The 2011 Survey of Online Learning by the Babson Survey Research Group shows that more than six million students take at least one course online. Close to one-third of students in higher education are taking at least one online course.
Even more striking than the sheer number of students in online education is its rate of growth. According to Elaine Allen, Co-Director of Babson, “The rate of growth in online enrollment is ten times that of the rate in all higher education.” At this rate, ALL education will soon be online education.
Students all over the world are taking online degree programs in an array of fields including business, information technology, engineering, healthcare, criminal justice, political science, and more.
If you’re thinking about getting an online degree to enter a new career or to advance at your workplace, which online degree program should you choose?
For some people it’s not an easy decision. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the 25 best online degree programs. The list includes a variety of degree programs leading to rewarding careers.
We based our selections on many different factors, including salary, employer demand for the degree, employment growth in fields relevant to the degree, interesting subject matter, and job satisfaction for jobs associated with the degree. We’ve included online master’s and bachelor’s degree programs and a couple of associate’s degree programs.
▶ Check out our recently updated list: The 50 Best Online Colleges for 2015–2016.
The following 25 best online degrees are organized by category.
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration
2010 beginning median salary: $43,879 (National Association of Colleges and Employers [NACE]).
A bachelor’s degree in business administration prepares graduates for a variety of responsible management positions, domestically and internationally, in an array of industries. Bachelor’s degree programs in business administration provide a broad-based business education. The programs review all business areas, as well as behavioral factors common to all organizational structures. They also cover the quantitative aspects of decision-making. Some online bachelor’s degree programs in business administration can be completed in 36 months.
Typically, students have the opportunity to select a concentration in a field such as human resources, finance, management, information systems, marketing, operations, or supply chain management.
A bachelor’s degree in business administration prepares students for a variety of careers in business and industry, including finance, banking, product development, human resources, manufacturing, and business analysis.
Online Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA)
2012 beginning median salary: $90,000; many industries report significantly higher beginning salaries (U.S. News & World Report).
According to the 2012 Corporate Recruiters Survey and the Graduate Management Admissions Council’s 2012 Global Management Education Graduate Survey, 62% of recent MBA graduates have job offers upon graduation.
An MBA degree often provides career advancement opportunities, a more rewarding career, and a larger salary. Online MBA programs typically include core courses in subjects such as economics, finance, information systems, accounting, marketing, and management.
MBA programs also cover management skills, human resources management, and leadership. The programs usually include case studies. Typically online MBA programs take two years to complete, but some programs can be completed in just one year.
MBA specialties include computer and information security, health administration, marketing, applied computer sciences, information systems management, engineering and technology management, environmental management, and international business.
Online Master’s Degree in Finance
2011 median salary for Financial Analysts: $75,650; employment growth rate from 2010 to 2020 is forecast to be 23% (Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS]).
A master’s degree in finance gives graduates a competitive edge in areas such as investment management, corporate finance, commercial and retail banking, and financial management of companies and nonprofits, as well as analysis and brokerage.
Financial Analysts evaluate investment opportunities for businesses and individuals. They evaluate the performance of stocks, bonds, and other types of investments. Some Financial Analysts evaluate the feasibility of a deal and create a plan of action based on financial analysis.
Many employers seek candidates with a master’s degree in finance or an MBA. Those with experience have an opportunity to become a Portfolio Manager and supervise a team of analysts. Portfolio Managers choose the mix of investments for a company’s investment portfolio.
They work for banks, mutual funds, pension funds, securities firms and other types of businesses. Successful financial analysts often become senior financial analysts or associates after three to four years.
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Hotel & Hospitality Management
2011 median salary for Lodging Managers: $47,450; and for Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners: $46,020 (BLS).
The program prepares graduates for management positions in companies in the rapidly growing hospitality industry, such as hotel management, restaurant and food service management, conventions and meeting management, tourism management, and other areas.
The programs incorporate practical business knowledge with management theory. Students gain the skills and expertise required to excel in a management, operations, or marketing position in the hospitality industry.
Hospitality Managers work in a variety of sectors, including amusement parks, associations, colleges and universities, country clubs, cruise lines, convention centers, conference centers, hotels, motels, resorts, and more.
Most large, full-service hotels require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree, whereas many small hotels accept applicants with an associate’s degree or a certificate in hotel management or operations. Many Meeting, Convention, and Event Planner positions require a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management or a related degree.
