Online Schools in California

When people think of California, the first things that come to mind might be sunshine, beaches and Hollywood. But the Golden State is much more than that: California boasts the world's seventh-largest economy, having recently surpassed Brazil, and between its range of degree options and potential job opportunities, it's a terrific state to go to college.

For one, the state has hundreds of schools to choose from, ranging from small colleges to elite private universities. And if you're in one of the state's major cities, you're near dozens of educational options as well as several large companies in a variety of industries. To find out what you need to know about studying and working in California, check out the different sections of this guide:

Online education
Colleges in California
Major cities and industries
Top degrees

Online education

When you add the in-state schools to the array of online options available in California, there's a college and a major for pretty much everyone.

A number of colleges within the California State University system offer online degrees, such as the state schools in Chico and Sacramento. Likewise, the prestigious University of California System offers lots of online courses and programs, as do many of the community colleges in California. If you're a state resident, you can likely qualify for in-state tuition at one of these programs. And then, of course, you have the option to attend many other online schools, such as Arizona State University.

One of the biggest advantages to distance education is flexibility, which can be especially appealing for nontraditional students or adults going back to college. Not having to travel to campus can be a big advantage, too — especially for rural students who might have a long drive to attend a school with the program they want, or those who live in big, traffic-laden cities such as Los Angeles.

Students interested in a broader list of the California schools that offer online degrees can check out this map. It shows the location of all colleges in California that report offering online undergraduate or graduate degrees, based on 2013 data from the National Center for Education Statistics. (Mobile users will need to visit the full Schools.com site to use the map.)

Online Colleges in California - Google Fusion Tables

What are some specific online schools in California?

If sorting through a large number of options seems overwhelming, it might help to start by exploring specific programs that interest you or by checking out some of the prominent online programs available in the state. Here are just five examples.

University of Southern California

The amount of online programs offered at USC far surpasses nearly every college at its level of prestige — there are more than 75. That includes graduate and professional programs in several areas, ranging from business to health to social work. It's no wonder U.S. News & World Report ranked this Los Angeles school No. 1 on its list of the best online graduate computer information technology programs and No. 3 on its list of the best online graduate programs in engineering.

Cal State Online

Cal State Online, part of the California State University System, offers bachelor's and master's degree programs through different California State University campuses, and they're fully online. For example, you can earn a bachelor's degree in business administration from Cal State Fullerton or a master's degree in instructional science & technology from Cal State Monterey Bay, among many other programs. Schools in the San Francisco Bay Area — Cal State East Bay, San Francisco State and San Jose State — also offer online degrees.

Arizona State University

No, ASU isn't a California-based school, but given its extensive academic offerings, it's an option for many California students. And what a wonderful option to have! ASU offers dozens of online undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate programs. There's likely something for everyone, whether you want to study sociology, electrical engineering, art history or urban planning.

Liberty University

This private Christian college is headquartered in Lynchburg, Virginia, but its online programs are open to California residents. Liberty University has been offering distance education programs since 2009, and it has a wide array of degrees. Students can earn associate, bachelor's, master's or doctoral degrees completely online in subjects ranging from accounting to educational leadership.

National University

Though National University is not exclusively a California college (there's also a campus in Nevada), California residents can still take advantage of its more than 70 distance-learning programs. These include associate, bachelor's, master's and certificate programs. Offered fully online are degrees in business, management, education, engineering, computing, professional studies, arts & humanities, and natural sciences.

USC ranks No. 1 for online graduate computer information technology programs and No. 3 for online graduate programs in engineering, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Hybrid degree programs

Students who don't want to study fully online but want to retain some of the advantages of a distance-learning program might consider hybrid degrees, which blend online and on-campus classes. Many schools in California offer this option, such as:

  • Biola University: There are numerous hybrid degree programs at Biola University, a Christian college in La Mirada. One example is the master's degree program in Christian apologetics. Aside from a two-week summer session, students earn most of their credits online. Teaching students about philosophy and science and defending the Christian worldview, this program may be ideal for a California resident who can study at home most of the time and spend a couple weeks near Los Angeles in the summer.
  • California State University, Long Beach: One of the hybrid degree programs offered at Cal State Long Beach is the Master of Social Work program. It's a three-year, part-time program, with classes offered on other in-state campuses (at Sonoma State University and Ventura College) and online through various technologies.
  • Saint Mary's College of California: Saint Mary's College, located east of San Francisco, has multiple hybrid degrees, but one of the best-known is its executive MBA program. This 18-month degree is designed for working professionals, offering online classes and on-campus classes in the evening and weekends.

California's major cities and industries

If you're considering what to study at a California college, it's wise to consider which industries thrive in the state. California has many opportunities, between the tech industry in Silicon Valley, the film industry in Hollywood and the agricultural industry in the Central Valley, among others. There are also many jobs in statewide industries like health care, business and criminal justice.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the largest employers in California span a range of industries and locations. The top 10 employers by size are:

  1. 32nd Naval Station (San Diego): 42,900+ employees
  2. University of California, Los Angeles: 35,500+ employees
  3. UCLA Health System (Los Angeles): 27,400+ employees
  4. Disneyland (Anaheim): 26,000+ employees
  5. University of California, Davis: 20,200+ employees
  6. Department of Transportation (Sacramento): 20,000+ employees
  7. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (Monterey Park) : 20,000+ employees
  8. Nestle USA Inc. (Glendale) : 20,000+ employees
  9. University of California, San Francisco: 17,300+ employees
  10. Edwards Air Force Base (Edwards): 15,900+ employees

If you want to get even more specific, you might also target a local company that interests you and try to intern there or work there after graduation. Here are examples of just 10 major companies headquartered in California:

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • eBay
  • Google
  • 20th Century Fox
  • Adobe Systems
  • A&M Records
  • Apple
  • Amy's Kitchen
  • Craigslist

It’s known for tech, but San Francisco is also a major center for banking and finance, with more than 30 international financial institutions located there, according to Forbes.

