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Online Colleges with Open Admission Policies

Online schools with open enrollment requirements give students with limited resources or below-average GPAs an even playing field to obtain a college degree. Learn how the process works, and see which online colleges with open admissions have the best combinations of flexibility, affordability, and accreditation standards. 

Author: Kathleen Curtis
Editor: STEPS Staff

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A young man in a blue flannel shirt smiles as he reads more about online colleges with open admission policies while sitting outside a college campus.

Everyone knows what a typical college student looks like, right? Maybe not. According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 74% of college students are nontraditional. Nontraditional is a relatively broad term and includes adult students age 25 and older, students paying their own way through school, students with dependents of their own, students who don’t have traditional high school diplomas, and students attending school part-time while working full-time.

With so much besides school going on in their lives, nontraditional students may be more likely to enroll in a school with open admission policies. Plus, if your high school GPA is below 3.0, an open admission or open-enrollment school can provide a new starting point. These schools skip the competitiveness of most four-year institutions that require strong test scores, higher GPAs, and an arduous application process.

Schools with open admissions offer a flexible and affordable path to a college degree, no matter what your previous academic record, socioeconomic status, or personal background. Keep reading as we highlight the top online colleges with open admissions and what these schools can offer you.

Top 15 Online Colleges with Open Admission

Most schools with open admission are community colleges, technical colleges, and online institutions that offer two-year programs. Some state universities also offer open enrollment as an accessible option for those seeking a four-year degree. Here are the top institutions with open enrollment online programs and courses.

This list of top online open admission colleges includes the highest-ranked institutions. Each school is regionally accredited. We also considered additional factors such as average tuition below $10,000, student services such as academic counseling and career placement, financial aid availability, and the number of enrolled online students.

LocationAverage Tuition% of Grant Aid
Snow CollegeEphraim, Utah$3,48670%
Oklahoma Panhandle State UniversityGoodwell, Oklahoma$3,69681%
University of Arkansas-Fort SmithFort Smith, Arkansas$4,10474%
Montana State University BillingsBillings, Montana$4,48576%
College of Southern IdahoTwin Falls, Idaho$4,56064%
New Mexico Highlands UniversityLas Vegas, New Mexico$4,60881%
Weber State UniversityOgden, Utah$5,09073%
Chadron State CollegeChadron, Nebraska$5,20880%
Peru State CollegePeru, Nebraska$5,58092%
Ohio University-Southern CampusIronton, Ohio$5,67453%
Idaho State UniversityPocatello, Idaho$5,92870%
Missouri Western State UniversitySaint Joseph, Missouri$6,60075%
University of Maine at AugustaAugusta, Maine$7,35066%
Tennessee State UniversityNashville, Tennessee$7,85453%
Ohio State University at MarionMarion, Ohio$7,99180%

Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System

What Are Colleges with Open Admission or Enrollment?

Colleges and universities with open admission or enrollment policies typically are available to all students holding a high school diploma or GED. Unlike traditional schools that require various GPA benchmarks and standardized test scores, open-admission schools often rely on placement tests to predict student performance and academic needs.

For prospective students without the academic accolades held by traditional college students, open-admission schools offer an opportunity to access the benefits of higher education. Because traditional four-year colleges and universities pull from a competitive applicant pool, admission requirements pose a severe barrier for some students. Historically, this has led to educational disparities that dramatically impact economically disadvantaged students and students of color.

While most schools with open admissions typically are two-year technical schools or community colleges, open admissions is becoming more common at online four-year institutions, including Northwestern Polytechnic University, the University of Pikeville, and the University of Maryland’s Global Campus. These schools typically have a more diverse student population than most four-year institutions. Open admission schools often attract older students and those balancing academic, professional, and family obligations.

Keep reading as we highlight the ins and outs of open enrollment schools.

Busting Myths About Open Enrollment Schools

The most common misconception about open enrollment schools is that they offer an inferior academic experience compared to traditional four-year institutions. While elite four-year schools undoubtedly have the resources to provide a standout education, admission policies do not directly impact the quality of education at an open enrollment school.

While a traditional education usually means a four-year campus experience, for many online college benefits outweigh the traditional model. Increased accessibility to preparatory courses and specialized courses and scheduling flexibility make college a better fit and more convenient.

Community colleges and technical schools have their place in the higher education landscape, so a 1:1 comparison to four-year schools misses the mark. Two-year schools with open enrollment dramatically expand access to college-level coursework and professional training, offering affordable courses that prepare countless students for transfer to four-year colleges and universities.

Plus, public community colleges hold the same institutional accreditation as their four-year counterparts. These schools meet rigorous standards to ensure that students access quality academics, financial services, and student support opportunities.

Who Does Open Enrollment Benefit?

