Life is complicated. Finish or further your education with a flexible, accredited online program from a top-notch university.
A couple decades ago, completing a degree online was a dubious proposition. But times have changed—a lot. Today the best universities in the world are providing high-quality, accredited, and affordable online programs. These programs combine the highest standards in academics with the flexibility and convenience of distance education.
And online study is not boring. Modern learning management systems—like Blackboard and Canvas—utilize cutting-edge technology to provide an engaging, intuitive learning experience. As an online student, you’ll use a variety of modalities like video, text, audio, and discussion boards to ensure that you are an active participant in your education.
But on your own schedule.
Are Online Degrees Respected by Employers?
If you attend an accredited university with a solid reputation, then the answer is yes. The days when an online degree came with a dodgy reputation are well in the past. In fact, the diploma you receive will not even state that it was completed online. A good online program will teach you the same skills as a campus-based program and will give you the same credentials.
There are, of course, programs that will not be taken seriously. One major red flag is an institution that is nationally—rather than regionally—accredited. It’s hard to overstate the importance of regional accreditation. Without it, your credits will not be transferable to other institutions and your diploma will not be taken seriously.
How Much Money Will I Make With an Online Degree?
You’ll make the same amount of money as you would if you attended the same program at a traditional campus. There are so many factors that go into your future salary that it is impossible to generalize on how much money you will actually make.
But assuming that you complete a solid program at an accredited institution, then the fact that you completed your degree online will be no hindrance to your future earnings.
Are online degrees easier than traditional programs?
No. Solid online programs will match the academic rigor that you will find in a traditional classroom. You’ll be held to the same high standards of scholarship, participate in discussions, complete labs, and conduct research. You’ll probably be taught by the same faculty that teach on campus too—and they don’t relax their standards for online students.
And the more flexible the schedule is, the more you’ll have to keep yourself motivated. On the other hand, you won’t have to travel to campus. You can complete assignments, participate in discussions, and attend lectures on your own time, wherever you are.
Are Online Degrees More Affordable? Faster?
The answer to this question really depends on the school you attend, but universities do often offer discounts to online students. And several schools offer in-state tuition to all online students, which can add up to huge savings.
And yes, they often are faster. You’ll have to complete the same amount of work for your online degree as you would if you were attending on campus, but many online programs are offered in accelerated formats. These programs are usually offered year-round, in eight to twelve-week terms—which can propel you through your degree at a much faster pace than a traditional program.
Should I Get an Online Degree?
This depends on what your greatest needs are. Online programs can offer a huge amount of flexibility in scheduling. So if you need (or want) to continue working while you study then online programs make a lot of sense. And many online programs are less expensive than their traditional counterparts so there is the added benefit of cost savings.
There will also be the added challenge of self-motivation—especially in asynchronous courses where there is no set log-in time. You’ll have to work hard to make sure you stay on top of lectures and assignments so that you don’t get behind. But the best online programs offer an array of student supports that will help keep you motivated and engaged.
What Are the Best Online Colleges?
When searching for the best online colleges, we’ve taken into account a number of essential factors. The first—and most basic—requirement is that all schools on our list are regionally accredited. This guarantees a level of legitimacy to their online programs.We also take into account the institution’s national reputation, as evidenced by national and niche rankings (like U.S. News and World Report). And we look closely at affordability—gleaning tuition costs from the National Center for Educational Statistics.
The College Choice Score you see beside each school is a composite score that balances academic excellence with return on investment. We hope our ranking helps you in your search for a great online college!
College Choice Score: 100
Average Net Price: $23,129
The second largest campus in the Pennsylvania State University system, Penn State World Campus has been offering high-quality online programs since 1998. Penn State World Campus partners with Penn State’s many academic units and colleges, making it possible to offer more than 150 degree and certificate programs online to over 14,000 students worldwide.
As a student at Penn State World Campus, you’ll be able to complete your program at your own pace. Courses at Penn State World Campus are delivered in asynchronous format, so you can attend classes on your own schedule. You’ll experience both self-study and peer-to-peer interaction using chat, video conferencing, phone calls, email, social media, bulletin boards, and more. Some top degree programs offered include:
- Bachelor of Science in Accounting
- Master of Engineering: Electrical Engineering
- Master of Education: Educational Leadership
Penn State World Campus has an unparalleled national reputation. In U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 ranking of leading online degree programs, Penn State World Campus received the most top-ten rankings of any institution in the country. The school is also home to six online programs that rank among the top-ten online programs for veterans.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
College Choice Score: 99.06
Average Net Price: $19,002
A pioneer in distance learning, Florida’s Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has been offering online programs since the school first launched their online portal in 1993. The school, which is one of the top-ranking STEM-focused universities in the country, uses cutting-edge technology to deliver its undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs to nontraditional students.