Students might also want to look for economic opportunities geographically. Here are three cities in California worth checking out, based on recommendations from Forbes' "Best Places for Business and Careers":

  • San Francisco: According to Forbes, San Francisco is the eighteenth best city for business and careers. Its major industries include technology and financial services, as well as health and biomedical sciences, thanks to the University of California, San Francisco, and other nearby campuses. The cost of living is high, but salaries can be above the national average as well, which may help make the Bay Area livable for many professionals.
  • Los Angeles: With more than 10 million people, LA is the second-biggest city in America and known for its entertainment industry. About one in six (nearly 17 percent) of LA's residents reportedly work in something creative. But that's not all — according to Forbes, LA also has strong opportunities in aerospace, tourism and technology.
  • San Diego: San Diego is more than just perfect weather all the time. It's also a serious place of business, with a strong defense industry presence and the largest naval fleet in the world. In addition to defense, Forbes reports that the city's other industries include tourism and technology.

What are the best degrees to get in California?

Although it's important to consider what interests you the most when you're going back to school, students who are highly focused on getting the biggest return on investment for their education might also want to consider which degrees might be most relevant to the local economy. These are some of the degrees work checking out in California.

Computer science

Given that California is home to Silicon Valley, a computer science degree can go a long way in this state. And though the San Francisco Bay Area might be the main source of tech jobs in the state, other major cities, such as LA and San Diego, also count technology among their major industries.


California is one of the few states in America where a film degree can really be put to use, especially if you want to live in Los Angeles, home of film giants such as 20th Century Fox, Universal Studies, Warner Brothers and more. The film industry is so big in the Golden State that it even has its own government-backed California Film Commission. Learn how to act, direct, write or do production and you may have yourself a career upon graduation.


In nearly every major city in California, an engineering degree can be of use, and thanks to the variety of industries in the state, there's a huge range of degrees that could be useful. Whether it's an aerospace engineering job in Los Angeles, a software engineering job in San Jose, or an agricultural engineering job in the Central Valley, there can be a lot of opportunity here for someone with this educational background.


As Forbes points out, finance is a huge industry in San Francisco, but it's also big in Southern California as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were nearly 830,000 workers statewide in business and financial operations alone. And that doesn't include finance-related careers such as accounting. So you're in good hands in California, finance majors.


Some people might look down on a liberal arts degree, but hear this out: California has a big tourism industry in all of its major cities. A lot of these jobs, from working at Disneyland to providing boat rides along the coast, will require being good communication skills and an ability to sell visitors on a particular brand. Students who want to add a business component can also consider a marketing & communications major, or even hospitality management.

Regardless where you go, what you study and what career you aspire to after graduation, California is an excellent state to go to college. If you're not sure where to start, a good first step is to contact institutions that interest you, search for nearby online and on-campus degrees through the SchoolFinder, or start talking to professionals in your industry of choice.

1. ASU Online, Arizona State University, Accessed Jan. 23, 2015, https://asuonline.asu.edu/
2. "The Best Places for Business and Careers," Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes.com, July 23, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/best-places-for-business/
3. Distance Learning, Apologetics Master of Arts Degree, Biola University, Accessed Jan. 23, 2015, http://www.biola.edu/academics/sas/apologetics/maca/distance/
4. Degrees, Cal State Online, Accessed Jan. 23, 2015, https://www.calstateonline.net/Degrees
5. Extended & Continuing Education, The California State University, Accessed Jan. 23, 2015, http://www.calstate.edu/extension/programs/
6. Chico Distance & Online Education, California State University, Chico, Accessed Jan. 23, 2015, http://rce.csuchico.edu/online
7. Programs & Courses, California State University, East Bay, Accessed Jan. 23, 2015, https://www.ce.csueastbay.edu/ce/programs/
8. Master of Social Work Distance Education Program, California State University, Long Beach, Accessed Jan. 23, 2015, http://web.csulb.edu/colleges/chhs/departments/social-work/distance-education/
9. College of Continuing Education, California State University, Sacramento, Accessed Jan. 23, 2015, http://www.cce.csus.edu/course_group.cfm?root_heading_id=83&heading_id=86
10. Liberty University Online, Accessed Jan. 23, 2015, http://www.liberty.edu/online/
11. Online Programs, National University, Accessed Jan. 23, 2015, http://www.nu.edu/OnlineEducation/OnlinePrograms.cfm
12. Executive and Hybrid Executive MBA, St. Mary's College of California, Accessed Jan. 23, 2015, http://www.stmarys-ca.edu/executive-and-hybrid-executive-mba
13. UC Online, University of California, Accessed Jan. 23, 2015, http://www.uconline.edu/
14. USC Online: Programs, University of Southern California, Accessed Jan. 23, 2015, http://online.usc.edu/programs/
15. May 2013 Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: California, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ca.htm#13-0000
16. University of Southern California: All Rankings, U.S. News Best Colleges Rankings, U.S. News & World Report, Accessed Jan. 23, 2015, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/university-of-southern-california-123961/overall-rankings

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