With a growing wage gap between those who have a college degree and those with only a high school diploma, the decision to go on to college is easy. The challenge lies in finding a college that offers your degree program, at a price point you can afford and with the flexibility you need. Online colleges have become an attractive proposition for busy working adults and students who enjoy the flexibility and lower cost that online education has to offer. In fact, a 2015 study performed by Babson Research found that over seven million students are getting their college education online, with numbers expected to rise over the rest of the decade.

Top 10 Best Rated Online Colleges

The College Network has been a leader in distance education since 1992. It partners with Indiana State, Lake Superior State, Purdue and Regis universities to offer classes in nursing, health care and professional services.
Devry University is one of the best-known trade schools in the United States. Students can take courses in one of 40 disciplines in order to begin working and earning more money than they do in their current careers.
Ashford University's bachelor's in social and criminal justice offers three focuses: homeland security, criminal investigations and corrections management. Faculty have higher degrees and real-life experience in their areas.
Concorde Career College offers professional training to allow students to quickly move from school to a new career. They coursework at 16 locations in eight states to help students begin health-care-related careers.
Strayer University allows its program to be tailored to the individual student, with options to enroll online or on campus and to structure a bachelor's degree concentrating on homeland security, forensics or computer security.
Colorado Technical University was first founded to help veterans establish careers without spending a lot of money. Today, the school offers programs to students in Colorado as well as to members of the military.
South University offers a wide range of graduate and undergraduate educational programs. It has a variety of locations as well as online coursework; courses offered vary by the location to which students apply.
American Career College offers health care training for those who want to get involved in medical assistant, nursing assistant or medical insurance and billing careers.The school was founded more than 35 years ago.


American Intercontinental University was founded in Europe in 1970 to provide students with higher education. The school has flexible degree programs in Atlanta and Houston, as well as an award-winning virtual campus.
InterCoast Colleges offers associate's degree and diploma programs to help students prepare for medical, legal, business, computer and technology professions. The school has been operating for more than 26 years.

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What features matter most?

Financial aid

Financial aid

With an average college education costing upwards of $36,000 on the low end, grants, scholarships and student loans become a crucial part of paying for college.

  • Federal and state aid: Grants are the most desirable part of the college financial aid equation, since you never have to pay them back. Make sure any school is eligible for Federal and State aid packages, so you can knock off some of the cost.
  • Comprehensive scholarships: One area where traditional schools tend to dominate is in the scholarship dollars, since they have long histories and alumni associations that fund a variety of scholarships. Ask about what internal scholarships might be available through potential online schools before making a decision.
  • Student loans: Take a look at the final student aid package offered to you. If it is mostly in student loans, be sure to lock in a very low-interest-rate, as the first bill after you graduate can be an unwelcome surprise.

Degree programs

Not every college offers every degree program, particularly with online schools. Some programs require practicums or internships that are not available online.

  • Certificate courses: Continuing education is a broad field, and many online colleges have courses that could be viewed as professional development. Make sure whatever certificate courses you take are acceptable to the necessary professional organizations before enrolling.
  • Associates degree: Outside of RN and similar programs, many online colleges have comprehensive associates degree programs, but they may or may not transfer to another college. Be sure to check on transferability before signing up for classes.
  • Bachelor’s degree: If you want a four-year degree, make sure it is available in your desired program. While many online colleges offer bachelor's degrees, there are usually a limited number of options.
  • Graduate degree: Many online programs offer Master and Ph.D. degrees in fields ranging from business to nursing. Make sure your degree is coming from a legitimate institution, otherwise your extra credentials won’t mean a lot when you’re on the job market.

Accreditation

Accreditation

The goal of university and college accreditation is to ensure that education provided by the institution of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality as determined at the state and federal level. Additionally, accreditation determines a school’s eligibility for certain federal and state financial aid program.  Because there are many ways to achieve it, simply having accreditation is not enough to tell you whether or not a school is legitimate or the best place for you to earn your degree. However, it’s a good starting point when you’re trying to choose a program.

