Best Online Colleges and Universities in 2021

Get detailed information about tuition, accreditation, career prospects, scholarships, admission details and much more

Online degrees are trending now, and being aware of the best online colleges has become more important than ever. 

The idea of being a non-traditional student may be new to you. But these accredited schools would provide you with the same level and often a better approach toward a bachelor's degree or master's degree program.

Balancing work-life with studies sounds difficult, but it can be made easier with a good online degree program specially designed for your educational needs. This would make you closer to your career goals, as online degrees are accredited and recognized by employers.

This guide will walk you through the current top 10 best online colleges, why you should choose an online college, and what you should consider when finding the best online college for you.

What are the Top 10 Best Online Colleges?

On our website, we’ve listed more than 3,000 colleges for every stream, state, degree level, specialization, and more. You will find a complete guide with information on any college that intrigues you along with its rankings.

The College Monk looks toward providing a holistic approach to education; hence you can also find exhaustive information on tuition, careers, online program features, and more.

Below we’ve narrowed it down to the top ten best colleges for online programs. 

Our rankings are based on Tuition, Financial Aid, Acceptance Rate, and more variables to give you the best educational experience.

Happy College Hunting.

 

1. University of Florida

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Established over 160 years ago, the University of Florida is a dynamic school reaching the heights of education and research. It is established around 200 educational and research centers, institutions, and bureaus.

The students are led by a world-class faculty that encourages students to achieve career goals. Around 80% of students receive some kind of financial aid, which helps with tuition costs.

UF has one of the most comprehensive library systems for every discipline. The average GPA of the students is 4.35, and the average SAT score is 1919. 

This university received $838 million last year in research awards. The university also offers career services and the same types of accredited undergraduate programs or graduate programs that would be offered on-campus.

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2. The University of Oklahoma (OU)

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Founded in 1890, The University of Oklahoma is home to more than 20,000 students. It offers around 170 bachelor’s degrees, which highlights the diversity of its curriculum. It offers graduation coaching and peer mentoring along with academic and personal support.

It’s one of the largest research universities in Oklahoma and offers academic excellence to all its students. The average ACT score of the students here is 26.4, and more than 1,000 students are National Merit Scholars.

The university is also home to the National Weather Center, and students can pursue their research starting from Freshman year.

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3. The University of Utah

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The University of Utah is one of the most innovative universities out there, as it has created startup companies and encourages student and staff research. The university was founded in 1850 and has over 31,000 students.

It offers more than 80 majors in different degree levels. The university believes in providing enlightening and unique education to each of its students and has created a portal, "Muse,' to connect students with great experiences.

Online programs and on-campus courses are delivered by the same faculty. They provide career service counseling to students as well.

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4. Florida State University 

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Florida State University (FSU) was founded in 1851. It has a rich history surrounding the teaching of arts, science, technology, research, and more.

The university offers 301 programs in various degree levels and received around $210 million from the faculty in grants and contracts.

Florida State University has given the world six Nobel Laureates. It preserves the liberal arts traditions but also fosters diversity. This university has a Carnegie Commission classification of 'Highest Research Activity' in Doctoral Universities.

It is also one of the best entrepreneurial universities and provides exceptional training and teaching to the students, both on-campus and online.

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5. Oklahoma State University (OSU)

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OSU boasts students from across 100 countries, making it highly diversified. Since the year 1890, it has grown from an Agricultural and Mechanical College into a land-granting university.

Several scholarships and financial aid opportunities provided to the students make the university affordable. Approximately 50% of OSU students graduate without debt.

Oklahoma State University is a leader in research encompassing various subjects such as engineering and health.

It has great online learning programs that can be easily seen in the stats. According to OSU, 87% of its graduates have annual earnings of $45,000.

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6. Ohio State University

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Ohio State University is a public institution that has a history dating back over 100 years. It serves students by providing the best quality education for both traditional and online students. OSU is one of the largest research universities in Columbus, with regional accreditation given by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). 

The university also provides various financial assistance to students in the form of loans, grants, and scholarships.