Schools home to open enrollment policies benefit from a more comprehensive and inclusive group of students. Unlike the rigid admission standards set by some four-year schools, as long as you have your high school degree or equivalent, at an open enrollment school, you will have a place to continue your education.

Open enrollment schools mean low-stress admissions. You can put aside worries about high application fees, a low GPA, or standardized test scores for the ACT, SAT, or GRE. And while some applicants to open enrollment schools may have a checkered academic history, these schools offer them a chance to complete college-level coursework.

In the next section, we take a closer look at who can benefit from open enrollment schools. Keep reading to see if these open academic options are suitable for you.

Students with Low GPAs

It’s not uncommon for some students to struggle academically and personally in high school. And while high school may have been a challenge, completing a college degree is a significant indicator of future professional success and financial freedom. If you performed poorly in high school, most four-year schools are out of reach.

According to a study by the NCES, high school GPAs have gone up over time, with the national average GPA hovering around 3.0. If your GPA falls below this, you might have trouble getting into selective four-year schools. This is where open enrollment schools play a significant role in expanding academic and professional opportunities. Schools with open enrollment can address various academic deficiencies and create an academic clean slate for students who struggled with school in the past.

While four-year schools often rely on high school GPA performance to weed out applicants, open-admission colleges don’t use GPA to predict success; they often rely on placement exams to determine capabilities. Additionally, even though GPA is often helpful to gauge the success of recent high school graduates, it has little relevance for adults interested in returning to school.

Open enrollment schools attract more learners with little to no college preparation. The staff has experience working with students to develop the academic chops to get a two-year or four-year degree.

Students with Limited Resources

The price of college varies significantly depending on whether it’s public or private, but either way, it’s expensive. As a result, students with limited resources may look for less expensive educational options. Open enrollment schools like two-year community colleges and technical schools traditionally cost far less than four-year options.

Additionally, online colleges can be more affordable for students with limited financial resources. These schools typically have lower tuition rates and nominal application fees. Online students also save on transportation costs, room and board, and various campus-based fees.

Online options also provide students with maximum flexibility through coursework that they can complete at their own pace. This is an ideal option for students balancing school, work, and family responsibilities. Self-paced classes increase the odds of successful completion, which means money isn’t wasted retaking courses.

Students Who Do Better in Noncompetitive Environments

Some four-year schools—especially elite public and private institutions—are highly competitive in both the admission process and in the classroom. If the competitive nature of these schools feels intimidating, open enrollment schools may offer a more comfortable academic environment. If you’re an adult student returning to school, an online classroom where age differences will be less obvious might feel more inviting.

Conversely, some students thrive in a more competitive environment where they’re challenged by other academically driven students. More traditional schools often enroll students with solid résumés and GPAs, high test scores, and a long list of extracurricular activities. When deciding which school is best for you, consider competitiveness alongside elements like cost and academic offerings to find the right fit.

Students Looking for More Diversity

The level of diversity at colleges and universities varies significantly. Schools with open enrollment often have more diverse student populations in terms of academic experience, age, income, and race. Even with various diversity initiatives, more selective schools often attract students from similar socioeconomic and educational backgrounds.

An in-person classroom at a traditional four-year institution may feel intimidating for adult students returning to school. Being the oldest person in their class leaves some nontraditional students feeling out of place. Online open enrollment programs can feel more inclusive for these learners.

Do Grad Schools Have Open Enrollment?

Similar to high school students who struggle to gain admission into a four-year institution, enrolling in a graduate program is a challenge for those with a spotty undergraduate transcript. For some, the adjustment to college life proved challenging. Whether you focused a bit too much on enjoying newfound freedoms or life threw you some challenges that hindered your academic performance, the result might be a less than stellar GPA.

But a low undergraduate GPA doesn’t necessarily mean that graduate school is out of reach. Various online colleges and universities offer relatively open admissions policies that enhance access to graduate-level programs. Unlike more competitive graduate programs, those with open admissions don’t rely on standardized test scores and undergraduate GPAs to determine the quality of the applicant.

Online graduate programs with open admission policies are also an excellent option for students who struggle with in-person classes and rely on flexibility to keep up with professional, personal, and academic obligations. The most flexible online degrees allow learners to complete coursework at their own pace through asynchronous classes. Keep in mind that these classes require lots of self-discipline; because of that, some students may do better with synchronous online classes or in-person classes.

Applicants for online graduate programs with open admission policies must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. While you won’t need to submit GRE scores, you must supply official academic transcripts and a personal essay outlining your academic and career goals.

