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Welcome to Top5OnlineColleges.org – a resource for learning about educational technology and finding accredited online degree programs. We started the site to help answer commonly asked questions about what to expect from an online degree program. Our blogger, Leslie Bowman, a long-time online educator and instructional designer, also helps to answer questions about online learning and how it can be customized around your academic needs.

As an introduction, click on each question below to jump to a detailed answer:

How are the best online colleges determined?

Truthfully, there is no definitive list of the best online colleges, and you’re likely to find different opinions from different sources. However, a reputable online college is always accredited, and offers flexible scheduling as well as a variety of degree options. The colleges listed in the table below meet these criteria and are our "top 5" most popular online education options for students according to our user data:

Kaplan University Kaplan University
  • HLC
  • NCA
Kaplan University offers online degree programs in the fields of Arts, Sciences, Business, Criminal Justice, Education, Health Sciences, Information Systems, Technology, Legal Studies, Nursing, and Law. Degree programs are designed with the working professional in mind, and afford you the flexibility to work while earning your degree.
Liberty University Liberty University
At Liberty University, students can chose from approximately 70 majors and specializations including aeronautics, philosophy, religion, English, worship and music ministry, business, and criminal justice. Online degrees can be found from the associates to doctoral level. Students may also choose to attend courses on campus.
Grand Canyon University Grand Canyon University
  • HLC
Grand Canyon University features numerous schools including the College of Education, Fine Arts and Production, Arts and Sciences, Nursing, and Business. Founded in 1949, the small liberal arts university is known for supporting its online programs with the integrity and prestige of its traditional campus-based college.
Capella University Capella University
  • HLC
Students at Capella University have numerous degrees from which to choose, including bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in business, information technology, education, psychology, public health, public safety, and human services. These programs are designed with the working professional in mind, providing you with great flexibility.
Boston University Boston University
Boston University offers bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, doctoral degrees, and medical and dental degrees to over 31,000 students. The university's online distance learning programs are taught by Boston University faculty and use the latest in interactive technology. Graduates join the alumni network of over 250,000 worldwide.

Click here to search for other popular online colleges

How are online colleges different from traditional colleges?

Before online colleges, students hoping to finish a degree while working had to create a schedule that coincided with both classes and work. This can be difficult for students who work full time or have family commitments.

The chart below outlines a few notable differences between online and traditional colleges:

Online Colleges: Traditional Colleges:
Delivery Format: Instruction takes place synchronously (all participants in the course log in at the same time) or asynchronously (participants log on and participate as their schedule permits), or some combination of the two. In an offline setting, the instruction takes place in a traditional, face-to-face classroom or lecture hall.
Flexibility: Depending on the program, online schools offer students the flexibility to engage in coursework whenever and wherever it’s more convenient for the student. Traditional schools require students to physically attend classes at a specific time and often at a campus location.
Interaction: Online learners communicate with faculty and fellow students through discussion forums or chat rooms to replicate traditional classroom engagement. Traditional learners communicate with faculty and fellow students via face-to-face interaction in a campus-based setting.
Cost: Online students can save money on transportation and other school expenses such as student activity fees and classroom supplies. Traditional schools often charge students miscellaneous fees, ranging from student activity fees to a healthcare fee, in addition to room and board and transportation expensives.
Resources: Online students are often offered access to an online library or database or a catalog of Internet-based resources. Traditional schools typically have on-campus libraries and computer labs for students to use before, between, and after classes.

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What degree paths can be pursued online?

Distance learning provides a convenient and cost-efficient alternative to commuting to a physical campus, and your options are numerous. More and more school now offer online courses and programs, either exclusively or to complement their traditional curriculum.

The chart below offers useful information about your options and possible career opportunities post graduation:

Degree Path: Overview: Career Options:
Online Business Programs: Online business degrees are available at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate levels. General and specialized business degrees types are also available in areas such as business management, administration, and marketing.
  • Accountant
  • Logistics Manager
  • Management Consultant
  • Marketing Executive
  • Retail Manager
  • Sales Executive
Online Computers & IT Programs: Online computer and information technology degree programs offer the skills and training necessary to secure jobs in many markets including business, medicine, science, and design. Degrees in this field are available at all levels, including doctorate and certificate programs.
  • Applications Architect
  • IT Consultant
  • Programmer
  • Network Engineer
  • Network Manager
  • Systems Administrator
  • Web Developer
Online Education Programs: Online education programs offer degree options that focus on child and adolescent development, curriculum design, administration, teaching methods, instructional strategies, and literacy development at every level including certificate, associate, bachelor’s, master’s, specialist and doctoral programs.
  • Academic Administrator
  • Academic Adviser
  • Content Developer
  • Educational Publisher
  • Elementary Educator
  • School Counselor
  • Secondary Educator
Online Healthcare Programs: Online healthcare programs often include programs in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology, and other social and behavioral sciences. Many schools offer these programs at the associate, bachelor, master, and doctoral level.
  • Dietician
  • Health Educator
  • Physical Therapist
  • Medical Imaging
  • Nurse Administrator
  • Nutritionist
  • Physician Assistant
  • Registered Nurse
  • Surgical Technician
Online Liberal Arts and Design Programs: Liberal arts and design programs cover a broad range of disciplines, from English literature to graphic design. You can also study history, political science, or anthropology. Design programs also cover a wide variety of topics, including digital design and photography.

  • Curator
  • Editor
  • Educator
  • Graphic Designer
  • Historian
  • Interior Designer
  • Publisher
  • Web Illustrator
Online Management Programs: Online management degree programs are available at all levels from associate’s to doctoral degrees in a variety of in-demand fields, including accounting, project management, business law, and computer applications.
  • Assistant Supervisor
  • Management Consultant
  • Marketing Manager
  • Product Manager
  • Program Director
  • Recruiter
Online Nursing Programs: Online nursing programs are growing in popularity due the increased need for trained healthcare professionals. For currently registered nurses, graduate-level programs are also available for advanced training in a specific area of nursing.
  • Certified Nursing Assistant
  • Holistic Nurse
  • Medical Assistant
  • Nurse Educator
  • Nurse Informaticist
  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse
  • Public Health Nurse
  • School Nurse Practitioner
Online Psychology Programs: Online psychology programs allow students to earn the credentials necessary to work in this field in a variety of different settings. Online psychology degrees are available at the associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. levels.
  • Career Counselor
  • Child Welfare Worker
  • Crisis Counselor
  • Guidance Counselor
  • Marriage Counselor
  • Probation/Parole Officer
  • Psychiatric Technician
  • Psychologist
  • Rehabilitation Specialist
  • Substance Abuse Counselor
Online Science & Engineering Programs: Science and engineering are two fields with excellent career potential and a variety of specializations to choose from. Many schools offer degree programs starting at the associate’s level up to a PhD.
  • Astronomer
  • Astrophysicist
  • Biochemist
  • Climatologist
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Meteorologist
  • Nuclear Physicist
  • Research Scientist
Online Social Sciences & Criminal Justice Programs: Online social science criminal justice degrees are available at all levels, ranging from associate to PhD as well as certificate programs for those seeking to develop and enhance their skills and expertise.
  • Anthropologist
  • College Professor
  • Criminal Lawyer
  • Economist
  • Geologist
  • Government Official
  • Paralegal
  • Probation Officer
  • Social Psychologist
  • Social Worker

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What is accreditation?

Accreditation ensures the program is valid in the academic world and by employers. Schools without this accreditation typically do not have well-developed programs and are lacking in integral areas. Programs must meet certain requirements in order to be accredited. Finding an accredited program is the first thing you should look for when researching online schools.

There are many websites that promise a degree with little or no admissions process. For master’s and PhD degrees these are usually diploma mills and are not credible. Verify a school’s accreditation status as well as other useful information by visiting the sites listed below, provided by the U.S. Department of Education:

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How do prospective employers view online degrees?

A common concern of prospective online students is if employers look at an online degree as favorably as a traditional one. Educational opportunities offered by online schools have grown tremendously in recent years, and these schools provide students the same high-quality educational standards and learning opportunities as their traditional counterparts. As interest and participation in online degree programs continues to rise, many employers now view online degrees and traditional degrees equally, when the following criteria are met:

  • Verify accreditation: Make sure you enroll in an accredited college trusted by employers. This is the number one factor that can ultimately kick start your career.
  • Attend an online school with an established brand: According to U.S. News and World Report, an online degree from an established school with an excellent reputation is a must.
  • Be direct about your online degree: Be sure to highlight how your online education will bring value to the workplace, emphasizing your independent learning and time-management skills.

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