Whether you’re looking for career growth, a way to change fields, or simply want to learn more, an online degree may be a good investment. As education technology has improved, there are now thousands of flexible and affordable online degree options, and the market shows no signs of slowing down.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were almost 3.3 million students exclusively enrolled in distance education programs in fall 2018, and those numbers dramatically increased amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020.
To craft our list, we compared 40 of the most respected online college degree programs. We looked at each school’s history, reputation, pricing, class structure, program length, specializations, and success rate. These are the six best online degrees to boost your skills and advance your career.
The 6 Best Online Degrees of 2021
Best Overall : University of Florida
The University of Florida Online earned our top ranking because of the school’s prominence and in-state affordability. UF Online’s programs scored in the top five of 10 categories of the U.S. News & World Report 2021 Best Online Programs, including #3 for Best Online Bachelor’s Program.
UF Online offers in-state tuition at $111.92 per credit, making it the most affordable program on our list. In-state students may save up to 40% by attending online versus in-person, and those looking to participate on-campus can opt for the school’s Optional Fee Package.
Top-ranked online programs from U.S. News & World Report
In-state tuition at $111.92 per credit
Average indebtedness is $18,000 (below the national average)
Out-of-state tuition at $500 per credit
No option for dual high school enrollment
University of Florida Online is our choice for best overall online degree because of the school’s notoriety and in-state tuition affordability. Based in Gainesville, Florida, UF Online was launched back in 2014. Students attending the public university online earn the same degree as they would on campus. UF Online earned the #3 spot in U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 Best Online Bachelor's Programs.
The University of Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Commission on Colleges for bachelor, master, specialist, engineer, doctoral, and professional degrees.
UF Online offers classes through an online platform called Canvas. The school offers three advising opportunities for online students: pre-admissions coaching with post-admissions orientation, an advisor for their major, and group advising.
The school offers 24 majors in which to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree. Most UF Online programs allow you to pursue a double major or dual degree.
The cost per credit is $129.18 for in-state students and $552.62 for out-of-state students. In-state students can save 40% by attending UF Online versus studying in-person. You may also participate in the school’s Optional Fee Package (billed per credit hour) for access to in-person activities, health services, university athletics, and transportation.
UF Online offers access to its Career Connections Center. This includes job postings, career fairs, educational workshops, individual career planning sessions, and more.
Best for Value : Colorado State University Global
Colorado State University Global earned a place on our list because of the school’s reputation and price tag. With a cost of $350 per undergraduate credit, CSU Global is cheaper than most of the programs we reviewed, and the cost won’t increase while you are enrolled. The school also earned points for no hidden fees or out-of-state premiums. The school touts an impressive 4:1 return on investment for graduates.
Top-ranked online program from U.S. News & World Report
Below average cost per credit with no increases or fees
Graduates may see a 4:1 return on investment
May be more difficult to transfer credits elsewhere
Complaints about large volume of sales calls and emails on Yelp
Colorado State University Global offers affordable tuition with the promise of no increases while you are in school. The online program is one of the cheapest among the top-ranked schools we reviewed and is our top pick for value.
CSU Global is part of the Colorado State University System, so your degree will include both the system name and the CSU Global seal. Colorado State University Global tied for the #10 spot in the U.S. News & World Report 2021 Best Online Bachelor’s Programs list. CSU Global is regionally accredited through the Higher Learning Commission.
CSU Global offers 100% online degrees that allow a flexible, personalized schedule. You may earn an undergraduate degree, graduate degree, certificates, and specializations, as well as teacher and principal licensure.
Classes are run through the school’s interactive Canvas platform, which can facilitate online discussions, assignments, projects, and more. You will also have 24/7 access to the library, tutoring, and technical support.
The cost per credit is $350 for undergraduate and $500 for graduate students. There are no additional fees, and CSU Global guarantees your tuition won’t increase. The school offers graduates a free session with a career coach, resume help, and interview preparation.
Best for MBA : Indiana University, Bloomington
Indiana University, Bloomington earned a spot on our list as best for MBA because it consistently ranks as one of the world’s best Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs. In 2021, the school ranked 3rd for U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online MBA Program and it’s easy to see why. Sixty-four percent of students receive a promotion while in the program or within six months of graduating. Students command a mean base salary of $122,000 upon graduation, and the school offers ongoing access to career services.
Graduates earn 72% more income on average
Average MBA indebtedness is $51,091, which is below the national average
One-on-one career coaching
More expensive than some other top online MBA programs
May be tougher to get into than some other top schools
Indiana University, Bloomington’s Kelley Direct Online MBA secured a place on our list based on reputation, alumni success rates, and the school’s Graduate Career Services.
