Top 10 Online Colleges in California

With the way California has dominated the tech sector, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they have tons of online schools. Technology is taking distance education to new heights, and both new and well-established colleges have adapted to meet the needs of people with jobs, families, and other commitments that make traditional education more difficult.

Online schools let you keep your priorities the same while still working towards a new credential. And the credentials they give you are usually the same as you’d earn on campus. So you’re free to pursue an education that fits with your life.

To help you sort through the top online schools in California, we’ve used data from The National Center for Education Statistics and ratings from school-ranking entities like TheBestSchools.org, AffordableCollegesOnline.org, BestColleges.com, OnlineSchools.net, and CollegeChoice.net.

We’ll show you each school’s:

  • Location
  • Tuition cost
  • Admissions rate
  • Graduation rate
  • Number of online degrees
  • Student population
  • Student to faculty ratio
  • Awards and accolades
  • Accreditation
  • Anything else we think will help you decide

Let’s find an online school you’ll love! For starters, here are some highlights:

Most affordable

Assuming you live in California and qualify as a California state resident, there are several affordable schools on this list. On average, going to an in-state school costs about $15,000 less per year than an out-of-state school.

If you’re worried about cutting down the cost of college before applying financial aid or scholarships, the California State University system is your best bet for an online education. There are 23 CSU campuses, each with their own online offerings, and four of them made our list of top online colleges in California. CSU’s Chico campus came in at #3 on our list, CSU-East Bay is #4, CSU-Fullerton is #6, and CSU-Northridge is #9. They’re all tied for most affordable.

Best graduation rate

Every class you take adds to your education, providing (hopefully) new skills and knowledge to make you a better employee and more well-rounded person. But if you’re only in school to get a degree, you probably want to make sure you’ve got what it takes to graduate.

Brandman University is #1 on our list, and their 81% graduation rate is the best by far. They even made this encouraging video to prove you can do it:

Most online degree options

When you start looking at online schools, you’ll probably notice something: the list of majors can get pretty small. A lot of massive schools pour all their resources into their on-campus programs, leaving online students with slim pickings.

Brandman University (#1) has an ample selection of online programs, but they don’t actually have the most on this list. That award goes to National University (#7), with 81 online degree programs. At either of these schools, you should be able to find a major you’ll love.

Now, onto the top ten!

1. Brandman University


Brandman-University-online
Image source: LinkedIn
Location: Irvine, California

Tuition cost: $60,000 total

Admissions rate: 81%

Graduation rate: N/A

Number of online degrees:

  • Undergraduate: 45
  • Graduate: 33

Student population: 7,000+

Student to faculty ratio: 15 to 1

Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on OnlineColleges.net: 2
  • Rank on TheBestSchools.org: 4
  • Rank on BestColleges.com: 4

Brandman University offers a good range of online degree programs, including associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorates.

Their website boasts that you’ll receive the same quality of education and attention as an on-campus student, but it’s worth noting: they don’t specify that the online faculty is the same as the on-campus faculty. (It’s mostly associate and assistant professors.)

Here’s what they want you to know:

“Our online college courses are developed in the Brandman University iDEAL ™ model (Instructional Design for Engaged Adult Learning). As an online student, you’ll receive the same quality of education and attention to detail as Brandman’s on-campus students. Unlike traditional college classrooms, you’ll be able to access your virtual classroom any time of the day or night. Flexible scheduling will allow you to earn your college degree at your own pace, at a price you can afford. As an online college student, you’ll communicate with classmates and professors in a virtual environment and be able to access all student support services, including admission, financial aid and registration, to help you stay on track for graduation.”

You’ll be able to choose from majors in:

  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Legal studies
  • Criminal justice
  • Business
  • Education
  • Health professions

To get a walkthrough of how online courses work at Brandman, check out this course demo:

2. California Baptist University

California-Baptist-University-online
Image source: California Baptist University
Location: Riverside, California

Tuition cost:

  • Full-time: about $21,000 per year
  • Part-time: about $11,000 per year

Admissions rate: 64%

Graduation rate: 60%

Number of online degrees:

  • Undergraduate: 22
  • Graduate: 15

Student population: 9,000+

Student to faculty ratio: 18 to 1

Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on TheBestSchools.org: 2
  • Rank on OnlineColleges.net: 4
  • Rank on CollegeChoice.net: 7

California Baptist University caters to transfer students, but they have a good selection of degree programs for everyone else, too.

