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Online Degrees at Ivy League Schools
Do any Ivy League schools offer online degrees? Yes, and the number of online degrees that you can earn at the Ivy League level continues to grow. However, there are some limitations, especially where online bachelor’s degrees are concerned. We explore both the opportunities and limitations.
Online college is growing in popularity. Even more importantly though, online college is growing in credibility. For proof, look no further than the Ivy League. As the nation’s most selective colleges and universities open up to the concept of online courses and online degrees, even the Ivy Leagues are taking the virtual plunge. Most Ivy League universities offer some online courses. And if you’re up for the challenge, some of these vaunted universities offer access to fully online master’s degrees. In fact, you could earn an Ivy League MBA or an Ivy League MSW entirely online. Up until this point however, it has not been possible to earn an Ivy League bachelor’s degree online. That’s about to change.
The Best Ivy League Online Schools
1. Brown University
2. Columbia University
3. Cornell University
4. Dartmouth College
5. Harvard University
6. Princeton University
7. University of Pennsylvania
8. Yale University
Opportunities to earn online credits and even full degrees from the most selective schools in the country continue to grow. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can all suddenly qualify for a Harvard education. However, it does mean that more academically qualified students than ever before — especially working adults and non-traditional students — could have a chance to experience Ivy League courses, engage Ivy League classmates and professors, and even earn Ivy League online degrees.
The Ivy League is the nation’s most exclusive club of universities. The eight schools comprising the Ivy League — Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale — are among the oldest and most well-regarded universities in the U.S. While each of these eight schools has its own identity, culture, and areas of specialization, they do share a storied educational tradition.
This suggests that any steps the Ivies take toward standardizing online education are also steps that online education takes toward greater credibility. In other words, if online college is good enough for the Ivy Leagues, it should be good enough for pretty much anybody.
That said, these eight great universities have adopted online courses and degree programs with caution. Over its first 20 years of evolution, online education has crept slowly into the Ivy League, largely in the form of blended learning — offering students access to some online courses alongside traditional on-campus programs. Some of these universities have also created highly accessible pathways to Ivy League instruction — if not actual colleges credits — through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
And if you’re interested in earning a degree entirely online, you do have a few Ivy League options…that is, as long as you’re a graduate student. As a grad student, you may be eligible to earn a full online degree from an Ivy League university. Of course, it’s still the Ivy Leagues, so you’ll have to be an excellent candidate. But if you are, you may be able to find an Ivy League master’s online program that matches your discipline. As for ambitious undergraduates who intend to earn a fully online bachelor’s degree, you must look beyond the Ivy League, at least for now.
But stay tuned, because one Ivy League university is venturing into the unchartered waters of online undergraduate degree granting, and perhaps taking a boatload of excellent but underserved students with it.
On the Whole, I’d Rather Be in Philadelphia
Since the Fall semester of 2019, students have earned bachelor degrees from the University of Pennsylvania without setting foot in the City of Brotherly Love. In September of 2018, University of Pennsylvania announced that it would become the very first Ivy League university to offer a fully online bachelor’s degree program.
But it’s not just any bachelor’s degree. The Penn LPS Online Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences (BAAS) is a liberal arts program tailor-made for working adults and other non-traditional learners who are drawn to the convenience and flexibility of an online education. The program focuses on career enhancement and offers students a curriculum that integrates professional and academic coursework.
The new program at UPenn marks a big leap forward, and not just because it represents a new level of confidence in the value of an undergraduate degree earned fully online. Perhaps even more consequential are the demographics this new program invites to the Ivy League table.
Non-traditional Students Climb the Ivies
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) projects that growth in the number of non-traditional students attending college will soon outpace growth in the number of traditional-age students enrolling for the first time. According to the NCES, “The enrollment of students under age 25 increased by 22 percent from 2003 to 2013, while the enrollment of those age 25 and over increased by 19 percent. From 2013 to 2024, however, NCES projects the increase for students under age 25 to be 13 percent, compared with 14 percent for students age 25 and over.”
The folks over there in the Ivy Leagues are pretty smart, so they understand exactly what this means. It means that working adults and non-traditional students are coming to represent an increasingly important segment of the college student population. And this segment comes with its own unique set of needs. UPenn is the first of the Ivies to address their needs directly.
