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Online Degrees in Kentucky (KY)

Bluegrass. Bourbon. The Derby. You need not even live in Kentucky to recognize the importance of its culture and traditions, but those that do recognize there is so much more to the Bluegrass State -- like its low cost of living and long-term economic potential. Kentucky colleges and universities (both traditional and online) do more than just poise graduates to take advantage of all of this: they help the state stave off a looming attainment deficit. Kentucky needs more college graduates, and soon. Read on to learn more about some of Kentucky's top colleges, jobs, and metro areas.

  1. Spotlight: Kentucky College Trends
  2. Why Should I Earn a Degree in Kentucky?
  3. What Makes Kentucky Ideal for Online Education?
  4. Top 10 Degrees in Kentucky
  5. Top Cities and Metros for Kentucky College Students
  6. College Roadmap
  7. Scholarships and Financial Aid
  8. Discover Degree Opportunities

Spotlight: Kentucky College Trends

Kentucky recognizes how important it is to attract new employers. New businesses mean new jobs, and new jobs mean a higher quality of life for all Kentuckians. On the surface, Kentucky is a very business-friendly state: its notoriously low cost of living helps profits and earnings go further, and according to Forbes, the Bluegrass State ranked in the top 10 states nationally in 2013 when it came to the cost of doing business within its borders. Unfortunately, it ranked in the bottom five that same year for labor supply. It is not a population issue. Kentucky has plenty of working-age adults (2.3 million in 2012, to be precise). It is a skills gap issue.

Kentucky needs more college graduates, and unless it starts producing them (and soon), it will only get worse. According to a 2014 Lumina Foundation report (citing data from the Census and Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce), only 31.7 percent of Kentucky's working-age adults had at least a two-year degree in 2012. The national rate that year, by comparison, was 39.4 percent. Only a handful of Kentucky counties approach this national baseline. More than a dozen (mostly rural) counties do not even crack 15 percent. If Kentucky continues to add college graduates at its current rate, college attainment rates will fall a full 20 percent short of projected employer demand by 2025. This could cost the state thousands of new jobs (and the money they bring to the state).

The silver lining in all this is that college graduates are hot commodities in Kentucky, so those who do invest in higher education have a valuable edge in the workforce. This makes Kentucky's many colleges and universities essential to the state's -- and its residents' -- future success. Unfortunately, economic and geographic barriers (including the state's large rural areas) make going to school difficult for many would-be students. By improving college accessibility, the state could stave off or minimize its looming skills gap and attract fresh jobs (and money). This is where online education in Kentucky comes in.

Online degrees in Kentucky transcend geography and tight schedules. Rural students can study almost anything from any location with internet access. Kentuckians everywhere can advance their educations (and careers) without quitting their jobs or neglecting family obligations. Online learning also allows students to enroll in the programs that best meet their goals, budgets, and learning styles even when they are hundreds (or thousands) of miles away. Distance learning in Kentucky makes higher education cheaper for schools, too. In a 2014 report outlining 25 ways to make college more affordable, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity -- a DC-area nonprofit research group -- dedicated an entire section to leveraging technology. It argued that by bringing more classes online, digitizing library materials, and using more online tools, schools can serve more students and reduce overhead costs. At a time when college costs and student debt are soaring, this is no small victory. Online learning in Kentucky is a total game-changer, which is why the state is working so hard to promote it. We will discuss how at length below, but first, let's consider what makes Kentucky such a great place to go to college no matter how students attend.

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Why Should I Earn a Degree in Kentucky?

College graduates may be in short supply in Kentucky, but the advantages of going to school in the state are not. Here are just five reasons why Kentucky is a great place to earn a degree:

  1. Low cost of living. According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Kentucky's cost of living index was 90 compared to the national mean of 100, making it the 8th most affordable state in the country in 2014. Kentuckians pay less than the average American for everything from housing and groceries to utilities and health care. This is excellent news for the stereotypical cash-strapped college student.
  2. Higher earnings, lower unemployment. It is no secret that earnings and employment rates tend to improve with education, but data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms it. This explains why workers in major Kentucky metros like Lexington and Louisville report higher earnings (BLS, 2013), higher college attainment rates (U.S. Census, 2012), and lower unemployment (BLS, 2014) than the average Kentuckian.
  3. Options, options. Kentucky has no shortage of colleges and universities. As of 2014, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education reports that the state has no less than nine public state colleges, 35 private nonprofit colleges, six for-profit colleges, and dozens of online schools, including both in- and out-of-state institutions. Considering a major school like the University of Kentucky alone offers more than 100 degree programs, this list translates to plenty of options for prospective students.
  4. Access and affordability. The state of Kentucky has long worked to make higher education more affordable and accessible for its residents. State-sponsored programs like the Kentucky Virtual Campus make it easier for would-be students to research their options (including the diversity of online degrees in Kentucky), while various financial aid programs help them manage their costs.
  5. Jobs. We already outlined how desperately Kentucky needs more college graduates, which gives students a major advantage in tomorrow's job market. This is particularly true for those who choose to major in high-demand areas. More on this below.

