Best Online Universities

How to find the top degree-granting online schools

Finding the best online universities for your chosen major or course of study requires careful research that draws on up-to-date metrics which measure an institution's value. As a prospective student, it's important that you understand the criteria used to evaluate various online degree programs. You should also understand that just as with traditional universities, an online university may enjoy an excellent reputation in a particular field or subject even though it may not have the highest overall rating. It is up to you to perform careful research to determine whether or not a given online university offers a good program in your chosen course of study.

What Goes Into Program Rankings?

Whenever you encounter a list of the best online universities, be it a general list or particular to a specific field of study, you should understand that rankings and ratings are determined by how well a given school stands up to the competition. Here are the most common criteria used to evaluate online university programs:

  • Faculty credentials. It's a fact in the academic world: better schools are able to attract better instructors. Faculty credentials are about much more than just degrees; they also take real-world experience into account, as well as awards, honors and professional achievements.
  • Student engagement. When it comes to online learning, student engagement is one of the most important criteria used to evaluate how well a given program is working. Online universities which are better able to engage their students offer more rewarding and beneficial educational experiences than those whose student populations are indifferent or apathetic.
  • Application of educational technology. Look for evidence that the school continues to integrate new technologies and online teaching methodologies into its programs. This indicates that the school values innovation, which is always a good thing.
  • Student services. What kind of support and resources does the online university offer? Is there access to career counselors and job placement services? If the online school has a physical counterpart, are you able to use resources such as its libraries?
Best Online Universities

Some rating systems and ranking services may also take other criteria in account -- criteria which are normally applied to traditional campus environments. These additional criteria may include:

  • Academic success rates. What percentage of the people who start the program finish the program? This is one of the key indicators of whether or not students feel they are getting value out of their studies.
  • Employment rates for graduates. What percentage of recent graduates go on to land jobs in their chosen fields within a year of graduation? The higher this percentage is, the clearer the indication that the school has a good reputation with real-world employers.
  • Alumni achievement. Schools whose former students have gone on to achieve exceptional things after graduation lend the institution an enhanced sense of prestige. Has the school produced any famous or noteworthy alumni?

If you have questions about a particular school, look online for reviews in which former students discuss their experience at the institution. Try to get a general sense of whether or not most of the people who attended the school felt they got value from their investment. Online forums and message boards are great places to engage in discussions with people who have already gone through a program you're considering, and are a valuable resource if you have questions you want answered from a student's perspective. Finally, remember that most reputable schools will be happy to put you in touch with current students who can also offer insights. Contact the department office of the program you're considering and ask if you can contact any current students for advice.