The University of Phoenix, Southern New Hampshire University and Strayer University are examples of legitimate online colleges. Many traditional, campus-based schools also offer online programs leading to degrees. These include the University of Maryland University College and the University of Texas through its Online Consortium.
One way to determine if an online college is legitimate is to make sure that it is accredited. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education and its College Navigator tool provide searchable lists of accredited online colleges.
USNews.com ranks online programs that lead to a bachelor’s degree. The top schools in this category as of 2015 are Pennsylvania State University's World Campus, Daytona State College, the University of Illinois Chicago and Western Kentucky University. Other highly ranked programs include Oregon State University, Ohio State University and Pace University.
Legitimate schools do not grant excessive credit for life experience nor do they offer degrees in an unreasonably short period of time. Legitimate online schools require coursework and credits similar in scope to their campus-based counterparts.
Legitimate schools also report solid rates of student retention and graduation. Students considering an online school should also check to see if the credits they earn are transferable to other schools if they decide to make a change.