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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Written by:


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's the easiest online degree to get? ›

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

Are online degrees taken seriously? ›

As many as 83% of business leaders see an online degree at a “well-known” institution as having the same value as an on-campus degree. If they are not familiar with a school, however, or the institution isn't known for producing prepared graduates from its programs, your degree may not be seen as having the same value.

What is the easiest online associates degree to get? ›

What Are the Easiest Associate's Degrees?
  • Education. ...
  • Information Technology. ...
  • Criminal Justice. ...
  • Psychology. ...
  • Paralegal Studies. ...
  • Graphic Design. ...
  • Hospitality Management. ...
  • Health Sciences. An associate's degree in health sciences is a good option for healthcare students who do not want to become doctors or nurses.

Is getting a degree online a good idea? ›

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 is an easy degree that pays well? ›

Average Salary: $67,990

Bachelor of Science in Marketing is one of the easiest degrees to get a job with due to its high demand and potential. While the average salary of marketing majors in the US is around $67,990, salaries for managerial roles in the field are exceptionally high.

What 1 year degree makes the most money? ›

What Are the Highest-Paying Associate Degrees?
  • Aviation Maintenance.
  • Respiratory Therapy.
  • Radiologic and MRI Technology.
  • Electrical Engineering Technology.
  • Occupational Therapy Assistance.
  • Mechanical Engineering Technology.
  • Industrial Engineering Technology.
  • Electro-Mechanical Technology.

What's the quickest degree to get? ›

Popular Accelerated Degree Programs
  • Healthcare Administration.
  • Business Degrees.
  • Social Work.
  • MBA Programs.
  • Computer Science.
  • Criminal Justice.
  • RN-to-BSN Programs.
May 7, 2024

What is the shortest degree? ›

Associate's degree programs typically require about 2 years to complete. They're mostly offered by community or technical colleges and have both a general education component and a concentration or major.

What's the best 2 year degree to get? ›

The Highest-Paying Jobs You Can Get With an Associate Degree
  • Radiation Therapist. ...
  • Nuclear Medicine Technologist. ...
  • Dental Hygienist. ...
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. ...
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologist. ...
  • Avionics Technician. ...
  • Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technologist and Technician. ...
  • Funeral Home Manager.
Nov 21, 2023

Do employers not like online degrees? ›

Experts say employers are largely more interested in the person than the degree. They generally won't recognize immediately if that person's degree was obtained online or in person. Some schools are fully online while others offer online programs in addition to their traditional in-person options.

Are online diplomas legit? ›

Provided you obtained your online diploma from a valid, accredited provider, it is just as acceptable as a traditional diploma. In these situations, the vast majority of colleges and employers will accept your diploma, but we always recommend checking with those colleges or institutions to be sure.

Which degree is best for online? ›

Best Online College Degrees
  1. Computer Science. Virtually every industry relies on computer scientists in some form or another. ...
  2. Business Administration. Business administration is a broad field that enables students to work in a variety of roles. ...
  3. Nursing. ...
  4. Marketing. ...
  5. Finance. ...
  6. Engineering. ...
  7. Human Resources. ...
  8. Education.
Jan 18, 2019

Which is the easiest degree to achieve? ›

10 Easiest Bachelor's Degrees of 2024
  1. Business. Interested in an easy major with many career options? ...
  2. Communications. As a communications major, you'll study mass media, public relations, and journalism. ...
  3. Criminal Justice. ...
  4. Education. ...
  5. English. ...
  6. General Studies. ...
  7. Health Science. ...
  8. Liberal Arts.

What is the fastest online IT degree? ›

The #1 school for a fastest online bachelor's in information technology is University of Denver. Accelerated IT programs are aimed at helping professionals quickly gain the credentials they need to advance in their careers.

What is the easiest degree to get first? ›

The easiest degree subject to get a first in
  • Midwifery. 51.8% 2,415.
  • Bioengineering, medical and biomedical engineering. 48.4% 1,105.
  • Computer science. 45.8% 12,735.
  • Software engineering. 44.7% 2,930.
  • Physics. 43.9% 4,235.
  • Chemical, process and energy engineering. 42.7% ...
  • Computing. 42.6% ...
  • Electrical and electronic engineering. 42.3%
Jan 11, 2024


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