Best Online Colleges

With more employers looking for college-educated employees, the decision to go on to college is a popular one. In fact, a 2015 study performed by Babson Research found that over seven million students are getting their college education online.

As online college enrollment increases, those colleges become attractive propositions for busy working adults and students who enjoy the flexibility and lower cost that online education has to offer.

Compare Reviews for Top Online Colleges

University of Phoenix
Read 1411 Reviews

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
Read 451 Reviews

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.

Colorado Technical University
Read 125 Reviews

Colorado Technical University was founded in 1950 in Colorado Springs. CTU began its venture into online schooling in 1995 and now offers several online classes that focus on educating students for the careers they want.

Strayer University
Read 418 Reviews

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.

American InterContinental University
Read 101 Reviews

Founded in 1970, American InterContinental University has expanded to include online courses. With campuses in both Houston and Atlanta, AIU offers personalized curricula to make sure you take classes that fit your schedule.

Devry University
Read 339 Reviews

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
Read 375 Reviews

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.

South University
Read 111 Reviews

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.

The College Network
Read 760 Reviews

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.

Everest Institute
Read 373 Reviews

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.

Get expert advice delivered right to your inbox

We try to avoid the fluff and deliver tips and guides that really matter

Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter!Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.
Unsubscribe easily whenever you want
Profile picture of ConsumerAffairs

Research Team

View Profile

The ConsumerAffairs Research Team believes everyone deserves to make smart decisions. We aim to provide readers with the most up-to-date information available about today's consumer products and services.

What online college 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. Some of the most popular online degree programs are Criminal Justice, MBA, Nursing and Accounting.

  • 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.



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.


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


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.


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.

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.


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.


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 benefits from online colleges?

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.

Online college expert reviews

Colorado Technical University

Colorado Technical University is a career-oriented college that has been in operation since 1956. Colorado Technical University introduced its online school in 1995 to expand beyond its campus in Colorado Springs.

  • Military support: Colorado Technical University is a strong supporter of students who are currently or were formerly members of the United States military. CTU has awarded over $4.5 million in scholarships for military members.
  • CTU Fast Track: The CTU Fast Track program gives you a series of exams in a key course subject to give you college credit for what you already know. Passing a Fast Track exam earns credits that will help you graduate faster.
  • Online and campus classes: CTU has both online and campus classes to give local students the opportunity to choose their learning environment.
  • Online tuition and scholarship calculators: CTU provides online calculators that allow you to estimate your tuition costs and your financial aid. These services are useful if price is a key factor in choosing your school.
  • Career-oriented curriculum: CTU is designed to help you train with industry-related classes. This curriculum makes CTU ideal for people looking for employment or promotion in a particular field.
  • Best for: people seeking a job or promotion, military students and students who are currently employed.
Read 125 Reviews
American InterContinental University

American InterContinental University is a for-profit university with physical campuses in Atlanta, Georgia and Houston, Texas. It is a regionally accredited university with a robust offering of online education options. American InterContinental University was founded in 1970.

  • Online and physical campuses: American InterContinental University gives you the option of attending classes online or in physical classrooms. Campuses in Houston and Atlanta give you a classroom experience, and online courses give you the freedom to take classes that fit your own schedule.
  • Intellipath: Intellipath is AIU’s unique, personalized learning platform. With Intellipath, you can enter your academic goals and any credits you may have, and the program will map out a customized educational path fit your academic needs.
  • Military scholarship: For women and men serving in the armed forces, AIU offers 45 percent tuition reduction. AIU also offers military grants to help pay for school as well as benefits to spouses and families of students in the military.
  • Transfer credits: If you want to transfer to AIU, AIU will make sure you get the most out of transferrable credits. AIU accepts up to 75 percent of qualifying credits to help you save on tuition expenses.
  • Adaptable curriculum: AIU encourages students to find a schedule that works for them. Whether you want to go to school full- or part-time, AIU will help you find a personal schedule that fits into your life.
  • Best for: military, international, working or any other students in need of an online education.
Read 101 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.

Read 760 Reviews
Kaplan University

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

Read More
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.

Read More

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.

Read More
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.

Read More
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.

Read More
Strayer University

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

Read More
Devry University

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

Read More

Compare Reviews for Top Online Colleges

Intercoast Colleges
Read 40 Reviews

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.

Keller Graduate School of Management
Read 9 Reviews

Keller Graduate School of Management was founded in 1973 as the CBA Institute. It provides students with flexible online and on-campus courses that are up-to-date on business trends and taught by working professionals.

Read 149 Reviews

Alexandria Technical & Community College
Read 8 Reviews

Alexandria Technical & Community College is a two-year college in Minnesota. Students can choose from a variety of degrees, many of which are transferrable. They offer classroom and online options for students.

Moraine Park Technical College
Read 8 Reviews

Moraine Park Technical College has three campuses and two regional centers in Wisconsin. Their online college offers students across the country access to 20 programs that can be completed entirely online.

Santiago Canyon College
Read 13 Reviews

Santiago Canyon College in California serves over 10,000 students per year who are pursuing an Associate degree or who are looking to transfer to a four-year college. They have online and hybrid classes for distance learners.

American Career College
Read 29 Reviews

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.

University of Atlanta
Read 8 Reviews

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.

ConsumerAffairs Solutions for Business

Schedule a demo

Follow us

Inc. 5000 Award

Your use of this site constitutes acceptance of the Terms of Use

Advertisements on this site are placed and controlled by outside advertising networks. does not evaluate or endorse the products and services advertised. See the FAQ for more information.

The information on this Web site is general in nature and is not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice. makes no representation as to the accuracy of the information herein provided and assumes no liability for any damages or loss arising from the use thereof.

Copyright © 2018 Consumers Unified LLC. All Rights Reserved. ConsumerAffairs Privacy Policy. The contents of this site may not be republished, reprinted, rewritten or recirculated without written permission.