A Guide to Online Degrees (2024)

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Distance learning is an age-old practice. With the advent of technology, it’s become increasingly popular to earn your undergraduate or graduate degree online.

A Guide to Online Degrees (1)

You can now earn most types of degrees online, including from top-rated universities. Earning an online degree remains a popular choice. Twenty percent of undergraduates at both public and private non-profit institutions learned online exclusively in 2021, according to the National Center for Education Statistics [1]. Of the graduate students enrolled in master’s programs during the 2015-2016 school year, 31 percent learned exclusively online [2].

In this article, we’ll go over what types of degrees you can earn online, the benefits of earning a degree virtually, and how you can find the best online degree program for you.

What is an online degree?

An online degree is any type of undergraduate or graduate degree (associate, bachelor's, master's, doctorate, or professional) that you earn online. Rather than relocate to attend an in-person program, you'll work through your coursework online, either by attending virtual classes or completing asynchronous classes on your own time.

Online degrees can either come from prestigious colleges or universities that offer specific online programs—usually in college majors conducive to being learned virtually—or entirely online colleges that do not offer an in-person experience.

Types of degrees you can earn online

You can earn every level of degree online: associate, bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate, and professional. But for the purposes of this article, we'll focus on the three most common online degrees below.


Earn your associate degree online in a number of subjects that are more typically geared toward helping you move into a specific career path, such as computer science or business administration. You can expect to complete a minimum of 60 credits, with a portion of those (usually a minimum of 12 credits) going toward your focus or major.

  • Degrees: Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Science (AS), Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

  • Popular majors: Liberal arts and sciences, general studies, humanities, health professions, business, homeland security, law enforcement, computer and information sciences [3]

  • Average time: Two years when you attend full-time

  • Requirements: High school diploma or GED

When you earn either your AA or AS, you can transfer into a four-year bachelor’s program. The AAS, on the other hand, tends to provide more practical training so you can use your degree to begin a career as a paralegal, welder, or dental assistant.


Earn your bachelor’s degree online, choosing from a number of majors that either prepare you for many career options or for a particular career or industry. You can expect to complete a minimum of 120 credits, which include both general education, major, and elective courses.

  • Degrees: Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

  • Popular majors: Business, health professions, social sciences and history, psychology, biomedical sciences, engineering [4]

  • Average time: Four or five years when you attend full-time

  • Requirements: High school diploma or GED

Learn more: What Should I Major In? 5 Things to Evaluate


Earn your master’s degree online to either deepen the subject knowledge of your bachelor’s degree or move in a new direction. Whether you’re interested in pursuing a theoretical or practical subject, there are an array of programs available. The number of credits you’ll need to earn will depend on your program—requirements can range between 30 and 72.

  • Degree types: Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Public Health (MPH), Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Master of Civil Engineering (MCE), Master of Social Work (MSW)

  • Average time: 18 months to two years when you attend full-time

  • Requirements: Bachelor’s degree

Learn more: MA vs MS Degrees: A Guide

Online degree costs

The cost of attending college in person tends to encompass additional factors beyond tuition and fees. In 2021, the annual total cost of attendance in the US was $15,748 for a two-year public college, $25,487 for a four-year public college or university, and $53,217 for a private non-profit institution [5]. For a master’s degree, the average total cost was $66,340 [6].

Online degree programs tend to be less expensive because they don’t have the same overhead as many in-person programs. The average total tuition for an online bachelor's degree can span between $38,496 and $60,593, according to US News [7].

Looking for an affordable, efficient option to advance your education? You can earn a Master of Science in Management from the University of Illinois in as little as one year for $11,052 USD.

A Guide to Online Degrees (2)

5 benefits of earning your degree online

Many colleges and universities offer the same quality of education online as they do in person, including having the same faculty members teach courses. But when you learn online, you may find that there are added benefits involved:

1. Greater flexibility

Because of the way online degree programs are designed and offered, they tend to provide more flexible scheduling. Many courses take place asynchronously so you can learn around your other responsibilities, rather than fitting those obligations around your degree.

2. Work full-time or part-time

Many online college students continue working either part-time or full-time while earning their degree, thanks in part to the flexible scheduling we mentioned above. In fact, the average online college student is 32 years old, making an online degree program a strong option for professionals interested in going back to school [8].