Job titles include:
- Banquet Director
- Catering Director
- Conference Coordinator
- Event Planner
- Food/Beverage Manager
- Operations Manager
- University Food Service Manager
- Club Manager
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources
May 2011 median salary for Human Resources Specialists: $54,310; employment growth rate from 2010 to 2020 is forecast to be 21% (BLS).
Human Resources Specialist is the #25 ranked job in the 25 Best Jobs list for 2012 by U.S. News & World Report. Employees are the most important asset of just about all businesses. Human resources personnel help keep them happy, trained, and efficient.
Companies place a strong emphasis on human capital development, as well as the leadership initiatives developed by human resources professionals to deliver, develop, and retain employees. They’re regarded as the most vital and competitive factors in business.
Human Resources Managers are employed in just about every public and private sector. A bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in human resources management makes it much easier to enter the profession. Students learn about corporate headhunting, business coaching, contract negotiation, employment law, employee training, benefits analysis, and other subjects.
Human resources professionals help workplaces operate smoothly. Human resources professionals train personnel, manage evaluations, and oversee benefits. Large employers typically have specialists for specific areas, whereas in small companies a human resources professional may cover all areas of human resources.
Most human resources specialist positions require a bachelor’s degree in human resources, in business, or in a related field. Some human resources manager positions require only a bachelor’s degree in human resources or in business administration, but high-level jobs may require a master’s degree in human resources or in labor relations, or an MBA (see the following entry).
Online Master’s Degree in Human Resources
May 2011 median salary for Human Resources Managers: $98,130; employment growth rate from 2010 to 2020 is forecast to be 12% (BLS).
In small companies, Human Resources Managers are involved with hiring, position assignments, training, resource allocation, compensation, benefits, and health and safety issues, as well as following laws and regulations affecting employees and the workplace. In large companies, they typically specialize in an area. An MBA is often required for some high-level management positions.
An MBA program with a concentration in human resources combines expertise in human resources with the knowledge necessary to be a strategic business partner. Students learn to connect human resources decisions to business objectives and strategies. The programs cover ways to maximize human output in a business setting.
The programs cover subjects such as labor economics, finance, and business law. Students spend a lot of time on case studies. The program is typically completed in two years.
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing
2011 median salary for Marketing Specialists: $52,200; employment growth rate from 2008 to 2018 is forecast to be 28% (CNN Money).
Similar bachelor’s degrees include PR & Marketing #mdash; International Management, Internet Marketing, New Media/Internet Marketing, Sales and Marketing, and Marketing Management.
Marketing Specialist is ranked the #5 job in the 2011 best jobs in fast-growth fields list by Money/PayScale.com. Marketing positions are available in just about every industry. Marketing professionals play a vital role in helping businesses become more competitive and in increasing their profitability.
Marketing Specialists evaluate the marketing and promotional potential of companies. They implement and oversee parts of a marketing plan. Marketing specialists may focus on a narrow area, such as social media. Many Marketing Specialists have a bachelor’s degree in marketing.
A bachelor’s degree program in marketing thoroughly evaluates subjects such as consumer behavior, promotion strategies, the principles of effective selling, and helping companies make decisions on product development and pricing.
Online Master’s Degree in Marketing
2011 median salary for Marketing Managers: $116,010; and for Marketing Research Analysts: $60,250; employment growth rate for Market Research Analysts from 2010 to 2020 is forecast to be 41%; and for Marketing Managers, 14% (BLS).
Students in an MBA program with a concentration in marketing learn to effectively build brand power by studying the theories, concepts, principles, and terminology of brand equity and brand management. Students also learn about new product development, target market identification, media choice, and message strategy, as well as the quantitative and qualitative marketing research methodologies. The programs also cover the decision-making process involved in marketing goods in foreign markets.
These programs typically focus on marketing management and marketing research. An MBA program with a concentration in marketing thoroughly reviews theories about consumer buying behavior and market research. Graduates of the programs have the knowledge to manage a company’s market research, marketing strategy, advertising, sales, pricing, promotions, and product development.
Job titles include:
- Market Research Analyst
- Marketing Manager
- Promotions Manager
- Sales Manager
Many Market Research Analyst positions require a master’s degree. A master’s degree is often needed for leadership positions.