Look for an online master’s program that:

  1. Accepts a 2.5 GPA or lower
  2. Considers competency and professional experience in their decision
  3. Provides an enrollment advisor who can help you with the process
  4. Gives you the opportunity to tell your story through an admission essay
  5. Considers test scores—if they show that you are ready for grad school

Top 10 Online Graduate Colleges and Universities with Open Admissions

LocationAverage Tuition% of Grant Aid
Western New Mexico UniversitySilver City, New Mexico$3,55842%
Cameron UniversityLawton, Oklahoma$3,56441%
New Mexico Highlands UniversityLas Vegas, New Mexico$5,30481%
Montana State University BillingsBillings, Montana$5,59876%
Park UniversityParkville. Missouri$6,22471%
New Orleans Baptist Theological SeminaryNew Orleans, Louisiana$6,43517%
Weber State UniversityOgden, Utah$7,93573%
Idaho State UniversityPocatello, Idaho$7,98270%
Lincoln Christian UniversityLincoln, Illinois$8,38896%
Utah Valley UniversityOrem, Utah$8,54141%

Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System

Before You Enroll

Before applying to a college with open enrollment, make sure you look into several important components of the process and consider whether the school fits your needs and goals. Follow the steps below to get all your ducks in a row.

Do Your Research

Researching prospective schools can help alleviate concerns early in the process and ensure you create a solid list of programs to consider. One of the first steps any prospective student should take is to review the accreditation status of the college or university.

Schools with regional accreditation are considered the best option. These institutions must go through a rigorous process of proving they adequately support students academically, socially, and emotionally through their college experience. Conversely, nationally accredited schools do not have to meet those same high standards. You should also carefully review the quality of instructors and curriculum quality by learning what current and former students say.

Make sure you understand your financial aid options, as attending a school outside your budget—or one that does not provide the financial aid options that make it sustainable—is a sure way to feel stressed while in college and beyond.

Carefully review the support services available as well. Services like mental health counseling, disability access, study abroad support, and writing and math centers can make a difference in your educational experience.

Make Sure That Credits Can Transfer

If you previously completed an associate degree at another institution—or even just a few credits at another school—make sure these will transfer to your next college or university. If they won’t, you’ll be required to retake these classes—wasting both time and money.

The registrar at your prospective college will ask for a transcript from any schools you previously attended. From there, they will check those classes against general education and degree-specific requirements to ensure they meet the new institution’s requirements. If you previously attended a regionally accredited school, this should help the process go more smoothly.

Is Distance Learning For You?

One of the most important questions to ask yourself is whether distance learning best meets your personal, professional, and academic needs. Online colleges provide many benefits, including flexible learning schedules, access to colleges further away without needing to move or commute, highly trained instructors, and opportunities to save money.

Some state schools now provide in-state tuition to all online learners, regardless of where they live, making it easier to obtain a quality education at a lower price. Most also try to provide small class sizes that offer more personalized attention than the larger lecture-hall courses at some traditional universities.

Students must consider which learning style ultimately fits their needs. Those looking for more autonomy in their scheduling often find online learning a great option; those who want a more hands-on experience may decide that in-person better suits their needs.

How To Apply to Open Admission Schools

Even if you have a low GPA, you can still stand out from other candidates and ensure you receive an admissions letter. Following the steps outlined below can help you feel confident when submitting your application.

  1. Highlight Your Strengths Schools look for candidates who use their time wisely, so highlighting your activities and accomplishments is a plus. Did you win any awards in high school or in previous/current jobs? Do you enjoy volunteering your time with nonprofits and helping others? Do you have military experience? Think about experiences that speak to your character, drive, and interests throughout your life and talk about those in your personal essay.
  2. Look for Holistic Admissions Processes Some schools emphasize GPAs and test scores, but others value aspects of a student’s life and experience that make the student unique. If your GPA isn’t likely to turn any heads, finding a holistic admission process could be a great option. These institutions look at you as a whole person—including life experiences, personal and professional goals, work experiences, what your references say about you as a person, and, yes, your scores.
  3. Write a Great Essay or Personal Statement These documents tell admission panelists a lot about who you are as a person, student, professional, volunteer, and community member. Taking time to write a quality essay with proper grammar and an appropriate tone can go a long way in securing admission. Be sure to follow instructions carefully to avoid going under or over the required word count, failing to address proposed questions and themes, or failing to provide the essay by the deadline.
  4. Ask for High-Quality Letters of Recommendation Recommendation letters also play a significant role in improving your chances of admission, so ask individuals who know you well to write them on your behalf. Providing generic letters of recommendation results in little to no impact on admissions officers. Former professors, supervisors, volunteer managers, or faith leaders are great choices for writing these letters.
  5. Look for Conditional Acceptance Some colleges and universities provide conditional acceptance to students who they believe have potential but who they need to see more from. Receiving a conditional acceptance letter is promising, as it means the school wants to admit you after meeting specific requirements. These may include providing final grades at the end of a semester, taking a required class, or supplying missing documents.