3. Typically more affordable

Depending on what you study and where, some online degrees may cost less than in-person degrees. Online colleges don’t have the same overhead as brick-and-mortar schools, meaning they can charge less. More than that, you likely won’t have additional expenses, like transportation and on-campus housing, to factor into your budget.

4. Develop unique skills

With online learning, you get the chance to practice and refine self-discipline and time management. Both of those skills are important given the flexible, often self-paced nature of online learning, and both are valuable workplace skills that are particularly important as more of the global workforce becomes remote.

5. Network with your peers

Many students opt to learn in-person because they want the full college experience or the opportunity to socialize and network. But many online degree programs offer opportunities to interact with other students. Those exchanges may start off via discussion forums or emails at first, but there’s an array of virtual resources to foster long-distance connections if you’re willing to make the time.

How to find the best online degree program for you

Enrolling in an online degree program has many advantages, as we discussed above, but it’s important that you find the right online program for you. Because of the self-discipline and time management that learning online requires, when you learn is up to you. That makes it especially important to make sure you’re set up for success.

Below, we’ve outlined a few components that you should keep in mind as you research different online degree programs and go about determining the ones you’d like to apply to.

Look for accreditation.

Finding an online degree from an accredited college or university is one way to ensure that you’re receiving a quality education that has been vetted by an approved outside agency. But the type of accreditation can become especially important if you want to transfer previously earned credits to a new institution—or apply for federal financial aid. Note how each program is accredited, regionally or nationally, and speak with an advisor if you have additional questions.

Consider the course format.

The way your online program is structured will depend on the college or university you attend. Some programs are fully online, meaning you will not be expected to attend any classes on campus. However, others employ a hybrid model, meaning you will be expected to take some classes in person. Learn how each program is structured and think about the best approach for your learning style and schedule.

Determine how much flexibility you need.

Speaking of how you’ll learn, online programs tend to structure courses asynchronously (in which you learn on your own time) or synchronously (in which you attend a scheduled class virtually). Depending on your schedule and your needs, figure out which option best suits you, and narrow your program choices down based on how they offer courses.

Pay attention to what you can learn.

Not every major or program is available online at every degree level. Once you know what you want to study, and the kind of degree you want to earn, begin researching which colleges and universities offer that track. Pay close attention to the coursework required to graduate, and make sure it aligns with what you hope to gain by earning your degree.

Research the cost.

Each online degree program charges a different amount for tuition and fees, including in some cases whether you’re in-state or out-of-state. As you identify different programs that interest you, make a note about tuition costs so you can make a decision that best suits your resources. You can submit a FAFSA form each year, which may help you qualify for grants, scholarships, and federal student loans.

Review faculty credentials.

As much as possible, you should find out about the faculty who will teach your courses, whether those are led asynchronously or synchronously. Online programs should provide those details, and knowing more about your faculty’s experience and credentials can help reassure you that you’re learning from subject experts.

Get started on Coursera

Learn more about online bachelor’s degrees and online master’s degrees from leading universities on Coursera. You’ll find a number of in-demand fields at each degree level. All programs are designed to be flexible, allowing you to learn at your own pace. Attend a virtual session to learn more about each degree.

Not sure if a degree is the best choice for you? Check out a number of Professional Certificates from Google, IBM, and Meta to develop job-ready skills in less than a year.

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Coursera Staff

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

A Guide to Online Degrees (2024)


What degrees are worth getting online? ›

Online college is becoming increasingly popular – and many employers have no compunctions about hiring graduates of fully remote or hybrid programs. Lucrative careers for people with degrees you can get online include engineering, nursing, computer science, and countless business-related roles.

What is the easiest degree to get online? ›

Easiest Online Majors
  • Humanities.
  • Liberal Arts.
  • Linguistics.
  • Music.
  • Psychology.
  • Religious Studies.
  • Social Work.
  • Sociology.

Are any online degrees respected? ›

According to the experts, degrees earned from accredited online schools are taken just as seriously as degrees earned at brick-and-mortar institutions. Although, it's also important to remember that hiring managers look at other aspects of your job application or resume before extending an offer.