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What Makes Kentucky Ideal for Online Education?

If this guide proves anything, it is that going to college in Kentucky pays off -- especially for those who study high-demand fields. This is true of most any college or university in the state, but online degrees in Kentucky carry additional benefits. Among them:

  • Affordability. Online learning allows students to shop around for programs that fit their budgets, continue working while studying to offset education costs, and minimize many of the expenses associated with campus-based learning, like gas and meals on-the-go. All public, in-state colleges in Kentucky offer some form of online education, and usually at the same rate as their campus-based courses. Online students are also usually eligible for many of the same financial aid programs as traditional students, including grants, low-interest loans, and scholarships.
  • Access. This benefit is two-fold. First, distance learning in Kentucky allows students to earn degrees in the fields they want, even when managing work and family obligations, or living in rural areas with otherwise limited options. Second, by investing in programs like the Kentucky Virtual Campus -- a searchable, web-based directory of online courses and degrees offered by Kentucky schools -- the State of Kentucky makes it easier for students to identify and learn more about their options.
  • Flexibility. Online education in Kentucky (and anywhere else) is often delivered nonsynchronously, meaning students can access course materials when convenient rather than during set course times. (Keep in mind they must still meet assignment and exam deadlines). Some programs are entirely self-paced, meaning so long as students enroll and submit their final work in time, they can work as quickly (or slowly) as their lifestyles and familiarity with the material dictate.

It is important to note that while online education has some distinct advantages over traditional programs, it is in no way an all-or-nothing affair. Plenty of traditional students enroll in online classes now and again. Many schools also offer hybrid programs, which combine online and campus-based instruction. This is a particularly attractive option for students pursuing degrees in disciplines that require hands-on labs or clinical work since they can complete those courses on campus and the rest online. Many colleges offer on-campus intensives, which allow students to complete any hands-on or classroom-based work in a short period of time. Intensives are an ideal solution for students enrolled in hybrid programs, but who do not live near a campus.

Of course, even students living in major metropolitan areas can take advantage of all the flexibility and convenience of online or hybrid learning and still reap the benefits of living in a major city.

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Top 10 Degrees in Kentucky

Kentucky colleges and universities can prepare students to enter any number of career fields, but students who choose high-demand fields will have a distinct advantage in tomorrow's job market. The following are 10 of the most in-demand degrees in the Bluegrass State, plus some of the top schools that offer them. Note that degrees and schools were selected based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor, various rankings publications and, often, the schools themselves. They are featured in no particular order. Remember that programs can and do change, so it pays to contact prospective schools directly before applying.

Counseling

Recent federal health legislation changed the way insurance companies cover mental health services, giving more patients access to treatments that were previously too expensive. This shift has spurred demand for marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors in Kentucky where, according to the Department of Labor, employment is expected to grow by 31 and 29 percent, respectively, in the decade leading up to 2022. A master's degree in counseling (plus licensing) is a must for both jobs.

Top Counseling Schools in Kentucky

  • University of Kentucky. The University of Kentucky is one of the -- if not THE -- best known school in Kentucky. It also happens to offer several counseling-related degree programs in a diversity of specialties. Students who earn a master's degree in family science, for instance, can specialize in one of five different areas, like couple and family therapy, aging, or adolescent development. Other plausible degrees (including undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate) include counseling psychology and educational psychology.
  • University of Louisville. The University of Louisville's Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work offers what is perhaps one of the most varied ranges of counseling degrees in Kentucky. Students can earn degrees in areas such as marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, and gerontology.
  • Western Kentucky University. WKU holds the distinction of being the no. 12 ranked public school in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Its Master of Arts in Education degree with a concentration in marriage, couple, and family counseling is distinctly career-focused: classes are designed to prepare students to earn licensing and pass the national exam necessary to become National Certified Counselors, or NCCs. Students even get clinical practice, with supervision, on campus through the Talley Family Counseling Center. WKU also offers an MAE in clinical mental health counseling -- perfect for future mental health counselors.

