Evaluating the Top For-Profit Colleges for 2017 | Tuition Fees, Retention & Graduation Rates

There are a lot of great educational opportunities out there among for-profit colleges, and not all of them are only online. Since 1972, the list of for-profit colleges has expanded greatly as this sector of educational institutions has grown to meet demands for more flexibility and lower college tuition.

For-profit colleges have come under more scrutiny in the past few years, because as with any successful market, you’re going to get some bad apples. But overall the popularity of  the best for-profit colleges comes from more flexibility where and when classes are taken as well as in tuition and fees.

Best For-Profit Colleges Red Award Emblem

Award Emblem: Top 6 Best For-Profit Colleges

One of the reasons for the growth of for-profit colleges has been that many offer distance learning, which opens up the ability to earn a degree to many that can’t attend traditional campus-based classes. A study by Babson Survey Research Group found that 28 percent of students now take at least one distance education course.

But you’ll see in this article that a for-profit college can offer the best of both worlds, including online and offline classes. Additionally the flexibility of choosing classes when you want can make the cost of college much more affordable to many.

We’ve chosen the top for-profit colleges for our 2017 ranking, including only those that have a graduation rate above the national average of 27%, for a for-profit college. We will go through the main differences between not-for-profit and for-profit colleges, as well as retention rates, graduation rates, college cost, and more.

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AdvisoryHQ’s List of the Top 6 Best For-Profit Colleges

List is sorted alphabetically (click any of the school names below to go directly to the detailed review section for that school):

Top 6 Best For-Profit Colleges | Brief Comparison & Ranking

Best For-Profit Colleges

Average Graduation Rate

Average Retention Rate

Average College Tuition

American InterContinental University™



$327/per credit hour

Capella University



$350/per credit hour

Full Sail University



$542/per credit hour

National American University



$347/per credit hour

NewSchool of Architecture & Design



$645/per credit hour

The Art Institute of Pittsburgh®



$487/per credit hour

Table: Top 6 For-Profit Colleges | Above list is sorted alphabetically

Top For-Profit Colleges FAQ | What Is the Difference between a Not-For-Profit and For-Profit College?

One of the first questions asked when looking at a list of for-profit colleges is how for-profit colleges differ from other types of colleges and universities. Both can provide you the education and degree you’re looking for, but there are a few key differences.

The main difference is that not-for-profit colleges and universities put any college tuition, fees, and donations back into the institution, so by law they are considered a non-profit organization. For-profit colleges are run by organizations in order to make a profit, just like other types of businesses.

top for-profit colleges

Image Source: For-Profit Colleges

There is some disagreement over whether the tuition fees for a for-profit college are more or less than a not-for-profit. It can vary widely according to school, degree, and how the classes are taken. But overall, most people choose a best for-profit college because of the flexibility given in paying tuition and fees.

There is also usually less scrutiny during the admission process of a for-profit college, so those who want to earn a degree without a high cost of college up front can do so, taking the classes when they want to.

Because for-profit colleges usually have less overhead than traditional non-profit universities, they can offer a quality education for lower tuition fees. You just have to do your homework to make sure you’re signing up with a quality school that has a good reputation.

Top For-Profit Colleges FAQ | What Accreditations Should You Look For?

Just like non-profit colleges, for-profit colleges need a recognized accreditation in order for you to use federal grants or student loans to pay their tuition and fees. So you will want to check the types of national, regional, or other accreditations to make sure the college has been vetted and approved.

Following is a listing of accreditation organizations that are approved by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE). So if you’re looking through a list of for profit colleges, you’ll want to see if they have one of these approvals, especially if you want to use a student loan to pay college costs.

tuition and fees

Image Source: ACCSC Accrediting Top For-Profit Colleges

USDOE-Approved Accreditation Organizations

You can find approved accreditation agencies for specialized degrees here.

You can find accredited for-profit colleges here.

Note about Accreditation by ACICS

The Accreditation Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), had its recognition revoked by the U.S. Education Department in September of 2016, but it is currently under appeal. If the ruling becomes final, for-profit colleges with this accreditation have 18 months to find a new accrediting organization to still be eligible to receive federal grants or student loans paying tuition and fees.

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Detailed Review—Top Ranking Best For-Profit Colleges

Below, please find a detailed review of each school on our list of top for-profit colleges. We have highlighted some of the factors that allowed these for-profit colleges to score so high in our selection ranking.

American InterContinental University™ Review

American InterContinental University™ was founded in Europe in 1970. This for-profit college was designed to transcend the bounds of traditional theory-based approaches to education and give students a curriculum to help them get ahead in a globalized world.

They offer both online and offline classes with physical campuses located in Atlanta, Georgia, and Houston, Texas. Students find this one of the best for-profit colleges because they can choose from more than 50 associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree programs.

One of the things that earned them a place on our list of for profit colleges to consider was their generous 45% college tuition discount for military students. They also offer grants for active-duty military, veterans, and their families to help reduce the cost of college.