Online Master’s Degree in Project Management
2012 median salary for Project Managers: $85,000; and for Senior Project Manager:s $107,000 (indeed.com).
Project management is required in most business areas. Project Managers plan, budget, and coordinate the efforts of everyone involved with the project. Those with expertise in a specific field combined with strong academic credentials in management have opportunities in this increasingly important career field.
Many employers seek Project Managers with a bachelor’s degree in a particular field, such as construction, business, computer information systems, or engineering, combined with a master’s degree in project management.
These programs combine a comprehensive business education with real-world applications. The programs teach students to plan, measure, monitor, and adapt from the beginning to the end of a project. Graduates are prepared for positions such as Construction Manager, Director of Project Management, Vice President of Production, Computer and Information Systems Manager, Financial Manager, and Engineering Manager.
COMPUTERS & INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
Online Master’s Degree in Computer Security
2011 median salary for Database Administrators: $75,190 (BLS).
Similar career names include information assurance, cybersecurity, and computer forensics.
There’s a demand for computer security professionals in private industry and government agencies. Graduates are qualified for management positions, such as Chief Security Officer, Chief Information Security Officer, and Access Control Manager. The program can be completed in 18 months.
Computer security professionals protect the security, confidentiality, availability, and integrity of data and delivery systems, whether the data are in storage, processing, or transit. They have the challenging task of preventing hackers from entering computer systems and networks. They also deal with viruses.
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Information Systems
2012 median salary for Information Technology Managers: $48,873 to 113,368; for Systems Administrators: $37,438 to $74,624.
Similar career names include information systems management, computer information systems, and systems analysis and integration.
Computer Information Systems Specialists design, build, and implement software solutions. They also evaluate existing systems to find new ways to improve their performance. They work for practically every type of business, nonprofit, and government agency.
Graduates use the business and technology skills they’ve gained to manage data systems and meet business challenges. The programs cover information technology tools such as operating systems, computer hardware, programming, networking, and database management systems. Graduates are qualified for technical and managerial careers.
Job titles include:
- Data Analyst
- IT Developer
- Computer systems Manager
- Security Specialist
Online Master’s Degree in Information Systems
2011 median salary for Information Systems Managers: $118,080; employment growth rate from 2010 to 2020 is forecast to be 18% (BLS).
Companies have a vital need for people with a strong understanding of computers and business. Information systems managers keep business operations running smoothly by managing networks, databases, and websites, and by training employees to use the latest innovations. Information Systems Managers oversee the flow of information. They’re responsible for the rapid and accurate dissemination of information to employees while maintaining security.
Some employers seek Information Systems Managers with a master’s degree, such as an MBA. Some information systems professionals take an MBA degree program while working.
Master of science degree programs in information systems cover information technology, business systems, and project management. The programs are designed for students seeking management positions requiring advanced technical skills with computer systems. The programs emphasize business practices and new technologies. Some of the programs can be completed in one year.
Career options include:
- Information Systems Manager
- Chief Information Officer
- Chief Technology Officer
- Systems Architect
- Application Developer
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science & Engineering
2011 median salary for Software Developers: $95,600; and for computer Systems Analysts: $78,770 (BLS).
Computer science and engineering careers are available in practically every industry. The degree enables graduates to work as part of a team in a vast number of areas, including software development, systems design and analysis, data mining, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, game design, animation, finance, robotics, digital forensics, and more.
Software Developer was the #1 job on the 2011 list of best jobs in fast-growth fields by Money/PayScale.com. Information Technology Consultant is the #7 job on the Money/Payscale.com list and Database Administrator is the #8 job on the list. Computer Systems Analyst is ranked #7 in the 25 Best Jobs list for 2012 by U.S. News & World Report.
A bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering provides job opportunities in an array of information technology fields in private and public sectors, including financial institutions, technology companies, medical device companies, and more.
Students learn to produce software and develop ways to send data over networks. Many of the online bachelor’s degree programs in computer science cover programming, network communications, systems security, advanced server administration, storage area networks, and social media. Graduates have the skills required to deal with the complex levels of networking vital to businesses.
Career options include:
- Software Engineer
- Computer Systems Analyst
- Database Administrator
- Computer Programmer
- Network Administrator
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Graphics & Multimedia
2011 media salary for Graphic Designers: $44,010; employment growth rate is forecast to be 12% (BLS).