Business and Marketing

All industries benefit from savvy business professionals, which is why business degrees are often among some of the most popular programs at any school. These programs are an especially good investment for students in Kentucky, where there are a number of high-demand occupations related to the field. The DoL projects that statewide demand for market research and marketing specialists alone will grow by 32 percent between 2012 and 2022. Another high-demand field is event planning, which is projected to grow by 33 percent during the same period. The BLS reports that event planners increasingly need degrees to enter the field, and business degrees that emphasize tourist and hospitality management are ideal.

Top Business and Marketing Schools in Kentucky

  • University of Kentucky. The University of Kentucky's Gatton College of Business & Economics ranks among the top 100 business schools in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report, and its part-time MBA program also earns high marks. Students can earn bachelor's and master's degrees in a variety of business disciplines, including marketing. The school also offers a B.S. in hospitality management.
  • Murray State University. Murray State University offers no shortage of business programs, including associate degrees, bachelor's degrees, and MBAs in areas like marketing, international business, management, and emerging tech. Note that students can earn some of these degrees 100 percent online. Bonus: U.S. News & World Report ranked Murray State's online graduate business programs in the top 50 in the nation for 2015.
  • University of Louisville. Like the University of Kentucky, UL offers a nationally-ranked business school, and its part-time MBA program is ranked even higher. Students can earn bachelor's degrees, MBAs, and even PhDs in various areas of business, including marketing, management, finance, and economics. The school also offers a program in equine business -- a nod to the city's Derby heritage. For those interested in studying online, UL offers an online bachelor's degree in organizational leadership.

Sonography

Shifts in federal health legislation and advancing medical technologies have put diagnostic medical sonographers, often called ultrasound technicians, squarely in demand. The DoL projects that employment of these professionals in Kentucky alone will grow by a whopping 46 percent between 2012 and 2022. Note that cardiovascular technologists and technicians, which are closely related to ultrasound techs, are also in demand, with a projected overall job growth of 30 percent during the same period. Associate degrees are quickly becoming the standard credential for entry-level sonographers.

Top Ultrasound Tech Schools in Kentucky

  • St. Catharine College. St. Catharine College is a Catholic school located near Springfield that boasts what it calls state-of-the-art medical laboratories, including those related to diagnostic medical sonographer. Students enrolled in the school's 21-month associate degree in sonography program will accrue several hours of hands-on training in local clinics and get plenty experience working with ATL, Acuson, and GE physiological equipment.
  • Jefferson Community and Technical College. JCTC's Diagnostic Medical Sonography Program is offered through the college's downtown Louisville campus near the Louisville Medical Center. Students can earn associate degrees in sonography and get a good deal of hands-on clinical practice.
  • Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College. SKCTC's diagnostic medical sonography program requires students to complete more credit hours of training than the previous two schools, but the extra experience can pay off. Students can expect study sectional anatomy, ultrasonic instrumentation, and imaging on their way to earning either an associate degree or diploma in sonography. The school also offers a specialized certification in basic vascular technology.

Computer Science

Computers revolutionized the way we do business (and pretty much everything else), making computer science professionals incredibly valuable across a wide breadth of industries. The DoL projects that demand for information security analysts in particular could grow by as much as 37 percent in Kentucky between 2012 and 2022. This earned them a place in the top 50 fastest growing occupations in the state, and plenty of additional computer-related professions are not far behind.

Top Computer Science Schools in Kentucky

  • University of Kentucky. The University of Kentucky's impressively robust catalog makes it a regular feature in this guide. So do its rankings, which include making U.S. News & World Report's top 100 computer science schools in the nation for 2015. Students can earn degrees of all levels in computer science and related fields, including computer engineering. UK also offers a highly successful co-operative education program that allows computer science majors to get experience working with area employers -- and get paid for it.
  • University of Louisville. U of L's Department of Computer Engineering & Computer Science hosts degree programs for future computer pros of all stripes, including undergraduate and graduate degrees. What really separates the school from other contenders, however, is its online degree programs, including a 100 percent online master's degree in computer science and an online MBA in computer information systems. U.S. News & World Reports ranked U of L's online computer-related graduate degrees among the best in the nation. The school also offers online certificates in areas such as data mining and information security, and, like UK, co-op opportunities.
  • Murray State University. Murray State offers bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science (CSC) and computer information systems (CIS). Students can also minor in both of these areas, or earn MBAs concentrating in them. MSU offers a 100 percent online bachelor's degree in computer science, and an online master's degree in information systems.