The total population of OSU is 54,482, of which 51,817 are full-time. The remaining 7,665 are part-time students. The institution is very choosy, with an acceptance rate of 54% and a graduation rate of 84%. 

Ohio State University offers an Associate’s degree, online Bachelor’s degree, online Master's degree, and even a Doctoral degree — all of which are taught by well-trained and experienced professionals.

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7. Clemson University

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Clemson University is a 4-year public institution that was set up in the year 1889 to help students get the best education at an affordable cost. 

Its online and campus programs are well-structured and designed to cater to the requirements of almost everyone who wants to learn on their own. CU has an acceptance rate of 51%, with a graduation rate of 81%.

Students can pursue their online education in various specializations and majors such as Health Science, Biology, Engineering, Business Management, Environmental Science, and more. These programs let an individual take up classes at their own pace with the flexibility of learning from any location.

The financial aid unit of the university guarantees to provide financial support to almost 87% of students every year in the form of grants and a few state and institutional scholarships to those who show exceptional academic backgrounds.

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8. Heritage Christian University

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Heritage Christian University is a not-for-profit private bible institution that was established in 1968 with the motive to advance the churches of Christ by preparing students through undergraduate, graduate, and online certificate programs. 

HCU is regionally recognized, and its accreditation is provided by the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE).

The university provides various online courses to support individuals who don't want to commute to the campus to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree. 

The majors for which these programs are provided include Theology and Arts. The financial aid department of the university is committed to providing necessary financial support in the form of loans, grants, and scholarships such as Legacy Scholarship, Undergraduate (UG), and Graduate Student Scholarship, along with many others.

The Department of Student Affairs on campus strives to enhance a student's emotional, intellectual, social, and physical well-being by planning and hosting numerous events and activities.

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9. Liberty University

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Liberty University is a not-for-profit institution that is considered to be one of the largest Christian universities, with over 75,756 students from different parts of the world. 

LU has an acceptance rate of 30%, with a graduation rate of 51%. Liberty is considered to be the world leader in providing online programs that are well-structured to help students pursue their online bachelor's degree with minimum monitoring.

A student can choose to pursue various degrees such as Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and even a Doctorate in majors such as Nursing, Political Science, Public Administration, Sociology, Biomedical Science, and more. 

The tuition and fees at LU are affordable with financial assistance from the university. Over 72% of students enrolling for different programs receive financial assistance in the form of loans, grants, and several state and institutional scholarships.

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10. Arizona State University (ASU)

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Arizona State University (ASU) is a public institution located in Scottsdale, Arizona. It is committed to offering various online and traditional courses that perfectly fit the requirements of an individual who wants to pursue education from the comfort of their own home. 

The total population of the university is 51,869 students who have come from different corners of the world.

Online programs are offered in numerous specializations such as Corporate Accounting, Certificate in Biomimicry, Art History, Family & Human Development, Biochemistry, and more. 

The tuition and fees vary from program to program. Financial assistance is provided in the form of grants and scholarships. In addition to this, a student can even choose to earn their education through a work-study program.

The campus life is fun-filled, and the student activities department makes sure to provide quality time to everyone on campus by planning and organizing events and activities almost every day.

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FAQs about online colleges

Online learning is new to a lot of people — and so you’re probably going to have a whole lot of questions.

To help you get started, let’s break down a few of the most frequently asked questions about online colleges.

Why choose an online college?

We’ve all got different learning styles. Some of us learn better by doing things with our hands, and others need to be face-to-face or working in groups. Some students actually perform better when they’re working online.

Although online learning isn’t right for everybody, there are some major benefits to pursuing your college degree in this way.

Enhanced flexibility

First and foremost, there’s an element of flexibility. 

When you’re in a traditional, face-to-face learning environment, everything has to be meticulously scheduled. That means your 9 am class is always going to be at 9 am — no matter what morning crisis you’ve had with work or family. 

When you’re pursuing an online degree, rigid schedules aren’t really an issue.

Online college degrees are typically composed of numerous classes or modules that you can work through at your own pace. 

You may have a certain live online class or lecture that does have a set time. However, many online universities and online colleges will let you go back and watch these on-demand.

