Best Online Degrees 2021
Online degrees are the new face of higher education, providing students with the flexibility to choose the best program for them regardless of their location or professional obligations.
Web-based programs increase access to colleges and universities for working professionals, busy adults, and prospective students who are limited by their geographic locations.
According to more than 1,000 testimonials, students with both on-campus and online experience reported receiving more helpful interaction with classmates and better access to instructors in their online courses. TheBestSchools.org wants make your experience with online learning as smooth as possible by providing comprehensive, subject-based rankings of the best bachelor’s degrees available online.
The Best Degrees to Earn Online in 2021
Popular Questions About Online Degrees
- What Is the Easiest Online Degree to Get?
The easiest online degrees to earn are those that deliver coursework asynchronously and have no on-campus or in-person requirements. These factors provide maximum flexibility for distance learners.
- What Are the Highest Paying Online Degrees?
While salary potential varies by employer, occupation, and geographic location, the highest paying bachelor’s degrees tend to be engineering, computer science, and finance.
- Can I Finish a Degree I Started Online?
Yes. Most colleges and universities accept transfer credits, and many schools offer online degree completion programs specifically designed for students looking to complete an unfinished degree.
- Are Online Degrees Cheaper?
On-campus and online programs typically cost comparable tuition rates. However, online students can often save money by avoiding on-campus fees, purchasing electronic versions of textbooks, and living at home. Some schools also offer in-state discounts to remote students, even if those students live out of state.
- Can I Transfer My Credits to an Online Degree Program?
Yes! Transferring credits to an online program is possible in most cases and depends on factors like grades, accreditation, and when the credits were earned. Each online program has different requirements for transfer credits, so it is best to research this independently before choosing a program.
Featured Online Degree Programs
The Best Online Degrees by Subject
The following section explores how online learning can prepare you for career opportunities across six popular disciplines. Each section includes links to comprehensive rankings of the best online bachelor’s degrees in that subject.
We based our degree selections on many different factors, including Bureau of Labor Statistics salary information, employer demand for the online degree, employment growth in fields relevant to the degree, interesting subject matter, and job satisfaction for jobs associated with the degree.
- Business & Finance
The best online business and finance degrees by job outlook.
- Nursing & Healthcare
The best online nursing and healthcare degrees by job outlook.
- Humanities & Social Sciences
The best online humanities and social sciences degrees by job outlook.
- Data & Technology
The best online computer and technology degrees by job outlook.
- Education & Teaching
The best online education and teaching degrees by job outlook.
- Criminal Justice & Legal
The best online criminal justice degrees by job outlook.
Note: We source career and median annual salary information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The numbers quoted for median annual salary reflect data from surveys taken in 2018.
Popular Business & Finance Degrees
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, business is the most popular major for undergraduate students. Business degrees equip students with highly transferable skills in marketing, management, and finance. Finance degrees provide similar training, but with a narrower focus on accounting and financial analysis.
Business graduates can apply their training in sales, marketing, healthcare, and the nonprofit sector. Finance graduates often pursue entry-level careers in accounting, banking, investment management, and insurance.
Marketing is a critical part of creating brand-recognition, selling products or services, and fostering positive public impressions. Individuals with a bachelor’s in marketing provide the expertise necessary for implementing successful marketing strategies.
A bachelor’s in marketing covers theoretical and practical approaches to marketing. Graduates of these programs learn how to develop and execute marketing and advertising strategies and campaigns, manage marketing teams, and direct public relations. A bachelor’s in marketing prepares students to enter a range of careers as well as pursue future graduate study.
Marketing Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers $132,620 Management analysts $83,610 Market research analysts $63,120 Public relations and fundraising manager $114,800 Public relations specialists $60,000 Sales managers $124,220 Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives $61,660 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Online degree programs in finance prepare students to handle money. However, while accountants keep the books balanced, financial professionals typically focus on how businesses or individuals use their existing money to invest.
An online bachelor’s or master’s degree in finance prepares students to engage with finance in a variety of roles. Some students specialize in financial analysis, examining how corporations use their finances and offering consultation based on their findings. Others may take a more administrative role as financial managers, while others still may focus on investment, brokerage, and loan management. Students develop in-depth knowledge of markets, money, theories of growth and decline, and how to employ this knowledge safely, legally, and profitably.
Finance Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Financial analysts $85,660 Financial examiner $80,180 Financial managers $127,990 Loan officers $63,040 Personal financial advisors $88,890 Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents $64,120 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Students who earn online degrees in accounting gain a foundation in business and commerce. An accounting degree prepares students to manage money and offer consultation in a wide range of settings.
