A big reason for the growth in online education and online universities is demand. Online degree programs make college more accessible to a much larger population than traditional on-campus options. Thanks to technology, you can earn a fully online undergraduate or graduate degree while balancing academic commitments with other responsibilities, such as a full-time job or caring for your family.
How Do I Choose an Online College?
In the world of online education, there is no overall best online college or best online degree program. But there is a best option for you. Ask yourself these five questions to begin the search for the best online colleges and universities for your situation:
- What area of study interests you?
- What type of online degree do you need to meet your goals?
- What type of institution offers the degree program you need?
- How much flexibility do you need?
- How much can you afford to spend on an online degree program?
By understanding what you want out of a particular degree, you can make educated choices about which online universities and colleges have the best chance to give you an acceptable return on investment.
Choose an Area of Study
The first step is to think about what area of study you’d like to pursue in order to meet your career goals. Different college majors teach different skills and have different points of emphasis.
Examine the different majors offered by a variety of top online colleges that relate to the field of study you’re interested in. Research what specific courses are required in each major. Also consider what specific hard and soft skills will be most valuable to the work you want to be doing.
You can explore our collection of academic program rankings to learn more about the best online degrees in various fields of study.
Popular Areas of Study by Degree
|Liberal arts and sciences, general studies, and humanities||Business, management, marketing, and related support services||Business|
|Health professions and related programs||Health professions and related programs||Education|
|Business, management, marketing, and support services||Social sciences and history||Health professions and related programs|
Evaluate Online Colleges
There are many factors to consider when judging the quality of an online program and determining whether it’s the right fit for your educational goals. Take time to consider each of the aspects mentioned below.
Type of Institution
The degree you decide to pursue will help determine the type of institution you need to attend. The most common types of colleges and universities fall under the following categories.
- Community Colleges: Where you can pursue an online associate degree.
- Trade Schools and Career Colleges: Where you can develop industry-specific skills for a particular career path, such as dental hygiene or electrical installation.
- Public Colleges: Traditional state schools where you can earn an online undergraduate or graduate degree. These are often less expensive than private schools.
- Private, Nonprofit Colleges and Universities: These institutions, some of which have a religious affiliation, offer online undergraduate and graduate degrees. These tend to cost more than public schools.
- Private, For-Profit Colleges and Universities: While there are some reputable for-profit colleges, it is vital that you research the accreditation and reputation of these institutions to avoid substandard schools.
Always verify that an online university or college is accredited. Accreditation for colleges matters because it sets quality standards meant to ensure that online degrees are legitimate and hold value. The accreditation status of your college can also impact your ability to apply for financial aid or transfer credits.
Although a significant advantage of a fully online college or university is the fact that you can take courses anywhere with an internet connection, most online students actually take classes from a school located within 100 miles of where they live. Online degree programs offer a great deal of flexibility, but enrolling in an online degree program close to your home can offer additional advantages.
If you enroll in an online degree program close to home, you may be able to save money by paying in-state tuition. You could also more easily access campus resources (e.g., libraries, gyms, or in-person office hours with professors and academic advisors) or explore hybrid programs, which require you to spend some time on campus in addition to taking classes online.