Online Degrees and Programs: A Complete Guide

Rank School Name Location Description
1 Pennsylvania State University-World Campus University Park, PA

The nationally recognized, traditional public university Penn State has been offering world-class online degree programs through its “World Campus” online branch since 1998. Pennsylvania State University-World Campus was one of the first colleges in the world to offer online courses at the dawn of the World Wide Web, and today it has 127 fully online programs, including everything from certificate programs to doctorates, with nearly 18,000 online students enrolled. These online courses are taught by the same top-notch faculty who teach on campus. Because online courses are asynchronous and recorded/archived online, students can login whenever they wish to view class instruction. Required work includes readings, homework assignments, online group discussions, and group work.

2 Southern New Hampshire University Manchester, NH

Southern New Hampshire University was founded in 1932 in Hooksett, NH, and has developed one of the largest accredited online colleges in America. Known for its innovative style, this private not-for-profit university offers a plethora of leading online degree programs at every level, and is designed for working professionals who need the utmost in flexibility. Transfer students, for example, can apply up to 90 undergraduate credits from other institutions to their degree programs at SNHU. Students have 24/7 access to online classrooms, making it easy to fit education into their personal schedules. Other online services include the Online Writing Center, 24/7 online tutoring, online wellness resources, full online access to the university library, tech support, academic advising, and the disability resource center.

3 Western Governors University Salt Lake City, UT

The competency-based learning model at Western Governors University is enough to wow anyone. Revolutionizing higher education, this not-for-profit online university challenges the way we think of higher education. Rather than awarding degrees based on assignments completed, courses completed, or time spent, WGU awards degrees based on knowledge. Before beginning each course, a student is assessed on their competency and existing knowledge of the subject. An academic mentor helps them identify what they already know and what they still need to learn to grasp the course’s whole curriculum. Then, the student can access a collection of learning resources to study on their own time. They study what they need to and skip over what they already know, avoiding wasted time. Whenever the student is ready to take the course final, whether it’s one week after beginning the course or 20 weeks after, they take it. Cooler yet, annual tuition is a flat $6,000. That’s it. Take as many courses as you want in two semesters and your cost is always the same - $6,000.

4 American Public University System Charles Town, WV

The American Public University System (APUS) is a for-profit partnership of online schools comprised of the American Military University and American Public University, making it an ideal school for U.S. military service members and veterans as well as civilians. Online education is the APUS specialty, with no brick-and-mortar facilities. That online focus has created an exceptionally strong distance learning experience for its more than 96,000 online students. Academic success is supported through live online tutoring and writing workshops, a 24/7 online library, and most distinctively, “The Quad,” a virtual gathering place where students can socialize and work together through virtual activities and organizations. APUS also has one of the largest program selections with more than 250 fully online programs.

5 Bellevue University Bellevue, NE

Online degree programs at Bellevue University have been around since 1996, making this private college one of the first to offer education through the Net (and perhaps more precisely for many, our good old friend AOL). Bellevue was even the first to offer a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree online. Today, this private not-for-profit university based in Bellevue, Nebraska continues to lead in online education. Students can participate in online forums with classmates to discuss course topics. They can access online class recordings, tutorials, and videos, and receive online tutoring anytime. Students can even choose from differently formatted programs (cohort versus traditional) to learn in the way that best suits them.

6 Franklin University Columbus, OH

Because Franklin University is specifically designed for working professionals (aka adult learners), the school is expert at online education. Based in Ohio and Indiana , this private not-for-profit university offers online degrees at every level. Online support includes a list of web resources for every course, as well as online tutoring, and 24/7 access to course content. Franklin is also transfer-friendly, accepting up to 94 semester hours of transfer credits, and military-friendly with top-notch services for both active-duty service members and military veterans. Best of all, Franklin houses the International Institute for Innovative Instruction, where education experts (we’re talking doctorate level expertise here) invent cutting-edge instructional techniques and curriculum, including for the online learning environment.

7 Grand Canyon University Phoenix, AZ

Learn on your own time in a wholesome online learning environment by attending Grand Canyon University. This private for-profit Christian university based in Phoenix, Arizona offers stellar online programs for bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees. Transfer credits are welcome, and GCU even offers a Lifelong Learning Assessment (LLA) program that allows experienced adult learners to convert their professional working experience into college credits. GCU also makes a concerted effort to help online students succeed despite being off campus. For example, every student who begins an online degree program at GCU can enter a tutorial to become familiar with the program’s online learning management system.

