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2023 Best Online Colleges in California

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 1/4/2023
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California’s diverse population requires robust educational opportunities to suit unique individual needs. Online colleges in California may provide accessibility to students who may otherwise find it difficult to attend school and fulfill their career goals. Online undergraduate degree programs are often considered more convenient and affordable than comparable on-campus options. 

California's top employers across all industries rely on graduates from a variety of bachelor's programs to build a strong and reliable workforce. Additionally, many of these online colleges make transferring from California’s online community colleges easy. We’ve ranked the best online colleges in California by salary score so you can set realistic career expectations and minimize the burden of student debt.

View our methodology for more details about our list, or learn more about OnlineU.

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2023 Best Online Colleges in California

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 National University 92 92 $60,666
# 2 #2 University of Massachusetts Global 90 $44,746
# 3 #3 California State University - East Bay 87 $45,644
# 4 #4 California Baptist University 60 $45,784
# 5 #5 California State University - Chico 58 $40,891
# 6 #6 Academy of Art University 58 $33,565

2023 Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's Degrees

Ranking Details

#1 National University

  • Salary Score: 92
  • Median Starting Salary: $60,666
  • Locations: La Jolla
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

National University (NU) provides convenience and flexibility to remote learners across the U.S. through its 45 online associate, bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate, and certificate programs. Areas of study at the bachelor's level include business, education, cybersecurity, public health, psychology, and many more. NU’s four-week online courses start every month, allowing students to enroll multiple times throughout the year and complete programs at their own pace. NU supports online students by providing remote access to its bookstore, career services, the Center for Student Engagement and Activities (CSEA), the Student Academic Success Center, and wellness resources.

#2 University of Massachusetts Global

  • Salary Score: 90
  • Median Starting Salary: $44,746
  • Locations: Multiple Locations
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

The University of Massachusetts Global (UMass Global) supports working adults by offering online undergraduate, graduate, credentialing, and certificate programs in pursuit of career advancement. There are over 31 bachelor’s programs to choose from — in addition to 20 master’s, two doctoral, and several associate degrees and certificate programs. Majors include leadership, organizational/industrial psychology, legal studies, marketing, supply chain management, data analytics, and social work. Students can also earn online certificates in areas such as business writing, classroom literacy, Agile project management, digital marketing, and nonprofit management. UMass provides online access to its library services, tech support, tutoring, and academic advising.

#3 California State University - East Bay

  • Salary Score: 87
  • Median Starting Salary: $45,644
  • Locations: Hayward
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

As part of a state-wide university system serving a diverse student body of almost 500,000, California State University - East Bay (Cal State East Bay) has online programs accessible to students all over the Golden State. Students can earn online undergraduate and graduate degrees in addition to California’s Single Subject Credential authorizing teaching in one subject area. Online degree programs include disciplines such as hospitality and tourism, healthcare administration, ethnic studies, human development, and business administration. Cal State East Bay has several online academic support programs, including peer tutoring, tech support, library services, and writing assistance.

#4 California Baptist University

  • Salary Score: 60
  • Median Starting Salary: $45,784
  • Locations: Riverside
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California Baptist University (CBU) is a faith-based, military-friendly institution offering online bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Students can finish many of these degrees faster than traditional programs and save some money in doing so. For example, CBU students may complete an online bachelor’s degree in two years, an online master’s in one, and an online doctorate in three. Online majors include graphic design and digital media, education, kinesiology, public administration, and strategic communication. Distance learners can access online veterans’ services, buy their textbooks through CBU’s partnership with Amazon, access career services and the library online, and receive text support remotely.

#5 California State University - Chico

  • Salary Score: 58
  • Median Starting Salary: $40,891
  • Locations: Chico
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Located in Northern California, California State University - Chico (Chico State) offers online undergraduate and graduate programs in disciplines such as nursing, liberal studies, religion, and sociology. For example, registered nurses can earn an online Bachelor of Science in Nursing or an online Master of Science in Nursing. These programs can help accommodate work schedules while helping those who are seeking career advancement. Similarly, students interested in earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) can attend online and finish in as few as 18 months through Chico State’s accelerated program. Chico State’s distance learners have online access to library services, tutoring, tech support, and purchasing supplies through Wildcat Computing Support.