Nursing

Anyone who has ever been admitted to the hospital knows that while doctors set the rules and treatment plans, it is often nurses who provide the brunt of patient care. Nursing is a diverse profession; with the right training, students can become nurse's aides, licensed vocational nurses, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, nursing instructors, or even physician assistants. The same legislative shifts that have spurred demand for sonographers and counselors help future nurses, too. Some of the fastest growing nursing-related jobs in Kentucky and their projected employment growth (2012 to 2022, per the DoL): Physician assistants, 35 percent; nursing instructors, 35 percent; nurse practitioners, 34 percent; and nurse midwives, 29 percent.

Top Nursing Schools in Kentucky

  • University of Kentucky. Once again UK's impressive rankings have earned it a place on our list: U.S. News & World Report ranks the school's nursing program no. 21 in the nation, its nurse practitioner program no. 15, and its nursing service administration program no. 10. UK offers a traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a BSN to RN bridge program for future registered nurses, and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.
  • Northern Kentucky University. Northern Kentucky University's proximity to the major Ohio city of Cincinnati means its students can get hands-on, clinical training in any number of hospitals, rehabilitation centers, or primary care settings. It offers a BSN program, plus a so-called "2nd Degree BSN" program designed for students who want to become nurses, but who have bachelor's degrees in unrelated fields. Students can complete RN to BSN, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), and DNP degrees online. In fact, U.S. News ranked NKU's online graduate nursing program among the best in the nation in 2015.
  • University of Louisville. U of L is home to yet another top-100 nursing program (per U.S. News & World Report's national 2015 rankings). The school offers traditional BSN, RN to BSN (including an online option), and MSN degrees in various concentrations, as well as BSN to PhD and MSN to PhD programs.

Psychology

The term "psychologist" often invokes images of talk therapy complete with big, stately couches. The truth is psychology is a tremendously diverse field, and psychologists can work in a variety of settings with a variety of different patients. Still, some are in higher demand than others, and in Kentucky, industrial-organizational psychologists take the cake. In fact, according to the DoL, their projected 53 percent employment growth between 2012 and 2022 makes them the most in-demand professionals in the entire state. Unlike many other psychologists, industrial psychologists do not necessarily need to be licensed to practice, but they do need at least a master's degree to get their foot in the door.

Top Psychology Schools in Kentucky

  • Eastern Kentucky University. Eastern Kentucky University's Department of Psychology offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in a number of psychological disciplines, including a Master of Science in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. EKU says the full-time, two-year program prepares students for work in public and private sector organizations, and to pursue doctoral-level training. Note that EKU also offers a 100 percent online bachelor's degree in psychology with the option to specialize in workplace psychology -- a perfect undergraduate option for future industrial and organizational psychologists.
  • Northern Kentucky University. U.S. News & World Report frequently ranks NKU among the best public universities in the country, and the best providers of online bachelor's degrees. The school offers bachelor's degrees in psychology, various minors in areas like neuroscience and psychology, and a master's degree in industrial/organizational psychology (called the M.S. in I/O Psychology).
  • Western Kentucky University. WKU is not just the no. 31 ranked college in the South (per U.S. News & World Report, 2015) -- it is the no. 15 ranked public school in the country. And its psychology training options do not disappoint. Students can pursue bachelor's degrees in psychological science, as well as master's degrees in industrial and organizational psychology, clinical psychology, or psychological science. WKU also offers a unique Joint Undergraduate-Master's Program (JUMP), which allows students to earn both a bachelor's degree in psychological science and a master's degree in psychology at the same time, and within five years.

Geography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Geographical science is an often overlooked, but promising field. This is especially true in Kentucky, where the DoL projects the field will grow by 29 percent between 2012 and 2022, making it one of the 50 fastest growing jobs in the state. Geographers must be properly trained, and while the BLS reports that a bachelor's degree may be okay for a select number of entry-level jobs (mostly in government), most candidates need at least a master's. Top research positions usually require a PhD, or a master's degrees with many, many years of field experience. The Association of American Geographers notes that there are several excellent geography and GIS schools in Kentucky.

Top Geography/GIS Schools in Kentucky

  • University of Louisville. U of L offers both bachelor's and master's degrees in applied geography with the option to specialized in one of four tracks: urban analysis, environmental analysis, GIS, or global and regional analysis. The AAG notes that U of L maintains great relationships with area governments and employers, which helps drive a very active internship program with several agencies. U of L also houses the Center for Geographic Information Sciences.
  • Western Kentucky University. WKU is home to several geographical research centers, including the Hoffman Environmental Research Institute, the Kentucky Climate Center, the Center for Cake and Karst Studies, and the Reynolds Geophysical Laboratory (among others). Students can earn bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, and PhDs in areas like geoscience, GIS, and geography. They can also study climatology, sustainable development, and culture and society.
  • University of Kentucky. According to the AAG, UK's geography program is known for its high quality research and graduate-level studies in human geography, physical geography, and GIS. Students can earn bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, or even PhDs in the field. Program strengths, per AAG, include flexibility in designing a plan of study, close faculty-student interaction, and access to research training seminars.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists often rank among some of the nation's most in-demand professionals, and the same is true in Kentucky where the DoL projects employment demand for these clinicians will grow by 29 percent between 2012 and 2022. Note that demand is even greater for occupational therapy assistants in Kentucky: the DoL projects an impressive 43 percent growth in OTA employment during the same decade. OTAs may make less and have less professional latitude than occupational therapists, but they are still generally paid well and can enter the workforce MUCH faster. OTs need at least a master's degree to work, while OTAs can get by with an associate degree.

