Popularity is an important indicator of quality for many degree-seekers. Universities with the highest enrollment numbers often offer higher quality programs than other schools, as indicated by how many students they attract.

Online programs typically mirror the curricula and content of their on-campus counterparts while offering greater flexibility and affordability. The flexibility of online learning allows students to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations. Additionally, online learners often save on many of the expenses that on-campus students incur, such as housing and commuting costs. Many schools also extend tuition discounts to online students.

To help students find the right fit for their needs, this guide ranks the most popular online colleges in the U.S., including some of the largest online universities.

Featured Online Colleges

The Most Popular Online Colleges

  1. University of Phoenix

    Tempe, AZ

    Although The University of Phoenix does not provide a separate online student population total, our research indicates the University of Phoenix has the largest online student population. The University of Phoenix, a pioneer in adult learning, is the largest private university in North America.

    The university provides undergraduate and graduate degrees in high-demand fields such as business, nursing, education, and technology.

    Why students enroll at the University of Phoenix Online:

    • University of Phoenix provides instructors with real-world experience in the field they teach
    • The university focuses on the skills relevant to the current economy
    • Education programs updated periodically to reflect the newest practices and standards in industries
    • Each student has a Graduation Team, which may include an enrollment advisor, a financial advisor, and an academic advisor
    • Students have access to collaborative learning teams
    • Orientation workshops, provided at no cost, let people experience the University of Phoenix without enrolling at the university
    • Academic social network provides students with access to a worldwide network of more than one million students, alumni, and faculty
  2. American Public University

    Charles Town, WV

    American Public University System (APUS), a for-profit institution, serves online students through the American Military University (AMU) and the American Public University (APU). APUS provides more than 190 graduate and undergraduate programs and certificate programs.

    The American Public University System places an emphasis on educating the nation's military and public service personnel. The American Military University is the nation's #1 provider of higher education to the U.S. armed forces. The American Public University provides higher education to adults of various types of backgrounds.

    Why students enroll at American Public University Online:

    • Received the Sloan Consortium Effective Practice Award
    • The online library has a vast number of resources
    • Clubs and organizations
    • Career services provides networking opportunities
    • Employer Partnership Program matches qualified students with mentors and internship supervisors who guide them as they search for a job
  3. Liberty University Online

    Lynchburg, VA

    Liberty University, offers more than 100 undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs in business, education, criminal justice, nursing, and in other fields. The university also offers certificate programs.

    Liberty University reports having the lowest tuition rates among top online colleges.

    Why students enroll at Liberty University Online:

    • Faculty members use their real-world experience and current industry practices to create in-depth curricula with a Christian worldview
    • Academic advisors help students all the way to graduation
    • The university provides a religious resource in the Liberty Online Ministries
    • The university evaluates student skill levels and knowledge to ensure they're taking the courses they need
    • The Liberty Bruckner Learning Center resources help students with study skills, reading comprehension, reading speed, time management, and other relevant subjects
    • The online library, available 24/7, provides an extensive list of electronic books, journals, and digital texts
    • Yellow Ribbon participant
  4. DeVry University

    Downers Grove, IL

    DeVry University offers graduate and undergraduate degree programs and specializations in 34 career fields.

    The university's Keller Graduate School of Management provides an online MBA and other graduate degree programs in numerous areas of concentration.

    Why students enroll at DeVry University Online:

    • Accelerated programs
    • All of the instructors have an advanced degree and practical experience
    • The university collaborates with top business leaders to develop its curriculum
    • Professors and academic advisors help students stay on track to meet their educational and career goals
  5. University of Massachusetts

    Amherst, MA

    UMass Online is part of the highly respected University of Massachusetts system. UMass Online offers graduate and undergraduate degrees. The online college offers over 100 degree and certificate programs and over 1,500 online courses in education, liberal arts, nursing, business and management, information technology, public health and in many other fields.

    Why students enroll at UMass Online:

    • University of Massachusetts ranked #40 top public school by U.S. News & World Report
    • UMass Online won the Sloan Consortium Award for the Most Outstanding Online Teaching and Learning Program
    • The University of Massachusetts is one of the seven founding members of the National Technological University
    • The world-class instructors who teach the on-campus classes teach the online classes
    • Online graduates are members of a huge alumni network, including successful industry leaders, scientists, hi-tech entrepreneurs, and others
  6. Walden University

    Minneapolis, MN

    Walden University, a leader in online education, offers bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, and doctoral degree programs in a variety of areas.

    The university collaborates with an array of national industry leaders and higher education experts to create online programs relevant to the needs of the workforce.

    Why students enroll at Walden University Online:

    • Programs include specialized options
    • The university reports two-thirds of its doctoral graduates surveyed replied they obtained a promotion as a result of getting their degree
    • Free tutoring provided to undergraduates in areas such as science, math, statistics, and accounting
    • The writing center provides free tutorial services; staff members provide one-on-one consultations on course papers
    • A number of the online programs include a practicum which provides real-world field experience in the student's area of interest under the supervision of Walden faculty and an on-site supervisor
    • A number of the programs provide an internship
    • Students can complete a bachelor's degree in just 18 months
  7. University of Arizona Global Campus

    San Diego, CA

    University of Arizona Global Campus provides graduate and undergraduate degree in over 85 programs.