8 University of Maryland-University College Adelphi, MD

Get your learn on on-the-go at the University of Maryland-University College (UMUC). As a member of the University System of Maryland, UMUC is a public state school, a not-for-profit university located in Adelphi, Maryland. The online school specializes in teaching working professionals, so when you need flexibility in your education, UMUC is one of the best places to consider. Through the LEO interface (Learning Experience Online), students have online access to virtual classrooms, audio messages from instructors, interactive course calendars, and a unique progress tool that indicates your progress through the course. LEO is compatible with smartphones and tablets as well as desktop PCs, making it easy for students to fit their education into the busiest of schedules, whether they have five minutes to spare on their morning bus commute or two hours to sit down and work. Other benefits to online students include fully online degree programs at every level, online library access, 24-hour tech support, online writing help, and online advising.

9 University of Phoenix-Online Campus Phoenix, AZ

As one of the most well-known online colleges in the nation, the University of Phoenix (UoP) is popular for good reason. This national for-profit university offers degrees at every level with 221 fully online programs, and UoP helps students succeed like clockwork. Online students benefit from courses that are recorded and archived online, allowing flexible study at any time of day. Courses are taught by working professionals who typically hold advanced degrees and/or have decades of experience in their field. Supportive services for online students include tutorials and live math coaching in the Center for Math Excellence (CME), online library access, and a unique Life Resource Center where you can find child care services, new ways to practice work-life balance, and more resources to improve your life outside the online classroom. It’s perfect for working professionals with busy schedules or fresh-out-of-high-school teens who want a flexible lifestyle.

10 Kaplan University-Davenport Campus Davenport, IA

Dedicated to giving online students a comparable education to on-campus students, Kaplan University offers the gamut of online learning technologies. Students learn in online interactive classrooms, go on virtual field trips around the web, attend online seminars, and access over 50,000 e-books through Kaplan’s robust online library. These so-called “enhanced delivery methods,” among others, make online education through Kaplan a unique experience. Students are further supported by online centers for writing, math, science and technology, which provide free tutoring and peer review.

Online Certificate Programs

Certificate degree programs are perfect for pursuing occupations that don’t require full degrees or advancing your education beyond your degree. And what’s better than completing it online? While certificates are most popular in healthcare and skilled trades, you’ll find a huge variety of programs to fit nearly any career path. Getting a certificate gives you the opportunity to take charge of your education and boost your resume in minimal time.

How long does it take to complete an online certificate program?

Completing an online certificate program usually takes a few weeks to a few months, depending on the program and your personal schedule. Many certificate programs let you set your own pace, making it exceptionally easy for you to earn your certificate as quickly or slowly as your lifestyle allows. Nonetheless, by the end of any program, you will likely have spent 20 to 50 hours earning your certificate.

Why would you get an online certificate/what is the benefit?

Working professionals often need additional training to enhance effectiveness in their positions or to boost their resumes and qualify for more advanced positions. If that sounds like you, an online certificate program will allow you to study at your own pace without making big sacrifices in your regular schedule. With so much flexibility, it may take you a little longer to finish an online certificate program compared to a traditional on-campus program, but because these programs are already so brief, you’ll still complete your certificate fairly quickly.

Online certificate programs are particularly beneficial because they allow you to move quickly through any material you’re already well-versed in without wasting time in class listening to instruction. Simply review the main points, complete your assignments, pass your exams, and you’re through. This is especially nice if you only need the certificate to prove what you already know.

What are the pros and cons of getting this degree online?

Pros:

  • Certificates look great on paper (sometimes even more so than degrees), especially if you’re new to your field and don’t have much experience to back up your skills.
  • When you’re a working professional, earning a certificate is typically expected to be a quick and easy endeavor, and it gets even easier when you don’t have to fit on-campus classes into your schedule. No need to put effort into finding a babysitter for the kids, or rearranging your work schedule only temporarily for a program that will end soon anyway.
  • An online certificate program offers an inexpensive, minimally time-consuming way to explore new career paths.

Cons:

  • Depending on the subject, getting your certificate online may not provide the best learning experience. Hands-on technical skills, for example, are often easier to learn on-campus. However, you can find certificate programs that do require on-campus workshops to infuse that valuable hands-on experience. Of course, this may be another con if you don’t have the option of traveling to campus.
  • Because certificates usually focus on a specific skill, jumping into an online certificate program before you know what job position you’re going after may end up being a waste of time.
  • Students often assume online certificate programs are easier to complete than they really are. Despite the minimal amount of courses required and the online environment, worthwhile certificate programs require courses that should and will test your intellect and skills the same way college courses do in full degree programs.

What skills or expertise do you need to get this degree online?

