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The Best Affordable Online Colleges of 2021

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Online colleges are more popular than ever. Even traditional programs have had to move their courses online in recent years to help accommodate the demand for online degrees by remote and non-traditional students. 

Most schools and distance education programs have, in recent decades, opened their virtual doors to students from all 50 states and in many, several other countries. These pivots to distance learning have helped make it easier to get a degree from anywhere while balancing other work and life priorities. 

And, students who attend these universities or colleges aren’t sacrificing education quality for convenience, either. These schools make use of the best that technology has to offer – using tools such as video lectures, group chats, multimedia presentations, and interactive software – to provide distance education students with a quality of education that mirrors the traditional experience.

Featured Online Programs

Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

Have Questions About Online Colleges? We Have Answers.


  • How much does it cost to attend college online?

    Tuition will vary depending on the college, where you live, and the degree you’re pursuing. If you’re looking for cheap online schools, tuition ranges from about $6,000 and $20,000 per year. If you opt for one of the most affordable online colleges, you may be able to save a ton of money on tuition compared to what you would spend at other universities or colleges.


  • Are online college degrees legitimate?

    Yes, online colleges are legitimate, as long as they are accredited colleges. A legitimate online college should display its accreditation agency on the website. If that accreditation is associated with the US Department of Education or Council for Higher Education, the college is legitimate.


  • Is it harder to get a job with an online degree?

    No, it’s not. Getting a degree online should not impact its value in the eyes of an employer. There are plenty of incredibly reputable colleges that offer online education, and that reputation is likely to matter more to your employer than the delivery method of your education. It will depend on your particular field and career path too.


  • Do online degrees say online on the diploma?

    No, online degrees generally do not say “online” on the diploma. If the university does not have “online” in its name, the diploma will probably not indicate that you earned your degree via online education.


The 10 Best Affordable Online Colleges of 2021

Rank School Location
1 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
2 The Baptist College of Florida Graceville, FL
3 Hobe Sound Bible College Hobe Sound, FL
4 East Carolina University Greenville, NC
5 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ
6 Appalachian State University Boone, NC
7 Oregon State University Corvallis, OR
8 National University La Jolla, CA
9 Missouri State University-Springfield Springfield, MO
10 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL

  • Methodology: Here's How We Rank Schools


    At Best Value Schools, we help students of all ages get the best possible value for their education. When choosing the best schools and programs, we prioritize tuition rates, student debt, financial aid opportunities, graduation rates, and the availability of online programs.
    We source unbiased data from government and educational databases like the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 6,374 schools across the U.S. We organize that data into five weighted categories to compile our school rankings.































    Metric Data Used Percentage
    Academic Quality Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates 25%
    Affordability Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid 35%
    Reputation Admission and enrollment rates 15%
    Program Offerings Number of program options 10%
    Online Enrollment Score Portion of learners taking at least one online course 15%

    You can read more about our comprehensive evaluation process on our methodology page.

Degree Requirements

Undergraduate online degrees will require a high school diploma or GED. The program requirements may also ask for SAT scores and a minimum GPA, but it will vary depending on the college and the admissions requirements for each degree. Most programs will require at least a 2.0 GPA, but some may have higher requirements. 

To graduate from a bachelor’s degree program, you’ll generally need to complete at least 120 college credits, including both core classes and degree-specific courses. The courses you’re required to take will depend heavily on your chosen major.

If you’re applying for a graduate degree program, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. Many programs also ask for GRE or GMAT scores, and a minimum GPA — though that will depend on the admissions requirements for the specific program you’re applying for. You’ll also likely be asked to submit letters of recommendation.

Common Courses for an Online Degree

    Each university and program will have varying curriculum. If you choose an online AA or BA program, those degrees will require some general education courses in addition to your major. Graduate programs will generally focus solely on the major or field you’re planning to work in.

  • Mathematics

    It’s common for general education requirements to include a course that teaches quantitative and problem-solving skills. That could be a precalculus, algebra, calculus, or a statistics class. And, if you achieve a high enough SAT score, some colleges will waive the requirement.


  • English composition

    No matter your degree, you’ll be taking some level of advanced communication in college. Writing papers and essays are a part of nearly every discipline. Most online programs will ask you to complete a writing or English class to build analysis and communication skills.