Students attending Kelley Direct Online MBA receive the same MBA as those attending in-person. Indiana University, Bloomington, ranked #3 for U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 Best Online MBA Program. Kelley Direct Online MBA has accreditation through AACSB International.
You may complete your MBA 100% online through live weekly evening classes via Zoom twice per week. As a student, you will also participate in two Kelley Connect Weeks, which offer a week-long on-campus case study. Students may attend virtually or reschedule until the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
Kelley Direct Online also offers the chance to earn a dual degree. The Kelley Direct Online MBA is 54 credits, and you may add one of seven MS degree options for only 12 more credits. The cost per credit for Kelley Direct Online MBA or MS is $1,380. You will also have to cover the cost of travel expenses to attend Kelley Connect Weeks.
Kelley Direct Online offers lifetime access to the school’s Career Services, along with connections to a network of 120,000 worldwide alumni.
Best for Veterans : Pennsylvania State University, World Campus
Pennsylvania State University, World Campus, made our list because of the school’s renowned reputation and excellence in online education. Penn State received six top-10 rankings from the U.S. News and World Report’s 2020 Best Online Programs, more than any other college or university. These rankings include both undergraduate and graduate online programs.
The school also stands out for service members, with a #6 ranking from the U.S. News and World Report’s Best Online Bachelor's Programs for Veterans. The program’s Military Grant-in-Aid may slash the cost of tuition to as low as $103 per credit for service members and their spouses. Service members, veterans, spouses, and dependents will also avoid an undergraduate application fee.
School name recognition and reputation
Top ranking for veteran degrees
Military Grant-in-Aid tuition assistance
More expensive than some other top online programs
Complaints about course work on gradreport.com
Pennsylvania State University, World Campus, ranked best for veterans in our review because of the school’s reputation, flexibility, and veteran discounts. Based in University Park, Pennsylvania, the school has been offering online education through its World Campus since 1998. World Campus students earn the same Penn State degree as those who attend programs in person.
Penn State World Campus offers online classes through Canvas, the school’s learning system. Courses are recorded, and students may attend classes anytime. Online students also have access to the school's student services, including registration assistance, career counseling, technical support, and tutoring.
Penn State World Campus is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and graduates may become part of one of the largest alumni networks in the world. You can choose from more than 150 programs, including undergraduate and graduate degrees, certificates, and minors.
While undergraduate tuition is $576 to $617 per credit, service members and spouses may qualify for the school’s Military Grant-in-Aid program, which could reduce tuition to $353 per credit. When combined with military tuition assistance (not GI Bill® benefits), the remaining cost could be as low as $103 per credit.
The school also boasts an impressive alumni network, including a community specifically for veterans. All Penn State World Campus graduates will also have access to ongoing career services.
Best for Nursing : Ohio State University
Ohio State University made our list because of the school’s top-notch online College of Nursing. The school offers highly ranked, part-time, flexible nursing courses for an affordable price. With no textbook costs and in-state tuition for all students, Ohio State University’s online nursing program is a worthwhile investment for an in-demand career.
Ranked Best Online Bachelor's Programs, with focus on health sciences
In-state tuition for all students and no textbook costs
Average indebtedness is $12,356 (below the national average)
Non-resident fee of $600 to $800
Online nursing program not available in all states
Based in Columbus, Ohio, Ohio State University’s online College of Nursing scored best on our list for nursing based on the school’s strong reputation and affordability. Students attending the online program earn the same degree as those who attend the in-person program.
The school’s online bachelor’s degrees, which focus on health sciences, have been around since 2008 and have earned the #1 ranking from U.S. News & World Report.
Ohio State University’s College of Nursing is part of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) for the school’s bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate of nursing practice degrees, and post-graduate APRN certificate programs.
The program is 100% online through Ohio State University’s learning management system, CarmenCanvas. You may interact with classmates and instructors through open forums, email, and CarmenZoom. The school also assigns you a dedicated academic advisor.
Ohio State University’s online bachelor’s degrees include the school’s top-ranked Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. A Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree is for registered nurses who already have an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). If you want to continue your nursing education, the school’s master’s and doctorate in nursing programs also have a strong reputation.
The RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program is 120 credits, which typically includes the transfer of work and previous credits. Students may complete the program in three semesters full-time (12 credits per semester) or four semesters part-time (36 credits total). The total estimated cost for Ohio residents is $16,422 to $16,712. Non-residents have to pay an extra $600 to $800.