The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that UPenn’s new program may be the beginning of important trend. It is not simply its popularity that has drawn more prominent and well-regarded institutions to explore online college. There is also a growing awareness of the needs presented by working adults and other non-traditional students. These demographics make up a significant portion of the growth we’ve witnessed in online college enrollment over the last decade.
This makes sense. In many ways, these same demographics have long been underserved by undergraduate programs, who focus their outreach, awareness campaigns, and recruitment efforts on high-school aged applicants. The University of Pennsylvania may be leading the way in what promises to be a broader effort by the nation’s most highly-regarded schools to better accommodate adult and non-traditional college learners. As the UPenn program has recognized, online degree programs address many of the challenges uniquely faced by this population, including work, family needs, and a practical aversion to relocation.
While an Ivy League education isn’t for everybody, it does represent recognition at the very top of the academic pyramid for the underserved adult learning populations. If you count yourself among them, check out these features:
While the promise behind UPenn’s innovative new program gives us much hope for the future of non-traditional learners in the Ivy League, it doesn’t exactly help you right now. So what online courses can you take at the Ivy League level? And what online degrees can you earn from Ivy League schools?
Related Programs That Might Interest You
I’m glad you asked. Here’s what we’ve come up with:
Blended Undergraduate Degrees from Ivy League Schools
Though you can't yet get a fully online bachelor's degree at an Ivy League university, most of these schools do provide some number of online courses for credits. In most cases, this is done under a blended model of learning, one in which on-campus students are able to access one or more of their courses online.
Of course, this means that you must be in proximity of campus to attend some or most of your classes in person. And there are also unique limitations to each set of blended learning opportunities at the Ivy League level. Some schools offer access to just a few online undergraduate courses alongside a traditional undergraduate degree program. Others may only offer blended opportunities for graduate degree programs.
For instance, Brown University offers students an array of online undergraduate courses as part of a broader degree program which includes on-campus courses as well. The Brown University blended program describes a set of online courses that are closely connected with the on-campus experience. Classes are taught on a synchronous schedule, using real-time online instruction. Likewise, the online school calendar direclty mirrors the on-campus semester breakdown.
By contrast, some Ivy League universities offer blended learning in only the most limited sense. For instance, at Yale, traditional students who are interested in summer courses can balance their year-long on-campus workload with a summer of online courses. The Yale Summer Session gives students who are already enrolled at Yale a chance to continue earning credits wherever they spend the summer.
Online Graduate Degrees and Professional Certifications from Ivy League Schools
While Ivy League schools have been slow to develop online bachelor's degree programs, many have already embraced online graduate degree programs and a host of related certification and certificate programs. In most instances, these programs are driven by the goal of professional development, and offer participants a chance to enhance existing credentials.
Columbia Online offers a good example of this type of online programming. The New York-Based university offers a range of different graduate level online educational experiences, leading to an array of different credentials. "Currently," says the Columbia Online website, "students are able to enroll into a variety of online programs which ranges from technical, social work, health technologies, environmental sustainability, and leadership to a variety of other professional development programs. Explore our current online degree programs, hybrid master's degree programs, and non-degree certification professional development programs in the following schools at Columbia University."
It is noteworthy that Columbia University is the only Ivy League school to offer an online Master of Social Work degree.
Also noteworthy, you can actually earn an Ivy League MBA fully online at the Dartmouth Tuck School of Business.
Then there's Harvard, which offers a partially-online Graduate Degree. Harvard's blended approach to a master's degree gives students a chance to "balance online study with a Harvard campus experience" and "be immersed in a rich academic community and have access to extensive resources."
MOOCs from Ivy League Schools
If an online Ivy League education seems a bit out of your price range, there is one more option. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free, online courses that offer access to instruction and education in a wide range of subjects. Though you won't get any college credits or advance toward a degree, there are hundreds of MOOCs featuring Ivy League instructors and course content. In most cases, you can attend or access a MOOC for free. Some schools may charge you a modest fee for an optional certificate of completion.
MOOCs are a good option if you're in it for the love of learning, or because there's a specific subject that could advance your professional value, or simply because you'll enjoy the bragging rights of telling people you studied Linear Regression at Harvard.
