Best Online Colleges in California 2021

| TBS Staff

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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.

Featured Online Schools

Top 10 Online Colleges in California 2020
#1 San Diego State University San Diego, CA
#2 California State University-Chico Chico, CA
#3 William Jessup University Rocklin, CA
#4 California State University-East Bay Hayward, CA
#5 Fresno Pacific University Fresno, CA
#6 Hope International University Fullerton, CA
#7 Brandman University Irvine, CA
#8 California Baptist University Riverside, CA
#9 Concordia University-Irvine Irvine, CA
#10 University of La Verne La Verne, CA

The Best Online Colleges in California

San Diego State University View School Profile $$ San Diego, CA 74% 28% 47% San Diego State University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

Founded as San Diego Normal School in 1897, SDSU today enrolls more than 35,000 students each year.

SDSU Global Campus offers six fully online bachelor's degree completion programs and five fully online master's degrees, along with several hybrid options. Online degrees run the gamut, from bachelor of arts degrees in American Indian studies and criminal justice to a master of arts in teacher leadership and a master of science in electrical engineering.

All bachelor's degree applicants need at least 60 completed credits with a minimum GPA of 2.0-2.9, depending on the program. Master's degree admission requirements vary significantly by program.

California State University-Chico View School Profile $$ Chico, CA 66% 45% 30% California State University, Chico, is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

Founded in 1887 and the second-oldest campus in the California State University system, Chico State now welcomes more than 17,000 students per year.

The university's distance and online education division offers more than 10 bachelor's, master's, and degree completion programs ranging from religious studies to nursing. It also provides a hybrid online-on-campus bachelor of social work distributed learning and a career life and planning certificate.

Bachelor's degree completion admission requirements include an associate degree or 60 transferable credits, with a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher. For the master of science in nursing, applicants need a bachelor's in nursing, a current California nursing license, and a minimum GPA of 3.0.

William Jessup University View School Profile Rocklin, CA 59% 68% 33% William Jessup University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

A private Christian university founded in 1939, Jessup enrolls a little over 1,700 on-campus and online students annually.

Jessup's online programs, infused with a Christian perspective, include five bachelor's degrees and three master's degrees. Bachelor's programs include a BA in psychology and a BS in healthcare administration. Master's programs include an MBA and an MS in kinesiology.

Admission requirements vary by program, but all applicants must submit official transcripts. Those under age 21 also need ACT or SAT scores. Certain programs require a resume, a personal essay, and letters of recommendation. GPA requirements differ according to the program.

California State University-East Bay View School Profile $$ Hayward, CA 48% 33% 54% California State University, East By is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

Founded in 1957 and part of the massive California State University system, Cal State East Bay serves nearly 15,000 online and on-campus students each year.

The university's online programs include five bachelor's degrees, such as a BA in ethnic studies and a BS in hospitality and tourism. Four online master's degrees range from an MS in educational leadership and an MS in health care administration. Cal State East Bay also offers an online single-subject teaching credential.

The school uses a complex undergraduate admissions formula that prioritizes local applicants with a minimum 2.5 GPA. However, out-of-state students with a minimum GPA of 3.0 typically qualify. Graduate applicants need a minimum GPA of at least 2.5 and must meet any additional requirements for their chosen program.

Fresno Pacific University View School Profile Fresno, CA 66% 72% 58% Fresno Pacific University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

A Christian university founded in 1944 as the Pacific Bible Institute, FPU today enrolls more than 4,000 online and campus-based students every year.

FPU offers various online programs, including five bachelor's degree completion programs, including a BA in criminology and one in early childhood development. The university also offers eight online master's programs, including an MBA and an MA in ministry, leadership and culture.

Bachelor's applicants must submit official transcripts (accepted students average a minimum 3.2-3.6 GPA). At the test-optional university, ACT scores average 21-25 and SAT scores average 1080-1190. Master's admission requirements vary by program.

Hope International University View School Profile Fullerton, CA 44% 64% 48% Hope International University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

A small, private Christian university founded in 1928, HIU serves over 1,000 on-campus and online students annually.

HIU offers various online undergraduate degrees across five colleges, including arts and sciences, business and management, and ministry and biblical studies. Degrees include a BS in Christian ministry and a BA in criminal justice.

Applicants must submit official transcripts reflecting a minimum 2.5 GPA and complete a 250-word essay.

Brandman University View School Profile Irvine, CA 47% 92% Brandman University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

Brandman, a private university with 25 campuses, enrolls more than 8,000 in-person and online students every year.

The university's vast online campus offers dozens of undergraduate and graduate degrees, from a BA in applied studies to a doctorate in organizational leadership. The university also offers a few online bachelor-to-master bridge programs.

Bachelor's applicants need at least 12 transferable college credits with a minimum 2.0 GPA. Graduate applicants choose one of four pathways to admission: an undergraduate minimum GPA of 3.0, a minimum 2.5-2.99 GPA with a satisfactory score on a standardized graduate admissions test, a master's degree, or a portfolio demonstrating preparation for graduate school.

California Baptist University View School Profile Riverside, CA 55% 70% 54% California Baptist University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

CBU, a private Christian university founded in 1950, serves over 11,000 online and on-campus students annually.