Online certificate programs are available to students at all educational levels. Undergraduate certificates require only a high school diploma or GED, plus the computer know-how to learn in an online environment. You’ll need reliable Internet access and the ability to quickly learn to navigate online software, such as the popular Blackboard program. More advanced graduate and post-graduate certificates typically also require either a college degree (bachelor’s for graduate, master’s or doctorate for post-graduate) or direct field experience. For this type of upper-level certificate program, you may have the option of earning your certificate while simultaneously earning the appropriate degree.

What are 5 popular online degrees for this category? (i.e. for Online Masters Degree, some popular degrees would be online MBA, online MS in Accounting, etc.)

Online certificate programs are ideal for professionals who already have a foundation in the subject yet want to advance their careers. As such, online certificates are largely popular in the following fields:

  • Medical Billing and Coding
  • Paralegal Studies
  • Information Technology (IT)
  • Business Management
  • Human Resources

Online Associate's Degrees

If you want to pursue a bachelor’s degree or a skilled trade, earning your associate degree online can be quite convenient for ambitious students. By completing an associate degree online, not only can you broaden your transcripts, you’ll also have the flexibility to pursue opportunities outside of the classroom at the same time. Dedicate just a couple of years to an online associate degree program, and a whole new world opens up for you.

How long does it take to complete an online associate degree?

Whether you’re earning it online or on-campus, the standard associate degree takes two years for full-time students to complete, half the time as a 4-year bachelor’s degree. If your schedule is tight, you typically have the option of spreading out the required four semesters of work into more than two years, especially when you’re completing the degree online.

Why would you get an associate degree online/what is the benefit?

Pursuing an online associate degree is a wise route for students who are considering going on to earn an online bachelor’s degree as well. You’ll get accustomed to the demands of online learning, fully preparing you to take upper-level online courses later on.

Even if you don’t intend to pursue a bachelor’s degree online, getting your online associate’s can be just as helpful. Many technical and skilled trade jobs are open to applicants with relevant associate degrees. If you already know that your career path values this type of degree, you can use the flexibility of an online program to simultaneously develop your career outside of the program. Easily pursue internships or entry-level jobs, for example, to gain experience during your education, instead of afterwards.

What are the pros and cons of getting an associate degree online?

Pros:

  • Online college credits are no different than on-campus credits. If you’re earning your online associate degree through an accredited college, the credits you earn will likely be transferrable to a four-year university and apply toward your bachelor’s degree.
  • When entering an online associate degree program for general education requirements, you’re not expected to declare a major, which may be a big plus for students who want to wait to declare. Although an online bachelor’s degree program may force you to decide right away, first entering an associate program gives you that traditionally on-campus option of waiting one or two years to decide.

Cons:

  • Even if the positions you’re preparing to pursue with an associate degree require only an associate of arts or science, you may still have to compete with people who have bachelor’s degrees. This challenge should inform your decision when choosing whether or not to earn your online associate degree.
  • Credits don’t always transfer. Generally, they’re expected to transfer to a four-year college, but in reality you should check with the university you want to transfer to before counting on your associate credits applying to your future bachelor’s degree program. This also means it’s especially crucial to choose an online program that is accredited.

What skills or expertise do you need to get an associate degree online?

Earning your associate degree online will test your time management and technology skills. Instructors will require you to stay in communication via email and online programs, such as the popular Blackboard software, and chat software like Skype. Through these various virtual environments, you’ll participate in discussions with classmates, submit assignments, and take quizzes and exams. As long as you have a reliable computer and Internet connection, as well as the ability to organize your own education schedule, you should be able to handle earning your online associate degree without a hitch.

What are 5 popular online associate degrees?

There are two major types of online associate degrees available. One consists of mostly general education requirements, preparing students to continue on and pursue a bachelor’s degree. The other focuses less on general education and more on a specific profession. Therefore, aside from a general education associate degree, the following five subjects are most popular with students who earn an online associate of science or arts:

  • Paralegal Studies
  • Healthcare Management
  • Information Technology (IT)
  • Accounting
  • Medical Assistance

Online Bachelor's Degrees

You’re excited to get a bachelor’s degree under your education belt, and you’re wondering if the online route is right for you. Is your major well-suited to online learning? Can you save money by attending online? There’s a lot to consider before deciding to cut out the commute and study from afar. Here’s what you need to know.

How long does it take to complete an online bachelor’s degree?

No different from a traditional on-campus bachelor’s degree program, online bachelor’s programs typically take four years to complete, as long as you’re attending full-time. Part-time students can take up to several years to complete their bachelor’s degree if they decide to take their time. However, you may also be able to speed up your program if you’re entering with previously earned credits or you’re able to join an accelerated program.