That's not all. Harvard offers a whole bunch of free online classes through its HarvardX catalogue of MOOCs. Harvard calls these free classes a University-wide strategic initiative "to enable faculty to build and create open online learning experiences for residential and online use, and to enable groundbreaking research in online pedagogies."
Princeton Online adheres to a similar mission, providing a channel for "faculty members who would like to expand the scope and impact of their teaching by offering their course to a world audience"
Most Ivy League universities offers a selection of these free and highly accessible online courses. If your priority is lifelong learning at the very highest levels of American academia, you can probably see the value in free courses from schools like Harvard and Princeton. More than that, you can also see the value proposition of online education as a means to creating top-tier eduational access for a whole new population of learners.
Earn an Ivy League Degree Online
As noted above, the Ivy Leagues do offer a number of online options at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Read on for a more complete look at the hybrid undergraduate degrees and online masters degrees offered at each of the eight Ivy League institutions:
The Best Online Ivy League Schools
Founded in 1764, Brown University is the seventh-oldest university in the U.S. With just over 10,000 students, Brown is as well known for its history and English programs as it is for its Warren Alpert Medical School.
Through its School of Professional Studies, Brown offers a variety of blended executive programs that combine online and on-campus coursework, including:
- Executive Master in Cybersecurity
- Executive Master in Science and Technology Leadership
- Executive Master of Healthcare Leadership
- IE Brown Executive MBA
Online learners can take courses from Brown through MOOCs (offered in partnership with edX), as well as courses directly from the university, in areas such as cybersecurity, economics, finance, biology, and Greek mythology.
Applicants to the hybrid graduate program at Brown must complete the application process, including submitting a resume, personal statement, and transcripts. Students wishing to complete online courses through Brown must complete an application process, including transcripts. Brown University MOOCs are offered on an open enrollment basis.
Brown is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
A leader in higher education for more than 250 years, Columbia University encompasses two campuses in New York City, along with a state-of-the-art medical center and observatory facility. Online learning at Columbia includes degrees, non-degree programs, and certificates, in both traditional and emerging fields such as environmental science and sustainability, and health information technology.
Columbia's online division features hybrid options and MOOCs, alongside full undergraduate and graduate programs; each provides an accessible professional education opportunity to all students. The university offers online degree and hybrid degree programs across seven schools, such as:
- Master of Arts in Statistics (hybrid)
- Master of Science in Applied Mathematics
- Master of Science in Computer Science
- Master of Science in Earth and Environmental Engineering
- Master of Social Work
Columbia University also offers a variety of online certificates and courses, including an array of online executive education courses in areas like leadership, management, and finance.
Admission prerequisites and application requirements for Columbia University vary by program. Generally, undergraduate applicants must submit official high school transcripts and official transcripts from any prior college coursework, along with SAT or ACT scores. Additional application materials include an autobiographical essay and two letters of recommendation.
Graduate admission requirements typically include official college transcripts, a resume, a recommendation letter, and a personal statement. Some programs require submission of a portfolio. Many require submission of GMAT or GRE scores.
Columbia University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
Cornell University, founded in 1865, is the youngest of the Ivy League schools by about a century. While the other colleges in the Ivy League predate the American revolution, Cornell came along at the tail end of the American Civil War. Nevertheless, it goes toe-to-toe with its elder siblings in quality.
Cornell serves online learners through a variety of online degrees, online college courses, MOOCs, and online certificates. The university's two online degree programs are:
- Executive Master of Human Resource Management
- Master of Engineering in Systems Engineering
In addition to the above programs, Cornell offers numerous online and hybrid certificate programs geared toward working professionals, as well as individual courses and MOOCs. Its certificate offerings include:
- Conflict Resolution
- Engineering Leadership
- Financial Success for Nonprofits
- Global Environmental Education
- Nutrition Counseling
MOOCs and certificate programs at Cornell are offered on an open-enrollment basis. Admissions to the graduate degree programs require an application process, with different specific requirements for each program.
Cornell University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
Established in 1769, Dartmouth College is the ninth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States. It enrolls over 6,500 students in a variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs and is best known for its Tuck School of Business, Thayer School of Engineering, and Geisel School of Medicine.
