The Best Universities: Online College Rankings & Ratings

Finding the best online universities based on rankings and ratings can be challenging since the world of online education is still so new. Luckily, there are some excellent ways to determine if the online universities you are considering are ranked at the top of the list or the bottom of the pile. The first step is to ensure the universities are accredited. Accreditation is a method of ensuring that the education offered at that school meets standards set by non-governmental agencies overseeing the quality of education. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) are both excellent resources for ensuring online universities are accredited.

While accreditation is typically a good measure of the education offered at a particular school, it is not always the best or even the only way to judge the quality of an online school. Accreditation is an expensive and lengthy process and one in which a good quality school may not participate as the accreditation may not be necessary in their field or market. Some niche schools, especially vocational schools such as some massage therapy programs, may not have accreditation. Besides accreditation, finding schools that are ranked highly can offer peace of mind that they provide quality education.

U.S. News & World Report issues one of the most respected college ranking publications around. While they don’t currently have a specific ranking for online colleges, their website offers an excellent section, E-Learning & Technology, that provides plenty of information to help you select from the best online universities. Also, About.com offers Regionally Accredited Online College Profiles where you can learn about many reputable online colleges. Another option when determining the quality of online universities is to visit a consumer advocacy site such as GetEducated.com, where online colleges are rated and ranked according to "cost, quality, and credibility."

The bottom line when looking at the ratings and ranks of online colleges is to ensure that they have a solid reputation and have been in business for a while, that the curriculum offered is a good quality one that suits your educational needs, and that student services and technical support are not only available, but of meaningful quality as well. Often you can find online forums where students share their experiences with online schools, but be aware that sometimes forums are a convenient sounding board for students who have had a bad experience. A better way to judge students’ experiences is to find out what graduates of the various online programs think about their experiences. Determine if the students were able to find employment after graduation, what type of jobs they secured, and their overall feel for their online education experience.