What is an Online Master's Degree?
With more and more employers demanding a bachelor’s degree for entry-level jobs, it’s no surprise that a master’s degree has quickly become the ticket to high-level positions in virtually every sector. In some fields, such as the social sciences or management, a master’s degree may even be the minimum educational requirement for employment. Offering more in-depth, specialized instruction than an undergraduate program, a master’s degree curriculum is designed to turn students into experts. And it’s not just a ticket to better professional opportunities, either — a master’s degree can also be the next step towards earning a Ph.D.
a master’s degree curriculum is designed to turn students into experts
Are you considering earning a master’s degree, but can’t handle the financial or time commitments of traditional, on-campus programs? For many professionals, online master’s degree programs offer a convenient, affordable solution. An online master’s degree can be earned from the comfort of your own home — or anywhere else with an internet connection — as you work, raise a family, or both. Identical to their traditional counterparts in every way but format, online graduate programs offer the same quality educational experience you’d expect from an accredited college or university, at a much lower cost. Making higher education accessible to virtually everyone, online master’s degrees are revolutionizing both higher education and hiring practices.
If you’re interested in earning your master’s degree online, we can help! Read on for everything you need to know about online master’s degrees, from how much they cost to where to apply.
How Long Does it Take to Earn a Master's Degree?
While most 36-credit online master’s degree programs can be completed in two to three years, there are numerous factors that can influence the length of online graduate programs. Your chosen academic discipline, individual school policies, and any transfer credits you may have will all undoubtedly affect how quickly you complete your master’s degree. Few things, however, impact program length as strongly as pacing and format.
Ideal for motivated students who want to progress quickly, self-paced (asynchronous) programs feature relaxed deadlines and looser course structure, allowing students to complete coursework as quickly as they like. In contrast, cohort-based programs offer more structure and faculty support. Stressing collaboration and group discussion, students earn their master’s degree alongside a virtual cohort, or group of other students. Online master’s programs that feature a cohort learning model often take longer to complete than their accelerated counterparts.
What are the Different Types of Master's Degrees?
There are a few different kinds of master’s degrees out there, and you’re likely to encounter several as you research online master’s programs. Which is the right one for you? Should you choose an Master’s of Science (MSC) degree, for example, over another kind of master’s degree? The type of online graduate programs you pursue will depend on your area of study, as well as your academic and career goals — most aspiring historians won’t earn an MSC degree, for example. Let’s take a look at the different types of master’s degree you can earn, as well as how they differ.
- Master's of Science (MS, MSC)
- Graduate students in STEM fields, such as biology, mathematics, and chemistry typically earn MSC degrees. Students pursuing an MSC degree are typically required to submit a thesis based on original research. While some go on to earn a doctorate, many graduates find employment as engineers, research scientists, and analysts.
- Master's of Arts (MA)
- Unlike an MS degree, an MA degree focuses on the humanities. Popular majors include English, linguistics, and fine arts. Requiring less research and more discussion and in-depth exploration of a chosen field, an MA degree can lead to careers in education, counseling, and library science.
- Master of Research (MRes)
- Students who prefer independent study and research over coursework often pursue an MRes; even if their area of study falls outside of typical STEM categories. This type of master’s degree is designed for students who plan to seek a Ph.D after graduation, or those interested in research-based careers.
In addition to MSC, MRes, and MA degree options, there are several specialized online master’s degree programs available in select fields of study. Students intending to pursue jobs in education, business, or the fine arts may seek these master’s degrees to increase their marketability in a particular area. Below, we’ve listed some popular programs, as well as a few common career paths taken by graduates.
- Master's of Business Administration (MBA)
Median Salary: $68,377
- Financial Analyst
- Marketing Director
- Business Operations Manager
- Master's of Public Administration (MPA)
Median Salary: $43,500
- Policy Analyst
- City Manager
- Urban Planner
- Master's of Fine Arts (MFA)
Median Salary: $62,917
- Assistant Professor
- Museum Collections Manager
- Creative Director
- Master's of Education (MEd, MSEd, MIT, MAEd, MAT)
Median Salary: $38,000
- Special Education Teacher
- Educational Coordinator
Why Should I Get a Master's Degree Online?