If you’re looking for an online degree in aeronautics or engineering, then look no further. Embry-Riddle has developed innovative programs which rank highly and offer exceptionally high return-on-investment. The school is also home to excellent online Business programs at the undergraduate and graduate level. And Embry-Riddle uses their long experience in distance learning to focus on engagement and critical services that help ensure student success. Some top programs include:
- Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics
- Master of Science in Engineering Management
- Master of Science in Technology
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University knows how to make education accessible for nontraditional students. Online learners have access to dedicated student advisors that help guide them through their program. And online degree programs feature multiple start times throughout the year, with 12 undergraduate and 10 graduate terms. This accelerated format propels students through the program in nine-week sessions.
Arizona State University–ASU Online
College Choice Score: 98.70
Average Net Price: $13,007
Located in Tempe, Arizona, Arizona State University (ASU Online) is one of the top providers of online education in the country. The University serves a huge online student body, with over 25,000 students enrolled in one of their 150+ undergraduate and graduate programs. Through their multiple online education platforms, ASU Online is constantly removing barriers for students to attend a nationally-ranked university.
At ASU Online you’ll be able to avoid the one-size-fits-all approach to education. Students are able to tailor their degree programs to fit their personal career goals and often have the chance to practice skills and gain real-world experience in their own communities. And students benefit from direct connection to the knowledge and expertise of the same award-winning faculty who teach on-campus. Top degree programs include:
- Master of Arts in Criminal Justice
- Master of Business Administration
- MBA/MS Industrial Engineering
At ASU-online, student support is all-encompassing. You’ll encounter tutors to help you get through the tough classes, success coaches who help adjust to online student life, and career service personnel who can help you apply your skills and passions in the real world. And you’ll join a diverse, global community of Sun Devils though student clubs, social media, and classroom interaction.
University of Florida Distance Learning
College Choice Score: 98.48
Average Net Price: $11,976
Another school that is no stranger to national rankings, the University of Florida—located in the city of Gainesville—is breaking down geographical barriers to higher education. The University of Florida offers access to more than 200 online undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs. And as a student, you’ll be a member of The Gator Nation, along with thousands of students and alumni around the world.
The University of Florida is committed to removing barriers to higher education. And their tuition and fees—which are the lowest among public universities who are members of the prestigious American Association of Universities—reflect that commitment. UF online programs combine rigorous academics in an accessible platform with access to student supports (like peer tutoring and career services) that will help you succeed. Top degree programs include:
- Bachelor of Arts or Science in Business Administration
- Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction
- Master of Science in Civil Engineering
UF online programs have three start dates per year (in August, January, and May), and the school offers multiple pathways (like degree completion programs) for students depending on their educational background. In addition to the many degree programs offered online, the University of Florida also offers a number of professional development courses online for working professionals.
University of Illinois at Chicago
College Choice Score: 93.92
Average Net Price: $11,571
The largest university in the Chicago area, the University of Illinois at Chicago has consistently ranked among the top ten schools to get an online Bachelor’s degree (and currently sits at #4 according to U.S. News and World Report). The University has been offering online programs for a decade, and currently offers over 45 degrees at the undergraduate through postgraduate levels.
The University of Illinois at Chicago takes online student engagement seriously. As a student, you’ll take advantage of learning management system tech tools such as videos, audio, blogs, and discussion boards to keep connected to faculty and peers. Courses are taught by the same full-time, expert faculty that teach on campus. And UIC ensures that programs are accredited by top-notch accrediting agencies. Top degrees offered include:
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN)
- Bachelor of Science in Health Management
- Master of Engineering
UIC offers a range of student supports to ensure your success as an online student. Live technical support is available, as well as access to tutorials on how to access information within your online courses. And students can access learning software from computers and mobile devices. UIC also offers flexible scheduling so students can attend lectures, complete assignments, and engage in discussions at their convenience.
University of Central Florida
College Choice Score: 93.52
Average Net Price: $15,533
Located in Orlando, Florida, the University of Central Florida (UCF) is an emerging preeminent research university and home to one of the top online programs in the country. UCF has been offering online programs for over 20 years and now serves over 8000 students online. Over 80 accredited online degree programs are now available at the undergraduate through postgraduate level.
At the University of Central Florida, online courses combine an outstanding learning experience with personalized convenience and flexibility. With top online degrees in areas like Criminal Justice and Graduate Nursing, UCF is establishing a reputation for excellent online programming for working professionals. Not content to rest on their laurels, UCF ranks among the top 25 most innovative schools in the country (U.S. News and World Report). Top online degrees include:
- Master of Science in Nursing
- Master of Science in Criminal Justice
- Master of Science in Digital Forensics
Affordability is an important aspect of access to higher education, and UCF has been recognized (by both Forbes and Kiplinger’s) for being one of the most affordable and best-value universities in the U.S. And online students have access to a wide range of student supports—from peer-assisted tutoring and online tutors to library services, academic advising, and career services.