Graduates of accounting programs pursue careers in public accounting, corporate accounting, and accounting for government organizations. Accounting professionals need in-depth knowledge of tax laws and processes to succeed. Accounting professionals ensure that the books stay balanced and that all monetary transactions remain lawful.
Accounting Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Accountants and auditors $70,500 Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks $40,240 Budget analysts $76,220 Financial examiners $80,180 Financial managers $127,990 Personal financial advisors $88,980 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Online degrees in business administration prepare students for careers in leadership. At the associate level, students develop key managerial and administrative knowledge and skills, preparing for middle-management jobs. At the bachelor’s level, students prepare for upper-level management positions. With a master’s degree, students may lead entire companies.
Business administration programs focus on business leadership and operation. These online college degree programs blend leadership models with business theory and practical application. Many include field experience opportunities and concentration options.
Business Administration Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers $132,620 Chief executive officers $189,600 Compensation and benefits managers $121,010 Financial managers $127,990 Human resources managers $113,300 Management analysts $83,610 Sales managers $124,220 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Individuals holding an online degree in management will be able to lead organizations toward growth, development, and profit.
Online degree programs in management cover fundamental management concepts, including personnel management, financial management, human resources management, organizational management, and marketing management. Many online college degree programs provide students with concentration options to focus their studies in specific management areas. With an associate or bachelor’s degree in management, graduates pursue entry-level management positions or prepare for future graduate study.
Management Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers $132,620 Compensation and benefits managers $121,010 Financial managers $127,990 Human resources managers $113,300 Management analysts $83,610 Sales managers $124,220 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Businesses rely on project managers to oversee projects efficiently and accurately. Online college degrees at the BA or MA level in project management help students develop the knowledge and skills necessary to fill crucial roles in businesses and agencies.
Project management online degree programs blend coursework, research projects, and field experience to engage students with fundamental concepts in the field. Project management professionals pursue careers in marketing, logistics, sales, technology, and construction. Accordingly, project management online degree programs often provide specialization options.
Project Management Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers $132,620 Computer and information systems manager $142,530 Construction managers $93,370 Logistician $74,600 Management analysts $83,610 Sales managers $124,220 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Individuals with an online degree in human resources study the lifeblood of all businesses and organizations: people.
Human resources professionals ensure that businesses run smoothly by taking care of the people that constitute the business. With a bachelor’s or master’s in human resources degree, students prepare for administrative or managerial careers that ensure that employees receive fair treatment, timely payment, streamlined benefits, and a forum for reporting. Human resources professionals exist at multiple levels in corporations, including entry-level, middle-management, and executive-level roles.
Human Resources Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Administrative services managers $96,180 Compensation and benefits managers $121,010 Human resources managers $113,300 Training and development managers $111,340 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Popular Criminal Justice & Legal Degrees
Professionals working in criminal justice and law provide essential public services, including protection of life and property, investigation of criminal activity, and fair representation in court.
The best online bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice provide opportunities for internships and practical experience in addition to classroom learning. Legal studies bachelor’s programs prepare students for entry-level clerk and paralegal careers, and graduates can apply to law schools.
Graduates in these fields often find work in police departments, correctional facilities, courts, and law firms. Criminal justice graduates may also work in private investigation or private security.
A degree or legal certificate in paralegal studies could prepare you to become an integral member of a law firm or practice. As legal assistant or paralegal, you’ll help research legal precedents and investigate the facts of a case for the attorneys you work with. In many firms, paralegals continue to take on more and more duties to help bring down the cost of legal services and allow attorneys to work more efficiently.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects positions for paralegals and legal assistants to increase 15% through 2026, with 11% growth in employment for other legal support workers. An online legal studies degree could also help prepare you for work as a probation officer, in law enforcement, or as administrative support in the courtroom.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Online college degrees in criminal justice provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue criminal justice careers. For individuals passionate about maintaining legal order, this field of study leads to lucrative, lifelong careers.
At the associate level, students focus on the functional and practical aspects of the criminal justice systems, including police officer and correctional officer training. Moving up to a master’s degree, students gain the knowledge required for success in administrative roles in criminal justice. Graduates of the best online degrees in criminal justice maintain legal order through an array of jobs and functions on the street, in the penal system, and in government.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Popular Data & Technology Degrees
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in the computer and information technology fields are projected to grow 12% between 2018 and 2028. Earning an online bachelor’s degree in computer science, data science, or information technology prepares students for high paying, in-demand careers.
