Most Popular Online Colleges

Largest Online Universities: Ranking the Top Institutions by Enrollment


Gone are the days when going off to college was your only path forward academically.

Online learning platforms are now bringing the campus experience straight to you—anywhere, anytime—reshaping our whole approach towards pursuing higher education.

The spotlight’s on online universities these days - they've grown massively popular as people everywhere look for ways to learn at their own pace while juggling life’s other demands.

Ever wonder about those big-name online colleges?

Here’s your insider guide to what they offer, how they stand out from the crowd, and just who you might be sharing a virtual class with.

Find Your School in 5 Minutes or Less

Many schools have rolling admissions, which means you can start a program in a few weeks!

Exploring who tops online education isn't just about tech - it also involves understanding how institutions adapt. Whether it’s specialist hubs like Embry-Riddle or established universities including Michigan State and Duke bringing classes to your screen, there’s plenty to unpack here.

Hang tight as we break down key facts about prominent colleges – touching base with their admission stats right up to inventive approaches pushing boundaries beyond today’s standard schooling practices.

Key Insights

  1. Specialized Programs: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University offers specialized aviation and aerospace online programs, showing demand for niche education.
  2. Online Expansion: Traditional universities like Michigan State and Duke have successfully integrated online programs, adapting to the digital education trend.
  3. High Enrollment: The University of Phoenix has a large online student body, highlighting the popularity of online education tailored for working adults.
  4. Supportive Online Environments: Institutions like Liberty University emphasize strong support systems for online students, crucial for their success and retention.

When pursuing an online degree, the abundance of choices can be overwhelming.

To streamline your decision-making process, let's focus on some of the largest institutions that offer online courses per data from UoPeople.

  • University of Central Florida: Boasting a diverse range of programs, this university is a notable player in delivering online education.
  • University of Maryland Global Campus: Recognized for its extensive online offerings, particularly for working adults.
  • Western Governors University: Pioneers of competency-based education, providing a flexible approach to online learning.
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University: Specializes in aviation and aerospace programs available globally online.
  • Florida International University: A leader in remote learning with a rich selection of online degrees.
  • Excelsior College: Known for their supportive online environment tailored for adult learners.
  • Columbia Southern University: Offers distance education primarily in business, safety, and fire science disciplines.
  • Strayer University: Delivers numerous online programs specifically designed for working students.
  • Grand Canyon University: A Christian university with a wide array of online degrees.
  • University of Arizona: Expansive online courses and degree options catering to a global student base.
  • Michigan State University, University of Kansas, and Duke: These traditional universities also provide online programs that uphold their educational standards.

Not all universities are created equal, and size might correlate with more avenues to explore majors, advanced systems, and a broader student network. With these large online universities, you're likely to find a program tailored to your career goals and a community to engage with throughout your educational journey.

Most Popular Online Colleges

1. University of Phoenix

Established in 1976, the University of Phoenix stands as North America's most extensive private institution dedicated to providing educational opportunities for working adults. With a commitment to facilitating education alongside career progression, the university offers an array of online degree programs:

  • Online Degree Programs Offered: 131 (incl. Certificate to Postgraduate levels)
  • Popular Academic Fields: Office Management, Behavioral Sciences, Medical Office Support

Facts and Figures:

  • Annual Tuition: $11,330 (Undergraduate), $16,713 (Graduate)
  • Student Body: 165,743 online students globally; predominantly from the US
  • Student Composition: 159,935 domestic, 896 international
  • Full-Time Enrollment: 100%
  • Student Success: 31% retention rate; 16% graduation rate

Student Support and Ratio:

  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Scholarships: 8 different types available
  • Faculty: Teaching staff to student ratio of 38:1

Despite its significant online presence, the University of Phoenix is not to be confused with Arizona State University (ASU), which is a separate public institution also located in Arizona.

2. Liberty University

  • Founded: 1971
  • Type: Largest Christian institution and a notable private nonprofit university in the U.S.
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Online Enrollment: 75,044 students
  • Educational Programs: Offers 349 online programs including Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorate, and Postgraduate levels
  • Popular Fields of Study:
    • Business
    • Management
    • Marketing and Support Services
  • Tuition:
    • Undergraduate: $17,122/year
    • Graduate: $8,723/year
  • Term Duration: Extends over four years and beyond
  • Financial Aid: 9 scholarships available
  • Student Demographics:
    • 65,082 from within the U.S.
    • 1,218 international students
  • Student Enrollment Status:
    • 41% part-time
    • 59% full-time
  • Retention and Graduation Rates:
    • Full-time student retention: 83%
    • Part-time student retention: 39%
    • Graduation rate: 47%
  • Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 18 to 1
  • Veteran Support: Ranked top by Military Times as "Best for Vets" institution

3. University of the People

University of the People establishes itself as a pioneer in providing accessible online education with a diverse and widespread student base. Boasting enrolment from over 200 countries, this tuition-free institution has captured the attention of both domestic and international learners, with almost half of its students based in the United States.