  • Regional accreditation: Possibly the most important, regional accreditation is the most rigorous and generally accepted.
  • National accreditation: Certain programs must be nationally accredited to be acceptable across state lines. This is particularly true for health related fields.
  • Distance education and training council accreditation: This type of accreditation is specifically for distance learning and correspondence courses. It is not as accepted as regional accreditation, so if you plan to transfer, be sure to do the research up front.

Cost

With the average year of higher education carrying an almost $9,000 price tag for in-state residents at public universities, cost can be a big part of the decision-making process.

  • Price per credit: Most colleges charge per credit, not per course or degree program. This can leave many students facing tremendous school loans.
  • Subscription pricing: Some online colleges have started to offer a subscription model, where students can complete as many courses as they can within, typically, a three-month time frame. This allows them to work as fast as they can and complete more credits in the same time.
  • Degree pricing: Some online colleges offer a single price for a degree, but this is typically a warning sign that the diploma may not have much value.
  • Check default student loan rates: This statistic is more useful than job placement statistics to tell you how likely you are to get a job after you graduate and whether or not a particular program is worth the price of admission. An online college with a high rate of students who default on their loans tells you that they don’t give their students the tools they need to get good paying jobs, or at least jobs that pay according to their student loan amount.

Flexibility and scheduling

Scheduling

One of the biggest benefits to online college is the flexibility and student-led scheduling. It should allow you to work around social and work commitments as you work toward a degree.

  • No set times: Most online colleges have no scheduled class time, but be sure to ask before enrolling in a class. Some distance learning programs do make students meet online for discussions or lectures.
  • Flexible semesters: Some online colleges offer flexible start dates which can be crucial for those working around busy schedules.
  • Open coursework: Some instructors make assignments due on particular days and do not provide information for students to work ahead. Others have an open syllabus allowing students to turn in work as it is completed at their own pace.
  • Ability to transfer: Consider it a red flag if an online institution doesn’t transfer credits to other colleges, even if you have no intention of transferring. It may be because their standards are too low to be accepted by other institutions of higher education.

Quality

The quality of the instruction offered at different colleges plays an important role in students’ confidence at graduation.

  • Good instructors: A good instructor can mean the difference between absorbing knowledge and simply completing assignments. Find out if instructors are full-time staff or part-time adjuncts. Part-time professors are generally more overloaded and have less time to devote to individual students.
  • Challenging curriculum: The more challenging the curriculum, the more applicable a degree becomes in the real world.
  • Responsive student services: When having trouble submitting an assignment or understanding certain concepts, a responsive network of educators can make the difference between success and failure in a course.
  • Support services: Traditional colleges have office hours in place for students to visit with faculty along with writing centers and libraries where students can seek help. A reputable online college will offer support for students in some other way, including having advisors and tutors available via chat and/or phone, teleconference options and career services.

What are different types of online colleges?

Online only

The schools offer a limited number of degree programs, with no campus for students to study in a more traditional environment. They may be referred to as diploma mills. Take caution and do your research before enrolling to make sure your degree will be applicable and accepted by employers as legitimate upon graduation.

Distance learning with a campus

Traditional schools are starting to expand their distance learning programs to include entirely online degree programs.

For-profit

These online colleges are often highly motivated in their marketing, but they may not offer the best education because they are more focused on selling education as a business rather than actually educating students for success in the real world.

Non-profit

Generally, nonprofit institutions are more interested in excelling their students, not making money, so they are more likely to put education ahead of marketing.

Who's it for?

New grads

Those fresh out of high school looking for a way to attend school on a tight budget or while they seek employment can benefit from the lower cost and flexibility of an online college.

Promotion/job seekers

To get to the next career level or change career paths, an advanced degree or specialty certification is often necessary. Many colleges offer continuing education, Masters and PhD programs online.

Lifetime learners

Some people simply enjoy learning about different subjects. They may want to audit a variety of courses or pursue certifications online for personal enrichment.

Full-time workers

Online colleges are an ideal, flexible solution for those who need to work full time while pursuing their diplomas.

Company reviews

  • The College Network

    The College Network partners with universities and colleges to offer a streamlined path to a degree. Since 1992, they have been an educational partner giving students the opportunity to earn a degree from a respected college.