These degrees provide training in areas like programming, web design, database administration, and data analysis. Graduates with these skills can find employment in many industries. Corporations, schools, governments, and healthcare facilities all need technology professionals to ensure smooth operation.
A computer science degree can create a wide range of opportunities in a challenging but constantly growing field. If you have the patience, precision, and sharp eye required of a computer programmer, there are a lot of educational options that can help you get your career off the ground.
Computer programming, computer science, and information technology (IT) form a wide and overlapping set of disciplines as well as an enormous range of fast-growing and well-paying professional opportunities, including web developer, database administrator, computer programmer, and software engineer.
Computer Science Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Salary Web Developer $69,430 Database Administrator $90,070 Information Security Analyst $98,350 Computer Programmers $84,280 Software Developers $105,590 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
In the age of cloud computing, smartphones, cybercrime, and technological advancement, the demand for knowledgeable information technology professionals remains high.
With an online degree in information technology or computer science, students develop the in-depth technical knowledge and skills needed to advance corporations, government agencies, schools, banks, and other financial organizations. Graduates of these programs emerge with an in-depth understanding of the operation, integration, and maintenance of computers and technology.
Information Technology Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Computer and information systems managers $142,530 Computer network architects $109,020 Computer programmers $84,280 Computer support specialists $53,470 Computer systems analysts $88,740 Database administrators $90,070 Information security analysts $98,350 Network and computer systems administrator $82,050 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Online degree programs in health informatics prepare students for careers storing, organizing, and analyzing health data. Constant advances in medicine and medical technology have created an ever-growing need for data management.
Health informatics sits at the intersection of information technology and healthcare science. Health informatics professionals must understand enough from both fields to effectively organize, analyze, and utilize health data in diverse settings. Students in these programs engage with curricula that combine the practical and theoretical aspects of technology with healthcare. A bachelor’s in health informatics prepares students for careers, as well future graduate study.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
With an online degree in graphic design, students engage in an interdisciplinary study that combines elements of art, design, business, and marketing.
Bachelor’s in graphic design programs blend coursework, portfolio projects, and field experience to prepare students for a range of careers. For individuals seeking to apply their artistic passion and skills professionally, a graphic design degree offers the necessary technical and practical knowledge. Individuals with graphic design degrees may find success as freelancers or in a variety of full-time positions at corporations, marketing agencies, or non-profit organizations.
Graphic Design Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers $132,620 Art directors $92,780 Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators $58,990 Graphic designers $50,370 Industrial designers $66,590 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Popular Education & Teaching Degrees
The best online bachelor’s degrees in education focus on content knowledge — meaning the subject matter that graduates will teach — and pedagogy, which is the process of teaching. These degrees offer specializations like early childhood education, elementary education, secondary education, and special education.
Graduates learn about curriculum development, working with diverse learners, and principles of childhood psychology. Education professionals often work in K-12 schools, childcare facilities, and nonprofit organizations. Public school teachers need state licensure, but many private schools hire candidates without licensure.
For individuals who enjoy working with very young children, an online associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in early childhood education provides entry into a rewarding career.
The early childhood education degree online focuses on the educational and developmental needs of preschool children. Students in these programs typically engage in a blend of coursework and field experience. At the graduate level, students also complete research projects. Some programs provide specialization options, allowing students to pursue study in special education, early intervention, or early childhood care program administration.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
An online master’s in educational administration or education leadership develops the knowledge necessary to lead educational programs and organizations.
Students typically enter these online degree programs with work experience and seek to advance professionally. These programs prepare students for administrative roles at the college level, as well as for directing employee training programs in corporations or agencies. The best online degrees in this field typically include a blend of coursework, fieldwork, and research—examining theories of education, educational administration, and their applications.
Educational Administration Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Elementary, middle, and high school principals $95,310 Instructional coordinators $64,450 Postsecondary education administrator $94,340 Postsecondary teachers $78,470 Training and development managers $111,340 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
An online master’s degree in education prepares students to pursue advanced, specialized roles in education, in addition to teaching.
Master’s in education programs assume that students already possess practical experience in teaching through a bachelor’s degree and through work experience. These programs, resulting in a MA or MS degree, build knowledge and skills through examining theories of education, research, and contemporary issues in education.