Here’s how they describe their online program:

“CBU Online was designed for the working professional. Whether you are looking to advance your current career or start the new career path of your dreams. Flexibility means you can earn your degree while working full or part-time. CBU Online is transfer friendly. CBU Online is perfect for those who have families as well.”

The average length of CBU’s online degree programs varies quite a bit because many of them are degree completion programs. That means they’re only intended for people who have at least two years of school already under their belts.

If you haven’t started school yet, that might be discouraging, but for everyone else it’s great news. A lot of degree programs have a maximum number of transfer credits, and sometimes that maximum is as low as 30—or about one year of school.

For professionals, CBU online is an opportunity to “resurrect the dream” of a degree:

Note: As the name suggests, California Baptist University is a private Christian school. You won’t necessarily have to take Bible-related courses or religious studies, but your professors may approach some topics from a Christian perspective.

3. California State University-Chico


California-State-University-Chico-online
Image source: California State University-Chico
Location: Chico, California

Tuition cost:

  • In-state: about $7,000 per year
  • Out-of-state: about $18,000 per year

Admissions rate: 65%

Graduation rate: 69%

Number of online degrees:

  • Undergraduate: 4
  • Graduate: 2

Student population: 17,000+

Student to faculty ratio: 25 to 1

Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on AffordableCollegesOnline.org: 3
  • Rank on CollegeChoice.net: 5
  • Rank on BestColleges.com: 7

California State University-Chico has a handful of online degrees and degree completion programs.

Established in 1887, the Chico campus is the second oldest of California State University’s 23 campuses. They may not have the widest selection of programs, but as an online student at CSU-Chico, you’re entering a legacy of quality distance education.

Here’s the story you could become a part of at Chico:

While online courses at CSU-Chico won’t require you to come to campus, some of them are still “synchronous,” meaning they’re recorded live during the on-campus classes. This is both good and bad:

  • Good: It means you’re definitely getting the same quality instruction that on-campus students receive. Same faculty. Same lectures. Same class discussions.
  • Bad: It means you have to watch at least some of your lectures at a set time. One of the biggest benefits of going to school online is flexibility, but if you see “synchronous classes” it means you’re giving up some of that flexibility. Asynchronous classes let you “attend” class whenever it works for you, and they’ll often be the same quality as the on-campus lectures.

CSU-Chico’s transfer out rate is 4%. That’s about one-tenth of the national average, and it means that the vast majority of students who start at Chico stay at Chico.

4. California State University-East Bay


California-State-University-East-Bay-online
Image source: University of California-East Bay
Location: Hayward, California

Tuition cost:

  • In-state: about $7,000 per year
  • Out-of-state: about $18,000 per year

Admissions rate: 70%

Graduation rate: 48%

Number of online degrees:

  • Undergraduate: 5
  • Graduate: 4

Student population: about 16,000

Student to faculty ratio: 27 to 1

Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on AffordableCollegesOnline.org: 1
  • Rank on TheBestSchools.org: 6

California State University’s East Bay campus has a different selection of online degrees and degree completion programs than the Chico campus. While the number of majors is similar, unlike Chico, the East Bay campus offers specializations within most of its online majors.

In their business administration program, for example, you could focus your degree on a particular field with one of these options:

  • Finance
  • Supply chain management
  • Operations and enterprise resource management
  • Corporate management

If you’re interested in an online program from East Bay, be sure to confirm whether it’s a degree program or a degree completion program.

Like CSU-Chico, CSU-East Bay has a transfer rate of 4%. That’s a good indicator that most students are happy with their programs.