Another aspect that may cut down on time is that online bachelor’s programs sometimes require students to declare a major as soon as they enroll, unlike on-campus programs that generally allow you to wait a year or two. Declaring from the get-go can help you get on track to graduate with the right courses ahead of your on-campus peers.

Why would you get a bachelor’s degree online/what is the benefit?

Whether you’re a recent high school graduate or a working professional going back to school, a major benefit of pursuing your bachelor’s degree online is saving money. Although tuition won’t necessarily cost less, you’ll be able to eliminate many costs that on-campus students are forced to cope with, including costs like room and board, recreation fees, fuel, and parking permits.

Additionally, students who want to enroll in a top program for their subject of study don’t need to uproot themselves from their hometown; they can stay at home while getting a top-notch education. Another benefit is that you may be able to work a job more easily, since you can schedule school around your job instead of the other way around. So, not only can you save money, you can earn extra money while getting your degree and gain valuable experience at the same time.

What are the pros and cons of getting a bachelor’s degree online?

Pros:

  • You’ll develop skills outside of your major. For example, while on-campus students go to class and complete assignments according to a strict schedule, your flexible schedule will require you to hone your organizational skills on a higher level. Your time management skills will also improve, and because your classroom interaction takes place online, your IT skills may necessarily improve as well.
  • You can avoid the same social situations you didn’t appreciate in high school. If you’re an introvert who’s not a fan of the classic “college experience,” pursuing your bachelor’s degree online may be a dream come true. Of course, you’ll still have to interact with your peers online, but any anxiety can be managed more easily through a virtual interface.

Cons:

  • Feedback from instructors will be limited to online interactions. Undergraduate students often need out-of-class opportunities to meet with their instructors about assignments and make sure they’re understanding certain concepts correctly. While you can ask questions and receive feedback over the internet, that valuable face-to-face interaction is lost.
  • Not all students are cut out for online learning. If you know you need direction and structure to stay focused on your studies, an online degree program could be the wrong choice for you. When you learn online, you’re often teaching yourself, and online instructors aren’t going to push you toward success the same way they do in an on-campus environment.

What skills or expertise do you need to get a bachelor’s degree online?

To succeed in an online bachelor’s degree program, students need to commit themselves to a flexible, yet regular, schedule of study. The freedom of online classes can become the downfall of young adults who equate the college experience with fun just as much as they do education. Demand a good work ethic of yourself early on, and your pursuit of an online bachelor’s degree will go smoothly.

Aside from making that commitment, you’ll also have to embrace the unique experience of online learning, including any technical challenges that come with it. Students who can troubleshoot software issues and quickly fix an upset internet connection will have an easier time sticking to their studies compared to those who need tech support when something goes awry.

What are 5 popular online bachelor’s degrees?

Some undergraduate major programs are perfect for online learning, some not so much. Experimental sciences, like chemistry and physics, require laboratory work that a fully online experience can’t properly replicate. However, for less hands-on, more cognitive subjects, online bachelor’s degrees are increasingly popular, especially in these fields:

  • Business Management
  • Registered Nursing
  • Education
  • Computer Science
  • Healthcare Administration

Online Master's Degrees

When you enter an online master’s degree program, you have all the flexibility you could want while developing your ambitious career. But of course, there are pros and cons to taking graduate courses in the virtual world. Read about them here before deciding whether an online master’s program is right for you.

How long does it take to complete a master’s degree?

Similar to traditional on-campus programs, most online master’s degree programs take two years of postgraduate study to complete. However, this can vary according to the subject or the university. You may also find degree programs in your subject of study that combine a bachelor’s program with a master’s program to form an all-in-one 5-year online program.

Why would you get a master’s degree online/what is the benefit?

Once you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree, you may feel eager to dive into a real-world career. But you’re torn between getting that on-the-job experience and your desire to stay in school to further your education. Pursuing an online master’s degree could be the ideal solution. With the flexibility of an online master’s program, you can simultaneously study on your own schedule and gain professional experience. This may be especially beneficial if you’re graduating with your bachelor’s and already have job offers on the table. No need to turn them down because you want to earn your master’s. Do both!

What are the pros and cons of getting a master’s degree online?

Pros:

  • Your ambition will impress employers. When you apply for entry-level jobs with your bachelor’s degree, you can earn brownie points with employers by letting them know you’re working toward your master’s degree through an online program.
  • You can immediately apply your newfound skills to your job. Not only does this help you in your job, it could give you a leg up over on-campus students. As you apply new skills, you’ll see real-world results in real time, while the others are only reading about case studies.
  • An online master’s degree gets the same recognition as a traditional degree. Nothing says you have to indicate on your resume whether you earned it online or in a lecture hall.