At a Glance:

  • Year Established: 2009
  • Accreditation: Distance Education Accrediting Commission, International Baccalaureate
  • Degree Programs Offered: 8
  • Major Fields of Study:
    • Computer Science
    • Business Administration
    • Health Science
    • Education (Master's)
    • MBA

Student Profile:

  • Enrolment: 2,138
  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 14:1
  • Retention Rate: 86%
  • Employment Rate of Graduates: 92%
  • Scholarships: 9 available

Learning Format:

  • Courses span from Associate to Master's levels.
  • Majority (81%) are part-time undergraduates.
  • Full-time graduates make up 29% of the student population.

Endorsed by 97% of its students, University of the People pairs the credibility of its programs with flexibility, maintaining an educational model that caters to varying schedules and commitments.

Popular Online Colleges

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

4. Southern New Hampshire University

Established in 1932, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers a robust online education platform with over 223 online programs, ranging from certificates to doctoral and postgraduate degrees. Renowned for its innovative "Degree in Three" business program, the university allows students to earn their degree expediently without the requirement of summer courses. Moreover, SNHU spearheads initiatives to bolster higher education for refugees in various countries, including Rwanda and Lebanon.

Key Details:

  • Online Enrollment: 80,000 students
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Popular Programs: Business Administration, Psychology, Accounting
  • Tuition
    • Undergraduate: $31,136/year
    • Graduate: $18,810/year
  • Term Duration: Typically 4 years

Student Demographics:

  • US-based: 53,308
  • International: 387

Study Modes:

  • Undergraduate: 72% part-time, 28% full-time
  • Graduate: 80% part-time, 20% full-time

Performance Indicators:

  • Retention Rates: 53% for full-time, 38% for part-time students
  • Graduation Rate: 58%
  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 28:1
  • Scholarships: 28 available options

SNHU maintains a substantial presence both domestically and internationally, emphasizing accessible, flexible, and affordable higher education.

5. UMass Online

UMass Online has been at the forefront of remote learning for more than two decades. As a prominent institution for research, trailing only Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the state, its teaching staff boasts recipients of the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes.

  • Student Enrollment: Approximately 75,000
  • Establishment: 2001
  • Accreditation Status: Recognized by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Programs Offered: Over 150 online programs, including certificate, associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees
  • High-demand Degrees: MBA, Doctorate in Nursing, Master's in Public Health
  • Tuition: $125 - $1,980 (Undergraduate) | $1,230 - $2,250 (Graduate) per course
  • Program Duration: Typically 4 years
  • Scholarships: 2 available
  • Student Success: 91% retention and 76% graduation rates

6. Walden University

At Walden University, a focus on diversity and social progress infuses their ethos. This commitment to broadening academic opportunities is demonstrated by the tangible career advancements of their graduates, particularly for those completing doctoral programs.

  • Founded: 1970
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Degrees Offered: 129 online degrees including certificate, associate, bachelor's, master's, and postgraduate programs

Popular Majors:

  • Registered Nursing
  • Business Administration and Management
  • Psychology

Financial Aspects:

  • Undergraduate Tuition: $12,465/year
  • Graduate Tuition: $12,042/year
  • Scholarships: 13 available


  • Student Demographics:
    • 47,552 domestic students
    • 4,678 international students
  • Total Enrollment: 52,799

Education Model:

  • Undergraduates: 94% part-time, 6% full-time
  • Graduates: 50% part-time, 50% full-time

Retention and Graduation:

  • Part-time Retention Rate: 19%
  • Graduation Rate: 11%

Student Support:

  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 17:1

7. American Public Online University

American Public Online University (APOU) caters primarily to professionals in the military, security, and public service sectors. This institution is renowned for delivering relevant education that's both accessible and designed to streamline students' entry into the job market. A large majority of APOU's students report an easily manageable workload.

Quick Facts:

  • Enrollment: 52,361 online students
  • Establishment Year: 1991
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Programs Offered: 190 online degree programs, including certificate, associate, bachelor's, master's, and postgraduate degrees
  • Popular Majors:
  • Tuition Costs:
    • $6,880/yr for undergraduate programs
    • $6,660/yr for graduate programs
  • Study Duration: Typically extends beyond 4 years

Demographics and Student Success:

  • Origin of Students:
    • 49,035 located within the US
    • 3,326 international
  • Attendance:
    • 92% part-time undergraduate students
    • 95% part-time graduate students
  • Retention Rates:
    • 76% for full-time students
    • 67% for part-time students
  • Graduation Rate: 36%

APOU also offers scholarships, making its comprehensive array of programs more attainable for its diverse student body.