Colorado State University–Global Campus
College Choice Score: 93.19
Average Net Price: $16,232
Founded in 2007, Colorado State University-Global Campus (CSU-Global)is the online campus of the Colorado State University system. CSU-Global was the first independent, 100% online state university in the U.S. and now has an online student body of over 15,000 students. CSU-Global currently offers 24 accredited degree programs at the Bachelor’s and Master’s level.
CSU-Global Campus has worked hard to earn a reputation as one of the best online schools for working professionals. The school is constantly pushing innovation in teaching methods, making online learning both rigorous and engaging. And CSU-Global emphasizes individualized support for students from registration to graduation, with a wide range of student resources—from tutoring to tech support. Top online degrees include:
- Bachelor of Science in Accounting
- Master of Science in Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration
- Master of Science in Management
With monthly starts and accelerated eight-week courses, CSU-Global makes higher education both immediately accessible and remarkably efficient. The University also insists on absolute transparency in costs and fees—which includes a tuition guarantee so you know exactly what you will have to pay. They also integrate a data-driven approach that measures key student performance metrics to ensure that their courses are doing what they need to.
University of Illinois–Springfield
College Choice Score: 92.56
Average Net Price: $11,444
One of three campuses in the world-class University of Illinois, the University of Illinois Springfield is widely acclaimed for their leadership in online learning. UIS offers over 45 degree, certification, and graduate certificate programs for nontraditional students, many of which rank among the best in the country. Students encounter an intellectually rich environment with top-notch faculty and online resources.
Online learning at UIS is both flexible and convenient for working students. And while online courses are equally rigorous and taught by the same faculty that teach in the classroom, online curricula are designed for online instruction specifically. And faculty are trained in online instruction so they are able to help students take advantage of the unique resources available to online learners. Some top degrees offered include:
- Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration
- Master of Public Administration
- Master of Arts in Human Services Administration
The University of Illinois Springfield takes accessibility seriously—and works to make transferring into programs as simple as possible. UIS has established relationships with many accredited institutions across the state of Illinois, making the transfer process seamless for students. And Joint Agreements mean that student in approved community colleges can be assigned a UIS advisor that help plan a course of study before they even begin studying at UIS.
CUNY School of Professional Studies
College Choice Score: 90.69
Average Net Price: $6,530
CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) is a college of the City University of New York system—the largest urban university system in the country. CUNY SPS offers a variety of online bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as certificates and professional non-degree programs. And the University’s online Bachelor’s program currently ranks in the top 5% in the country in U.S. News & World Report.
Online courses at CUNY School of Professional Studies make use of emerging technology and interactive formats for a unique learning experience—creating a rich online learning environment with opportunities for students to interact with instructors and classmates. CUNY SPS also provides unique bachelor’s to master’s pathways, making the school a top destination for working professionals in the psychology, business and healthcare sectors. Top degree programs include:
- Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Media
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing
- Master of Arts in Psychology
- Master of Science in Business Management and Leadership
Drawing on CUNY’s renowned faculty and practitioners, as well as numerous industry and education partners, online programs at CUNY School of Professional Studies provide affordable and accessible opportunities for personal growth and job mobility. All students pay the same tuition rate (regardless of residency) and a number of credits for prior learning allow undergraduate students to earn credit for previous education and workplace education.
Oregon State University–OSU Ecampus
College Choice Score: 90.58
Average Net Price: $19,484
Located in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Oregon State University Ecampus is consistently ranked among the nation’s best providers of online education. Currently ranking among the top ten universities for their online Bachelor’s programs (U.S. News & World Report), OSU’s Ecampus offers more 30 degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level—all developed by OSU faculty who are known worldwide for their research, expertise, and innovation.
OSU Ecampus courses and programs are developed by world-class OSU faculty who use innovative course delivery strategies. Through cutting-edge technology, students are actively engaged in virtual labs, interactive language-acquisition exercises, engaging videos, and interactive lectures. OSU uses Canvas as its learning management system, so online interaction through discussion boards and web conferencing keeps students in touch. Top online degree programs include:
- Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Sciences
- Master of Engineering in Industrial Engineering
- Master of Science in Data Analytics
OSU Ecampus students have access to a wide range of student supports—vital resources like success counseling, library services, free online tutoring, and career guidance. And OSU Ecampus is currently ranked among the top five best online bachelor’s programs for veterans— advisors collaborate with veterans to maximize their military education benefits and find programs that work well for military service members.
College Choice Score: 89.42
Average Net Price: $31,040
Located in New York City, Pace University is a private institution with stellar online programs. With over a decade of experience in online education, Pace University is home to one of the top online Bachelor’s programs in the country (U.S. News & World Report) as well as other high ranking programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate level.
