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    Tuition Hacks: Top Online Colleges and Universities

    By Will Geiger

    Will Geiger is the co-founder of Scholarships360 and has a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. He is a former Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College where he personally reviewed 10,000 admissions applications and essays. Will also managed the Kenyon College merit scholarship program and served on the financial aid appeals committee. He has also worked as an Associate Director of College Counseling at a high school in New Haven, Connecticut. Will earned his master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania and received his undergraduate degree in history from Wake Forest University.

    Full Bio

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    Updated: April 15th, 2024
    Tuition Hacks: Top Online Colleges and Universities

    What do you think when you hear the words “online college”?

    I know what I think (and also what I thought). Ten years ago or so, if someone mentioned online college, I would immediately think of the University of Phoenix, which is a somewhat notorious for-profit online institution. Even though the U of Phoenix has been the butt of many jokes, it had a much needed role in the evolution of higher education.

    Now when I think of online college, I think about the numerous “traditional” institutions that have embraced online learning. Some of the top institutions in the world have online graduate degrees including Yale, Georgetown, and the University of North Carolina. There are also a number of excellent options for students who want to pursue their undergraduate degree online.

    Before we get into some of the awesome schools that offer online bachelor’s degrees, let’s talk about why someone would want to pursue their degree with online colleges:


    The great thing about online programs is that they are infinitely scalable and not bound by a specific number of rooms or beds on a campus. This means that online programs tend to have more accessible admissions processes than the highly selective schools that don’t admit 75+% of applicants. This can give students some predictability as far as “admissions chances” and take some of the stress out of the process.

    Online colleges can also be a particularly good fit for international students who are looking to pursue a high-quality American college degree, but are not able to attend an on-campus program; almost all online programs are going to have students from all over the globe.

    Learn more: College alternatives: Bootcamps, apprenticeships, online learning, and more!


    Unlike a traditional college campus, students do not have to take classes in the typical 8:00AM to 4:00PM window. Additionally, there are no worries about commuting to and from campus if students do not plan to live on campus. This means that students can balance online college with a part-time or even full-time job or internship. For many students, it is incredibly useful to be able to apply what they are learning in school to their job (and also bring their work experience into the classroom). This also means that students can earn more money to help pay for their college tuition (which of course brings us to our benefit…)

    Also see: Are coding bootcamps worth it?


    U.S. college costs continue to rise with no end in sight. Online degrees tend to be more affordable than traditional on-campus degrees. Additionally, students do not have to pay for room & board fees which can provide an additional savings. Some of the total cost for online programs can cost less than a single year at a private university. When people talk about the high cost of college, there are certainly some legitimate concerns, but one of the best ways to “hack” affordability is through an online degree.

    Also read: Top scholarships for online students

    Tradeoffs (and opportunities) 

    Now, there are certainly some tradeoffs when pursuing online colleges that I should mention. One of the biggest tradeoffs is that you will be missing out on the “traditional” campus social and academic experience: no chance to spend four years on a leafy campus and have dinner at your professor’s house. This is not to say you can’t have a rich academic experience or get to know your professors. However, you do need to be more intentional about communicating with your professors and classmates. Everyone is on their own schedules and there is little opportunity for spontaneous collaboration.

    As far as the social aspect of college, you will still have an opportunity to get involved in your local community. Volunteering, meetups, classes at the gym, and reading groups are all great ways to build a rich social life. It is certainly a different experience and not for everyone, but it does not have to be solitary.

    Keep reading: Top 10 tips for taking online classes

    Top Online Colleges to Consider:

    Below are some of the best colleges and universities that offer a full bachelor’s degree online:

    Arizona State University

    Probably the most important school to know for online undergraduate education is Arizona State University (ASU). ASU offers over 68 undergraduate degrees that can be taken 100% online. These degrees include art history, business, communications, engineering, English, nursing, political science, psychology, and Spanish.

    ASU offers two other great programs for students to take advantage of:

    • Arizona State is actually free of tuition if you work for Starbucks: check out the Starbucks College Achievement Plan for more details.
    • ASU has also joined forces with edX to offer the Global Freshman Academy (GFA) which allows students to complete their entire freshman year of college through edX (it is accredited through ASU). Through GFA, each college credit will cost a mere $200 dollars!!!

    Learn more: How to get Starbucks tuition reimbursement

    Liberty University 

    If you are a student seeking a more religious college experience, Liberty fits the bill. Liberty has a long tradition of offering “distance” education (to use an anachronism). However, this means that they have had decades to refine their online education model. As a result, they are especially good at it. Liberty offers a number of online majors to accommodate a diverse student body.

    1. Aviation
    2. Behavioral Sciences
    3. Business
    4. Divinity
    5. Education
    6. Arts and Sciences
    7. Government
    8. Law
    9. Music
    10. Nursing
    11. Visual Arts

    Liberty can be a particularly good option for students who are interested in divinity, given its religious heritage. Overall, Liberty is a strong online college option for students who seek a religious bent to their studies.

    As far as costs and financial aid, Liberty has a great tool that allows students and families to estimate the cost of attendance based on the intended major.

    Pro tip: if you are interested in Liberty, you should check out the Christian Connector Scholarship, which is worth $5,000!

    Purdue University Global

    Purdue is fairly new to the online education game. However, they offer a number of online bachelor’s degree programs focused on pre-professional majors like business, nursing, and criminal justice. Their online program, called Purdue University Global, is a great fit for students interested in majoring in something that is aligned with a particular job. You can check out their available programs on their site.

    Purdue University Global also allows all students to “try” out the experience with a free introductory period of three weeks. During this time, students do not need to pay a dime (except for the application fee). This is a great way for students to try an online college without any financial risk.

    Southern New Hampshire University

    Southern New Hampshire University is another pioneer in online education. SNHU offers a wide array of majors for online undergraduate students. One of the impressive things about SNHU is that they are on the cutting edge of offering majors and allow students to receive bachelor’s degrees in popular areas like cyber security, data analytics, and game programming.

    Southern New Hampshire University also has a very simple tuition structure and is quite affordable for a private university. SNHU also has a particularly strong career services program and a large corporate partner network for students to access internships and jobs.

    Further reading: Top 10 online colleges that accept the FAFSA

    What if I am still on the fence about earning a degree online?

    Remember, online colleges are not for everyone, and that is totally okay. Let’s say you want to try out an online college experience but are not 100% sure. There are a few options to “get your feet wet” with the experience:

    1. See if your high school has any online classes. Many high schools do and this can be a great opportunity to see how an online class would work.
    2. Take a free MOOC class through edX or Coursera. These MOOCs can be great (we would recommend taking the Arizona State Global Freshman Academy classes through edX), but remember, an actual online college will have much more support and collaboration available for students.
    3. Check out Purdue University Global and take them up on their offer to try a program for no financial commitment. This will give you the most authentic experience.

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    Frequently asked questions about online universities 

    Do employers look down on students who graduate from online colleges or universities?

    Online degrees have come a long way in reputation in the last decade. As long as your degree is from an accredited school, it will be well regarded (as long as you had good grades!) by most employers.

    Is it easier to earn a degree online?

    If you attend a reputable college, the opposite is probably true. The flexibility of online learning requires that students are more self-motivated and accountable. Students must have strong time management skills as well. 

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