For online students, Dartmouth College offers several options, including two hybrid degree programs, and MOOCs through DartmouthX (in partnership with edX).
Dartmouth College offers the following hybrid degree programs:
- Master of Healthcare Delivery Science
- Master of Public Health
DartmouthX offerings include courses such as:
- Bipedalism: The Science of Upright Walking
- John Milton: Paradise Lost
- Omnichannel Strategy and Management
- The American Renaissance: Classic Literature of the 19th Century
- The Engineering of Structures Around Us
The graduate degree programs at Dartmouth require an application process, including transcripts. The MOOCs are offered on open-enrollment basis.
Dartmouth College is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
Established in 1636, Harvard University has since grown into one of the most respected names in education, and is the oldest university in the United States. Between the undergraduate and graduate schools, Harvard enrolls about 31,000 students. These numbers do not include those who take specific online educational courses.
Through the Harvard Extension School, students may complete a variety of hybrid undergraduate and graduate degree programs, in fields such as:
- Data Science
- Software Engineering
Students can also take individual online courses (many free of tuition) through Harvard's partnership with edX, or from the school directly, in a wide selection of general and niche subjects.
For admission to single online college courses, Harvard does not require an application. For blended undergraduate degrees, students must possess a bachelor's degree from another institution, be a minimum of 21 years of age, and complete an application process that includes a resume and transcripts. For online graduate degrees, applicants must not already hold an undergraduate degree in a similar field.
Harvard University is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
Founded in 1746, Princeton University is the fourth-oldest university in the country, and, like the other Ivies, has a long list of notable names among its alumni. With over 8,000 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degree programs, Princeton is best known for the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Princeton's online selections come in the form of MOOCs, offered through Coursera, edX, and Kadenze. The MOOCs are free and not for credit, but are created by Princeton faculty. Princeton's MOOCs include:
- Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies
- Computer Architecture
- Global History of Capitalism
- Making Government Work in Hard Places
- The Art of Structural Engineering: Bridges
Princeton University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania, established in 1755, is the sixth-oldest university in the country, founded by none other than Benjamin Franklin. It is notable as being the first of its kind the U.S., with multiple areas of study housed in a single institution. The university enrolls over 25,000 students, and is best known for its graduate programs in the Wharton School, Law School, School of Medicine, School of Education, and School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Starting in the Fall 2019 semester, UPenn will be the first Ivy League school to offer a fully online bachelor's degree, the bachelor of applied arts and sciences. Beyond that, online students may complete online college courses and certificate programs directly through the university, or MOOCs through edX and Coursera.
The University of Pennsylvania's online certificates include:
- Climate Change
- Data Analytics
- Leadership and Communication
- Organizational Anthropology
The University of Pennsylvania's MOOCs include:
- Big Data and Education
- Introduction to Online and Blended Teaching
- Understanding Classroom Interaction
While the MOOCs from UPenn are free and open to all, the online certificates, courses, and online bachelor's degree program require an application process, including transcripts.
The University of Pennsylvania is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
Yale University, established in 1701, is the third-oldest university in the United States. With around 13,000 students enrolled in a variety of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs, Yale is best known for its Law School, School of Management, School of Medicine, School of Art, and School of Nursing.
Yale University has a variety of options available to online students. Most of Yale's offerings are in the form of MOOCs through either Coursera of Open Yale Courses, such as:
- America's Written Constitution
- Essentials of Global Health
- Introduction to Psychology
- Moral Foundations of Politics
- The Global Financial Crisis
Yale also offers a hybrid doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree program
Yale's MOOCs are free and open to all. The DNP program requires application to the nursing school.
Yale University is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
Online Ivy League Schools Ranking Guidelines
We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
If the innovative new degree program at the University of Pennsylvania is any indication, you may soon have the opportunity to earn an online bachelor’s degree at any of the eight Ivy League schools. This seems especially likely as the very best schools in the U.S. seek ways of accommodating the fast-growing student population of working adults and non-traditional students.
And if you simply can’t wait for the Ivy League schools to get their act together, we urge you to check out the Best Colleges in the U.S. by State for a look at how other reputable and respected schools are advancing opportunities for non-traditional students, especially through online education.
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