As the table above demonstrates, having a master’s degree can significantly increase your earning power, as well as your marketability. Not only does earning a master’s degree show potential employers that you have what it takes to complete a demanding postgraduate curriculum, it demonstrates that you’re serious about your chosen academic discipline. Unlike an undergraduate program, an online master’s degree focuses on specialized coursework designed to develop expertise, rather than general education topics. Students pursuing an online master’s degree are able to focus exclusively on their area of study, with fewer general requirements. Most online master’s programs can be completed in half the time of a bachelor’s degree, and sometimes less.
In many occupational fields, a master’s degree is the minimum credential for employment. Those seeking careers in social services, for example, or certain specialized areas of education will almost certainly need to earn a master’s degree online or on-campus to land a position in their chosen field. Additionally, a master’s degree — particularly an online master’s degree — has a much higher return on investment than a bachelor’s. Costing significantly less than their on-campus equivalents, online master’s programs also let students earn as they study; eliminating the need to put a budding career on hold. Some employers, understanding the benefits of a highly-trained staff, will even cover the full or partial cost of tuition for an employee’s online master’s degree.
How Much Does a Typical Master's Degree Cost?
When it comes to choosing between online master’s degree programs, cost is often a deciding factor. While most students pay around $600 per credit for the average online master’s degree, tuition rates are influenced by a range of factors, and tend to vary considerably between schools and online graduate programs. Although avoiding out of state tuition can be one motivator for getting your master’s degree online, some schools still charge nonresident distance learners higher tuition and additional fees. Even for residents, many online master’s programs come with certain hidden costs, such as textbooks, technology fees, and standardized testing fees.
Whether a school is public or private can also directly affect how much you’ll pay for an online master’s degree. Because private institutions operate exclusively on earnings from tuition and private donations, they tend to charge more for a master’s degree and raise tuition on a regular basis. Public schools, however, are funded by grants from federal and state government. This allows them to offer lower, and relatively more stable, tuition rates. Filling out a FAFSA form can help in determining how much financial aid you’ll receive, and what kind of school you can afford.
Choosing an Online Master's Degree Program
Over the past few years, online graduate programs have increased in popularity, leaving prospective students with plenty of options to choose from. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed as you compare and contrast different online master’s programs, but keeping a few things in mind can make the process of choosing between online master’s degrees a lot easier. An online master’s degree should improve your life, not complicate it! Only you can decide what kind of school or program format fits your life best, but taking the following factors into consideration can help narrow down your options.
In-state or out of state
Many schools charge out of state students nearly double what residents pay for tuition — even for online master’s programs. Is getting a master’s degree from an out of state school worth the expense? Is your program of choice available in your state? Keep in mind, some schools may be legally prohibited from offering certain programs to nonresidents.
Public or private
Public schools, such as state universities, have a reputation for offering lower tuition than their private counterparts. While it’s true that private colleges tend to charge more, frequently increasing the cost of a master’s degree, many offer need-based scholarships that make attendance much more affordable.
Size of school
It’s true that big universities offer a wider variety of online master’s programs and digital academic resources. Unfortunately, a large student body also often means a large class size. This can make it harder to receive assistance when you need it. Smaller schools tend to feature lower student-to-teacher ratios.
Cost of program
When it comes to online graduate programs, more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. Does that master’s degree curriculum live up to its price tag? Creating a budget is one way to determine how much money you have to spend, as well as how much debt you’re willing to take on.
Asynchronous or cohort
What’s your learning style? It’s tempting to choose an asynchronous program that lets you earn a master’s degree online in under a year, but it won’t help you in the long run if you learn better in a more structured learning environment. Knowing how you work best is the key to succeeding.
Length of program
What are your long-term goals, and how do certain online master’s programs fit in? You may not have four years to spend on an online master’s degree, but what about two? The length of a master’s degree should align with your ideal time frame, both personally and professionally.
What are the Best Master's Degree Programs?
In the workforce or higher education, earning a master’s degree online can open up a whole new world of opportunity. Ready to get started, but don’t know where to turn first? To help, we’ve compiled a list of the best online master’s programs in the country. Each of these accredited online master’s degree programs combines academic rigor with affordable tuition, state-of-the-art instruction methods, and the flexibility you expect from online graduate programs.
Scholarships for Students in Master's Degree Programs
Scholarships aren’t just for undergraduates! Whether you’re earning an MSC degree, an MA, or any other type of online master’s degree, you’re almost certainly eligible to apply for at least one scholarship. Awarded by schools, nonprofit groups, and companies for everything from economic need to academic performance, scholarships are one of the few kinds of financial aid you don’t have to pay back. You may qualify for one — or more — of the awards below!