    • Degree programs: The College Network offers several healthcare related bachelor's degree programs and professional degrees through their university partners.
    • Certification programs available: In addition to their degree programs, The College Network offers a range of certification programs and continuing education credits.
    • Not a college: The College Network is NOT a college. They do not directly award degrees. Instead, they offer a variety of equivalency based credit options that transfer to one of their partner universities.
    • Online only: Take courses when and where it is convenient for you, without the need to commute to a campus.
    • 24-months to a degree: With a test based approach to learning, students who pursue a bachelor's through The College Network might complete a degree in as little as 24 months.
    • Best for New grads, promotion/job seekers, lifetime learners and full-time workers.
  • Allen School

    Offering continuing education in health related fields since 1961, Allen School has helped thousands of students enter careers in hospitals, clinics and other healthcare settings.

    • Online and on campus: Allen School offers programs entirely online, and they have campuses for students that learn more effectively in traditional classroom settings.
    • National accreditation: Many healthcare fields require national accreditation, and Allen School is one of an approved network of educational providers for their programs.
    • Medical billing and coding online: With the recent switch to a more extensive coding system, the need for medical billing and coding specialists is expected to grow, so this program is very timely.
    • Easy financial aid: Getting information on financial aid is a part of the application process.
    • Easy enrollment: You don't need to call in and wait on hold for someone to answer. If you are interested in Allen School, simply give them your number and they will call you.
    • Best for New grads and promotion/job seekers.
  • Kaplan University

    With a 76 year history and one million students each year, Kaplan University has an established reputation as an exceptional educational provider.

    • Degree programs: Many online colleges only offer certificate or associate degree programs, but Kaplan University goes to a bachelor's degree and beyond.
    • Advanced degrees: If you already have a bachelor's degree and want to pursue your masters, Kaplan has several programs available.
    • On campus option: While possibly best known for their online and distance learning programs, Kaplan has nearly 400 campus locations in 25 countries.
    • Regional accreditation: Not every program is regionally accredited, but Kaplan makes it easy to find out which course of study meets those requirements by putting accreditation information front and center on their website.
    • Nationally accredited certifications: For those looking for direct entry or continuing education opportunities, Kaplan has a range of accredited certification programs across several industries.
    • Best for New grads, promotion/job seekers, lifetime learners and full-time workers.
  • Everest Institute

    With a focus on career-based learning, Everest Institute is the overall name for the brand that includes other colleges like Heald College, Bryman College, Ashmead College and many others.

    • Variety of degree programs: While many colleges offer one or two degrees through their distance learning programs, Everest Institute has several options in fields like business administration, accounting, healthcare, legal and IT.
    • Hands-on career training: Translate classroom knowledge to the real world with hands-on training in a job setting.
    • Quality instructors: Professors through Everest Institute have used their degrees in career fields, giving them insight into the pain points of future potential employers.
    • Multiple campuses: More than 60 locations and a broad range of online courses give students a lot of flexibility about where they will take classes.
    • Career placement office: Go from the classroom to a direct entry career using the on-campus Career Placement Office.
    • Best for New grads and promotion/job seekers.
  • ITT

    Starting in 1969, ITT Technical Institute began offering career-focused training and degree programs. They now work with more than 70,000 students in 38 states.

    • Certification and degree programs: With both certification and degree programs, students have the flexibility to decide whether or not they need a more immediate educational solution, or they can put in the time to earn a 4-year degree.
    • Program variety: With six different areas of study, ITT Tech offers programs in business, electronics technology, information technology, drafting and design, criminal justice and health.
    • Military benefits: As a part of many service contracts, those in the military are able to apply funds toward their higher education. ITT Tech is able to accept military benefits.
    • Year-round classes: Take classes on a schedule that makes sense for your with four semesters available per year.
    • Advanced degree programs: Earn a masters degree online through ITT Tech.
    • Best for New grads, promotion/job seekers, lifetime learners and full-time workers.
  • University of Phoenix

    Since its founding in 1976, the University of Phoenix has put providing higher education to working adults at the forefront of their mission. The goal is to be convenient while still providing a quality education.