Pace University has a long history of providing access to excellent education and career preparation. The school utilizes Blackboard—a learning management system which provides easy access to online class resources as well as keeping students in touch with instructors and other students. And online courses at Pace offer an affordability that their campus-based counterparts can’t compete with. Top degree programs include:
- RN to BSN
- BS in Business Studies
- MS in Internet Technology
If you have credits to transfer to a university program, Pace University may be a good fit. Pace University Online maintains a generous transfer credit policy that aims to give students the maximum amount of transfer credit from previous college experience towards your desired program. And U.S. News & World Report currently ranks Pace University’s online Bachelor’s program as one of the top ten best programs for veterans.
College Choice Score: 88.97
Average Net Price: $26,505
Located in Denver, Colorado, Regis University is a private Jesuit university with a deep commitment to accessibility. The school has invested heavily in online education and currently has several online programs that rank among the best in the country. Regis offers 66 online degree programs as well as many certificates and licensures at the graduate and undergraduate level.
As a Jesuit university, Regis University’s online undergraduate and graduate degree programs provide both the rigorous curriculum you need to reach your career goals while challenging you to explore the quintessential Regis question, “How ought we to live?” Regis faculty are experts in their respective fields, blending classroom theory with hands-on experience. Top online degree programs include:
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems
- Master of Science in Criminology
- Master of Education in Education Leadership
Online students at Regis benefit from the convenience of accelerated online courses that let you earn a degree while working. And Regis University is home to an Associate’s to Bachelor’s® Program that is specifically designed to guide students through the transition from a 2-year program to a bachelor’s degree. Students can transfer up to 90 credit hours toward a bachelor’s degree from Regis.
College Choice Score: 88.72
Average Net Price: $30,353
A private, Jesuit University located in Omaha, Nebraska, Creighton University is the top ranking regional university in the Midwest. With a deep commitment to quality distance education, Creighton is home to more than 25 stellar online programs—including an online Graduate Education program that ranks at #2 nationally (U.S. News & World Report).
As an online student at Creighton University, you’ll experience both the academic rigor of campus-based courses as well as the benefits of Creighton’s exceptional sense of community. Courses provide online discussions and activities to ensure that you regularly interact with classmates. And course sizes are small so faculty can give you personalized attention. Top online degree programs include:
- Master of Science in Educational Leadership
- Master of Business Administration
- Master of Science in Nursing
Online courses at Creighton University make use of real-time web-conferencing, audio-visual learning materials, discussion boards, and other technologies to ensure that students are engaged in the learning process. Most courses are asynchronous—but not self-paced—combining flexibility for your busy schedule with the structure of assignment due dates. And you’ll have access to student supports like online tutoring and library services.
City University of Seattle
College Choice Score: 88.65
Average Net Price: $16,748
City University of Seattle (also known as CityU) is a private, nonprofit university that offers accredited degrees from the undergraduate through doctoral level. With a commitment to serving working adults and transfer students, CityU is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top schools for online bachelor’s degree programs, and among the top online programs for veterans in the U.S.
With a focus on flexibility and accessibility, CityU’s online classes are designed for working adults and students who need an education that will fit into their busy lives. CityU offers their online programs through a virtual classroom where students can log-in to check assignments, video, and discussions. Online students collaborate and discuss topics with one another and faculty on a portal within this virtual classroom and through the Blackboard system.
- Bachelor of Arts in Human Services
- Bachelor of Arts in Management
- Master of Business Administration
CityU has an exceptionally generous transfer policy which allows students to transfer up to 135 credits into a program. The University also offers discounted military tuition, scholarships and credit for prior learning (like work experience or military service). And CityU partners with national, regional, and local organizations to ensure that current and former U.S. service members and their families have the support they need while attending school.
Regent University–Regent Online
College Choice Score: 87.98
Average Net Price: $17,837
Located in Virginia Beach, VA, Regent University is a private, Christian research university that is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to online programs. The school has invested heavily in its online offerings and currently offers 128 online degrees at the undergraduate through doctoral levels—many of which have found their way onto national rankings like U.S. News and World Report.
Regent University maintains a dual commitment to academic excellence and flexible scheduling. This combination makes the school highly attractive to working adults who need to continue working as they study—and who want an education grounded in faith. Through Regent Online, students receive instruction and mentoring from the same prestigious professors who teach on campus. Top degree programs include:
- Master of Science in Business Analytics
- Bachelor of Science in Accounting
- Master of Education
Regent Online students participate in each course with an average of 17 other classmates (an impressively small class size). A faculty member—with training in online learning—oversees each course, guiding students through the learning process. Ranked No. 1 for Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs in Virginia, Regent’s online bachelor degree programs and online master’s degree programs provide students with a quality education from a Christian worldview.
University of Denver–University College
College Choice Score: 87.55
Average Net Price: $32,940
The University of Denver is a nationally-ranked, private (nonprofit), four-year university with a robust online presence. Through DU’s University College (College of Professional and Continuing Studies), the University provides a fully accredited educational experience. Students at the undergraduate and graduate levels can take challenging and career-relevant online classes designed for busy adults.