Want to make sure you graduate in four years? In four minutes, CSU-East Bay can show you how to do it:

5. Azusa Pacific University

Azusa-Pacific-University-online
Image source: Azusa Pacific University
Location: Azusa, California

Tuition cost: about $36,000 per year

Admissions rate: 61%

Graduation rate: 70%

Number of online degrees:

  • Undergraduate: 16
  • Graduate: 17
  • Hybrid: 2

Student population: 10,000+

Student to faculty ratio: 12 to 1

Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on TheBestSchools.org: 1
  • Rank on BestColleges.com: 8

Azusa Pacific University has a decent selection of online degree programs, including hybrid programs that blend online and on-campus classes.

Here’s what they want you to know about the online experience at APU:

“APU’s programs are designed to achieve the highest standards of online learning. Study alongside the same expert faculty who lead on-campus programs and gain access to a wealth of university resources.”

Like California Baptist University, APU is a private Christian school. Some majors blend expertise in a particular subject with a Christian worldview. If that’s not appealing to you, you’ll need to review program descriptions and curriculum (which you should be doing anyways).

Take a look at what APU could do for you:


6. California State University-Fullerton


California-State-University-Fullerton
Image source: California State University
Location: Fullerton, California

Tuition cost:

  • In-state: about $7,000 per year
  • Out-of-state: about $18,000 per year

Admissions rate: 48%

Graduation rate: 62%

Number of online degrees:

  • Undergraduate: 2 (degree completion only)
  • Graduate: 9

Student population: 40,000+

Student to faculty ratio: 25 to 1

Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on BestColleges.com: 2
  • Rank on CollegeChoice.net: 4
  • Rank on OnlineColleges.net: 5
  • Has the most Hispanic graduates of any school in California (#5 in the U.S.)

California State University-Fullerton only has a couple of online undergraduate degree completion programs, but they have a better selection of online graduate degrees.

Students at CSUF “develop the habit of intellectual inquiry, prepare for challenging professions, strengthen relationships to their communities and contribute productively to society.”

This is what it means to be part of CSUF:

CSUF has a reputation both for academic excellence and diversity. Only 23% of their graduates are white.

“Our expertise and diversity serve as a distinctive resource and catalyst for partnerships with public and private organizations,” the school says. “We strive to be a center of activity essential to the intellectual, cultural and economic development of our region.”

Whatever they’re doing, it’s clearly having an impact. CSUF generates $1 billion in regional and statewide economic activity every year.

CSUF’s transfer rate is even lower than the other two CSU campuses on this list! Only 3% of all students at CSUF wind up transferring somewhere else.

7. National University


National-University-online
Image source: Alumni Career Services
Location: La Jolla, California

Tuition cost: about $13,000 per year

Admissions rate: Open admissions policy

Graduation rate: 38%

Number of online degrees:

  • Undergraduate: 44
  • Graduate: 37

Student population: 17,000+

Student to faculty ratio: 19 to 1

Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on TheBestSchools.org: 7
  • Rank on OnlineColleges.net: 8
  • Rank on AffordableCollegesOnline.org: 10

National University has the widest selection of online degree programs of any school on this list. As you look at online schools, you might notice that most schools focus on either humanities or STEM programs—but National University has a balance of both.

Here’s what they want you to know about their online programs:

“These programs are delivered using the latest technology to provide dynamic, interactive learning environments, online, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. One of the greatest benefits of online education is that, since it comes to you, you never have to miss a class.”

With asynchronous classes, you don’t get the “live” class experience, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. You’ll still get plenty of opportunities for class discussion with recorded lectures (arguably better discussion), and some recorded classes wind up being more engaging than live ones—especially when interactive media is involved.

Take a look at what NU has to offer:

Fun fact: National University is California’s second-largest private nonprofit university.

8. Fresno Pacific University

Fresno-Pacific-University-online
Image source: Fresno Pacific University
Location: Fresno, California

Tuition cost: about $29,000 per year

Admissions rate: 68%

Graduation rate: 62%

Number of online degrees:

  • Undergraduate: 5
  • Graduate: 8

Student population: 3,000+

Student to faculty ratio: 13 to 1

Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on CollegeChoice.net: 6
  • Rank on BestColleges.com: 6
  • Rank on OnlineColleges.net: 10

Fresno Pacific University has online degree completion programs for undergraduates, and full degree programs for graduates.