Top Occupational Therapy Schools in Kentucky

  • Eastern Kentucky University. Eastern Kentucky University's occupational therapy program is designed to prepare the next generation of occupational therapists. It also happens to be the no. 31 OT school in the country, per U.S. News & World Report in 2015. EKU offers several degree options: a bachelor's degree in occupational science, an entry-level master's degree in occupational therapy, a post-professional master's degree in occupational therapy, a post-professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy Degree, and a Doctor in Rehabilitation Sciences (in collaboration with the University of Kentucky).
  • Spalding University. This Louisville-based institution is home to the Auerbach School of Occupational Therapy, which ranks among one of the best OT schools in the nation (U.S. News & World Report, 2015). Spalding offers both a B.S. in Health Science to M.S. in Occupational Therapy bridge program, and a more traditional M.S. in Occupational Therapy degree. It also hosts fieldwork programs designed to give students on-site clinical experience under the direction of an educator and mentor.
  • Jefferson Community and Technical College. JCTC's occupational therapy assistant program was designed to provide students with the skills necessary to become Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants. Students will complete a total of 67 credit hours, but must maintain at least a C average to continue in the program. Students are also required to accrue clinical hours within 18 months of completing the program.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists help patients whose disabilities, illnesses, or injuries have impacted their ability to move effectively or care for themselves. They are also in high demand. As with occupational therapists, physical therapists are clinicians who oversee other PT professionals, namely assistants and aides. The latter two fields require far less training. The DoL projects that demand for physical therapists will grow by 36 percent in Kentucky between 2012 and 2022, while physical therapy assistants should see job growth of 41 percent. That means both professionals made the state's 50 fastest growing occupations list.

Top Physical Therapy Schools in Kentucky

  • University of Kentucky. UK's physical therapy program is well regarded: U.S. News & World Report ranked it no. 27 nationally in 2015. According to the school's official website, its physical therapy graduates enjoy a near-100 percent (and often 100 percent) licensing examination pass rate, and a 100 percent employment rate within six months of becoming licensed. The school offers both a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree and a Rehabilitation Sciences PhD.
  • Bellarmine University. Bellarmine is a private Catholic university in Louisville and, according to U.S. News, was the no. 13 ranked institution in the southern region in 2015. The school's official website notes that it also hosts the nation's first endowed physical therapy service learning clinic. Students can earn bachelor's degrees in most any area before advancing to the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.
  • Asbury University. Asbury University is not just a good school, it's U.S. News & World Reports no. 1 college in the southern region (2015). While Asbury does not offer a doctoral program in physical therapy specifically, its pre-medicine program prepares students to advance to such programs beyond graduation. The primary benefit of the pre-medicine degree for future PTs is its flexibility: Students can advance to a PT doctoral program, or shift gears and enter another field of medicine.

Dental Hygiene

When patients report to the dentist, dental hygienists are often the first clinicians to welcome them. These professionals clean and examine patients' teeth and advise them on proper dental care ahead of the dentist's formal examination. The DoL reports that dental hygienists are one of the fastest growing career groups in the state of Kentucky, with projected employment growth of 33 percent between 2012 and 2022. Requirements can vary, but most dental hygienists must earn at least an associate degree to practice. Students who go on to obtain their bachelor's will likely have an edge over lesser trained competition in the job market, and may even earn more.

Top Dental Hygiene Schools in Kentucky

  • University of Louisville. U of L's School of Dentistry offers a comprehensive bachelor's degree in dental hygiene. According to its official website, its dental hygiene program is also the only program in the country housed within a school of dentistry. That means future dental hygienists learn right alongside future dentists in a context that emphasizes working in a full dental health team.
  • Western Kentucky University. WKU offers both associate and bachelor's degrees in dental hygiene, but the format is decidedly unique: Students who have already earned an associate degree in dental hygiene (from WKU or another institution) can go on to earn a bachelor's degree in the field completely online. Note that U.S. News & World Reports ranked WKU among the top 100 online colleges in the nation for bachelor's level degrees in 2015.
  • Bluegrass Community and Technical College. BCTC hosts an on-campus Dental Hygiene clinic through which students can earn two-year associate degrees in dental hygiene, or complete professional development and continuing education courses down the road (to maintain licensing). According to its official website, Bluegrass has produced more than 500 dental hygienists to date, and its graduates boast high licensing and employment rates.