    • Regionally accredited: Many online colleges pursue national accreditation instead of regional, but University of Phoenix has programs accredited by either. They are on notice regarding their regional accreditation, but they keep their accreditation while they address any issues.
    • Get a doctorate: Few online colleges can offer a PhD program, but the University of Phoenix offers several options.
    • Professional development courses: For those who are not interested in pursuing an additional degree program, but do need to maintain course work for professional development, this college has a range of options.
    • Teaching programs: Many online programs are limited to technology, business, finance and health fields, but University of Phoenix goes outside the box to include teaching and the social sciences.
    • Know admissions requirements upfront: To find out additional information about admissions, many colleges require a phone interview, but University of Phoenix publishes their requirements on their website.
    • Best for New grads, promotion/job seekers, lifetime learners and full-time workers.
  • Ashford University

    Founded in 1918 as a women's junior college, Ashford University has certainly grown beyond the mold. They now partner with Forbes in their School of Business and offer a complete range of educational services.

    • Good reputation: In education, reputation is everything, and Ashford University has one to be proud of.
    • Regionally accredited: In 2013, Ashford University earned accreditation from the WSCUC, one of the six regionally accrediting organizations.
    • Online and on-campus: Ashford University has a long established campus in Clinton, IA and a virtual campus available to students worldwide.
    • Transparent tuition: Tuition and fees are clearly posted on their website, so there are no unpleasant surprises after admission.
    • Internal scholarships available: There are several scholarships available through Ashford University for students who qualify.
    • Best for New grads, promotion/job seekers, lifetime learners and full-time workers.
  • Strayer University

    With more than 120 years of experience in higher education and learning, Strayer University has developed a highly respected reputation.

    • Regionally accredited: The same accrediting agency that is used by top schools like Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Temple also provides Strayer University's accreditation.
    • Online price calculator: With price being such a driving force in higher education enrollment decisions, the option to calculate the cost before enrollment is ideal.
    • Online application: You can fill out an application for enrollment online, so you don't need to spend hours on the phone answering questions before finding out if you are eligible.
    • Masters degree programs: For virtually every bachelor's degree program, there is a corresponding masters degree available at Strayer University.
    • Online chat service: If you have any questions when looking over the material, they offer 24/7 online chat to help you determine your eligibility and answer any questions you might have.
    • Best for New grads, promotion/job seekers, lifetime learners and full-time workers.
  • Devry University

    Since its founding in 1931, DeVry University has helped hundreds of thousands of students reach their educational goals.

    • Regionally Accredited Programs: DeVry University has long held regional accreditation for their on-campus programs, and in 1998, they added online programs to their accreditation.
    • Incredible Program Variety: Where other online colleges offer a few online options, DeVry University has a wide range of programs ranging from the hard sciences to the liberal arts.
    • High Value Scholarships : DeVry University offers $75 million in scholarship and grant funding based on need or merit.
    • Blended Programs Available: Although they offer entirely online degrees, they also offer the option to take some classes online and others on campus.
    • Financial Aid Assistance: Getting the most out of a financial aid package can be challenging, so DeVry University has a fully staffed financial aid office to help.
    • Best for New grads, promotion/job seekers, lifetime learners and full-time workers.

11 – 16 Best Rated Online Colleges

Everest Institute offers criminal justice bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as one-year diplomas in concentration areas. Programs are offered through a combination of in-class and online venues, depending on the program.
A University of Phoenix degree is fully customizable. Students can focus on cybercrimes, human services, criminal justice security or criminal justice management with a certificate, or pursue an associate's or bachelor's degree.
Kaplan University offers a variety of undergraduate-level programs, both online and on traditional campuses. Students can choose the programs that best meet their needs to earn associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees.
The University of Atlanta offers partial degrees as well as bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in several fields. The school has a convenient location in the Atlanta area and provides financial help to students in need.
Heald College, part of Corinthian Colleges, Inc., has closed effective April 27, 2015. The 150-year-old school had 10 campuses throughout the state of California as well as a campus in Oregon and another in Hawaii.