Best Online Colleges & Degrees Methodology

Tuitions were manually researched and reflect the lowest tuition rate available at the specified degree level. With the exception of the Best Online Colleges by State lists, out-of-state tuitions were used unless in-state tuition is offered to all online students. Figures are accurate at the time of publication; please check with the institution for current tuition rates. Median salaries were provided by PayScale and reflect the reported mid-career (10+ years of experience) salaries of alumni from each school. Tuition data and median salaries were then entered in an ROI formula to determine rank order. The requirements to be considered for our best online colleges, best online colleges by program, and best online colleges by state rank lists can be found below.

Best Online Colleges

To be considered for our Best Online Colleges, schools needed to meet the following requirements:

  • Overall list: offer at least 10 fully online degrees at the bachelor's and/or master's level with programs that cover at least five subject areas
  • Bachelor's list: offer at least 5 fully online degrees at the bachelor's level with programs that cover at least three subject areas
  • Master's list: at least 5 fully online degrees at the master's level with programs that cover at least three subject areas

Best Online Colleges by Program

To be considered for these subject rankings, schools need to be regionally accredited and need to offer at least one fully online degree in a given subject for the degree level that was ranked. We also only considered schools with reported PayScale salaries. Salaries are specific to the degree level and the program of each list except for the following lists which used overall school salaries at the degree level of the list:

Bachelor's:

  • Dental Hygiene
  • Journalism
  • Music

Master's:

  • Biology
  • Christian Counseling
  • Creative Writing
  • English
  • Environmental Science
  • Exercise Science
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Forensic Science
  • History
  • Nutrition
  • Political Science
  • School Counseling
  • Speech Pathology

Best Online Colleges by State

To be considered for these state rankings, schools need to be regionally accredited and need to offer at least one fully online degree at the bachelor's level. In-state tuitions were used in the ROI formula.

Fully Online Status

Schools with programs that require some on-campus coursework were still considered for our rankings if the amount of in-person work required was limited to two weeks or less. This allows students to retain their current employment or other personal responsibilities.

Data Sources

Program data including available degrees, tuition rates, and details about program coursework were collected from official school websites, reflecting data for the 2018-2019 school year. These data were collected in August of 2018.

Programmatic accreditation and profit status of schools were collected from official websites of the accreditation agencies or from the National Center for Education Statistics. The NCES is the primary governmental entity for gathering and presenting data related to education. NCES data are updated annually. The NCES does not release data into downloadable formats until they have been approved, so the most current available data will not be for the most recent academic year.

Recommendation rate refers to the percent of students who said they would recommend this school based on reviews submitted to our partner site, GradReports.com.
This indicates that a school has an annual tuition of $15,000 or less as reported to the National Center for Education Statistics or based on the school's website.