10 Competitive Online Colleges in 2018

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Contrary to what some prospective students might think, getting accepted to an online bachelor’s program isn’t always easy.

Among the 233 ranked programs that submitted these data to U.S. News in an annual survey, the average acceptance rate was 74 percent for those who applied and were admitted between July 2015 and June 2016. But among the 10 programs with the lowest acceptance rates, that figure was significantly lower: 30 percent.

The applicant pool for schools ranked in U.S. News’ Best Online Bachelor’s Programs consists mainly of transfer students who have some credits already completed and others who aren’t first-time students. That’s different from schools ranked in the 2017 Best Colleges, where acceptance rates are only for first-time, first-year students who applied for fall 2015 and were admitted full time or part time.

All schools ranked in Best Colleges also make use of standardized test scores for admission, while their online counterparts often don’t.

[Compare acceptance rates at online and on-ground colleges.]

The online bachelor’s program with the lowest acceptance rate in 2015-2016 was Stephens College in Missouri, which accepted only 51 of 348 applicants, or 15 percent. There’s a wide gap between that figure and that of the University of Georgia, which has the second lowest rate at 24 percent.

Eight of the 10 schools on the list are private institutions. The two public institutions are the University of Georgia and North Carolina State University—Raleigh.

Though these online bachelor’s programs have low acceptance rates, only two of them rank in the top 50 in the 2017 U.S. News Best Online Bachelor’s Programs rankings. Those are the University of La Verne and Regent University, which are tied at No. 36.

Most of these online colleges also had fewer than 1,000 applicants in 2015-2016, with the exceptions of Liberty University and Regent University, both in Virginia, with 81,213 and 7,943 applications, respectively.

[Explore tips for adults applying to online bachelor’s programs.]

On the other end of the spectrum, 19 ranked online bachelor’s programs reported an acceptance rate of 100 percent in 2015-2016 – a mix of private, public and proprietary schools. Among them are Utah State University and the for-profit Colorado Technical University.

Below is a list of the 10 online bachelor’s programs where the smallest proportion of applicants was admitted during the 2015-2016 school year. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be ranked, were not considered for this report.

School (state) Total applicants (2015-2016) Total acceptances Acceptance rate U.S. News rank
Stephens College (MO) 348 51 15% 193 (tie)
University of Georgia 86 21 24% 59 (tie)
Mount Mercy University (IA) 513 151 29% RNP*
Kentucky Wesleyan College 68 21 31% 205 (tie)
Regent University (VA) 7,943 2,477 31% 36 (tie)
Brescia University (KY) 767 250 33% 226 (tie)
Liberty University (VA) 81,213 26,960 33% 148 (tie)
University of La Verne (CA) 359 119 33% 36 (tie)
Iowa Wesleyan College 88 30 34% 180 (tie)
North Carolina State University—Raleigh 35 12 34% 103 (tie)
*RNP denotes an institution that is ranked in the bottom one-fourth of its rankings category. U.S. News calculates a rank for the school but has decided not to publish it.

School officials can access historical data and rankings, including of peer institutions, via U.S. News Academic Insights.