8. University of Florida

At the forefront of academic research, the University of Florida stands committed to environmental sustainability, aspiring to transform its campus into a carbon-neutral environment by 2025. Nationally, it boasts the position as the 8th highest-ranked public university.

Online Education:

  • Top Ranking: The university's online MBA program leads Florida, holding the highest rank state-wide.

Key Statistics:

  • Student Enrollment: 28,838 online learners
  • Founding Year: 1853
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
  • Degree Programs Offered: Over 100 online programs
  • Tuition (Annual):
    • In-state: $3,876
    • Out-of-state: $16,580
  • Scholarships Offered: 13
  • Student Demographics:
    • Domestic: 5,228
    • International: 246
  • Student Engagement:
    • 83.7% full-time students
    • 16.3% part-time students

Retention & Graduation:

Popular Areas of Study:

  • Business Administration and Management
  • Community Health
  • Preventive Medicine
  • Psychology

Faculty Support:

  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 19:1

With affordable fees and a variety of scholarships available, the institution provides accessible higher education. Their commitment to student success is reflected in the impressive retention and graduation rates.

9. Pennsylvania State World Campus

With an approach to education that spans back to the 19th century, Pennsylvania State World Campus has long embraced the idea that learning should know no boundaries. Established specifically for online education in 1998, the institution offers a robust selection of 147 degree programs online, ranging from certificates to postgraduate degrees.

  • Student Enrollment: 14,301
  • Accreditation: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Popular Majors:
  • Cost of Tuition:
    • Undergraduate: $13,988/year
    • Graduate: $20,470/year
  • Duration: Typically 4-year programs
  • Scholarships Offered: 6 distinct scholarships

Demographics of Student Body:

  • Domestic: 11,819
  • International: 413

Student Engagement:

  • Undergraduate:
    • Part-time: 69%
    • Full-time: 31%
  • Graduate:
    • Part-time: 94%
    • Full-time: 6%

Academic Success:

  • Retention Rates:
    • Full-time: 59%
    • Part-time: 50%
  • Graduation Rate: 25%
  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 11:1

Pennsylvania State World Campus is a pioneer in offering education that caters specifically to online learners, aiming to provide flexibility without compromising academic integrity. This commitment to education is reflected in their diverse program offerings and the tailored support systems in place for their student community. Whether pursuing undergraduate or graduate studies, students are provided with various resources to achieve their academic goals amidst their unique life circumstances.

Common Inquiries About the Most Popular Online Colleges

Leading Online Institution by Size

The Open University in the United Kingdom is acknowledged for having the most extensive reach as an online-only higher education institution on a global scale.

United States' Largest Online Universities by Student Numbers

  • University of Phoenix: Known for a significant online presence.
  • Western Governors University: Celebrated for a strong online enrollment.
  • Southern New Hampshire University: Recognized for extensive online course enrollment.

Online Universities With the Most Extensive Course Offerings

Universities such as Coursera and edX partner with various institutions to provide a wide range of courses online.

Online Universities with a Strong Reputation for Academic Stringency

  • Carnegie Mellon University: Notable for Open Learning Initiative.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University: Known for edX collaborations.

Comparison of Student Populations in Online Versus Traditional Institutions

Online universities can host significantly larger student populations due to their scalable digital classroom environments, whereas traditional universities are often limited by physical space.

Considerations for Selecting a Substantial Online University

  • Accreditation: Ensures that the institution meets certain standards of quality.
  • Faculty Qualifications: Look for experienced instructors.
  • Student Support Services: Essential for student success.
  • Graduate Outcomes: Reflect the value of the education.
  • Technology and Platform: Should be user-friendly and reliable.

FAQ: Understanding Online College Options

What is the #1 online college in the US?

The University at Buffalo--SUNY ranks as the #1 online college in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. It is well-regarded for its comprehensive online programs and availability of financial aid.

What are the Big 3 online colleges?

The three largest online colleges are the University of Phoenix, Kaplan, and Strayer University. These institutions have a significant presence in online education and offer a wide range of programs that cater to a diverse student population.

What is the best online college degree to get?

The best online college degrees often align with the demand in the job market:

  • Computer Science: Vital for nearly every industry.
  • Business Administration: Offers versatile career options.
  • Nursing: Critical for the healthcare sector.
  • Marketing, Finance, Engineering, Human Resources, and Education: Each provides specific skills that are in high demand across various industries.

What is the easiest online college to attend?

Some of the easiest online colleges to attend, which offer flexible admissions and a variety of programs, include:

  • Brigham Young University-Idaho
  • Academy of Art University
  • Baker College
  • University of Maryland University College

These schools are known for their accommodating entry requirements and comprehensive support services, making them accessible options for many prospective students.

Popular Online Colleges

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Take the next step toward your future with online learning.

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.