare administration, health information administration, and radiation sciences. The school also offers an online RN-to-BSN program. These programs build on learners' previous professional experience to develop core skills in health and human services.

Some of LLU's programs, like those in nursing and radiation sciences, offer clear pathways to professional certification in addition to a bachelor's degree. These additional credentials help degree-seekers deepen their skill sets, qualifying them for broader job opportunities.

Applicants must submit official academic transcripts and at least three personal recommendation letters. In some cases, they must also complete an interview and verify community service or professional experience hours.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
18%
Online Enrollment
26%
25

Loma Linda University 

Loma Linda, CA

About this school

Established in 1901, Golden Gate University is a private, nonprofit school that promotes inclusivity and diversity. The school hosts over 5,000 students each year through four academic schools and colleges.

GGU offers online bachelor's degrees in business and management to qualified learners. Both programs feature a variety of concentrations. Business students can focus on accounting, data analytics, or public administration, while management students can specialize in marketing, human resource management, or information technology.

Both programs require 123 credits, including general education, major, and elective requirements. Possible course topics include management principles, marketing strategy, contract law, and organizational leadership. Seasoned industry professionals facilitate all learning experiences.

Applicants must submit transcripts, a resume demonstrating at least three years of relevant professional experience, and a personal statement that speaks to their career goals and readiness for study.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Online Enrollment
59%
👏

End of list, bravo!

Ranking Methodology
Best Online Colleges

Online Colleges in California Ranking Guidelines

We selected the online schools in California based on the quality of their programs, types of courses and degrees offered, and faculty strengths, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation, including a strong reputation for online degree programs.

Employment in California

Educational attainment and gainful employment go hand in hand. Understanding which job sectors enjoy the most demand can help prospective learners choose a major that will pay off. According to the California Employment Development Department, trade and transportation, education, healthcare, and business and professional services are the top industries in the Golden State.

These sectors see the most localized demand, employ the highest concentration of workers, and promise industry growth in coming years. As the table below indicates, these industries also support some of the highest-paying and fastest-growing occupations in California. Those interested in medicine and nursing in particular will continue to see especially favorable conditions.

Aspiring professionals should weigh these trends against additional factors, like cost of living and unemployment rates. While recent BLS data lists California's unemployment rate at just 3.9%, its cost of living exceeds the national average by nearly 50% due to housing expenses. This means that while incoming learners and recent graduates should fare well in the workforce, they need to make smart and informed decisions in order to take advantage of job opportunities that do not jeopardize their finances.

Highest Paying Careers
Career Salary Projected Job Growth (2016-2026)
Anesthesiologists $288,420 11.5%
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons $264,380 N/A
Psychiatrists $255,790 11.1%
Chief Executives $228,270 -2.3%
Surgeons $221,490 11.5%
Source: BLS, ProjectionsCentral
Fastest Growing Careers
Career Salary Projected Job Growth (2016-2026)
Solar Photovoltaic Installers $46,390 130.6%
Home Health Aides $33,680 41.0%
Software Developers, Applications $127,950 40.1%
Personal Care Aides $27,210 39.9%
Nurse Practitioners $133,780 35.1%
Source: BLS, ProjectionsCentral

Associate and Graduate Degrees

Associate programs help prepare learners for more focused study and often act as stepping stones to bachelor's degrees. Graduate programs work similarly: After baccalaureate graduation, some degree-seekers proceed to further advanced study. This route hones existing skills, develops additional areas of expertise, and qualifies learners for a broader, more lucrative set of job opportunities.

Most colleges and universities in California now offer online options at every level of educational attainment.

Most colleges and universities in California now offer online options at every level of educational attainment. This means that prospective students can feasibly complete their entire education using more convenient methods. Many schools extend associate degrees by offering built-in pathways to undergraduate and graduate study. Learners who take full advantage of these benefits may be able to reduce their total time spent in school.

Business management, nursing, and criminal justice are among the most common fields of study in this regard. Many online colleges in California offer associate and graduate programs in these areas. Unlike traditional on-campus programs, these opportunities do not involve travel or relocation and administer most if not all requirements online. Some schools may even offer opportunities for internships or field placements within degree-seekers' own communities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Online College Cheaper in California?

California is not the most expensive state for college, but median tuition rates do exceed the national average. The National Center for Education Statistics provides a handy table with recent expense figures.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Degree in California?

This depends on prior academic experience and current work commitments. Those with transfer credits finish faster, while those beginning study from the ground up take longer. Most undergraduate students graduate in 3-5 years.

Does an Online Degree Have the Same Value as an On-Campus Degree?

Yes! Most of the online schools in California listed in our ranking use the same faculty, share the same learning objectives, and award the same diplomas as on-campus offerings.

Is California a Good State for Higher Education?

It is. California is home to a number of reputable institutions, including one of the largest public university systems in the country (California State University). It continues to expand financial aid opportunities as well as distance learning options.

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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