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Overview of Higher Education in California

California has more residents than any other state and a significant number of higher education institutions to match. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), California has 214 colleges offering bachelor's degrees. Perhaps due to this accessibility, the U.S. Census shows that approximately 34% of Californians hold a bachelor's degree or higher as compared to the national rate of 32%. This high rate of educational attainment could indicate fierce competition for available jobs requiring a bachelor's degree for entry. Overall, 2.7 million students attended California's universities in 2019, including 49 public four-year colleges, 154 two-year colleges, and 145 private non-profit colleges.

Approximately 34% of Californians hold a bachelor's degree or higher as compared to the national rate of 32%.

Online Colleges in California

According to our manual research, 159 schools in California offer fully online degree programs, which are increasing in popularity. The schools ranked above as the best online colleges in California offer both bachelor's and graduate degrees with a wide range of options. Some programs are 100% online and others are hybrid, meaning that 50% of coursework is conducted online and 50% is completed on campus. Online courses are usually asynchronous, allowing students to log in at any time. Popular schools, such as UCLA, may not offer fully online degrees, but they have online courses that transfer to degree programs.

Completing an online bachelor's degree in California generally takes full-time students up to four years to complete. Meanwhile, an online master's program typically only takes two years of full-time study or longer for part-time students. Admissions requirements are similar across schools and generally include high school and college transcripts, a 2.5-3.0 minimum GPA, and an application fee of approximately $70. However, always check with a program advisor to confirm enrollment and degree completion processes.

For college options in other locations, view OnlineU's best online college rankings by state or view our best online colleges by degree level.

Popular Online Degree Programs in California

Below are the most popular bachelor's degrees throughout California's higher education system:

Humanities programs are overwhelmingly the most popular choice among students in California, and this area of study involves delving into what it means to be human. These programs encompass a range of liberal arts subjects, such as anthropology, art history, English, and philosophy.

Psychology programs belong to a field of study where students strive to learn how the mind affects behavior in conscious and unconscious ways. When pursuing a psychology degree, there are many educational pathways to consider, such as whether to pursue a BA or BS. For some, a counseling degree may be the best option to achieve their career goals.

Social sciences and history programs are grouped together in the report cited above, as each category aims to teach students about various facets of society, whether the subject is taught from a modern or historical perspective. Depending on a student's interests, they may decide to pursue a sociology degree or a bachelor's in history.

Natural sciences and mathematics programs are also lumped together in the same category because these subjects overlap. Natural sciences is a scientific branch that deals with observing and predicting natural phenomena, whereas math is a discipline that focuses on numbers and figures that scientists rely upon to collect data. Students who desire to work in this field could study environmental science, biology, or physics, to name a few possibilities.

Accreditation For Online Colleges in California

Students looking for the best online degree programs in California may want to choose from accredited schools. Accreditation signifies quality in education and may be necessary to use financial aid. Schools can receive national, regional, and programmatic accreditation. All of the schools featured on our rankings list are regionally accredited, which is often the preferred type because of its tighter regulations and standards. The WASC Senior College & University Commission (WSCUC) is the regional accrediting agency in California, so prospective students can check the WSCUC directory to verify institutions' accreditation status.

Institutions offering distance education may also be accredited by the Distance Education Accreditation Commission, which reviews colleges that offer more than 51% of their courses via distance education.

Cost of Online Degrees in California

California's in-state community college tuition rates and fees are cheaper than anywhere else in the nation. Online community colleges can serve as a stepping stone to bachelor's degree programs, which are sometimes more expensive in California than the national average. So, to lower college costs, a student can earn an associate degree or general education credits at a two-year school and then transfer to a bachelor's degree program.

Graph showing annual average cost of tuition and required fees between the United States and California

The cost of a bachelor's degree varies widely in California, ranging from relatively low costs for in-state students at public schools to over $50,000 a year at some private colleges. According to our manually researched data, the median tuition cost for an online bachelor's degree is $13,919 a year. This cost is nationwide and not specific to California but can serve as a helpful starting point to better understand what a student might pay for an online degree.

Interested applicants should research individual programs because costs can differ by degree, delivery mode, or residency status — even within the same school or university system. California is a member of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, so students enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program in a participating state may be eligible for reduced tuition rates.

California is a member of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, so students enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program in a participating state may be eligible for reduced tuition rates.