CBU's online programs offer more than 40 options, from bachelor's degrees to doctorates. Examples include a BA in graphic design and digital media, an MS in kinesiology, and a doctor of public administration.

Each program sets its own admission requirements.

Concordia University-Irvine View School Profile Irvine, CA 63% 60% 62% Concordia University, Irvine is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

CUI, part of the Lutheran church's Concordia system, enrolls close to 4,000 online and campus-based students every year.

CUI's online campus offers 20 different programs, including five bachelor's, 13 master's, and two doctorate degrees. Examples range from the BS in organizational psychology to the MA in executive coaching and consultation, and a doctor of education in leadership.

Admission requirements differ according to the program selected.

University of La Verne View School Profile La Verne, CA 69% 62% 21% University of La Verne is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

Founded in 1891, private La Verne welcomes 4,500 in-person and online students annually.

It offers six bachelor's degrees and three master's programs through its online campus. Options include a BS in information technology, a BA in educational studies, an MS in child development, and an MS in leadership and management.

Undergraduate applicants must submit official transcripts. Some online programs accept only students aged 25 or above, and some require additional materials. Graduate admission requirements include transcripts showing a minimum 2.5 GPA, letters of recommendation, and a writing sample. Individual programs may set additional requirements.

San Diego Christian College View School Profile Santee, CA 44% 56% 90% San Diego Christian College is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

A small, private Christian college founded in 1970, SDCC serves a little over 500 students each year.

SDCC's online campus offers six bachelor's degree programs. Examples include a BA in Christian ministries, a BS in leadership, and a BA in psychology.

First-year applicants need a minimum high school GPA of 2.75. Transfer students require a minimum 2.5 college GPA.

Loma Linda University View School Profile Loma Linda, CA 62% 16% Loma Linda University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

A health sciences university and part of the Seventh Day Adventist university system, LLU enrolls approximately 4,500 online and campus-based students each year.

LLU's distance education department offers more than a dozen online programs, from bachelor's degrees through doctorates. Examples include a BS in health information administration, a master of public health in population medicine, or a doctor of marital and family therapy.

As a transfer university, virtually all programs require previous college credits. Each program sets its own admission requirements. Transcripts are required if you're a CA resident or you're transferring fewer than 24 credits.

Touro University Worldwide View School Profile Los Alamitos, CA 50% 44% 98% Touro University Worldwide is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

A nonprofit outgrowth of New York's esteemed Touro College and University System, TUW serves thousands of students worldwide.

The 100% online university offers nearly two dozen programs, from bachelor's degrees to doctorates. Sample degrees include a BA in psychology, an MA in dispute resolution, and a doctor of business administration.

Undergraduate applicants need a high school diploma or GED. Transfer students need a minimum 2.0 college GPA. Master's requirements include a minimum 2.5 GPA (2.75 minimum for transfers). Doctorate applicants need a master's degree with a minimum 3.4 GPA. Some programs at each level may set more stringent requirements.

National University View School Profile La Jolla, CA 36% 36% 61% National University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

A private university founded in 1971, NU welcomes nearly 17,000 students online and in-person annually.

NU's online campus offers 132 different programs at the bachelor's, master's, and doctorate levels. The wide curriculum ranges from a BS construction management to an MA in consciousness and transformative studies and a doctor of education in organizational innovation.

Undergraduate applicants must show a minimum 2.0 GPA. Graduate applicants need a minimum 2.5 GPA or a minimum 2.0 GPA with a satisfactory graduate entrance exam score. Individual programs may set additional requirements.

Golden Gate University-San Francisco View School Profile San Francisco, CA 35% 50% Golden State University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

Founded in 1901, the private GGU focuses primarily on accounting, business, law, and taxation.

The university offers a wide variety of online bachelor's and master's programs. Examples include a BS in accounting, a BS in data analytics, an MS in advanced financial planning, and an MS in marketing.

Undergraduate applicants need either 12 transfer credits with a minimum 2.0 GPA or a high school GPA of 3.0, a resume showing three years of professional work experience and a statement of purpose. Graduate applicants should refer to their chosen degree program for requirements.

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.

The motto of TheBestSchools.org is Finding the best school for you. Here is how we do it:

The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.

To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — TheBestSchools.org formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):

1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]

  • Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
  • Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
  • Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
  • Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
  • Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
  • Considers range of electives within that discipline
  • Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline

2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]

  • Considers education background of the faculty
  • Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
  • Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
  • Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
  • Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources

3. Reputation [weight = 20%]

  • Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
    • Faculty
    • Curriculum
    • “Freshness” of academic knowledge
    • Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
    • Suitability of graduates for the workplace

4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]

  • Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
  • Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants

5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]

  • Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
  • Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business

6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]

  • Considers the following of the online classes:
    • Types of online technology used to deliver content
    • Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
    • Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
    • Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
  • Considers the following of instructors:
    • Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
    • Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
    • Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
    • Ratio to number of students in a class
  • Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees

Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.

To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:

  • Accreditation
  • Public or private status
  • Acceptance rate
  • Retention rate
  • Graduation rate
  • ACT/SAT requirements
  • Cost in-state / out of state
  • Undergrad, grad, or both offered
  • Region
  • State
  • City

Get the best rankings here AND get them to suit your personal needs. That’s TheBestSchools.org advantage!

If you have any questions about our ranking methodology, please contact us.

Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!

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. 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.

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

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.

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