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Top Cities and Metros for Kentucky College Students

Kentucky strikes a balance between urban and rural living, though colleges and jobs tend to gravitate to the former. The following metropolitan areas are the largest and most populated regions in the state, as well as where you will find some of Kentucky's key colleges and industries. Population data is drawn from the 2012 Census, while employment and wage figures come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Cincinnati-Middletown

Do not be fooled by the metro's official name: Cincinnati proper may be in Ohio, but the metro includes a number of Kentucky cities (and a solid share of its nearly 2.2 million residents). Education, financial services, and insurance are some the area's major industries, and its mean annual wage of $45,410 in 2013 (BLS.gov) ranks among the highest in Kentucky.

The Cincinnati metro is a major cultural center and home to such events as the Ohio Valley Jazz Festival, Bockfest, and Oktoberfest -- a nod to the area's prominent German heritage. Forbes reports that the metro is also home to one of the nation's largest historic districts, and that its extensive park system means area residents are always within one mile of a park. Forbes has ranked the metro among both the top 100 places to do business and the top 100 metros for education.

Major Colleges in Cincinnati

  • Northern Kentucky University. NKU is a public university in the Kentucky city of Highland Heights, just seven miles from Cincinnati, serving more than 12,000 students each year. It is a regular on a number of different rankings list, including Forbes and CIO Magazine. U.S. News & World Reports ranked it no 70 (for all schools) in the South and no. 31 in the nation (for public schools) in 2015. Top degree programs: Law, nursing, psychology, and business.
  • Thomas More College. Thomas More College is a small, private liberal arts school serving just over 1,500 students each year. It has earn national accolades from various rankings and publications, including U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Money Magazine, and the Carnegie Foundation. Its most popular degrees of 2013: Business health sciences, education, biomedical sciences, and liberal arts.
  • Gateway Community and Technical College. GCTC is a member of the vast Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Gateway enrolls nearly 3,500 each year and offers more than 200 associate degrees, diplomas, and certificates in dozens of academic areas. Some are tailored toward four-year transfer while others are designed with workforce-entry in mind.

Louisville

Louisville is Kentucky's second largest metropolitan area, but perhaps its most famous. From the world famous Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs to Thunder Over Louisville (described by Forbes as the largest annual fireworks display in the United States), the area offers something for everyone. This explains why more than 1,315,000 people called the Louisville metro home in 2012, and why tourism ranks among one of its chief industries. The BLS reports that the metro's 609,000 workers earned an average wage of $42,120 in 2013, exceeding the statewide average.

Forbes Magazine once ranked Louisville no. 8 in its listing of the nation's Most Affordable Cities. It also ranks in the publication's top 100 for job growth and top 50 for business and careers. Low cost of living, higher-than-average wages, and a plethora of cultural highlights make Louisville a popular city for young professionals and college students alike.

Major Colleges in Louisville

  • University of Louisville. U of L is a major public research institution serving about 16,000 students each year. It offers more than 150 degrees, from bachelor's to doctoral, in a plethora of fields. It also regularly ranks among U.S. News & World Report's and Forbes' listings of the best public colleges in the nation, and among the best period in the southern region. U of L is also in a prime location -- less than 100 miles from both Cincinnati and Indianapolis. Most popular degrees in 2013: Business; engineering; parks, recreation and leisure; health professions; and social sciences.
  • Bellarmine University. Bellarmine University is a relatively small, private, Catholic institution in Louisville. It may serve less than 3,000 students each year, but that hasn't stopped it from being named one of the best colleges in the South in 2015 (no. 13, to be precise, per U.S. News & World Report). Bellarmine offers more than 50 bachelor's, master's, and, more recently, doctoral programs. Most popular degrees in 2013: Health, business, psychology, biological science, and education.
  • Spalding University. According to its official website, Spalding is the nation's oldest Catholic university west of the Allegheny Mountains. It is a small, private institution, but also doubles as the home of the Kentucky School of Art. It offers a number of undergraduate and graduate degrees in areas like health, natural science, humanities, and education. Popular programs: Nursing, occupational therapy, and writing.