Financial Aid for Online Students in California

There are several financial aid resources available that may help students pay for college. Completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can determine eligibility for federal and state aid. Additionally, private organizations and foundations may offer scholarships, which don't require repayment. A school's financial aid office may have more information about ways to make college affordable.

Almost 30% of undergraduates in California receive federal student loans while attending four-year universities.

The State of California also offers several aid programs to help students cover college expenses. These awards include the following:

Current high school seniors and recent graduates who fall into the low or middle income bracket can apply for two different grants that help pay college tuition and fees. Students must submit their high school GPA and complete a FAFSA or California Dream Act Application (CADAA) to be eligible for this award, which varies based on financial need and type of institution.

The Chafee is designed for students who spent at least one day in foster care between 16 to 18. Applicants must be less than 26 years old, having been raised in foster care between the ages of 16 and 18. To apply, they need to first complete the FAFSA or CADAA. Grants pay up to $5,000 and can be applied toward tuition or living expenses while attending college.

This program is designed for undocumented students, DACA recipients, U-Visa holders, students with Temporary Protected Status, and those who meet non-resident exemption requirements. Students must reapply annually, have unmet financial needs, and complete a minimum of 150 volunteer hours each semester. There are 2,500 awards available for $1,500 per semester, which can reach a maximum of $3,000 per academic year.

This program helps students pursuing teaching careers pay for college tuition. Students must be enrolled in a teacher preparation program and plan to work in a high-need field to apply for up to $20,000 in awards.

For more information on funding an online degree, see our Guide to Financial Aid for Online Students.

California Employment Outlook

California's unemployment rate was 6.9% as of November 2021 and has been declining since the highs reported in 2020. California industries experiencing the highest demand include government, leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, education and health, and trade and transportation. Some top employers in these industries include Kaiser Permanente, the military, Amazon, and UCLA Health.

Wages throughout California tend to be higher than other states and the national average. For example, the annual mean wage in San Jose and the South Bay area is $93,450, which is significantly higher than the national mean of $56,310. Similarly, the San Francisco and East Bay Area has a mean wage of $81,840, while the Los Angeles and Long Beach area is at $63,660.

One sector that is thriving in California is technology. Centered in Silicon Valley, this industry is hiring college graduates at steady rates. However, it's important to remember that no industry is fully insulated from fluctuations. For example, the state's green energy sector lost 71,000 jobs in 2020, and the industry isn't expected to return to pre-2020 levels until 2023.

With this in mind, we've identified several lucrative jobs in California predicted to grow faster than the 8% national average, and they only require a bachelor's degree:

Median Annual Salary: $111,030
Job Outlook: 24%

Actuaries analyze the financial impact of risk. They use mathematics, statistics, and theory to help businesses develop strategies to mitigate financial loss.

Information security analysts
Median Annual Salary: $103,590
Job Outlook: 33%

Information security analysts develop and carry out methods for protecting an organization's computer and network infrastructure. They look for system vulnerabilities through testing and attack simulations.

Market research analysts
Median Annual Salary: $65,810
Job Outlook: 22%

Market research analysts study market conditions and consumer behavior to determine which products or services a company should promote. They simplify complex data for business leaders, allowing them to make sound decisions based on comprehensive analyses.

Operations research analysts
Median Annual Salary: $86,200
Job Outlook: 25%

Operations research analysts use mathematical and analytical skills to help organizations troubleshoot and solve problems. They use predictive modeling and other techniques to develop solutions.

Software developers
Median Annual Salary: $110,140
Job Outlook: 22%

Software developers create computer applications to help users perform tasks. They also develop systems to run these programs and monitor performance.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Colleges in California

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Bachelor's Degree in California?

It can take full-time students about four years to complete a 120 credit-hour bachelor's program. Transfer students with either an associate degree or 60+ credits may complete an online bachelor's program in under two years. However, it generally takes part-time students longer.

What is the Fastest Way to Get a Bachelor's Degree Online?

Some schools offer accelerated degree programs, where each class takes approximately six to eight weeks. Full-time students may finish accelerated bachelor's programs in as little as 12-18 months.

Are Online Degrees Respected?

Employer acceptance of distance education and online degrees has been steadily increasing. In a survey published in 2019, approximately 61% of employers reported that credentials earned online are of "general equal quality" to those earned in-person. In addition, about 71% of HR leaders reported hiring candidates with online degrees, a percentage that may increase with the recent overhaul to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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