The Seven Hottest Online Bachelor's Degrees

Hot Online Degrees

Thinking about attending school online? Familiarize yourself with these top online bachelor's programs before you enroll.

By Andrea Duchon

You've decided that you want to go back to school and earn a degree - but you're still not sure how you're going to fit education into your busy schedule. Why not join the many students who have pursued a degree online?

In fall 2011 alone, 32 percent of all students enrolled in postsecondary instruction were taking at least one online course.* But it's not just convenience that makes online education attractive, says Carole Beauchemin, assistant dean of academic and faculty affairs at Northeastern University's College of Professional Studies: "Online programs provide students the opportunity to interact with colleagues and instructors across a wide geographic span and range of experiences."

This is not to say online education is right for everyone. But for those who are interested, we took a look at the most popular majors for online students from a recent study titled "Online College Students 2013: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences" conducted by The Learning House, Inc., an organization that helps colleges and universities develop online degree programs, and Aslanian Market Research.** Keep reading to find out which programs topped the list.

#1 - Business Administration

Business makes the world go round, so it's no surprise that a degree in business administration is highly sought after. How popular is it? Business administration ranked number one on the "Online College Students 2013" study.

Charley Polachi, partner at Polachi Access Executive Search, an executive headhunting firm, isn't that surprised either. "This should and will always be a highly popular online degree among students," he says.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Online Business Administration Program.

What You Might Study: In a business administration and management program, you could take classes in subjects like operations management, marketing, business statistics, and economics, according to the College Board, an organization that promotes higher education.

Potential Career Paths***:

  • Top executive
  • Market research analyst

#2 - Accounting

This number-crunching degree seems to be a favorite to study online, ranking as the second most popular program of study in the report.

But it shouldn't come as much of a surprise. "I think accounting lends itself to online learning because the basics have not changed in the field in the last few years," Polachi says. "The body of knowledge is pretty developed, which makes it easy for students to digest the information at their own pace without getting caught up on new concepts," he adds.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Online Accounting Program.

What You Might Study: Accounting courses run the gamut from intro to intermediate to advanced, according to the College Board. You can also expect to take other courses like business law, auditing, and tax accounting.

Potential Career Paths:

  • Accountant or auditor
  • Tax examiner

#3 - Information Technology

The world suddenly seems to revolve around everything digital, so it makes sense that online degrees in the computer-centric field of information technology are ranked third in popularity in the "Online College Students 2013" study.

And because of its technological focus, it's a great degree to earn online. "You're already behind a computer most of the time when you're pursuing a degree in information tech, so IT lends itself to the online format better than most other degree programs," Polachi says. "Plus, information tech students are generally more self-driven, so they prefer the solo structure of online learning versus traditional classroom learning."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Online Information Technology Program.

What You Might Study: In your quest to earn a bachelor's degree in IT, the College Board says you could study courses like computer networking, C++ programming, computer systems and architecture, and Web technologies.

Potential Career Paths:

  • Database administrator
  • Computer and information systems managers

#4 - Criminal Justice

Are you fascinated with the police or the FBI and how they go about tracking down criminals? You're probably not the only one. Criminal justice programs ranked fourth in the list of most popular online degrees.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Online Criminal Justice Program.

What You Might Study: As a criminal justice major, you could study everything crime and law related, says the College Board. You'll also read up on countless court cases, and take courses like victimology, policing society, and juvenile justice.

Potential Career Paths:

  • Probation officer
  • Correctional treatment specialist

#5 - Finance

Who doesn't want to learn how to make more money? That's what we thought. Everyone does. This is probably why finance ranked fifth in the "Online College Students 2013" report on most popular online programs.

Nicole Williams, a LinkedIn career expert, notes that because every office can use someone with a finance background, it's often a popular degree path for students looking to secure jobs after graduation.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Online Finance Program.

What You Might Study: The College Board says you might take courses in financial markets and institutions, investments, financial management, and analysis of financial statements.

Potential Career Paths:

  • Financial analyst
  • Personal financial advisor

#6 - Psychology

If you're interested in learning about how people interact with one another, you may want to consider a degree in psychology, which is the sixth most sought-after online degree, according to the study.

"Given the demographics of online students and considering previous or current work experience and/or employment status, it makes complete sense why this online degree is a top one among students," says Sharon D.D. Reid, executive director and founder at Tate Ellington Associates, a New York City firm that specializes in career and outplacement counseling. "This knowledge has concrete applicability to the workplace and can help performance and career advancement."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Online Psychology Program.

What You Might Study: Perception and sensation, cognitive psychology, personality, social psychology, and neuroscience are all typical courses listed by the College Board.

Potential Career Paths:

  • Social worker
  • Survey researcher

#7 - Health Care Administration

Tying for seventh place with graphic design in popularity in the "Online College Students 2013" report is health care administration, a major that could help you prepare to pursue a career in the booming health care sector.

Polachi says one reason this degree is so popular is because technological advancements have eased communication lines with medical professionals around the world - which in turn provides students an opportunity to engage with these professionals. Plus, he adds that students who study online may have more time for hands-on training.

"With less 'classroom' time, students are able to spend more time implementing their knowledge and gaining hands-on experience through internships," Polachi says. 

Next step: Click to Find the Right Online Health Care Administration Program.

What You Might Study: In a health services administration program, the College Board says, you could take courses in subjects like accounting, health care law, health care finance, and even health care statistics.

Potential Career Path:

  • Medical and health services manager

* According to a 2013 report titled "Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States" by the Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group.

** In the spring of 2013, Aslanian Market Research and Learning House conducted online surveys of 1,500 individuals nationwide who have recently enrolled, are currently enrolled, or plan to enroll in online undergraduate or graduate study in the near future. These surveys repeated the sampling procedures of the joint 2012 study between Aslanian Market Research and Learning House, and all respondents were at least 18 years of age.

*** All potential careers listed from the 2012-2013 U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook. The Department of Labor cites the associated degrees as common, required, preferred, or one of a number of degrees acceptable as preparation for the potential career. In some instances, candidates might require further schooling, professional certifications, or experience, before being qualified to pursue the career.

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