    The university offers degrees in business, education, healthcare, the sciences, and other areas.

    Why students enroll at University of Arizona Global Campus:

    • Some degrees take just one year to complete
    • Asynchronous classes allow students to log in at any time to participate in class and post their work
    • Students, alumni, and faculty interact with each other from across the US and the world
    • Listed among the Military Friendly Schools by G.I. Jobs Magazine
    • Undergraduates can participate in graduate courses through Smart Track
  8. Western Governors University

    Salt Lake City, UT

    Western Governors University (WGU), a private, non-profit online university, provides more than 50 undergraduate and graduate degrees in the fields of information technology, teaching, business, and health.

    The governors of 19 states established the university. WGU uses a unique, competency-based, academic approach. WGU requires students to show competencies in required areas instead of focusing on credit hours in a classroom.

    Why students enroll at WGU Online:

    • Students can complete all of the required assessments at a faster rate to accelerate their program
    • Programs do not require minimum GPAs or standardized test scores for admission
    • Every student has a mentor
    • More than 20 major foundations and corporations support the university
    • Most programs begin monthly
    • Competency-based approach to learning allows students to extensively personalize their degree program
    • Students work with a dedicated student mentor and course members who support them all the way to graduation
  9. University of Maryland Baltimore

    Baltimore, MD

    The University of Maryland University College (UMUC) Online provides undergraduate and graduate degree programs and certificate programs in a variety of subjects. UMUC Online offers over 25 degree programs and 30 certificates provided entirely online.

    UMUC is part of the University System of Maryland. The university includes the School of Undergraduate Studies and the Graduate School of Management & Technology.

    Why students enroll at UMUC Online:

    • Won the Sloan Consortium Award for Excellence in Institution-Wide Asynchronous Learning Network Programming
    • Online MBA program won the Instructional Technology Council's award for Outstanding e-Learning Program
    • UMUC of Adelphi named the most popular college or university among active-duty service members by Military Times EDGE magazine
    • UMUC named by KMI Media and Military Advanced Education as one of the top 20 colleges or universities serving military students
    • Online students have access to academic clubs
    • Members of the Allies Mentoring Program help students with study skills, time management, and other areas important to academic success
  10. Purdue University Global

    Chicago, IL

    Purdue University Global, a newly established part of the Purdue University System, offers 180 online programs at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels.

    The programs cover some of today's most in-demand fields, such as psychology, business, information technology, nursing, criminal justice, legal studies, and public administration.

    Why students enroll at Purdue Global:

    • Affordable, world-class online education
    • Individual educational advising
    • No-cost tutoring in math, science, and writing
    • Comprehensive career counseling services before and after graduation
    • Credit for Work Experience
    • Comprehensive career counseling services before and after graduation

What Is an Online College?

Online colleges offer diploma, certificate, undergraduate, and graduate programs for students of all backgrounds and ages. Many of the largest online colleges also provide continuing education and workforce development programs.

The flexibility of online education appeals to students who must balance their studies with personal and professional obligations. Additionally, online learning allows students to attend the most popular colleges in the country without relocating.

Campus vs. Online Programs

Both on-campus and online programs provide opportunities for students to grow professionally and personally. However, online programs typically offer more flexibility, accessibility, and affordability than on-campus programs.

Earning a bachelor's degree online can also present challenges. For example, degrees with heavy laboratory and practical components may be more difficult to complete online. Additionally, online programs typically offer less structure and engagement than on-campus programs, requiring a greater degree of self-discipline and self-motivation.

Choosing an Online Program

When choosing an online college, learners should consider factors like cost, admission requirements, and delivery format. Students can learn more about how to choose an online degree below.

Featured Online Bachelor's in Business

Frequently Asked Questions

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

Online bachelor's degrees typically comprise 120 credits and take four years of full-time study to complete, but some programs offer accelerated timelines. Part-time students will take longer to complete a program.

What Can I Do With an Online Degree?

Online degrees grant the same professional benefits as on-campus degrees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), graduates with a bachelor's degree earn median weekly wages that are nearly $400 higher than workers with only an associate degree. Additionally, bachelor's degree graduates experience lower average unemployment rates than associate degree holders.

How Is Online College Different From On-Campus College?

Most online programs offer the same curricula and content as on-campus programs while offering greater flexibility, affordability, and accessibility. Online students can balance their studies with personal and professional obligations more easily.

Are Online Courses Harder?

Even though online courses typically offer the same content as on-campus courses, they also require a higher degree of self-discipline and self-motivation to complete, which may make them more challenging for some students.

Are Online Degrees Recognized?

Online degrees from accredited schools typically hold the same recognition as those from on-campus schools.

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