Similar career names include computer graphic design, digital media production, and computer animation.
Due to the popularity of the Internet, Graphic Designers are in demand to create images and designs for websites, portable devices, video entertainment media, and electronic publications. Some successful Graphic Designers are self-employed.
Graphic Designers communicate ideas and messages visually, integrating a range of media such as digital imaging, illustration, and photography. These creative people also have technical skills. Talented Graphic Designers grab the attention of consumers.
People with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design have employment opportunities in package design, advertising, product development, Web design, digital production, illustration and other areas. Most graphic designers work in publishing, specialized design services, public relations or advertising services.
The programs prepares students for careers in commercial digital graphic design. Students in online graphics design programs learn about color and composition, typography and design. They learn to provide effective solutions for the business world. They acquire the skills and techniques of computer graphics, electronic imaging and production.
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Web Development
2011 median salary for Web Developers: $60,900 (CNN Money).
Web developer (or web design) was ranked the #18 job in the 2011 best jobs in fast-growth fields list by Money/PayScale.com. Companies doing business on the Internet want attractive, enticing websites. talented Web developers grab the attention of the audience to increase brand awareness and sales.
Web Developers work with various elements to create an intriguing, functional, user-friendly design. They develop the layout, look, and the overall impact of a website.
Jobs are available with small and large organizations in the private and public sectors. Web Developers also have opportunities to work as a consultant. The BLS reports people with knowledge of multiple programming languages and digital multimedia tools such as Flash and Photoshop will have the best opportunities.
Bachelor’s degree programs in web development provide skills in multimedia design, computer graphics, interactive video, and animation. Students learn to create a variety of interactive web content. Students learn to concept, code, and publish their own standards-based content for a variety of formats such as the web, tablets, and smartphones.
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Health Administration
2012 average salary for Operations Managers: $69,000; for Licensed Nursing Home Administrators: $65,000; and for Assisted Living Executive Directosr: $53,062 (PayScale); employment growth rate from 2010 to 2012 is forecast to be 22% (BLS).
Health Administrators play a vital role in the daily operations of healthcare facilities. There’s a growing demand for qualified healthcare administrators who can improve the efficiency and quality of care.
Health Administrators usually need at least a bachelor’s degree to enter the occupation. A master’s degree is the standard credential for most generalist positions as a healthcare manager; however, a bachelor’s degree can provide opportunities for entry-level jobs in small facilities and departments and opportunities to assist department heads in large hospitals.
Students gain the knowledge and skills to effectively function as a supervisor or manager in the healthcare field. The programs cover technological innovations, as well as the complex regulatory environment of the healthcare delivery system. In some of the programs students can specialize in a specific type of facility, such as as a hospital, group medical practice, or a nursing care home.
Online Master’s Degree in Health Administration
2011 median salary: $86,400; employment growth rate from 2010 to 2012 is forecast to be 22% (BLS).
Healthcare facilities need Health Administrators to help ensure their productivity and efficiency. Health Administrators coordinate and organize the delivery and financing of healthcare. They’re involved with managing the daily operations of healthcare facilities. They work in healthcare settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, and private practices.
The programs focus on the financing, organizing, marketing, and management of healthcare institutions and the delivery of personal health services. Graduates are qualified for management careers in health systems, hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings. Students typically take two to three years to complete an online master’s degree program in health administration.
Job titles include:
- Hospital Administrator
- Health Policy Analyst
- Managed Care Administrator
- Health Services Research Analyst
Online Associate’s Degree in Medical Informatics
2011 median salary for Health Information Technicians: $33,310; employment growth rate from 2010 to 2020 is forecast to be 21% (BLS).
Health Information Technicians organize and manage health information data by ensuring its accuracy, quality, security, and accessibility. Most Health Information Technicians work in physicians’ offices or hospitals.
Many entry-level positions only require an associate’s degree and professional certification. Most jobs are provided by healthcare organizations; however, some Health Information Technicians work for insurance companies or government agencies.
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Health Information Management
2012 median salary range for Health Information Management Specialists: $39,631 to $88,117.
Students learn how to use data to improve the quality of healthcare. Health Information Management Specialists combines research, statistics, and design in a health and human service context.