With this added flexibility, you’re able to maintain a current job, juggle gaps in childcare, or simply enjoy more leisure activities without having to sacrifice your college degree.

Lower costs and debts

Let’s face the facts here: college degrees are expensive. 
For the 2020/21 academic year, the average tuition for an in-person, public out-of-state college was sitting at $27,020 per year. Want to go private? You’re talking about $37,650 per year in tuition.

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But that’s only the tip of the iceberg where costs are concerned.

You can add in an average spend of $11,620 for room and board, $1,240 for books, $1,230 for transportation, and $2,170 for other expenses. 

Still with us? If math isn’t your thing, all of the above equates to $43,280 in costs each year — and that’s just for an out-of-state public school.

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Whether you study online or in-person, you’re always going to have to budget for tuition.

But by choosing an online college and pursuing distance learning, you’re going to slash those expenses dramatically. 

Because you can study from wherever you want, you don’t need to worry about dropping loads of cash on room and board or transportation.

Likewise, a lot of online courses come with more affordable (or even free) ebook options that can save you thousands on textbooks over the course of your studies.

That means your finances won’t be as stretched, and you won’t have to take out sky-high student loans to make ends meet.

What is college like as an online learner?

No two colleges are 100% alike — even online colleges. Yet, by and large, you can expect a few basic similarities between each online college no matter which institution you decide to go for.

The first thing you can expect as an online learner is that you’ll be attending lectures and seminars at home or work instead of at a university campus. All of the teaching, materials, and support you’d normally expect from a college are delivered 100% online.

Online courses are generally condensed into bite-size credits. You’ll achieve a credit each time you finish a part of your course. After you’re awarded enough credits, you’ll be able to complete the course.

When you’re studying with an online college, you’ll still need to log in frequently for classes. 

You won’t be required to meet weekly in a classroom like a traditional college class — so online students are expected to log in as much as possible to digest the coursework, watch lectures, and study on their own time.

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Just like an in-person college course, online learners are required to submit assignments and quizzes in line with the online course syllabus. The vast majority of this coursework will be submitted online through the online college’s virtual learning platform. 

But every once in a while, you may need to travel onto campus to take a big test in-person. That sort of requirement will depend on what course you’re taking and the university or college you’ve chosen to study with.

Finally, it’s important to remember that even though you’re earning your degree remotely, you should still expect some engagement with your peers. 

Most online college classes will feature virtual discussion forums so that you can discuss ideas with fellow online learners and benefit from the same seminar-style that in-person college students would receive.

Again, these forums are typically delivered online via the college’s online learning platform.

How to choose the best online college for you

There are a whole lot of online colleges out there — so it can be a little bit daunting when you’re first embarking on any sort of college search. At the end of the day, you’ve got to go with your gut and choose the school that feels right for you.

That being said, there are a few important elements that you should bear in mind when looking for the best online college.

Accreditation

First and foremost, you probably won’t want to waste your time looking at online colleges that are not accredited.

Accreditation is a vetting process colleges, universities, or certain degree programs undergo to make sure they fulfill a set of universal guidelines. Simply put, accreditation is a quality-control procedure.

Any online college worth its salt will voluntarily submit to the accreditation process to demonstrate to educators, students, and employers that the learning material is credible and acknowledged by relevant industries as satisfactory.

There are loads of accreditation bodies out there, so it’s important to do your homework and make sure that the online course you’re considering is accredited by a reputable institution. 

The US Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognize a number of accreditors.

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Some of these bodies are specific to certain regions within the US, and other bodies are industry-specific. For a complete list of bodies recognized by the US Government, it’s worth looking at the Department of Education website.

A word of caution: accreditation isn’t simply a matter of looking posh or ticking boxes. If you choose to go to an online college that isn’t accredited either nationally or regionally, you could end up paying the price in other ways.

For example, you are rarely going to receive federal financial aid if you’re trying to attend an unaccredited online college.

Likewise, going for an unaccredited online school will almost always block you from switching schools or programs if you spot something you’re more interested in. 

