Most Affordable Overall Online Colleges Methodology

The Most Affordable Online Colleges for bachelor's, master's, associate, and doctoral degrees highlight the top 25 schools with lowest online tuition that meet the eligibility requirements. Read more to learn about the eligibility criteria and tuition collection.

While our ranking lists sometimes include our advertising partners, we use the same methodology for all schools (partner or non-partner) when developing these lists, so no preferential treatment is given. All partner schools are also marked with an icon for full transparency.


To be considered for our Most Affordable Online Colleges, schools needed to have regional or national accreditation and offer at least 10 fully online degrees at the specified degree level with programs that cover at least three general subject areas.

Total schools considered at each degree level:

  • 399 schools for the bachelor's level
  • 590 schools for the master's level
  • 201 schools for the associate level
  • 47 schools for the doctoral level

Data Sources

Data for tuition and degree information was collected from official school websites, reflecting data for the 2020-2021 school year.


  • In cases where schools offer a standard tuition rate across most programs at the specified degree level, the standard tuition rate was used. Otherwise, the tuition reflects the lowest tuition rate available at the specified degree level.
  • Out-of-state tuitions were used unless in-state tuition was offered to all online students.
  • Tuition was calculated assuming full-time status. Unless otherwise indicated, bachelor’s programs were assumed to require four years to complete and master’s and associate programs were assumed to require two years to complete.

Fully Online Status

Schools with programs that require some on-campus coursework were still considered for our rankings if the amount of in-person work required was limited to less than two weeks. This allows students to retain their current employment or other personal responsibilities.

School websites


  • Manually collected from official school websites, reflecting data for the 2020-2021 school year.
  • See Tuitions section above for more details.


  • Tuition Rates
  • Degree Offerings
  • Cost per Credit


  • A system of surveys conducted by the U.S. Dept of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)
  • Surveys are filled out by all schools that participate in federal financial aid programs
  • Data are made publicly available through College Navigator
  • NCES data are updated annually, but the NCES does not release data into downloadable formats until they have been approved
  • We used data from 2018-2019, which were the most current available data when the rankings were created.


  • School locations
  • Accreditation

Limitations of Data

No data set is perfect, including the ones used in our rankings. Tuitions are manually collected and undergo quality assurance checks, but there may still be errors due to the complexity of tuition details and differences in processes for calculating outcomes. If you are a school representative and have questions or resources for how your school's tuition is calculated, please contact us.