  • Science

    A science-based course is often a general education requirement. Classes like biology, geology, chemistry, and natural sciences can help build perspective and exploratory skills.


Scholarships & Financial Aid

There are plenty of scholarships available for students who complete their degree online. Distance learning scholarships can be found for each level of degree and across all majors. Individual colleges often have financial aid specifically for their online students as well. 

Get Educated Online College Scholarship
This scholarship is geared toward students attending an accredited online university degree program. Awarded based on academic merit and financial need. No restrictions on residency or university, but you will need at least a 3.0 GPA.

Amount: $1,000
Deadline: October 15 and March 15

Study.com Undergraduate Distance Learning Scholarship 
This scholarship is for any student pursuing an online associate or bachelor’s degree. All specializations are eligible and you must already be enrolled (or have accepted admission) to an accredited university.

Amount: $500
Deadline: April 1

AFCEA Undergraduate STEM Major Scholarship 
This organization offers a variety of scholarships for STEM undergraduate students. Must be a second year college student at time of application and have a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Amount: $2,500 to $5,000
Deadline: May 31

AAUW Re-Entry Woman Scholarship 
This scholarship is for women over the age of 23 returning to school. You must be enrolled or accepted to a degree program in order to apply. Applicants must also be engaged in leadership activity and have completed at least 20 college-level credits.

Amount: $2,000
Deadline: May 1

Popular Online Degrees

Online education is becoming an increasingly popular choice for students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), nearly 7 million students are enrolled in distance education courses. Some majors are better suited for online education than others. Here are some of the most popular online degrees:

  • Accounting
  • Business Administration
  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Health Administration
  • Nursing
  • Psychology

The 30 Best Affordable Online Colleges of 2021

  1. University of Florida
    Location

    Gainesville, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of Florida has one of the best online education programs. In addition to its satisfied students (who maintain retention rates of nearly 90%), UF also boasts an affordable tuition rate and a robust selection of online programs. This includes over two dozen majors and minors across in-demand fields like computer science, environmental management, health education, and telecommunication media. And on top of all that, the university has created UF OneStop, a dedicated support team that exists solely to answer questions from distance learners about everything from registration to financial aid.

  2. The Baptist College of Florida
    Location

    Graceville, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The Baptist College of Florida supports a wide range of secular undergraduate programs. BA degrees are available in biblical, Christian, and ministry studies, but you can also major in a liberal arts field such as history/social studies, psychology, and english. BCF also offers accredited online college degrees in career-focused subjects like business leadership and education, plus several minors that let you mix and match areas of expertise. And through its membership in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA), BCF ensures that its distance education coursework is accessible to undergraduates all across the nation.

  3. Hobe Sound Bible College
    Location

    Hobe Sound, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Admittedly, Hobe Sound Bible College won't win any awards for the breadth or variety of its online degrees, but if you're looking for a Christian institution with a strong track record for quality (including average retention of 79%), HSBC is likely the way to go. When it comes to academic options, Hobe focuses on two main areas of study: religion and education. More specifically, you can earn your BA in general Christian studies (with several minor options), ministerial studies, or elementary/secondary education.

    • Graduation rate: 59%
    • School status: Private 
    • Tuition cost: $7,048 - $16,928
    • Estimated years of completion: 2-4 years
    • Contact: 772-545-1400 
    • Program Website
  4. East Carolina University
    Location

    Greenville, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    East Carolina University focuses on providing degree completion pathways for students from nearby community colleges. In fact, all of ECU's undergraduate options (of which there are nearly two dozen) require applicants to have already completed two years worth of transfer credits. But that doesn't mean you can't attend ECU if you live outside of North Carolina; rather, you'll simply need to work with an online advisor to make sure your prior coursework meets the requirements for your desired bachelor's degree program.

