What Makes a Top Online School?
Earning your degree doesn't mean you have to quit your job or live away from your family on a college campus. Online degree programs allow you balance your studies with your work and family life. Many schools offer online degree and certificate programs and we've evaluated them according to several criteria in order to help you find the top school that is right for you. We used the following factors to evaluate schools: experience teaching online, flexibility and convenience, learning environment, program diversity, program and class availability, student support, and scholarship opportunities. Read on to see why we chose these factors or scroll down to jump to our list of top schools.
|Experience Teaching Online||Because online learning is relatively new in the world of postsecondary education, you want to be sure that the schools you consider have many years of experience in online education. The top schools we included all have experience delivering online learning to their students, as well as legitimate and current accreditation, widely-known school brands, and industry reputations for incorporating the latest technologies and teaching methods in their online platforms. We also included schools with large alumni networks so students can use them to their advantage as they plan and develop their careers.|
|Flexibility and Convenience||We consider flexibility and convenience as the most important benefits of online programs. When you're looking for an online school, seek schools that offer flexible scheduling and class options. Such options include asynchronous class discussions, the ability to schedule your classes based on your convenience, and the ability to access virtual classrooms on your computer or mobile devices at any time, day or night. The following schools offer flexibility in terms of scheduling and enrollment so you can begin your online programs when the time is right.|
|Learning Environment||A poorly designed and unintuitive virtual classroom can certainly lead to a frustrating experience while learning online. You want a platform that is easy to navigate, even if you're not a technical computer wizard. Current online classroom technologies that are used by top schools should allow you to easily interact with your classmates and professors in order to add a personal feel to the virtual learning environment.|
|Program Diversity||The following schools offer a variety of program levels and many fields of study so you can choose a subject area that suits your academic and professional interests. A top school should have a variety of program options so you have the flexibility to change your major or take elective courses based on new interests you discover through your course of study. The schools we chose for this list offer degree programs from the associate's to doctoral degree levels in a range of subjects, as well as many continuing education courses.|
|Program & Class Availability||Because convenience is a primary benefit of online learning, you want your school to have enough program availability so you don't have difficulty getting into the classes and programs you want or need to complete. We kept an eye on this for our ranking criteria and only the schools with the best program and course availability are included.|
|Student Support||As an online learner, you need fast and easy access to student support services, especially technical and academic support. A top online school should have skilled technical support teams to help you if you encounter computer problems, as well as academic support services to assist you with planning your degree programs and choosing your courses. We gave extra attention to schools that offered 24/7 student support services.|
|Scholarship Opportunities||Deciding to enroll in college is a life-shaping and significant decision, especially from a financial perspective. We selected schools offer a variety of scholarships that are available to a variety of students who qualify so students can ease the financial burden of pursuing an online degree.|
Find schools that offer these popular programs
- Biological and Biomedical Sciences
- Communications and Journalism
- Computer Sciences
- Culinary Arts and Personal Services
- Liberal Arts and Humanities
- Mechanic and Repair Technologies
- Medical and Health Professions
- Physical Sciences
- Transportation and Distribution
- Visual and Performing Arts
Our Top Picks
So, what schools matched the criteria set by our editors? Read on for our top picks and why these particular schools qualify.
1. Kaplan University
Kaplan University excels in flexibility. Its Kaplan Commitment program allows new students to try out classes for three weeks for no cost. Its learning environment uses advanced technology and flexible delivery methods that make classes easy to access, including allowing you to attend class from your phone or computer. Kaplan has impressive program diversity, with more than 170 degree and certificate programs as well as advance-start bachelor's degrees that can be completed by in as little as 2 years.
2. Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon University stands out because of its full-time faculty dedicated solely to online learners. The university also offers classes one at a time so that students don't have to focus on multiple courses. 4-credit courses are available, which means students can move through the program faster. Students participate in a tutorial before starting each course, so that they are familiar with the format used for online study. The online classroom is an asynchronous learning environment, which means that you have the flexibility to complete your coursework when it works for you. Grand Canyon offers both graduate and undergraduate degrees in several areas.
