Caught between the demands of work and home, aspiring students often find it impossible to earn a degree at a brick-and-mortar university. It's no wonder then, that distance education rates continue to rise, even as overall enrollment declines. Flexible, comprehensive and affordable, online universities give students from all life stages the opportunity to fulfill their educational goals.
While today's online learners can pursue a wide range of majors without ever leaving their homes, some courses of study are more popular than others. Here's a look at 10 of the most popular online degree programs and their annual costs.
1. Business Administration
U.S. News & World Report cites business administration as the most popular online degree, partly because of its utility in so many career fields and partly because it can grant you access to some of the highest-paying jobs in the U.S. Coursework typically includes marketing, communications and information systems, and graduates can expect to find jobs in finance, hospitality, consulting and business management.
Online business students can pursue an associate's, bachelor's or master's degree in the field. Additionally, many online schools offer self-paced options, which allow students to complete the programs at individualized rates. While a number of online schools offer business administration as a course of study, some of the most popular programs can be found at Indiana University Bloomington, University of Connecticut and Arizona State University.
Prices for this degree vary based on the institution. Currently, a unit of credit costs $305 at Capella University, compared to $498 at Colorado Christian University. The average online bachelor's program in business will cost you $48,000 for four years of study.
Average Cost: $23,000
Getting an online nursing degree is a popular choice given the booming, yet costly healthcare industry. You can opt to earn a practical nursing diploma in one year, an associate's degree in two or a four-year bachelor's degree. Those seeking to become nurse practitioners likely need to secure advanced online degrees.
U.S. News & World Report ranks University of South Carolina, Medical University of South Carolina and St. Xavier University among the best online graduate nursing programs. The price tags of programs vary widely. For example, Georgetown's undergraduate online program averages just over $40,000 annually, while Georgia Southern University costs just under $6,000. However, working your way up from schooling can help you land a lucrative nursing job.
Average Cost: $22,400
An online degree in education provides training to aspiring elementary or secondary-education teachers. While a four-year online degree is enough for teacher certification, those interested in administration or education specialties might want to consider pursuing a master's degree in education. In fact, some school districts require teachers to earn a master's within five years of graduating.
While program price tags differ based on residency, both the University of Washington and University of Massachusetts offer the same rates for in-state and out-of-state students. Their costs per credit are $181 and $385, respectively. One popular online degree program in the field of education is offered by Western Governors University, which clocks in at an affordable $2,890 per six-month semester.
Graduate students can expect to pay more than those at the undergraduate level. For example, the University of Cincinnati's undergraduate classes cost $1,098 per credit, while graduate courses are $1,311 for each credit hour.
4. Criminal Justice
Average Cost: $6,500
Criminal justice programs prepare students for careers in law enforcement at the local, state or federal level. Graduates can work in crime scene investigation, border patrol, corrections and security or even go on to study law.
Depending on the profession you want to pursue, you can choose to obtain a two-year associate's degree or a four-year bachelor's. Coursework covers criminology, the court system, the juvenile justice system and criminal justice ethics.
The cost of an online degree in criminal justice ranges from $2,000 to almost $11,000 a year. Penn Foster College, Columbia College and Faulkner University are just a few of the many schools with virtual degree options. And Texas A&M International University's online school offers a criminal justice master's program with tuition rates of about $7,000 a year.
5. Computer Science
Average Cost: $13,000
According to Forbes, 72 percent of graduates in the field of computer science find jobs within six months of graduation — the highest percentage of all college majors. This popular online degree includes coursework in programming, coding and both software and hardware design. Programs typically combine theoretical and practical courses, and grads are in high demand.
You can earn a bachelor's or master's degree in computer science online. Popular institutions include Oregon State University, Champlain College and Colorado Technical University, which allows experienced students to test out of subjects in which they are already proficient.
Tuition rates vary based on school and program length. A 120-credit program at Colorado State University's Global Campus costs $42,000, while Florida Tech's 124-unit program will run you $63,240. Education in this field can help you land work in one of the highest-paying STEM careers.
6. Human Services
Average Cost: $8,250
A degree in human services prepares students to work in various arenas, including social work, mental healthcare and elder care. Coursework typically covers counseling skills, child development and substance abuse, along with grant writing and reports creation.
Associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees in human services are all available online, and the prices vary widely. For example, University of Nebraska-Lincoln costs $5,859 a year, while University of Alabama's program is just under $11,000 annually.
Those looking to get their feet wet in the industry might wish to try a one-year certificate program, which prepares graduates for careers in child and family welfare.
7. Engineering Management
Average Cost: $28,000
According to U.S. News & World Report, engineering managers are crucial to businesses because of their unique knowledge of both product creation and management. Students in this field typically pursue two-year master's programs.
Curriculum for this degree combines engineering and science with business fundamentals and prepares graduates for positions requiring both technical and leadership expertise. Degree holders can expect to earn between $115,000 and $125,000 annually.
Top online schools for engineering management include Purdue University, University of Southern California and Stanford University. Costs vary greatly, ranging from approximately $6,000 a year for North Carolina residents at East Carolina University Online to more than $100,650 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Online.
8. Graphic Design
Average Cost: $8,000
Often jokingly referred to as computer science's creative sister, graphic design incorporates concepts such as typography, color theory and corporate identity. Additionally, students learn about computer-based images and how to translate them to print, web and other media.
Popular online programs in graphic design are offered by Savannah College of Art and Design and the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. You can opt to pursue either an associate's degree or bachelor's degree. Costs range from $4,800 a semester at Southern New Hampshire University to $11,490 at Savannah College of Art and Design.
9. Healthcare Administration
Average Cost: $19,700
The business side of healthcare, healthcare administration prepares students to manage medical offices or hospitals, handle insurance billing and supervise day-to-day operations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare administration is projected to grow 17 percent from 2014 to 2024, making it a savvy choice for those seeking career advancement.
Students interested in healthcare administration can earn an associate's degree in one year or a master's degree in five years. However, bachelor's degrees are standard for professionals in this field. Popular programs can be found at University of Central Florida, Drexel University and Regis University.
Annual tuition prices vary from roughly $8,000 at Baker College to $47,000 at George Washington University.
Average Cost: $11,500
According to Forbes, accounting majors were among the most likely student to be hired out of college in 2016. Graduates with this major land jobs as financial advisors, budget analysts, tax preparers and, of course, accountants.
You can earn an online bachelor's degree or a master's degree in accounting. Some of the best online accounting programs include those offered by University of Alabama at Birmingham, Auburn University and Colorado State University.
Programs vary in both length and price. Auburn, for example, offers a degree completion program requiring just 30 units. The tuition cost for this program is roughly $23,000. However, Washington State University charges nearly $70,000.