    • Graduation rate: 66%
    • School status: Public
    • Tuition cost: $7,239 - $23,516
    • Estimated years of completion: 2-4 years
    • Contact: 252-328-9206
    • Program Website
  5. Northern Arizona University
    Location

    Flagstaff, AZ

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    With dozens of online degrees and hybrid programs coordinated through more than 20 campuses across Arizona, NAU is redefining accessibility in education. Especially for in-state students, the university's network of campuses makes it easy and convenient to earn your degree without sacrificing face-to-face learning. If travel isn't an option, NAU's array of web-based support services makes for a uniquely engaging virtual classroom environment. Its tools include online tutoring, technical support, and library access. As one of the top colleges online, Northern Arizona University also prides itself on "personalized learning." Using this approach, you'll be able to work through your degree at your own pace while getting credit for your real-world experience

    • Graduation rate: 57%
    • School status: Public
    • Tuition cost: $11,896 - $26,642
    • Estimated years of completion: 2-4 years
    • Contact: 928-523-9011
    • Program Website
  6. Appalachian State University
    Location

    Boone, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in a tiny town up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian State has extra motivation to expand accessibility to its programs through distance learning. In fact, ASU doesn't just offer online courses. It also provides face-to-face classes at satellite campuses throughout the state. ASU offers degrees in three primary areas: education (e.g. child development, special education), healthcare (nursing), and professional studies (such as communication and social work).

  7. Oregon State University
    Location

    Corvallis, OR

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Oregon State's eCampus counts more than 21,000 students worldwide - a clear testament to the enduring quality and popularity of its online programs. Undergraduates in particular have access to an uncommonly broad yet unique set of cheap online college degree options. For example, you could choose a traditional major in liberal studies, business administration, or psychology, or opt for the atypical like a degree in agricultural sciences or environmental economics and policy. OSU is known for its dedication to environmental issues — online programs in this area include horticulture, fisheries and wildlife science, natural resources, and sustainability.

    • Graduation rate: 67%
    • School status: Public
    • Tuition cost: $11,858 - $31,467
    • Estimated years of completion: 2-4 years
    • Contact:  800-667-1465
    • Program Website
  8. National University
    Location

    La Jolla, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    National University is home to more than 150 online college programs spanning numerous areas of study. Teaching and education, engineering and technology, arts and humanities, healthcare, social sciences, criminal justice, business, and math. Over the two-plus decades that National has been developing its online campus, the school has consistently worked to improve the distance education experience. Today, it offers interactive classes and tools that are accessible 24/7 to ensure that you get the most out of your studies.

  9. Missouri State University-Springfield
    Location

    Springfield, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    If you're looking for resources and support, note that few schools can match the strength of Missouri State University's impressive online infrastructure. Distance education student services include career counseling and degree exploration, off-campus test proctoring, an online learning self-assessment, library navigation assistance, and more. And to ensure that faculty provides the best online college experience possible, MSU also provides instructor-specific resources like a computer services help desk and a specialized distance educator handbook. In addition to nearly a dozen bachelor's degrees in fields like criminology and finance, MSU also offers a handful of 100% online certificates and minors to complement your studies.

  10. University of Central Florida
    Location

    Orlando, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Even as online learning becomes more popular, some students still worry about the stigma associated with distance education. Fortunately, UCF is working hard to overcome these preconceived notions by developing accredited online college programs that meet the same high-quality standards as their traditional courses. The university also stands out for its range of online options, which includes more than a dozen bachelor's degrees in nearly as many subjects. Whether you want to earn your B.A. in creative writing or anthropology or your B.S. in health informatics or criminal justice, the University of Central Florida has you covered.

    • Graduation rate: 72%
    • School status: Public
    • Tuition cost: $6,368 - $22,467
    • Estimated years of completion: 2-4 years
    • Contact: 855-903-8576 
    • Program Website

Danika Miller picture

Danika Miller

EDUCATION REPORTER

Danika Miller is a staff education reporter at Best Value Schools. She graduated from Western Washington University with a BA in creative writing. Danika has since specialized in education and finance writing as a reporter at Affordable Colleges Online, The Simple Dollar, Her Campus, CreditCards.com, Reviews.com, and elsewhere.

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Angelica Leicht

SCHOOLS EDITOR

Angelica Leicht is the schools editor at Best Value Schools who oversees our college rankings, school profiles, and other higher education coverage. She previously served as an education reporter at Kearney Hub, and an editor at the Dallas Observer and Houston Press. Her writing has appeared in Affordable Colleges Online, Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, and elsewhere.

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