Many colleges are temporarily offering online classes as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but some were doing so long before COVID-19 disrupted daily life. Over the past decade, online learning has become an immensely popular alternative to the traditional, on-campus college education.
One of the big reasons behind the growth of online education is the flexibility it provides students. You can learn from anywhere in the world, on your own schedule. This is perfect if there is a specific program you want to attend but you don’t want to move, or if you have other commitments — like a job — that mean you need more flexibility over your schedule.
With that said, choosing which online college to attend is not easy. It’s not as if you can take a campus tour, meaning you’ll need to do a lot more research. Online degrees may be less expensive than their in-person counterparts, but they still require a big investment of both money and time.
In this guide, we’re going to break down the best online colleges in 2020 to help you decide which school you should attend.
Top 10 Online Colleges in 2020
Hundreds of schools offer online degree programs, which means you should be able to find an online program for almost any subject. To help you identify online schools you could attend, we’ve prepared a list of the top 10 online colleges.
Oregon State University is a public research university which offers more than 200 undergraduate degree programs. The school has two campuses, 11 colleges and 12 experiment stations. It has received more research funding than any university in Oregon.
Alumni of Oregon State University have founded companies like Panda Express, NVIDIA, E-Trade and U-Haul. Graduates have also been responsible for inventing the computer mouse, the modern dentist chair and even a shade of blue.
The school offers an online learning experience for many of its courses. This allows you to study without having to visit campus and you can take proctored exams in your local area. You can also study in the school’s hybrid program, which blends face-to-face classroom sessions with online studying.
The University of Florida is a top-ranked public research university offering online undergraduate and graduate degrees in 25 majors such as biology and computer science.
UF Online has more than 330,000 alumni from all 50 states and also 135 countries across the world. Alumni of UF have gone on to work at companies like Merrill Lynch or organizations like the New York Yankees, which shows the prestige associated with a UF degree.
In addition, 43 members of the school’s faculty have been elected to the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Ohio State University is the highest-ranked public university in Ohio. The school was founded in 1870 as a land-grant university and is based in Columbus. Ohio State offers online programs for more than 40 different certificates and degrees, and allows existing students to audit some of their courses online.
Ohio State’s online program features a number of distinguished faculty members who also teach on-campus. As a student at Ohio State, you’ll receive career support to help you use your degree to pursue your dream career. The school also offers a number of opportunities for you to get to know your classmates. For instance, the school has a Facebook Group you can use to learn about your peers.
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Florida International University is a public research university which offers more than 190 degrees online. FIU has a student body of nearly 54,000 and has produced more than 200,000 graduates.
At FIU, you’ll receive a high-quality online education. The school is also known for its vibrant student life. For instance, the school offers a number of virtual student organizations you can join to explore your social, political and cultural interests.
In addition, the school offers a program called Career Engage. This is a professional readiness path that is tailored to your specific career goals and will help you acquire the skills you need to start your career as soon as you graduate.
Colorado State University is a public research university which takes pride in offering 100 percent online learning courses so you don’t have to attend campus to study. Your studies will be built around your schedule so you can balance your personal priorities and your academic studies.
CSU has 12 years of experience using online learning technologies and revises its courses every 12 to 18 months. The school’s faculty is also specifically trained to teach in an online learning environment. This ensures that your education is engaging and delivered effectively using the latest online education technologies.
CSU aligns its programs with industry-leading professional certifications. This means you’ll be prepared for certification exams upon graduation in order to secure your dream job. The school also offers a range of internship and on-the-job experiential learning opportunities to help you gain experience in the real world.
Pennsylvania State University is a public land-grant research university with campuses all across Pennsylvania. The school offers online degrees for more than 150 subjects through its World Campus. Students at Penn State’s World Campus come from all 50 states and more than 60 countries.
As a student at Penn State’s World Campus, you’ll study a career-focused curriculum based on the latest industry trends. The school has also designed its programs specifically around online learning to ensure you receive the most effective learning experience possible.
You’ll also be able to receive academic advising and career counseling services online. These services will help you plan out your studies, set study goals and prepare for your transition into the workforce. In addition, the same teachers who teach in-person classes also teach online courses at Penn State.
Southern New Hampshire University is a private university based between Manchester and Hooksett in New Hampshire. The school offers more than 200 career-focused degree programs to more than 100,000 students both in-person and online.
SNHU offers a range of online education services to help you succeed. The school provides wellness education and resources to its students, as well as an online writing center to help you improve your literacy skills. The school also offers free 24/7 online tutoring to help you with your studies.
As a student at SNHU, you’ll also be able to access a free, full-service career development team. This team offers one-on-one career counseling, career webinars and other resources you can use to prepare for your career.
Arizona State University is one of the largest public universities by enrollment in the United States. The school offers more than 200 degree programs online in subjects ranging from environmental science to computer science.