Students should not confuse these degrees with an MA in teaching, which focuses primarily on the in-class experience. Master’s in education programs typically incorporate a specialization, such as curriculum and instruction, school counseling, leadership and administration, or higher education. Furthermore, not all master’s in education programs focus on education in schools; some focus on education in the workplace.
Education Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Elementary, middle, and high school principals $95,310 High school teachers $60,320 Instructional coordinators $64,450 Kindergarten and elementary school teachers $57,980 Middle school teachers $58,600 Postsecondary education administrator $94,340 Postsecondary teachers $78,470 Special education teachers $59,780 Training and development managers $111,340 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Popular Humanities & Social Sciences Degrees
The humanities and social sciences encompass dozens of disciplines, including psychology, English, history, political science, and communications. The best online bachelor’s degrees in these fields help students develop analytical, critical thinking, and written and verbal communication skills.
Humanities and social sciences graduates can find work in many industries. Some earn teaching licenses and work in education, while others pursue entry-level careers in journalism, counseling, law, private enterprise, or government. Many others enroll in graduate programs to expand their job prospects.
Online degrees in counseling prepare students to aid clients in understanding how to succeed both physically and mentally over a lifetime. While counselors in different areas of practice offer different, niche services, the fundamental goal of helping people through counseling services remains steady across all discipline areas.
Individuals interested in studying counseling choose from programs in several areas, including general counseling, mental health and substance abuse counseling, rehabilitation counseling, school and career counseling, or marriage and family counseling. Counseling programs typically incorporate theoretical and practical coursework, as well as research and field experience.
Counseling Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Marriage and family therapists $48,790 Rehabilitation counselors $35,630 School and career counselors $56,310 Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors $44,630 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
As the name suggests, an online bachelor’s in human services degree prepares students to serve others in several general and niche professions.
Online bachelor’s degree programs in human services focus on the analysis and improvement of state support systems and services. Individuals in this field study community and society as a whole and offer services like career counseling, substance abuse counseling, and medical assistance to clients. Many bachelor’s in human services programs offer specialization options and blend coursework with field experience.
Human Services Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Marriage and family therapists $48,790 Rehabilitation counselors $35,630 School and career counselors $56,310 Social and community service managers $65,320 Social workers $49,470 Sociologists $82,050 Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors $44,630 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Online degrees in social work prepare students to pursue careers centered on helping people at all stages of life.
While many graduates of social work programs pursue careers as social workers, graduates may also perform similar roles in different, relevant areas of practice, including counseling, community services, and probation. Some social work programs provide specialization options for those interested in specific areas of practice. A master’s in social work helps students assess the needs of clients and aid them in accessing the resources needed to achieve their goals.
Social Work Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Marriage and family therapists $49,170 Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors $44,630 Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists $53,020 Rehabilitation counselors $35,630 School and career counselors $56,310 Social and community service managers $65,320 Social workers $49,470 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Students earning online degrees in psychology pursue a wide array of careers dedicated to helping people through the application of psychological principles.
At the undergraduate level, students engage with fundamental concepts in psychology, building a foundation of knowledge that can be applied in professional settings and future graduate studies. At the graduate level, students engage with advanced concepts, research, and fieldwork, often specializing in specific areas. Even for students not seeking psychology careers, the concepts gained from earning a degree in psychology prove useful in fields like business and law.
Psychology Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Marriage and family therapists $49,170 Psychologists $79,010 Psychology professor $75,730 Rehabilitation counselors $35,630 School and career counselors $56,310 Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors $44,630 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
For individuals who feel a spiritual calling, an online bachelor’s in theology degree may be an ideal academic path.
With a bachelor’s in theology, graduates enter religious occupations, such as the clergy, but may also pursue careers in social work or religious education. Offered at religious schools, bachelor’s in theology programs develop in-depth knowledge of religious concepts and texts, often include field experience, and sometimes come with unique specialization options.
Theology Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Clergy $47,100 High school teachers $60,320 Instructional coordinators $64,450 Kindergarten and elementary school teachers $57,980 Middle school teachers $58,600 Social workers $49,470 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Popular Nursing & Healthcare Degrees
According to the BLS, healthcare jobs are projected to grow by 14% between 2018 and 2028 due to an aging population and increasing demand for health services. The best bachelor’s degrees in nursing and healthcare prepare students to meet this demand by developing practical skills in patient care, health practice, and communication.
Having a healthcare degree allows graduates to pursue employment in various workplaces and industries. Most find employment in healthcare facilities like hospitals, dentist offices, outpatient clinics, and pharmacies, but opportunities are also available in the nonprofit sector, government, consulting, and education.