Typically, when you transfer to another online college, you can take credits that you’ve already earned with you. That means you won’t be starting from square one and can pick up with your new course where you left off with your old one.

But if you’re studying at an unaccredited college, other institutions aren’t going to recognize the credits you’ve already attained.

Translation: transfer students are only a thing at accredited online colleges.

Finally, picking an online college that isn’t properly accredited will almost definitely hurt your future employment chances. 

Most employers carry out background checks on prospective students — which means they’re going to do research on the school you attended. If your desired employer isn’t satisfied with the degree you’ve attained, you’re going to miss out on jobs before you even get to the interview stage.

Cost

Although online degrees are typically a lot more affordable than traditional in-person courses, the cost is still going to vary from online college to online college. That’s why you must really do your research to make sure you’re getting a fair price.

It’s important to note that colleges are businesses that need to make money. There’s no such thing as a free lunch — so you shouldn’t expect to get a degree for free either.

That being said, you should do your homework beforehand and look at the sticker price of each online degree you’re considering. Look at how they differ, and try to decipher if the more expensive courses offer any enhanced benefits or resources that you might get some use out of.

Likewise, you shouldn’t be afraid to approach online colleges directly to ask for a breakdown of fees before applying. Sometimes, colleges will advertise a certain tuition fee price — but then a student could be faced with an extra thousand dollars in their first invoice for hidden registration fees.

When in doubt, you should choose an affordable online college that is totally upfront about the costs you’re going to be expected to pay.

Tech support

Let’s be honest, we’re not all tech wizards, right? 

Not all virtual learning platforms are 100% intuitive, and sometimes we all need a helping hand with learning a new app or system. That’s why it’s important that you limit your online college search to schools that offer great virtual support.

The best online colleges should be able to offer you access to a dedicated IT or tech support team that can walk you through how to make the most of your virtual resources or complete tasks. This is typically going to be delivered through a live chat, responsive email threads, or even over the phone.

But the online support shouldn’t end there.

Because online degrees aren’t normally as structured as typical degree programs, you may also sometimes find you have trouble keeping on-track and remaining focused. 

That’s why your online college should offer access to a guidance counselor and support staff that can walk you through any issues you may be having or help you prioritize the new workload.

After all, just because you’re not physically on campus doesn’t mean your college shouldn’t exercise a duty of care. If you’re a student at a college, it’s in that college’s interest to see you succeed. 

Don’t settle for an online institution without any guidance or career support to help you achieve success.

Course offerings

One of the trickiest parts about searching for the perfect online college degree is just how many different courses there are. 

The market is totally flooded with similar-sounding online degree programs. Even after you separate all of the online colleges that offer an accredited bachelor's program with great support, you’re still probably going to be staring at a shortlist of 100 degree possibilities.

That’s why you should also consider how the courses are structured and what they offer in terms of added value.

For example, at first glance, you might find an incredible-sounding online computer science degree program. But once you look at the module breakdown, you realize that this particular course is going to require you to earn 22 credits studying ancient Rome. If you’re  paying to learn about computer science, taking tests about gladiators is going to be a waste of your time and money, right?

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So, do your homework and really analyze how each course is composed. 

Many of the best online colleges and universities will now even let you create your own degree to a certain extent. That means you may choose an academic program, but then you’ll be permitted to pick or drop certain elements based on your own unique interests.

At the end of the day, most undergraduate students choose to pursue an online degree because they want flexibility and to save money without compromising on quality. Your time as an online student is every bit as valuable as the time of a traditional in-person college student. 

That means you should be focused on taking courses that cater to your interests and fall in line with your desired career trajectory.

Conclusion

Everybody expects to get something different out of college. But with online distance learning, you can always expect to get a quality degree at a more affordable price.

Online colleges are not for everybody, sure. But if you’re on the hunt for an accredited online college program that can be flexible around your existing lifestyle, cuts out unnecessary expenses, and offers high levels of virtual support, there are plenty of incredible online colleges to choose from.

Just remember: no two colleges or online degrees are totally alike. So, if you need help comparing degree programs, we’re here to help. Start comparing online colleges now.


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