ASU Online offers a unique student life experience filled with services to complement your studies. For instance, students can use the school’s Career and Professional Development service to get support building their resume, enhancing interview skills or preparing for the job search. The school also makes use of Slack for its online students, so you’ll be able to easily stay in touch with other students.
Although ASU Online may offer online courses, you’ll still have the opportunity to study abroad in one of over 65 countries through its Study Abroad Office. As if that was not enough, the school also has a program called Venture Devils which supports entrepreneurial students who are interested in starting a new venture.
The University of Central Florida is a public research university with more than 20 years of experience providing online degrees in subjects ranging from computer science to psychology through its UCF Online program.
As a student at UCF Online, you’ll be assigned a success coach who will help you devise strategies to stay on track to graduate and create plans aligned with your career goals. According to UCF, the school has 340 National Merit Scholars enrolled and in 2019 students completed 10,428 co-op, internship and service-learning experiences.
Although you may be studying online, you’ll still have full access to the UCF campus. This means that you can access the school’s libraries and take advantage of walk-in office hours for your professors. There are also numerous events open to online students on campus so they can develop closer relationships with their fellow students.
Purdue University, the world-renowned land grant university based in West Lafayette, Indiana, offers online degrees in more than 180 subjects through its Purdue Global initiative.
Purdue Global uses the latest technology and delivery methods to make their classes easy to access. All you need to do is sign in to access all of your Purdue Global learning resources. These resources include online quizzes, seminars, discussion boards and more.
Some Purdue Global programs offer externships, internships or other opportunities to help you acquire real-world experience while applying the skills you’ve learned in the classroom.
As if that was not enough, the school also has more than 25 student clubs and professional organizations which you can participate in online. These can help you boost your resume and learn more about your fellow Purdue Global Students.
Online vs Traditional Colleges
The biggest concern you may have about online education is how it compares with a traditional college experience. Below are the main points of difference.
- Start Dates
- Learning Resources
- Tests and Exams
Let’s discuss each of these points to help you get a better sense of what you can expect from an online degree program vs a traditional college experience.
Many online programs do not impose set class times, meaning you can study when you want. On the other hand, in-person programs require you to attend lectures and labs at specific times, which gives you less flexibility over your schedule.
With that said, both online and in-person programs require students to participate in live discussions in order to complete their courses. You’ll also be expected to submit assignments before certain due dates even if you are attending school online.
Many online programs are cheaper than their in-person counterparts. Some schools allow all their online students to pay the in-state tuition rate. More commonly, schools charge a standard rate for their online programs, which is independent from their in-state and out-of-state tuition rates.
A large number of online programs offer rolling admissions. This means you can start your classes at multiple points in the year. This is different from an in-person college program which usually follows a semester schedule, leaving you a limited set of points at which you can start your degree.
Online colleges make use of digital learning resources such as online textbooks, websites, and software like Zoom and Moodle to provide an education. Often, you may be able to get the online materials you need for free or at a discount.
In-person programs often require you to rent or buy textbooks, which can be expensive. Although you may need some textbooks for your online studies, digital versions are often cheaper.
The day-to-day experience at an online college is very different from that of an in-person college. The people who thrive most in online programs are those who can work more independently because they need to stay self-motivated to remain on-track.
In comparison, traditional college programs often provide more accountability. This is because you are working in a classroom environment surrounded by your peers.
Online courses often provide discussion boards and group chats for their students to communicate, alongside video conferencing solutions. In a classroom environment, you’ll have an opportunity to interact with students during class, and in clubs and student societies.
Tests and Exams
Tests and exams for online courses are often monitored remotely. This means that you may have a webcam running that monitors you as you conduct the test. There are also suites of software available to colleges to help detect cheating during your exam. However, you may be expected to visit a local test center which will proctor your exams.
How to Choose an Online College
So, you’re convinced an online college education is for you. Now you may be wondering what criteria you should verify before choosing your school. Let’s break down a few steps you should follow when deciding on an online college to attend.
Step 1: Verify the School’s Accreditation
Accreditation refers to a process by which the standards of a school’s educational offerings are evaluated. Accreditation ensures that the degree you work hard to earn is valuable. When you go to an employer with an accredited online degree, they will know that you have graduated from a high-quality program with standards that have been verified.
Before you enroll in an online school, you should verify its accreditation. You can do this by checking the school’s website or by checking the accreditation directory hosted by the US Department of Education.
Step 2: Pick a Level
Your next step should be to consider what degree level you are going to pursue. If you already have a degree, then you may want to start by studying for a bachelor’s or a master’s degree. If your online college experience would be your first degree, then you’ll want to start with an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree.
Online associate degrees are best for those who have a high school diploma and who want to acquire practical career skills. These degrees are less expensive than bachelor’s degrees and open a variety of career paths.