Medical assistants help ensure that medical practices function effectively by performing a variety of helpful duties.
Medical assisting online degree programs provide the education necessary to enter careers as medical assistants in hospitals, private practices, clinics, and residential treatment centers. Medical assistants support doctors and nurses by performing clinical and administrative duties, including greeting patients, preparing exam rooms, updating records, and scheduling appointments.
Medical Assisting Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Medical assistants $31,540 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Online degree programs in healthcare administration prepare students for leadership roles in healthcare organizations.
Graduates of these programs enter careers as hospital or medical practice administrators, but may also apply their knowledge in human resources or social services. Healthcare administration degrees cover key dimensions of the healthcare business. Rather than working as doctors or physician assistants, healthcare administration professionals blend medicine, business administration, and insurance to oversee healthcare staff and ensure that healthcare organizations run smoothly.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
An online bachelor’s degrees in healthcare management prepares students to pursue managerial roles in a variety of healthcare settings.
Students in healthcare management programs develop the skills and knowledge necessary to perform crucial roles in the management of health clinics and hospitals. Though related to healthcare administration, healthcare management programs emphasize the management of healthcare services rather than the specific management of staff.
Bachelor’s in healthcare management programs include interdisciplinary curricula, drawing on principles of medicine and business—as well as research and field experience components. Some programs include unique specialization options that prepare students for careers in niche disciplines.
Healthcare Management Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Medical and health services managers $99,730 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
An online bachelor’s degree in health services degree takes a broad approach to the study of the healthcare industry.
Though students in these programs may immediately pursue a career, many use a bachelor’s in health services degree to prepare for graduate study in a specialized field. Because of this, many bachelor’s in health services programs come with specialization options in areas like healthcare administration, medical informatics, emergency medicine, or mental health. Students with online college degrees in this space earn a strong foundation for roles in the health professions.
Health Services Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Medical and health services managers $99,730 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
For individuals interested in promoting health awareness, engaging in advocacy, and pushing for policy changes, a master’s in public health may be one of the best online degrees available.
Public health combines aspects of medicine, community organizing, education, and public policy to maintain and improve the health of communities. Public health professionals work in schools, nonprofit groups, research labs, and government agencies to serve people’s health interests. Master’s in public health programs often provide routes for specialization, allowing students to pursue careers in health education, public policy, epidemiology, public health research, and biostatistics.
Public Health Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Epidemiologist $69,660 Health educators $46,080 Medical and health services managers $99,730 Medical scientists $84,810 Occupational health and safety specialists and Technicians $69,370 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Online degrees in nursing at the bachelor’s and master’s level allow registered nurses (RN) to build on existing knowledge and to earn a degree that expands their career potential.
Individuals may become registered nurses by completing an associate program and earning a registered nurse certification. Without a bachelor’s or a master’s degree, however, many nurses find their career opportunities limited. After earning these degrees, graduates pursue careers as nurse practitioners, nurse instructors, nurse administrators or managers, and as specialized nurses in a variety of areas.
Nursing Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Medical and health services managers $99,730 Nurse anesthetists $165,120 Nurse midwives $100,590 Nurse practitioners $113,930 Registered nurses $68,450 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
With an online associate degree in medical coding, or a certificate or diploma, students learn to navigate the complex world of medical coding and health insurance.
Accurate medical coding ensures that patients receive the coverage and benefits owed to them by their health insurance providers. Medical coding professionals communicate between health insurance companies and medical offices to determine coverage, code bills, and settle payment and billing disputes.
Medical Coding Jobs and Careers With Salary Career Median Annual Pay Medical records and health information technicians $38,040 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
An emergency management degree prepares students to take charge of public safety during crises. Emergency management professionals direct communities during hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, terrorist attacks, floods and other disasters both manmade and natural.
Emergency management professionals work in the private sector and in local, state, and federal governments, taking on challenging leadership roles and providing critical support to their communities. The disastrous weather events and terror threats of the last decade have increased demand for emergency management professionals. After earning an emergency management degree online, graduates can work a variety of emergency management jobs, including as emergency management directors, homeland security directors, medical and health services managers, and in a wide array of first-responder and emergency services leadership roles.
Sample Job Titles with Median Annual Pay Career Median Salary Emergency Management Directors $74,420 Computer and Information Systems Managers $142,530 Medical and Health Services Managers $99,730 Logisticians $74,600