Popularity is an important indicator of quality for many degree-seekers. Universities with the highest enrollment numbers often offer higher quality programs than other schools, as indicated by how many students they attract.

Online programs typically mirror the curricula and content of their on-campus counterparts while offering greater flexibility and affordability. The flexibility of online learning allows students to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations. Additionally, online learners often save on many of the expenses that on-campus students incur, such as housing and commuting costs. Many schools also extend tuition discounts to online students.

To help students find the right fit for their needs, this guide ranks the most popular online colleges in the U.S., including some of the largest online universities.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online Degree Program?

Online bachelor's degrees typically comprise 120 credits and take four years of full-time study to complete, but some programs offer accelerated timelines. Part-time students will take longer to complete a program.

What Can I Do With an Online Degree?

Online degrees grant the same professional benefits as on-campus degrees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), graduates with a bachelor's degree earn median weekly wages that are nearly $400 higher than workers with only an associate degree. Additionally, bachelor's degree graduates experience lower average unemployment rates than associate degree holders.

How Is Online College Different From On-Campus College?

Most online programs offer the same curricula and content as on-campus programs while offering greater flexibility, affordability, and accessibility. Online students can balance their studies with personal and professional obligations more easily.

Are Online Courses Harder?

Even though online courses typically offer the same content as on-campus courses, they also require a higher degree of self-discipline and self-motivation to complete, which may make them more challenging for some students.

Are Online Degrees Recognized?

Online degrees from accredited schools typically hold the same recognition as those from on-campus schools.

Featured Online Colleges

The Most Popular Online Colleges

#1 Most Popular Online Colleges

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

  • Little Rock, AR
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock prioritizes flexibility in its online graduate and undergraduate programs. Designed to accommodate busy schedules, the public university's distance learning programs help enrollees get a rigorous education while pursuing their careers.

The school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers 41 online programs, including 11 online master's programs. Many individual courses of study also hold industry-specific accreditation from programmatic accreditors. The school's online platform serves over 7,400 distance learners.

Specific departments may post their own acceptance rates, but the college's overall average admission rate is 56%. In-state graduate students pay an average tuition of $5,760 per year, while out-of-state enrollees pay $13,050. Enrollees benefit from a supportive, adaptable environment as they prepare for new career opportunities.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$6,495
Out-of-state
$18,750
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$5,760
Out-of-state
$13,050
Retention Rate
73%
Admission Rate
56%
Students Enrolled
8,899
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
84% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#2 Most Popular Online Colleges

Franklin University

  • Columbus, OH
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Institutions often design online programs so that learners can continue to work while they pursue their degrees, and Franklin University is no exception. This Columbus, Ohio-based private university delivers online programs that fit into students’ work schedules. Degree-seekers receive a rigorous education to help them advance in their careers.

Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, Franklin offers 61 online programs, including 11 master's options. The school educates more than 5,900 remote learners.

All students pay the same tuition regardless of residency. Graduate learners pay about $16,080 a year. All enrollees can access professional development resources through departments such as career services.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$9,552
Out-of-state
$9,552
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$16,080
Out-of-state
$16,080
Retention Rate
9%
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
5,926
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
100% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#3 Most Popular Online Colleges

Brenau University

  • Gainesville, GA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Brenau University's accredited online programs provide working students with the rigor and flexibility they need to earn a college degree without sacrificing other commitments.

The Gainesville, Georgia-based school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Many individual programs feature field-specific programmatic accreditation. The institution’s 61 online programs include 23 master’s degrees in subjects like business, education, and nursing. Brenau's robust remote learning environment serves nearly 2,000 learners worldwide.

Though different degree types and programs can vary, Brenau accepts an average of 92% of applicants. Once admitted, learners study in an adaptable environment focused on academic excellence and professional development. In-state and out-of-state graduate students pay the same tuition rate of about $13,360 per year. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$30,000
Out-of-state
$30,000
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$13,356
Out-of-state
$13,356
Retention Rate
53%
Admission Rate
92%
Students Enrolled
2,813
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
70% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#4 Most Popular Online Colleges

Franciscan University of Steubenville

  • Steubenville, OH
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

A flexible format is one of the key benefits of Franciscan University of Steubenville's online graduate and undergraduate offerings. Enrollees benefit from convenient remote learning and rigorous coursework.

Located in Steubenville, Ohio, this private Catholic university is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Covering fields like business, psychology, and religion, the school's 13 online programs include five master’s-level options. The school has invested significant resources to develop a user-friendly platform for its 2,459 online learners.

The institution reports an overall acceptance rate of about 73%, although this number varies by program. Degree-seekers learn from expert instructors and benefit from a supportive environment focused on personal growth and career development. Graduate tuition costs about $12,600 per year. Many learners use financial aid such as scholarships and grants to help defray this cost. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$29,720
Out-of-state
$29,720
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$12,600
Out-of-state
$12,600
Retention Rate
86%
Admission Rate
73%
Students Enrolled
3,304
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
74% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#5 Most Popular Online Colleges

Ozark Christian College

  • Joplin, MO
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Catering to learners seeking a faith-based education, Ozark Christian College incorporates a biblical perspective into its degree offerings. The private college's online programs offer students the flexibility to pursue careers and advanced learning simultaneously. 

The Joplin, Missouri, school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Nearly 200 online learners pursue degrees at this institution.

The school accepts an average of 98% of applicants, although this number varies by program. As enrollees pursue advanced education, they can access professional development through departments such as career services.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$12,660
Out-of-state
$12,660
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Retention Rate
72%
Admission Rate
98%
Students Enrolled
629
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
30% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

What Is an Online College?

Online colleges offer diploma, certificate, undergraduate, and graduate programs for students of all backgrounds and ages. Many of the largest online colleges also provide continuing education and workforce development programs.

The flexibility of online education appeals to students who must balance their studies with personal and professional obligations. Additionally, online learning allows students to attend the most popular colleges in the country without relocating.

Campus vs. Online Programs

Both on-campus and online programs provide opportunities for students to grow professionally and personally. However, online programs typically offer more flexibility, accessibility, and affordability than on-campus programs.

Earning a bachelor's degree online can also present challenges. For example, degrees with heavy laboratory and practical components may be more difficult to complete online. Additionally, online programs typically offer less structure and engagement than on-campus programs, requiring a greater degree of self-discipline and self-motivation.

Choosing an Online Program

When choosing an online college, learners should consider factors like cost, admission requirements, and delivery format. Students can learn more about how to choose an online degree below.

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