Online bachelor’s degrees are suitable if you have a high school diploma or a few college credits and want to advance your studies. Bachelor’s degrees are required for many jobs in business, healthcare, technology and other knowledge sectors.
Master’s degree programs allow you to delve deeper into a particular subject. These programs typically last fewer than three years and can help you position yourself to switch careers or advance further on your current career path.
Step 3: Choose a Major
Next, you should choose a major. The best way to choose a major is to ask yourself which course aligns best with your interests and future job ambitions. If you’re interested in computing, a degree in computer science would be a good investment.
Research all the majors available online and consider which one best suits your needs.
Then, research the specific courses in each of those majors. This will help you better identify which program is right for you.
How Much Does Online College Cost?
The cost of an online degree depends on the type of program you attend. Many online programs are cheaper than traditional on-campus programs because they require less physical resources. With that said, some programs charge the same rate you would pay if attending classes in-person.
A college education, whether it’s in-person or online, has the potential to result in massive salary increases for you. According to the US Social Security Administration, men with bachelor’s degrees earn around $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school grads; women with bachelor’s degrees earn $630,000 more.
There are a few different types of online colleges, each of which have their own costs. These are:
- Community College: Community colleges that offer online courses allow you to pursue an associate’s degree and prepare for a four-year program. The tuition at these schools is usually lower than most colleges.
- Public College: Public colleges are traditional state schools and are cheaper than private schools. Many online schools offer tuition discounts to in-state students.
- Career College: Career colleges prepare you for the specific skills you’ll need to pursue a career. These schools are often cheaper than public and private schools.
- Private College: Private for-profit and not-for-profit programs are typically the most expensive. You should be sure that if you are considering attending one of these programs, you research their accreditation. This will reduce the chances of enrolling in a low quality program, of which there are many in this category.
How Can I Pay for an Online Degree?
Online degrees are a big investment. So, you may be wondering: how can I pay for an online degree? There are a couple of options available to you, which are:
#1: Financial Aid
Financial aid is available to students who attend online colleges. There are two main sources of financial aid: federal student loans and private student loans.
- Federal Student Loans: You can file out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to see if you qualify for any federal student loans, scholarships or grants. This form can be submitted online. Federal student loans are one of the best ways to finance your education because they offer more favorable repayment terms than many private loans. Federal student loans can come in the form of Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized loans.
- Private Student Loans: Private lenders offer loans to students who are unable to access federal student loans or who have exhausted their federal loan options. The interest on private student loans is typically higher than that of a federal loan and students are often asked to start repaying their loans while still in school.
#2: Grants and Scholarships
Grants are a form of financial aid that does not need to be paid back. Grants are often provided by the government or colleges and universities themselves for students who qualify as low-income.
Scholarships are similar to grants, but are available through private schools as well. Scholarships can either pay for part or all of your online education.
Federal work-study is a program that helps students pay for their education. This program allows students to work part-time while studying.
To qualify for federal work-study, you must attend a school that participates in the work-study program. The jobs that you’ll be offered will be related to your field of study and you can expect that you’ll either be working for your school, a non-profit or for a public agency.
Can I Find a Job with an Online Degree?
A few years ago, many employers were reluctant to recognize online degrees. There were a number of concerns that online programs were not as rigorous as traditional, in-person programs. However, this perception has largely faded over the past few years, especially amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
There are still some employers out there who are hesitant to accept online degrees, but many have changed their way of thinking. This is because it’s not so much the format through which a degree was attained that matters, but more the fact that you have participated in a rigorous educational course which provided you with the relevant skills.
As more prestigious schools offer online courses, the validity of this mode of education will only increase. But such degrees have already come a long way in terms of their clout and are more than able to help you land your dream job.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you still have questions about whether an online college is right for you? Here are a few frequently asked questions which may help you make a decision.
How long does it take to complete an online degree program?
Most online bachelor’s degree programs take four years to complete. Associate’s degree programs take about two years to complete. Master’s programs typically take under three years to complete. Some schools also offer accelerated programs which will allow you to graduate earlier if you meet requirements.
Are online degrees recognized?
Online degrees conferred by an accredited online college are required to meet the same standards as on-campus programs.
Can my credits transfer to an online school?
Credits from a regionally-accredited institution can usually be transferred over to an online school. You may also be able to claim credits for work experience or prior education.
Online college degree programs have been around for more than a decade and in that time a lot has changed. In the beginning, many people were skeptical of online learning. But online education has improved and it has become increasingly clear that online schools are able to offer a high-quality education.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced most universities to move their programs online, has illustrated how effective online education can be if implemented correctly. If you’re looking to attend college, but want a lot of flexibility over when and where you learn, an online college could be a great investment for you.