Cons:

  • If you’re pursuing a master’s degree to obtain licensure, you’ll need to make sure the program you apply to meets your state’s requirements. Not all online programs hit the mark.
  • Networking is more difficult when you’re learning online. This can be quite a downside for students who are pursuing a master’s in order to advance their careers.
  • Getting an online master’s in education is particularly common, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to fulfill all your requirements for teaching certification. When you’re not on-campus, incorporating student teaching into your schedule can be difficult to manage.
  • Some online master’s degree programs require students to complete a short on-campus residency. If this doesn’t work for you, your program choices will be narrowed.

What skills or expertise do you need to get a master’s degree online?

Most master’s degree programs designate a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite, and some even require professional experience in a relevant field. Similar to a doctoral program, an online master’s degree program could also require students to develop a thesis as a culminating project. So not only will you need to navigate online courses, you’ll need to know how to perform research off-campus as well.

What are 5 popular online master’s degrees?

Online master’s degrees are commonly pursued by professionals working in fields that actually require advanced education, such as teaching or executive positions in business. Accordingly, these are the most popular online master’s degrees:

  • Education (MEd or MAEd)
  • Business Administration (MBA)
  • Computer Science
  • Psychology
  • Healthcare Administration

Online Doctoral Degrees

Online doctoral degrees have become increasingly accepted as equivalents to their traditional on-campus counterparts. As the highest credential attainable in academia, however, online doctorates are limited to only the subjects that distance learning really suits. Here is what you need to know when considering whether an online doctorate is right for you.

How long does it take to complete a doctoral degree?

Doctoral degrees in general take longer to complete than any other type of degree, and opting for an online program may extend your schedule further. Depending on your university and subject of study, your online doctoral program can take anywhere from two to 10 years to complete. Fortunately, you may be able to finish earlier by maintaining excellent time management, and also by entering a “fast-track” or accelerated program. While accelerated doctoral degree programs are somewhat rare, if you do enter one, you may be able to cut a 4-year program, for example, down to two years.

Why would you get a doctoral degree online/what is the benefit?

Online doctoral degree programs are perfect for working professionals whose employers support their pursuit of further education – and even better, support the tuition bill. With the flexibility of online classes, you can continue to work while studying and developing your thesis/dissertation. You might even have an advantage over on-campus students if your professional work can inspire your thesis, removing some of the struggle doctorate students can have with formulating ideas for new, industry-relevant research. Online doctoral programs also benefit those who have young children to care for, because you can plan your studies around your schedule.

What are the pros and cons of getting a doctoral degree online?

Pros:

  • Online doctoral programs are just as rigorous as on-campus programs. Courses are taught by highly reputable professors, and students are required to produce original research. As such, you won’t be sacrificing quality over online convenience.
  • Your teaching skills will improve. Because you’ll be guiding your own education, you’re going to experience first-hand the same challenges that your students might face themselves, such as technical problems with online assignments and time management obstacles. This is a big bonus if you’re hoping to become a professor.

Cons:

  • Because research and hands-on skills are typically the core focus of any doctoral degree, not all doctoral subjects are well-suited to online learning. Most experimental sciences that require in-person laboratory work, such as chemical engineering, do not have online doctoral programs available, nor do top-level medical subjects.
  • Many online doctoral degree programs are not fully online; many are hybrid programs that do require on-campus experiences. If you don’t have the ability to visit campus whatsoever, you may find it difficult to find a program that fits your schedule.
  • Teaching experience is hard to come by, and that’s a big downside if you want to become a professor. Working as a teacher’s assistant, like so many doctoral students do, won’t be an easy option if you can’t work on-campus. Alternative solutions to this problem are available though, such as teaching opportunities closer to you rather than the university you’re attending.

What skills or expertise do you need to get a doctoral degree online?

Just like a traditional doctoral program, an online doctoral program aims to prepare you for the highest level of practice in your field, and as such, you will need a strong foundation in the subject you’re pursuing. Before applying to an online doctoral degree program, you should already have a related master’s degree under your belt. Professional experience in your field is also highly recommended, as these programs require real-world understanding of current challenges faced by practicing professionals.

Additionally, online doctoral students should be well-prepared to perform off-campus research. Because you may not have access to a traditional university library, you will need to know where to acquire information elsewhere.

What are 5 popular online doctoral degrees?

Online doctoral degree programs are growing in popularity, and although some subjects are not suited to online learning, these top programs most definitely are:

  • Business
  • Counseling
  • Education
  • Psychology
  • Public Health

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