Through Bachelor of Arts completion programs and self-paced graduate programs, students will experience a customizable education experience with career-focused content. DU’s philosophy is to embrace technology to improve and accelerate learning for busy adults. Online classes present the same content and are driven by the same academic outcomes as campus-based classes but in a flexible, accessible, and affordable format.
- Bachelor of Arts in Leadership and Organization Studies
- Master of Science in Information and Communications Technology
- Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership
With more than 20 years of experience in online learning, the University of Denver has honed the art of distance education. Online classes are asynchronous, so students are not required to be online at the same time, instead logging into online class when their schedule permits. And all classes are available both online and on campus (or in a hybrid format), so students can choose the format that works best for them.
College Choice Score: 85.88
Average Net Price: $13,992
Headquartered in Irvine, California, Brandman University is a distinctive, private (nonprofit) university that has the nontraditional student at its center. The school delivers high-quality, accredited, career-focused undergraduate and graduate programs online and on their many campuses. Their student-centric philosophy makes their 50+ degree programs manageable for working students.
Brandman University maintains a core commitment to delivering a real-world curriculum to their students—one that will be applicable to day one in the marketplace. Brandman’s faculty members are professionals currently working in their fields, so students can feel assured that they are receiving current best-practices. And students receive support from application to graduation through enrollment coaches, academic advisors, and career services. Top degrees include:
- Bachelor of Business Administration in Human Resources
- RN to BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing)
- Master of Science in Human Resources
Brandman University makes it easy to transfer in college credit—whether it be from one of Brandman’s partner community colleges, alternative course credit that applies to your degree, or hands-on training from a military or professional background. Brandman has been ranked among top online schools for several years and boasts exceptionally high graduation rates—a key indicator of quality.
Savannah College of Art and Design
College Choice Score: 85.58
Average Net Price: $40,856
If you have a creative bent, then you know that it can be more difficult to find online programs that match your interests. The Savannah College of Art and Design—a private, nonprofit university— has addressed this need by offering high-quality online programs tailored to meet the needs of nontraditional students. And their programs, offered at the undergraduate and graduate level—have found their way to national rankings.
The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is home to a collaborative online environment designed specifically for nontraditional learners. Students can earn a top-ranked bachelor’s degree or an Master of Arts in an extensive offering of programs that range from painting, fashion, and interior design to photography, animation, and game development. Top online degrees include:
- Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design
- Bachelor of Arts in Photography
- Master of Fine Arts in Writing
The Savannah College of Art and Design eLearning experience balances flexibility with structure. Students can access lectures and course materials on their own schedules (in an asynchronous format) while completing assignments by designated due dates and participating in online class sessions. And students have access to cutting-edge technology and extensive student services like the Writer’s Studio, Academic Advising, and Counselling Services.
Central Michigan University
College Choice Score: 84.92
Average Net Price: $14,275
Central Michigan University is a public research university—the largest university in Michigan—and a highly regarded provider of online education. CMU Global Campus (which houses their online programs) offers 27 degrees and multiple professional certificates from undergraduate through doctoral levels. CMU has been highly ranked for their online Bachelors, Graduate Education, and MBA programs (U.S. News & World Report).
At CMU Global Campus, online students experience a comprehensive education with the flexibility of customizable degree programs. Many programs offer students the ability to choose a specialization within the major—making the degree a personalized fit for your career goals. And students benefit from wrap-around services like academic advising, an Online Learning Resource Center, and peer assistance through the Online Ally program. Top degree programs include:
- Bachelor of Applied Arts in Administration
- Master of Arts in Education
- Master of Business Administration
Central Michigan University welcomes transfer students at all stages of their academic careers and from around the country (and even the world). The school simplifies the often stressful work of assessing transfer credit and has a generous transfer policy of 64 credits per degree program. Military students are also well supported at CMU Global Campus, with Military Transfer Credits and various support programs.
Washington State University Global Campus
College Choice Score: 84.27
Average Net Price: $17,815
A nationally-ranked public university, Washington State University fulfills its mission to reach beyond campus boundaries through its online portal—WSU Global Campus. The University has been offering online programs since 2010 and currently serves over 2000 online students with over 20 high-quality, accredited degree possibilities at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
WSU’s Global Campus strives to provide online students with a true campus experience—including online events, career fairs, webinars from university experts, and a digital pavilion where students can showcase their research. And at WSU Global Campus busy students—including undergraduates—can take accelerated online courses which propel them through coursework at a faster than usual pace. Top degree programs include:
- Bachelor of Science in Accounting
- Master of Business Administration
- Master of Science in Electric Power Engineering
Online students at WSU Global Campus benefit from many student supports including personal academic assistance, a worldwide alumni network, and access to their unique Global Connections program. WSU is constantly expanding online course offerings—and these programs constantly garner national acclaim. WSU has ranked at the top of U.S. News & World Report’s online rankings for Bachelor’s, MBA, and Graduate Engineering programs.