Health Information Management professionals gather and analyze patients’ records, use computers and specialized equipment to maintain indexes, prepare reports, update forms, and assign patients to appropriate diagnostic groups.
Online Master’s Degree in Medical Informatics
2012 median salary for Health Information Managers: $68,000 (Simply Hired).
Students in these program learn to apply the principles of computer and information science to organizing, analyzing, managing, and using information in healthcare. The program provides professionals the analytical skills and business acumen required to improve healthcare delivery systems and lower costs through information technology. Many students in the program have a bachelor’s degree in healthcare or computer systems.
Those with a master’s degree in medical informatics often take a job as Health Information Managers. Medical informatics professionals are responsible for maintaining and securing all the patients’ records. They help optimize cost efficiencies in the healthcare system. Medical informatics professionals use health information for knowledge management, decision support, strategic planning, and outcomes assessment.
They work for federal government agencies, hospitals, public health agencies, nonprofit medical and health associations, physicians, insurance companies, and physician group practices.
Online Master’s Degree (MSN) in Nursing Education
2012 median salary for Nurse Educators: $56,000 (indeed.com); employment growth rate from 2006 to 2016 forecast to be 23% (CNN Money).
Nurse Educators are in demand. A lack of Nurse Educators is often cited as a contributing factor to the nursing shortage in many states.
Graduates of the programs are qualified to work as a Nurse Educator in associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs, as well as in healthcare staff development and community education programs. They teach in hospitals and related healthcare organizations. They also educate their community on best practices or health concerns.
With some programs students can obtain a degree in five or six semesters. MSN degree programs in nursing education prepare students to take the National League for Nursing’s Nurse Educator Certification Exam.
Online Master’s Degree (MSN) in Nursing Administration
2012 median salary for Nurse Managers: $85,000 (indeed.com).
Students are prepared to deal with a broad range of administration and management responsibilities. They’re prepared to oversee nurses at all levels in hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare settings.
Graduates are qualified for positions such as healthcare facility administrator, health services manager, administrator, healthcare manager, health information manager, and clinical manager. They’re also qualified for case manager positions and to be consultants.
Online Master’s Degree (MSN) in Nursing Informatics
2012 median salary for Nursing Informatics Managers with one to four years of experience: $82,500; and for those with five to nine years of experience: $97,500 (PayScale).
Nursing informatics plays a vital role in the United States healthcare system. Nursing informatics professionals help reduce healthcare costs, improve the quality of healthcare services and increase the access to healthcare. They automate clinical care, train healthcare workers to use computer systems, and build new operational data systems, as well as collect and analyze data to improve patient care.
Graduates of the programs are qualified for positions such as Project Manager, Systems Analyst, Researcher, Administrator, and Executive at all levels of an organization.
SCIENCE & ENGINEERING
Online Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering
2011 average salary: $77,990; employment growth rate from 2010 to 2020 is forecast to be 19% (BLS).
Civil Engineer was ranked the #4 job in the 2011 best jobs list of fast-growth fields by Money/PayScale.com. Civil Engineers design and supervise the construction of highways, bridges, water and sewage systems, tunnels, and more. Civil Engineers often work on complex projects involving numerous economic, technical, environmental, and social factors. Typically, it takes about a year to obtain a master’s degree in civil engineering.
Master’s degree programs in civil engineering include specialties such as:
- Hydrosystems engineering
- Construction engineering
- Transportation engineering
- Structural engineering
SOCIAL SCIENCE & CRIMINAL JUSTICE
Online Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies
2011 median Salary for Paralegals: $46,730; employment growth rate from 2010 to 2020 forecast to be 18% (BLS).
Paralegals perform important tasks; they’re an important part of a legal team. In many ways, their duties include the same tasks performed by lawyers. They help lawyers prepare for trials. A substantial portion of their job includes drafting documents for litigation and writing reports. Paralegals perform a lot of research. Besides litigation, Paralegals work in patent and copyright law, as well as in real estate and corporate law.
Paralegals employed by corporations are involved with shareholder agreements, benefit plans, and stock options. Paralegals work in attorneys’ offices, corporations, courtrooms, government offices, bank trust departments, and other settings.
Most paralegal studies programs are completed in two years; however, a number of colleges and universities provide bachelor’s degree programs for those interested in the occupation. Also, the BLS reports that Paralegals’ work is less likely to be offshored when compared to other legal workers.