3. Full Sail University
Full Sail University offers online education to creative minds. Awarded by the United States Distance Learning Association, Full Sail's online learning environment is easy, convenient and innovative. Full Sail's 'Project LaunchBox' caught our eye because unlike most online universities, Full Sail provides their students with laptops equipped with learning tools to optimize the online learning experience. The university's learning environment allows students to view classmates, contact instructors, engage in live learning sessions with students and instructors and share work online - all aspects that make for a collaborative and dynamic learning environment. Full Sail offers over 40 degree programs at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree level and further eases distance learning with academic and career support services.
4. Liberty University
Liberty University jumped out to us right away because it is the largest non-profit, private online university in the U.S. It has also offered distance education programs since the mid 1980's. Liberty has 24/7 tutoring options for online students, along with access to an online writing center and academic advisors. It offers a wide array of programs with over 160 undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs, making it easy to find a program that is right for you. The university also stands out for its Christian-based student community and service options, which are all available to online students.
5. Colorado State University - Global Campus
We chose Colorado State University's Global Campus for its top-ranking online degree programs. CSU - Global Campus was ranked 7th by U.S. News & World Report for its online bachelor's degree programs in 2013. The university has a tuition guarantee program for online students, so that you won't need to worry about your tuition increasing as long as you're actively enrolled in classes and earning a degree. The university features an innovative online platform with a virtual library, virtual instructor office hours and an online help desk. Colorado State's Global Campus has dozens of online programs and is designed specifically for working professions, so you'll be able to fit courses into your schedule.
6. Brandman University
Also ranked in the top ten for online bachelor's degree programs (#8 in 2013's U.S. News rankings), Brandman University offers over 200 programs through online study. Students can choose from undergraduate and graduate degrees in arts and sciences, education or business, in addition to certificates and continuing education options. If you enroll in one of Brandman's online programs, you'll have online access to all services that the school offers to its on-campus students.
7. Strayer University
Strayer University's unique Graduation Fund helped it to place among our top 10 online schools. For each course you complete at Strayer, your fund grows, and it could cover the tuition for up to 10 future courses. The university also offers a tuition reduction for new students. Additionally, new students can take Strayer's free Online 101 course to learn how to navigate the university's online learning system and how to be successful in distance education classes. Strayer offers a mix of asynchronous and synchronous classes in its diploma, certificate and associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs.
8. Ashworth College
With its career-focused programs and flexible scheduling options, Ashworth College is a top choice for an online college. It offers a self-paced learning system that lets you start taking classes when you're ready, instead of waiting for a new semester. You'll get plenty of support at this school, with tutoring and advising options available for online students along with a 24/7 online student community area. In addition, you won't have to pay extra for textbooks, since all of your learning materials are included in the price of tuition. Ashworth features more than 100 areas of study available through associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs, as well as diploma and certificate options.
9. Northcentral University
New enrollees in Northcentral's online graduate programs take a Student Success Tour to acclimate to the university's Student Portal, a web-based learning management system that allows you to request program information and pay your tuition, as well as access learning materials and communicate with instructors, advisers and fellow students. As a Northcentral student, you'll also have access to the university's online library, virtual bookstore, and writing and dissertation centers. Other features that stood out to us included the school's live, on-demand tutoring service and its honor societies for online students. Scholarship opportunities are available for Northcentral's online students.
10. Herzing University
Herzing University is focused on developing its students' career potential; its 50+ degree programs in subject areas such as information technology, business, healthcare, design, and public safety are designed to provide students with real-world skills. Online classes are offered asynchronously, which allows students the flexibility and convenience to complete coursework on their own schedule. Herzing also has good brand awareness with over 6,000 yearly students and over 40,000 alumni.
Disclosure: Some or all of the schools listed may be partners of Study.com.