If you hold strong political beliefs, you may want to go to a college where the students, faculty, and administration share your values. You’ll be more likely to find student groups that are aligned with your interests and beliefs. The values of the college will be more likely to coincide with your own, and you’ll probably have a more enjoyable college experience.
In this article, I’ll give you the names of some of the most conservative colleges in the United States. Furthermore, I’ll detail the traits of conservative colleges, explain the possible advantages and disadvantages of attending a conservative college, and advise you on how to find a conservative college that's a good fit for you.
Traits of the Most Conservative Colleges
Conservative colleges are politically right-wing. The students tend to favor conservative positions like outlawing abortion, reducing the size of government, and protecting gun rights.
Christian colleges are often more conservative. Many Christian colleges adhere to more traditional social views and rules that attract conservative Christian students and faculty.
Furthermore, conservative colleges are more strict and regimented than liberal colleges. Conservative religious colleges like BYU and the College of the Ozarks have strict rules that all students must follow. At BYU, male students can’t have beards or long hair. These colleges are much less tolerant of alcohol and drug use than liberal colleges. Also, the armed service academies are known for being conservative. They have many more rules than the average college regarding personal appearance and conduct.
Finally, the most conservative colleges often reflect the political leanings of their locations. Many of the most conservative colleges are located in conservative states. Examples of conservative colleges in conservative locations include Clemson University (South Carolina), Utah State, and the University of Alabama. However, there are conservative colleges in liberal states. Pepperdine and Thomas Aquinas College are conservative colleges in California, but they’re both Christian colleges.
Possible Advantages of Attending a Conservative College
If you're a self-described conservative, you may be more comfortable and happy at a college with many other conservative students. At very liberal colleges, students are often not that accepting and think negatively of conservatives. If you attend a conservative college, you’re more likely to meet people who share your political and social views, and you won't be ostracized for your beliefs.
Also, at a conservative college, the faculty and administration are more likely to accept or believe in conservative values. Studies have shown that college faculty tend to be much more liberal. If you’re a conservative student, you may not prefer having your opinions evaluated by a professor who is likely to hold very different beliefs.
Additionally, conservative colleges are generally more accepting of religious Christian students. Many of the most conservative colleges are Christian colleges that profess Christian values and attract Christian students. Even conservative colleges that are not Christian colleges have a larger proportion of Christian students than liberal colleges.
Lastly, conservative colleges are more likely to stress discipline. The service academies require students to follow many rules regarding conduct and appearance. While young people often abhor rules, the discipline of service academy graduates may facilitate their success. The US Naval Academy and the US Military Academy both finished in the top 10 in Payscale’s rankings of the best colleges and universities by salary potential. Similarly, The College of the Ozarks makes all students work, but it’s a tuition-free college.
US Military Academy
Possible Disadvantages of Attending a Conservative College
The right-wing social views of conservative colleges can pose issues for many college students. Conservative colleges are less likely to have resources for and be accepting of LGBT students. Similarly, the students at conservative colleges are more likely to be opposed to gay marriage, even though the majority of college students support marriage equality.
Furthermore, there is often less freedom at a conservative college. Many students are first asserting their independence during their college years. They want to have the freedom to direct their educations and social lives. At many conservative colleges, the structure and rules can prevent students from having the same level of independence that they do at more liberal colleges. Conservative colleges can have harsh rules regarding when you can have visitors in your dorm, and they're known for being rather strict when it comes to drinking and drug use.
Additionally, if you're very conservative, you may benefit from being exposed to different viewpoints. Having your beliefs challenged and being around diverse opinions can help you learn and grow. If you're extremely conservative and attend a conservative college, you may just be surrounding yourself with people who are likely to echo your beliefs.
Lists of the Most Conservative Colleges
Niche is a website that provides reviews, rankings, and statistics about neighborhoods and schools. It provides many different college ranking lists from the overall best colleges to the top party schools to the most liberal colleges.
The Niche rankings of the most conservative colleges are based on a political poll of 50,000 students from 747 colleges. A full 80% of the rankings is based on student survey responses regarding the students' personal political leanings. The remaining 20% is based on student survey responses regarding the political leanings of other students at the college.
Here are the top 50 most conservative colleges according to Niche, with #1 being the most conservative. There is a high percentage of private Christian colleges on the list. Most of the public colleges, such as Utah State, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Arkansas, are located in conservative states.