Best For-Profit Colleges Breakdown for American InterContinental University™:

Capella University Review

The public company Capella Education Company (NASDAQ: CPLA) runs Capella University. This school began in 1991 and is known for its rigorous curricula offered in a flexible, online format.

They have one of the higher graduation rates of the well-known, online-only, for-profit colleges and were chosen for our top for-profit colleges list because of their flexible options for coursework and college cost.

Students can choose between a GuidedPath and FlexPath learning environment. One has the weekly coursework schedule laid out for them, and the other is self-paced.

This for-profit college also attempts to keep college cost affordable by allowing students to pick how they pay tuition and fees, either per credit/course or one flat fee each 12 weeks, taking up to two courses at a time.

Best For-Profit Colleges Breakdown for Capella University:

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Full Sail University Review

Full Sail University - college cost

Image Source: Full Sail University For-Profit College

If the thought of earning a degree in the entertainment, media, arts, or technology fields excites you, then Full Sail University could be your top choice of for-profit colleges. The school began in 1979 in Dayton, Ohio, as an audio recording workshop and now covers more than 210 acres in Winter Park, Florida.

The exceptional graduation rate of 80% and the focus on creative thinking and a hands-on approach earned Full Sail University a spot on our list of for profit colleges to check out in 2017. They also received the honor of being on The Hollywood Reporter’s 2016 list of “Top 25 Music Schools.”

To help with tuition and fees, this best for-profit college offers scholarships and financial aid to keep college cost affordable. They are also one of the schools that offers both online and offline classes.

Best For-Profit Colleges Breakdown for Full Sail University:

National American University Review

National American University is owned by the public company National American University Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ:NAUH) headquartered in Rapid City, South Dakota. The school was founded in 1941 and celebrated their 75th year as a best for-profit college in 2016.

We chose National American University for our top list of for-profit colleges because of the multiple campus locations. This is one of the best for-profit colleges where it’s easy to take online- or classroom-based courses because they have 34 campuses in the U.S.

The school also offers both U.S. and Canadian online classes. To help reduce the cost of college, they offer financial aid for paying tuition and fees through grants, loans, and work-study. There are also scholarships and tuition assistance opportunities.

Best For-Profit Colleges Breakdown for National American University:

  • Accredited by Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • GradReports gives 3.0 stars out of five
  • Graduation rate of 29%
  • Student retention rate of 41%
  • Multiple scholarship and financial aid options for tuition and fees
  • Both on campus and online courses offered

NewSchool of Architecture & Design Review

NewSchool of Architecture & Design - cost of college

Image Source: Top For-Profit Colleges—NewSchool

For those interested in studying architecture and design, NewSchool of Architecture & Design has a lot to offer. This best for-profit college was founded in 1980 and is part of the Laureate International Universities, a global network of more than 70 for-profit colleges in 25 countries.

NewSchool is located in San Diego, California, and they offer both campus and online classes. They made our top ranking list of for-profit colleges for a couple of reasons—their unique study abroad program and educational awards and recognitions.

Though their collaboration with international schools, their study abroad program allows you to study in Milan or Rome, Italy, Compostela, Spain, or Porto, Portugal. This is a standout in the top for-profit colleges as well due to their multiple industry awards.

Their tuition and fees can be found here, and they include a requirement for health insurance. To help with the cost of college, they offer scholarships, financial aid, and a 15% discount for military members and their spouses.

Best For-Profit Colleges Breakdown for NewSchool of Architecture & Design:

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The Art Institute of Pittsburgh® Review

Rounding out our list of the top for-profit colleges is The Art Institute of Pittsburgh®. This school is part of The Art Institutes®, a system of more than 50 schools throughout North America, and it was founded in 1921.

This is one of the for-profit colleges that offers academic programs in visual and interior design, animation, film, gaming and technology, fashion, and culinary arts. They have a handy gainful employment data interface that allows you to find specific information for your field of study.

A feature that helped them stand out among other top for-profit colleges is that they haven’t raised their tuition and fees for the last five years due to their desire to keep college cost affordable. Transfer students can earn a grant up to $7,500 for bachelor’s degree to help with tuition and fees.

Best For-Profit Colleges Breakdown for The Art Institute of Pittsburgh®:

Conclusion—Top 6 Best For-Profit Colleges

If you’re searching out for-profit colleges to attend, you may run across some with a bad reputation, but don’t let that deter you. There are many top for-profit colleges that both give you an excellent education and help you control the cost of college.

With the flexibility to pay by course, semester, or a flat rate, you have some great options for tuition and fees though for-profit colleges. The combination of online and offline classes also keep a degree manageable for those working full-time.

Just remember the key things to look for when researching any top for-profit colleges are graduation rate, retention rate, and accreditation. Whichever one of the great for-profit colleges you decide on, one of these top 6 will definitely give you a great place to start your search.

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