Lexington-Fayette

Lexington is Kentucky's third largest metropolitan area in terms of population: it was home to roughly 492,000 residents in 2012. Its low cost of living and moderate climate once earned it a place on Forbes' Top 25 Places to Retire, not to mention top 40 billing for Best Cities for Business and Careers and Best Cities for Education, and top 100 for Job Growth. The BLS reports that just over 250,000 people worked in the Lexington metro in 2013. Their mean annual wage that year was $41,170 -- on par with the national average, but above-average for the state of Kentucky.

Colleges, bluegrass, and horses -- according to Forbes, these things define the Lexington metropolitan area, which includes acres and acres of horse farms surrounding the area's fast-growing urban center (and all the high-ranked colleges it contains). The city's Festival of Bluegrass is the state's oldest bluegrass music festival, though there are several other notable events and fairs that attract tourists from all across the country. The city also hosts several museums, ballets, and theater companies, not to mention the nation's second oldest horse racing track.

Major Colleges in Lexington

  • The University of Kentucky. UK's combined academic and athletic prowess have made it one of the best known universities in Kentucky, and it has the rankings from groups like U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and the Princeton Review to prove it. The school is also a major public research institution serving nearly 30,000 students each year, right in the heart of Lexington. UK offers more than 200 degrees in full, including undergraduate, graduate, postgraduate, and professional programs. Most popular majors in 2013: Biology, psychology, accounting, finance, and nursing.
  • Transylvania University. Transylvania is the oldest four-year institution in Kentucky, though it serves less than 1,200 students each year. A private university located in Lexington, it has been featured frequently on various rankings both for the quality of its programs and its overall value; U.S. News & World Report named it the no. 75 best liberal arts college in the nation in 2015. Transylvania University offers degrees in a few dozen disciplines. Most popular majors in 2013: Business, social science, biological science, English language and literature, and psychology.
  • Eastern Kentucky University. EKU, or "Eastern" to most locals, is a large public institution in Richmond that serves more than 16,000 students each year. As with other schools featured on this list, Eastern frequently ranks among some of the best colleges in South, and the best public colleges in the nation. Its nursing, online bachelor's degrees, and online graduate degrees have earned special recognition. EKU offers undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate degrees through five academic colleges -- more than 160 degree programs in total. Most popular degrees in 2013: General studies, criminal justice, registered nursing, psychology, and elementary education.

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College Roadmap

Prospective students can research Kentucky colleges and universities online until their fingers go numb, but there is still nothing like stepping foot on a campus. That is because colleges are more than their guidebooks and course catalogs. Each school has its own culture, and this defines a college experience as much as anything else. It is never wise to put all your metaphorical eggs in one basket, however, which is why it is important to visit as many colleges as you reasonably can before making your short-list. A college road trip is an excellent way to get acquainted with both Kentucky and its colleges. Here is just one potential itinerary:

  1. Begin north in the Cincinnati metro. Take advantage of the city's shopping, dining, and culture before crossing over to the Kentucky side of the border to visit schools like Northern Kentucky University and Thomas More College. Future students who want to save on education costs by going to a community college first, or are interested in careers that do not require a four-year degree, will want to add Gateway Community and Technical College to their list.
  2. Go south to Lexington, the undisputed horse capital of the world and home to the Kentucky Horse Park, and the Red Mile and Keeneland race tracks. To make the most of your stay, try to time it around a major event like the Festival of Bluegrass or the Mayfest Arts Fair. Be sure to save plenty of time for campus tours because the Lexington metro has a major educational center. Area colleges: The University of Kentucky, Transylvania University Sullivan University, Kentucky State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, and many, many more.
  3. Head west to Louisville (which is just a stone's throw from Indiana's Hoosier National Forest). Sports fans can catch a pro game while culture hounds stalk area museums and galleries. You need not be a horse racing fanatic to appreciate the beauty and tradition of the legendary Churchill Downs, home of the world-famous Kentucky Derby, but it certainly doesn't hurt. Major area schools include the University of Louisville, Bellarmine University, Spalding University and Webster University. Louisville is also home to Jefferson Community and Technical College.
  4. Continue south to Bowling Green, which happens to be the third largest city in Kentucky (by population). Bowling Green has quite a history, so history buffs will want to carve out time for museums and Civil War battlefield visits. Other highlights include the Barren River Imaginative Museum of Science, the National Corvette Museum and the Victorian-era Fountain Square downtown. Those up for a day-trip can take the quick drive south to Nashville. Key area colleges include Western Kentucky University, Daymar College, and Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College.