University of Mississippi (JR P/Flickr)
|1. Franciscan University of Steubenville||Steubenville, OH||79%|
|2. Liberty University||Lynchburg, VA||24%|
|3. Bob Jones University||Greenville, SC||82%|
|4. Brigham Young University - Idaho||Rexburg, ID||100%|
|5. Brigham Young University||Provo, UT||48%|
|6. Southwestern Assemblies of God University||Waxahachie, TX||28%|
|7. Maranatha Baptist University||Watertown, WI||69%|
|8. Biola University||La Mirada, CA||73%|
|9. Colorado Christian University||Lakewood, CO||94%|
|10. University of Northwestern - St. Paul||St. Paul, MN||87%|
|11. Texas A&M University||College Station, TX||66%|
|12. Cedarville University||Cedarville, OH||74%|
|13. Oral Roberts University||Tulsa, OK||22%|
|14. Anderson University - South Carolina||Anderson, SC||63%|
|15. Union University||Jackson, TN||69%|
|16. North Greenville University||Tigerville, SC||59%|
|17. Samford University||Birmingham, AL||91%|
|18. LeTourneau University||Longview, TX||44%|
|19. Grove City College||Grove City, PA||82%|
|20. George Fox University||Newberg, OR||78%|
|21. Wheaton College||Wheaton, IL||79%|
|22. Benedictine College||Atchison, KS||99%|
|23. University of Mississippi||University, MS||79%|
|24. Regent University||Virginia Beach, VA||55%|
|25. Ouachita Baptist University||Arkadelphia, AR||67%|
|26. Taylor University||Upland, IN||80%|
|27. Evangel University||Springfield, MO||62%|
|28. Southeastern University||Lakeland, FL||46%|
|29. Southern Methodist University||Dallas, TX||49%|
|30. University of Mary Hardin-Baylor||Belton, TX||79%|
|31. Utah State University||Logan, UT||97%|
|32. California Baptist University||Riverside, CA||64%|
|33. University of Dallas||Irving, TX||83%|
|34. Azusa Pacific University||Azusa, CA||81%|
|35. Dordt College||Sioux Center, IA||72%|
|36. Geneva College||Beaver Falls, PA||71%|
|37. Crown College||Saint Bonifacius, MN||54%|
|38. Covenant College||Lookout Mountain, GA||96%|
|39. Cornerstone University||Grand Rapids, MI||63%|
|40. Hillsdale College||Hillsdale, MI||45%|
|41. Oklahoma Baptist University||Shawnee, OK||60%|
|42. University of Findlay||Findlay, OH||97%|
|43. Lee University||Cleveland, TN||87%|
|44. Harding University||Searcy, AR||70%|
|45. Asbury University||Wilmore, KY||70%|
|46. Freed-Hardeman University||Henderson, TN||96%|
|47. Oklahoma Christian University||Edmond, OK||61%|
|48. Mount Vernon Nazarene University||Mount Vernon, OH||74%|
|49. Houghton College||Houghton, NY||79%|
|50. Moody Bible Institute||Chicago, IL||62%|
Brigham Young University
The Princeton Review rankings for the most conservative colleges are based on students' responses to the question "Politically, are you left-wing, Democrat, middle, Republican, right-wing?"
All of the colleges that made the Princeton Review list for the top 20 most conservative colleges are religious, located in conservative states, or service academies.
The schools that made both the Niche and Princeton Review lists are the University of Dallas, Hillsdale College, Grove City College, and Wheaton College.
|1. University of Dallas||Irving, TX||83%|
|2. Hillsdale College||Hillsdale, MI||45%|
|3. Thomas Aquinas College||Santa Paula, CA||75%|
|4. College of the Ozarks||Point Lookout, MO||15%|
|5. Grove City College||Grove City, PA||82%|
|6. Hampden-Sydney College||Hampden-Sydney, VA||56%|
|7. United States Naval Academy||Annapolis, MD||8%|
|8. Brigham Young University||Provo, UT||48%|
|9. United States Military Academy||West Point, NY||10%|
|10. Baylor University||Waco, TX||40%|
|11. Wheaton College-Illinois||Wheaton, IL||79%|
|12. Ohio Northern University||Ada, OH||64%|
|13. Texas Christian University||Fort Worth, TX||43%|
|14. University of Louisiana at Lafayette||Lafayette, LA||55%|
|15. Angelo State University||San Angelo, TX||74%|
|16. Wofford College||Spartanburg, SC||70%|
|17. Clemson University||Clemson, SC||51%|
|18. Kansas State University||Manhattan, KS||94%|
|19. High Point University||High Point, NC||72%|
|20. Berry College||Mount Berry, GA||61%|
Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M/Flickr
Niche also offers student reviews of colleges. Here are some comments written by students of some of the most conservative colleges in the United States. I tried to include positive and negative aspects of each school related to its very conservative environment.
I absolutely love my school. There is a strong love and passion for the university reflected every day on campus. Most importantly, the importance of being honest and having strong character is reinforced at Texas A&M University. I would not have wanted to have attended any other university. After receiving my undergraduate degree in Agricultural Economics-Finance and Real Estate, I decided my time here was not over. I will now be attending graduate school to pursue my Masters of Real Estate. If I could do it all over again, I would not change a thing.
