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Find the Best Online Colleges

With more employers looking for college-educated employees, the decision to attend college is a popular one. If you are considering continuing your education digitally, use our guide to research and learn about the best online college for you. As online college enrollment increases, these colleges become smart options for busy working adults and students who enjoy the flexibility and lower cost that online education offers.

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Compare Reviews for Top Online Colleges

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Ashford University
Read 680 Reviews

Online accredited university. 60+ degree options. Grants available for veterans and active-duty military and their spouses or dependents. Allows transfer of 90 credits for more savings. Courses last between 5-6 weeks each.

DeVry University
Read 429 Reviews

DeVry University is a well-known trade school 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.

Capella University
Read 59 Reviews

Capella University's online programs use virtual labs to prepare students for life after graduation. Students can earn a bachelor's to doctoral degree in as little as 18 months, or add a certificate in a criminal justice area.

Colorado Technical University
Read 237 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 460 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.

University of Phoenix
Read 1,493 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.

Walden University
Read 20 Reviews

Walden University's criminal justice program offers several concentration options - such as psychology or public administration - for students to customize and personalize their bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree.

American InterContinental University
Read 138 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.

South University
Read 140 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.

General Assembly
Read 153 Reviews

Full and part-time classes are available online and in 12 major cities. Front-end, full-stack and iOS or Android development courses cover HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python, Swift and Rails with prices ranging from $1,250 to $14,950.

What online college features matter most?

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.

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 a good 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

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.

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 it's essential to do your research because some may be more focused on selling education as a business rather than providing the proper education to help students succeed after graduation.

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 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.

Not sure how to choose?

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    Online college author 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.

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    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.

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    Kaplan University

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

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    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.

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    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.

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    Ashford University

    Ashford University has a mission to provide accessible and affordable education. The university offers more than 80 degree programs, including numerous business degrees offered through the Forbes School of Business and Technology, a partnership between Ashford University and Forbes. Other degree programs include accounting, finance, communications, criminal justice, education, health care, information technology, social and behavioral science, liberal arts and political science.

    • Regionally accredited: Ashford University earned accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, one of the six regional accrediting organizations, in 2013. Ashford University’s business program has additional accreditation through the International Accreditation Council for Business Education.
    • Online and on-campus: Ashford University has a long-established campus in Clinton, Iowa, and a virtual campus that’s available to students worldwide.
    • Transparent tuition: The university posts tuition and fees on its website so there are no surprises after admission.
    • Internal scholarships available: Ashford University offers several scholarships to students who qualify.
    Read 680 Reviews
    Strayer University

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

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    DeVry University

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

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    Compare Reviews for Top Online Colleges

    Kaplan University
    Read 462 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.

    Intercoast Colleges
    Read 47 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 14 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.

    American Career College
    Read 30 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.

    Everest Institute
    Read 376 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.

    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.

    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.

    by ConsumerAffairs Research Team

    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.