Are fully online degrees worth it? ›

Online programs are absolutely worth it, depending on your circ*mstances. In general, online programs are not easier than on-campus programs. Online programs aren't necessarily more affordable, but they can be. Just like degrees earned on campus, online degrees are widely respected by employers.

What 2 year degree pays the most? ›

What Are the Highest-Paying Associate Degrees?
  • Air Traffic Management.
  • Nuclear Technology.
  • Radiation Therapy.
  • Nuclear Medicine Technology.
  • Dental Hygiene.
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonography.
  • Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technology.
  • Aviation Maintenance.

Do employers dislike online degrees? ›

Do employers accept online degrees? In general, employers should treat an online degree the same as they would a campus-based degree. Most employers care far more about the quality of the school than the delivery format of the degree.

What is an easy degree that pays well? ›

Among the most suitable options for career changers are degrees in business administration, project management, healthcare administration, human resources, and education. These programs equip students with transferable skills that are valuable across various industries and can be applied to a wide range of positions.

What's the shortest degree you can get? ›

Most associate programs take two years. With an accelerated program, you'll finish faster — and some of the fastest associate degrees can take less than a year. Popular accelerated programs include allied health degrees like dental hygiene or radiologic technology.

What is the fastest degree you can earn? ›

What is the easiest degree to get in 2 years?
  1. Accounting. If numbers are your thing, a degree in accounting could be just what you're looking for. ...
  2. Criminal Justice. ...
  3. Early Childhood Education. ...
  4. General Studies. ...
  5. Healthcare Administration. ...
  6. Computer Information Systems. ...
  7. Marketing. ...
  8. Psychology.
Apr 16, 2024

Are online diplomas legit? ›

Some may wonder, “Are high school diplomas online real?" The answer is yes, online high schools are legitimate – as long as the school is accredited.

Do people look down on online degrees? ›

Are online degrees looked down upon? No—diplomas do not indicate whether a graduate completed their degree on campus or online. As long as you earn your degree from an accredited school, employers and admissions officers should recognize your diploma just as they would if you had earned it in person.

Do jobs recognize online degrees? ›

Online colleges are becoming more popular, but prospective students may still worry about their credibility. We're here to set the record straight: An online degree holds just as much weight as a traditional degree. In fact, data shows that most employers don't even differentiate between the two types of degrees.

Do online degrees say online on the diploma? ›

This strategy, which is based on the equivalency principle, emphasizes how online programs' academic rigor and learning objectives are similar to those of conventional on-campus education. Therefore, the answer to the inquiry, 'Will my diploma say online?' is usually not true in these institutions.

Is it cheaper to get a degree online? ›

The Cost of Online College

Not only does tuition tend to be lower, but many additional expenses, such as transportation costs and course materials, are eliminated in an online program. However, it's important to note that the average cost of online college is still a significant investment.

Do employers care where your degree is from? ›

There's a reason you're required to put the name of the college you attended on your resume and job application. Despite what you may read to the contrary, most employers do care about where you went to school for your degree.

Which degree is best for online work? ›

22 of the Best Degrees for Remote Work
  • Mechanical Engineering. ...
  • Human Resources. ...
  • Finance. ...
  • Legal Studies. ...
  • Game Design. Remote jobs you may get in this field: ...
  • Music. Remote jobs you may get in this field: ...
  • Hospitality and Tourism. Remote jobs you may get in this field: ...
  • Nutrition and Dietetics. Remote jobs you may get in this field:

What are the most useful degrees right now? ›

Best College Majors Table of Contents
  • Biomedical Engineering.
  • Information Technology.
  • Mechanical Engineering.
  • Statistics.
  • Civil Engineering.
  • Chemistry.
  • Physics.
  • Social Science.

Is an online degree as good as a regular degree? ›

So it's not surprising that there have been misconceptions about online degrees. The good news is that as technology has developed to enable students to have a seamless learning experience over the internet, online degrees have become just as robust and comprehensive as degrees earned in the classroom.

What is the #1 online college in the US? ›

Top Online Colleges
RankSchool NameFinancial Aid Available
#1University at Buffalo--SUNYYes
#2University of FloridaYes
#3University of Illinois--ChicagoYes
#4 (tie)Arizona State UniversityYes
12 more rows

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