There are no online degree programs for incoming freshmen.

All of FPU’s degree completion programs come with a two-year completion guarantee. If you meet the qualifications, they’re so confident you’ll finish in two years or less that they will pay all additional tuition costs if you don’t.

Fresno Pacific University is a Mennonite school. That heritage plays an important role in the school’s history and purpose, but here’s what that means to for your education:

“Fresno Pacific University is committed to providing a learning and living environment that, consistent with its Christian beliefs, promotes safety, transparency, personal integrity, civility, mutual respect, and freedom from invidious discrimination.”

9. California State University-Northridge


California-State-University-Northridge
Image source: California State University-Northridge
Location: Northridge, California

Tuition cost:

  • In-state: about $7,000 per year
  • Out-of-state: about $18,000 per year

Admissions rate: 48%

Graduation rate: 50%

Number of online degrees:

  • Undergraduate: 2
  • Graduate: 7

Student population: about 40,000

Student to faculty ratio: 26 to 1

Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on TheBestSchools.org: 3
  • Rank on CollegeChoice.net: 10

California State University-Northridge offers a different selection of online programs than the other CSU campuses on this list. These are all degree completion programs though, so they’re only open to students who have already begun their studies.

Here’s what they say about their online programs:

“Our online degree programs are designed to serve the working adult – the midcareer professional, looking to advance his/her knowledge and marketable skills. . . . To create our online programs, CSUN faculty, leading practitioners, and a team of eLearning professionals weave together the best in scholarship and an understanding of what professional practice in the field will demand in the decades ahead.”

While they don’t provide job placement rates, CSUN also says, “Graduates of CSUN online programs also regularly report finding positions in their field and receiving meaningful promotions following graduation.”

10. Hope International University

Hope-International-University-online
Image source: Hope International University
Location: Fullerton, California

Tuition cost: about $31,000 per year

Admissions rate: 32%

Graduation rate: 43%

Number of online degrees:

  • Undergraduate: 5
  • Graduate: 5

Student population: 1,000+

Student to faculty ratio: 14 to 1

Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on CollegeChoice.net: 3
  • Rank on BestColleges.com: 5

Hope International University has several online degree options for undergraduates and graduates.

There have been a couple of Christian universities on this list, but HIU is the first one that appears to assume its students are Christian, and suggest that a Christian education is part of every program. The actual experience at other Christian schools may be similar, but there’s a pretty significant tone in HIU’s marketing materials.

For the school’s 80th anniversary, they produced a video to celebrate their history. It should give you a good feel for their approach to education.

 

HIU’s online courses rely on Canvas. To see what that’s like, you can try a course demo.

A quick note on transferring schools

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, more than one-third of all college students transfer schools before graduating. In order to transfer your credits from one school to another, the two schools usually have to be accredited by the same organizations.

Thankfully, all of these schools are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. That means you should be able to transfer between them pretty easily. So you might start your degree at a school like Azusa Pacific University and then take advantage of a degree completion program at a more affordable school—or even transfer out-of-state.

Should I go to an online school in California?

These are the top online schools in California. And none of them made the cut for our list of the best online schools in the country. Unless you’re really attached to one of these schools because you grew up rooting for their teams, or someone you know went there, I’d recommend broadening your search.

If you’re looking at in-state schools because you heard out-of-state schools cost more, you should know: that doesn’t apply to a lot of online schools. Notice how some of the colleges on this list don’t separate in-state and out-of-state tuition? Many online schools have one tuition rate, regardless of where you live. And since you won’t have to move anyways (you’re an online student, after all), it certainly can’t hurt to look.

Some online schools in other parts of the country offer well over 100-degree options. Check it out.

The best school is really up to you

We can’t tell you exactly which online college is the best choice for you—and you shouldn’t let anyone else do that, either. You have to weigh the factors that are most important to you and let that guide your decision. Choosing a school is a huge investment—both in terms of what it immediately costs you and how it affects your life. So take your time.

We hope this list has helped make the decision a little easier for you. Good luck in your future studies!

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