As an Ohio State University alumnus, you will have lifetime access to career services, networking opportunities, and a number of exclusive discounts.
Best for Computer Science : Oregon State University
Oregon State University secured a place on our list because of the school’s top-ranked OSU Ecampus, which includes a well-known online degree in computer science. The school hosts a popular computer science career showcase twice a year in Portland, Oregon, for prospective employers, including companies like Google, Intel, IBM, and HP. The school also offers a 60-credit online computer science program for those with a degree in any field and an aptitude for math.
Two top-ranked computer science programs
Sixty-credit program for those with another bachelor’s degree
Bi-annual computer science career showcase
Differential fees for computer science tuition
$508 per credit (plus tuition differential) for the post-baccalaureate program
Oregon State University Ecampus offers one of the best online computer science programs in the country, with alumni landing jobs as software developers, data scientists, systems administrators, information security analysts, and more.
The school has offered online degree programs since 2001, and students earn the same degree as on-campus attendees. OSU Ecampus has received a number of accolades including #4 on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online Bachelor's Programs and #3 for the publication’s Best Online Bachelor's Programs for Veterans. The school has regional accreditation through the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
You may complete the program completely online with the same faculty who teach on campus. Students may focus on security issues or design a custom path through the applied computer science track. The program also includes a three-term capstone for hands-on experience in engineering design and project management.
OSU Ecampus computer science bachelor’s degree is 180 credits. There is also an option to earn a second degree in Computer Science with only 60 credits. The school charges $371 per credit for the online computer science degree and $508 per credit for the post-baccalaureate version. A tuition differential is a program-specific fee added to the cost of your base tuition and is charged to both the computer science and post-baccalaureate degrees.
OSU Ecampus also offers student success counseling, 24/7 online tutoring, library access, career services, and more.
Can You Get a College Degree Completely Online?
It’s possible to earn a college degree completely online. The first step is deciding on the level of college education you want to achieve. Whether you just finished high school or graduated 30 years ago, you may earn anything from an associate’s degree to a doctorate online. You also need to choose your field of study. You may consider your past education, experience, interests, career options, and your earning potential. Your chosen field may impact the intensity of your online degree and the level of education required.
Regardless of your career or future earnings, you should consider how much time and money you are willing to spend. Some education and skills may be more competitive, though, and therefore may offer a higher return on investment.
What Is the Easiest Online Degree to Get?
There are many factors that can impact your ability to complete an online degree. It may be less challenging if you have an existing education and experience in your field of study. You may also be more likely to finish an online degree program if it offers more resources and support.
One of the biggest barriers to finishing any degree, online or in-person, is the cost. A 2018 LendEdu survey found 55% of students struggle to pay for college and 51% drop out due to financial reasons. Luckily, there are online degrees for students with a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. There are different program lengths, more flexibility, and a range of prices. By choosing a shorter, more flexible, or more affordable program, you may improve your odds of completing a degree within a specific timeframe.
Are Online Degrees Worth Getting?
While online degrees come in all shapes and sizes, one thing is certain: online degrees can be just as valuable as their in-person equivalents. The top online programs may offer the same level of education as in-person classes, with a similar value and prestige.
Of course, you won’t get the same networking opportunities, which can be tough to quantify. But an online degree may still pay off for many students, as more education may offer career advancement and higher compensation. In the past, time and money have created barriers for many people who want to earn a degree, and studying online has made higher education more accessible. Since an online degree can be as valuable as the in-person experience, it may be smart to take advantage of the flexible, more affordable option.
How Much Does an Online Degree Cost?
There are many factors that may impact how much you can expect to pay for an online degree. These factors may include the school, your degree type and specialization, the length of the program, location, and more. Two-year programs are typically less expensive than a four-year program. The exceptions to this rule may be a shorter, more intensive full-time online program.
The average online bachelor’s degree may cost anywhere from $38,496 to $60,593, according to the latest data from U.S. News and World Report. If you’re attending an online public school and live in-state, you may spend an average of $38,496, whereas out-of-state students typically spend $54,183. The average tuition for a private school is considerably higher at $60,593.
How We Chose the Best Online Degree Programs
While an online degree may be less expensive than an in-person program, it can still be a costly investment, which requires some consideration. With thousands of online degree options to choose from, it may feel daunting to try and select the best program.
To create our list, we started with the five top schools for each category, for a total of 40 popular options. We narrowed down our picks by reviewing each school’s history, reputation, and accreditation. We looked at the program and coursework. We compared each school’s class structure, resources, and career services. We also factored in each program’s cost and how it compares to other top options.