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Scholarships and Financial Aid

College may be a valuable investment, but it is rarely cheap. Thankfully students have ways to help manage their education costs, including federal, state, and institutional financial aid. Note that even students earning online degrees in Kentucky are often eligible for the same types of aid as campus-based students. We recommend beginning with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which can be submitted online. The FAFSA determines student eligibility for various types of federal aid -- including loans, grants, and work-study programs -- but even state, institutional and, third-party programs usually use the application to determine their own eligibility.

Kentucky Financial Aid Programs

The Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority administers a number of financial aid programs reserved specifically for students attending college in the Commonwealth, including both need- and merit-based grants and scholarships. Among them:

  • Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship. The KEES program is a scholarship program for Kentucky high school graduates who earned GPAs of at least 2.5. The higher a student's GPA, they more money he or she earns. Note that students can earn additional money by doing well on various tests, including the ACT, advanced placement, and international baccalaureate exams.
  • College Access Program Grant. CAP Grants are reserved for Kentucky residents who demonstrate financial need. Grants are funds that do not need to be repaid (unless the student withdraws from courses or fails to meet other basic program guidelines). CAP grants can be used at public and private colleges, universities, and career schools.
  • Kentucky Tuition Grant. The Kentucky Tuition Grant program is also reserved for Kentucky residents with demonstrated financial need, though students must attend participating schools to qualify. Visit the KHEAA online to review participating institutions.
  • Go Higher Grant. This need-based grant program is reserved for Kentucky residents age 24 or older. Students must be enrolled at least half-time, and can only apply funds toward their first undergraduate degree.
  • KHEAA Work-Study Program. The KHEAA Work-Study Program is another program reserved for Kentucky residents, but is not need-based. Unlike other programs, students participating in work-study programs earn money for their educations by working on campus. Total earnings must not exceed the total cost of attendance minus other financial aid.
  • Various scholarships. Note that the KHEAA administers several scholarships, including merit- and need-based awards, none of which need to be repaid. Requirements vary, but often depend on students' disciplines, cultural heritage, and other factors. Examples include the Early Childhood Development scholarship, the Mary Jo Young Scholarship, and the Minority Educator Recruitment and Retention Scholarship, among others.

Keep in mind that many colleges and third-party organizations offer their own scholarships and grants. We recommend contacting your current or prospective school's financial aid department to speak with an adviser. Military servicemembers and veterans can learn more about state and national civilian education benefits by contacting schools, or through their regional Department of Veterans affairs.

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Sources:
"A Stronger Kentucky Through Higher Education," Lumina Foundation, 2014, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/downloads/pdfs/kentucky-brief-2014.pdf
"Cost of Living Data Series: Second Quarter 2014," Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Missouri Department of Economic Development, 2014, http://www.missourieconomy.org/indicators/cost_of_living/
"Top 50 Fastest-Growing Occupations: Kentucky," CareerOneStop, U.S. Department of Labor, 2012, http://www.careerinfonet.org/oview1.asp?level=overall&id=1&nodeid=3
Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
KY Virtual Campus, http://www.kyvc.org/
Colleges in Kentucky, U.S. News & World Report, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/ky
"America's Top Colleges 2014," Forbes, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/top-colleges/
The Best Places for Business and Careers, Forbes, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/best-places-for-business/list/
Kentucky, Best Places, Forbes Magazine, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/places/ky/
CollegeNavigator, National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator
"Guide to Geography Programs in the Americas: 2013-2014," Association of American Geographers, 2013, http://www.aag.org/galleries/publications-files/20132014_Guide_to_Geography_Programs_in_the_Americas_72414.pdf
"May 2013 Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Employment and Wage Estimates," Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrcma.htm
"Economy at a Glance," Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/eag/home.htm
Eastern Kentucky University, http://www.eku.edu
Colleges and Campuses, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, https://www.kctcs.edu/Colleges_and_Campuses.aspx
Murray State University, http://www.murraystate.edu
University of Kentucky, http://www.uky.edu
University of Louisville, http://www.louisville.edu
Western Kentucky University, http://www.wky.edu
Asbury University, http://www.asbury.edu/
Bellarmine University, http://www.bellarmine.edu/
Kentucky Wesleyan College, http://www.kwc.edu/
Spalding University, http://www.spalding.edu/
St. Catharine College, http://www.sccky.edu/
Thomas More College, http://www.thomasmore.edu/
Transylvania University, http://www.transy.edu/
Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, http://www.gotolouisville.com/index.aspx
Lexington Convention & Visitors Bureau, http://www.visitlex.com/
Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau, http://www.cincyusa.com/
Free Application for Federal Student Aid, https://fafsa.ed.gov/
KHEAA-Administered Programs, Paying for College, Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, https://www.kheaa.com/website/kheaa/kheaaprograms?main=1