Texas A&M has to have the most ignorant, absurdly extremist right-wing culture I have ever encountered. I consider myself a conservative, but the sheer amount of bigotry and intolerance at this school is simply unacceptable for what is supposed to be an educated environment. I was always told that college was meant to expose you to a diverse group of people and help you prepare for a globalized world. A&M does the opposite. It is a sheltered bubble for racist, homophobic, ethnocentrism coupled with extreme Christian and Republican views. Any sense of worldly knowledge, open-mindedness, or cultural exposure is met with disdain if not outright hostility.
Brigham Young University
I love attending Brigham Young University because it provides a learning environment that is compatible with my religious beliefs. The surrounding mountains are spectacular, and there are plenty of museums, theaters and libraries nearby.
I hate the lack of diversity. I feel like although my classes are amazing, I'm not learning real life lessons because I'm in a Mormon bubble. However, there are a lot of cool opportunities. I love my professors and it's easy to get involved.
US Military Academy
Excellent options. You'll be making a lot of money. And people will want to hire you after the army.
Drug tests are monthly, no civilians are allowed in cadet area, you cannot leave post hardly ever unless you are a senior, and you better drive the speed limit on post or you'll get pulled over.
Grove City College
My school has high academic, extracurricular and moral expectations. While others may dislike the high pressure to excel in multiple areas, Grove pushes us to do our best - to strive to reach our potential. In addition, Grove has a close-knit community. The school promotes and provides many opportunities for forming close connections with others. The campus is beautiful and the professors are superior. Grove City is a great college.
Inter-visitation hours (where boys can go into girls dorms and vice versa) include Wednesdays from 7-10 PM, Fridays from 7PM-12 AM, Saturdays from 1PM-12AM, and Sundays from 1-10PM. While a boy/girl is your room, the door must be open 4 inches and a light other than the TV has to be on. You may think that those are just rules and people probably don't follow them. You would be wrong. Everyone follows them. If you have a boy in your room, you have to sign him in with your RA and then they go around during their shift to check to make sure your door is open and they can see a light. If they don't, they knock and come in to tell you to keep the door open or to turn the light on. Time limits are strict too; you gotta have them out right on time or the RA will kick them out. I'm not joking. This really happens. I've heard of people sneaking in on other days, but I've never seen it myself. There's no alcohol on campus and even if there is it's hidden away in someone's room who probably isn't going to share.
Grove City College
How Should You Use These Lists of the Most Conservative Colleges?
If you want to go to a very conservative college, you should research the colleges that interest you on the Niche and Princeton Review lists to determine if they’re schools you should apply to or attend.
There are many factors to consider to determine if a college is a good fit for you including location, selectivity, support services, and the majors offered. Look at the school’s website, and use guidebooks, college finders, search websites, and other ranking lists to help you in the college selection process. If possible, consult with teachers, counselors, parents, current students, and alumni.
What If You Want to Go to a Conservative College, but a School You're Considering Isn't on the Lists?
Just because a school didn’t make either list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not conservative. Look at the school’s website to see if there are student groups that are aligned with your political and social views. There may be student groups for Republicans, conservative politicians, or members of the NRA. Sometimes, there will be an organization contact listed on the website. If so, you can contact a representative of the organization and ask about the atmosphere on campus.
Also, you can consult other sources that evaluate or grade how conservative a college is. On the Niche profile for each college, under "diversity" for each school's guide, there is a category called "political activity" that describes the political activity on campus. For example, this is how Duke's political activity is described:
Duke, like most universities, has a strong liberal streak, but conservatives have made their voices heard, as well. There are a variety of political organizations on campus that are populated by a significant percentage of the student body. Students advocate for a wide range of political causes, and the University regularly schedules guest political speakers, which are usually very well attended. For example, in 2010, more than 1,000 tickets to see Al Gore lecture sold out in a matter of minutes.
Also, on the College View college finder, you can select that you’re “only interested in schools with a very conservative climate” and search for colleges that fit that criteria, and there are 20 other search categories to help you narrow your college search.
Finally, remember that the political leaning of a college is often reflective of the area where the college is located. For example, colleges in the Northeast tend to be more liberal, and colleges in the South tend to be more conservative. You can determine if a specific city or town is liberal by looking up the candidates it supported in the last election and its views on various political and social issues. Keep in mind that there are conservative cities in liberal states and vice versa. Also, Christian colleges and service academies are typically more conservative regardless of their locations.
Based on the past four presidential elections, the red states are the most conservative.
Because Christian colleges tend to be conservative, you may be interested in checking out my post on the best Christian schools. If you're applying to college soon, learn everything you need to know about the college essay.
Finally, if you need to raise your SAT score to get into the college of your dreams, check out our 15 SAT tips to improve your SAT score. If you're taking the ACT, here are our tips to improve your ACT score.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now: