An online master’s degree in science, art, nursing, public administration, or social work. Acquiring this first level of higher education is like earning a rank in your profession and honing your knowledge and skills in a chosen field.
Where does an online master’s degree fit into the field of continuing education courses? This degree is the predecessor of a Ph.D. It usually requires one and a half to three years of study and is awarded by state or public universities.
As a general rule, students with a bachelor’s degree can apply for online master’s courses. However, there are cases where a workplace pays for master’s degrees for its higher-level employees to maintain efficiency and innovation. This can often be seen in the field of business administration. There are also online master’s programs that accept associate’s degrees, diplomas, licenses, and prior work experience for entry, occasionally found in the fields of psychology or nursing.
Working professionals can complete a master’s degree online in flexible formats. Balancing career, private life and education has never been easier. Online master’s degrees can be found in all fields and are increasingly chosen by working adults who want to achieve their career and academic goals.
There are several ways that master’s degrees have become more accessible. For example, there are full-time or part-time options, or integrated and accelerated master’s programs.
An important part of a master’s program – and why most students doing their master’s can be described as “very tired” – is its incredibly rigorous reputation. General knowledge becomes special knowledge, skills development becomes skills promotion. You can work with a cohort, but in general, an MSc is a much more individualized experience that focuses on how you see yourself and how you apply what you learn in the professional field.
Read on to find out what it is, why you should do it, and what happens when you earn an online master’s degree below.
Online Master’s Fast Facts
Why do an Online Master’s?
Students with an online master’s degree can aspire to leadership positions, managerial titles, supervisory roles, higher salaries, and possibly independent practice in a specialty.
How Much Does an Online Master’s Degree Cost?
Tuition fees vary widely between schools. The cheapest programs can cost between $2,500 and $4,000. The most expensive titles can cost up to $300,000. In many cases, accreditation is a determining factor in the cost of degrees.
Is an Online Master’s Worth it?
If studied well and used as intended, yes, the time, money, and dedication to a master’s degree is well worth it. Investing pays off in the end.
What Types of Teachers are there?
Almost all disciplines, from pedagogy and economics to psychology, computer science, etc., have at least one subspecialty that offers a master’s degree.
How to Choose the Right Master’s?
The basic considerations are budget versus cost, degree salary differentials, time spent, and how a program’s accredited program will help you achieve your ultimate career or academic goal.
Trends in Online Master’s Degree Education
- The median weekly salary for online master’s degree graduates was $1,559 in 2019, about 20% higher than that of bachelor’s degree graduates. The 2019 average for all occupations was just $39,810.
- Degree inflation. This trend affects two areas of value: the cost of education and the qualification to enter the profession. Professions that previously only required a bachelor’s degree may now require a master’s degree. Not only does this mean that new workers need certification, but often workers already in the profession will eventually need to earn a master’s degree just to stay employed.
- The National Center for Education Statistics indicates that the employment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher rose to 87% in 2019. When you consider that employees with a master’s degree earn a higher salary in a field that does not necessarily require it, that speaks in favor of a master’s degree.
- The most sought after masters are in economics, education and health sciences. In the 2017/18 academic year, more than 17% of all master’s degrees were awarded in STEM subjects.
- Online masters is a growing trend that continues to grow as more programs are offered 100% online, in hybrid or blended formats, and in synchronous and asynchronous formats. Currently, online degrees are offered by accredited universities across the country in both public and private institutions.
A deeper dive into education trends at the master’s level leads to topics ranging from the gender pay gap and student loan debt to growing student diversity and more. As with any level of education, trends are dynamic and depend on factors such as the United States Department of Education (USDE), economics, career prospects, and politics.
The Most Popular Online Master’s Specialties
Online master’s degrees often focus on a single specialty, and in many cases extend to a bachelor’s-level concentration. For example, a student with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing could obtain an online Master of Science in Nursing (BSN via MSN). The ability to focus on a career makes your degree a valuable credential, especially if you’re focusing on a high-demand field.
One of the most popular online master’s degree programs is the Master of Business Administration (MBA). Today, managers earn an MBA to qualify them for competitive leadership positions in fields ranging from sales or IT management to international business and healthcare management.
According to Accredited Schools Online, the ten most popular marketable master’s degrees include accounting, nursing, public health, and software development.
How Long Does an Online Master’s Take?
The duration of an online master’s degree depends on several factors. You can complete your degree in the traditional 1.5 to 2.5 years, or work part-time and take longer. Whether you’re a full-time or part-time student, the options for customizing and managing your academic schedule can be flexible.
In an online master’s program, there are usually 36 to 54 credits or 60 to 90 credit terms.
Some graduate programs offer flexible courses and schedules for professionals who pursue a online master’s degree without quitting their job. Most part-time online master’s programs are designed for working professionals, allowing for maximum flexibility and a curriculum that provides skills applicable to the workplace.
Other programs can be completed more effectively full-time, either on a traditional campus, partially (hybrid/co-ed), or fully online. These programs may come with a recommendation that students do not work full time during the program. Online master’s programs often offer the benefits of automated scheduling and accelerated course delivery. Studying full-time allows you to graduate quickly, while studying part-time can take longer.
In addition to classes, whether online or in person, many programs require hands-on fieldwork. This supervised field research may take place at a student’s workplace or may require additional time elsewhere, making it more difficult to fit regular employment into an academic schedule.
Pro tip: If time and money are barriers, consider the certificate of completion. Graduate certificates offer specific specializations and can provide the credentials needed to achieve career goals. Exit certificates typically require the completion of 3 or 4 courses and then may even be transferable to a master’s degree.
How Much Does an Online Master’s Degree Cost?
Cost is often a key factor when choosing a course. If you’re facing financial hurdles, explore all of your resource options. These can include employer tuition reimbursements, government grants, and institutional grants that pay part of the tuition.
According to educationdata.org, credit hours are calculated based on whether the university is public or private, whether the student lives on campus or not, whether classes are taught online, etc. The average credit hour in the United States costs $559. While it takes up to 40 credit hours to complete a master’s degree, the average student pays about $22,360 to earn that degree.
Online programs at state and public universities often charge a flat fee for both domestic and international students, adding to the affordability factor of earning your master’s degree online. It will also depend on the school.
Pro Tip: Earn a free master’s degree with tuition reimbursement. It’s in a company’s best interest to foster the collective skills of its employees, so find out if your company offers tuition reimbursement.
When is an Online Master’s Degree Worth it?
- If you already have a bachelor’s degree. An online master’s degree is a valuable option to advance your career in a field where you already have work experience and have an accredited bachelor’s degree.
- If your chosen profession requires a master’s degree. If you are seeking a managerial, supervisory, leadership, or leadership position, a master’s degree will most likely be a requirement, as well as career advancement. Given the qualification inflation mentioned above, an entry-level position in your aspiring profession may require a college education.
- If you need a master’s degree to qualify for a higher pay grade. If your potential salary exceeds the cost of studying and job prospects are promising, the cost of a master’s degree is worth it.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that median weekly earnings in 2019 for a full-time worker with a master’s degree was about $1,497, while for workers with a bachelor’s degree it was $1,248; for workers with a master’s degree, it’s about $12,950 more per year.
Pro tip: You don’t need to have a bachelor’s degree in the same field of study that you want to study at the master’s level. Example: You may have a bachelor’s degree in sociology and then decide to do an MBA in management. Most MBA programs accept any type of accredited bachelor’s degree.
Taking into Account your Personal Situation
An online master’s degree is a way to advance in a competitive market, improve your skills and knowledge, and help you advance professionally. Although many careers require a degree, you can still earn the degree with no job requirements and find a better salary and job.
For example, jobs in financial services don’t specifically require a master’s degree, but those with a master’s degree in should earn an average salary premium of 89% over peers with only a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
On the other hand, there are master jobs where the salary does not matter. Although many teaching or social work jobs don’t initially pay very well, you’ll find that most positions require a master’s level education. Salary aside, if these are areas that interest you, the title may be worth pursuing a profession and making a contribution that inspires you. For these majors, researching the cost of degrees and considering student debt is imperative to help you experience less financial stress early in your career.
Some universities push students from a bachelor’s degree directly to a master’s degree. This is particularly evident when the profession requires a master’s degree as the minimum qualification for a specific job. Other times, students have explored their options during undergraduate studies and opted directly for a master’s degree in order to have the best qualifications for their desired career.
Whether you’re going back to school to improve your professional skills, looking to change careers after a few years in the workforce, or going straight from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree program, a postgraduate degree is a viable option for you.
Which Type of Online Master’s Program is Right for you?
There are several categories of bachelor’s degrees. Beyond a Master of Science (MS) or Master of Arts (MA), you will find:
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Master of Social Work (MSW)
- Master of Education (MEd)
- Masters in Public Health (MPH)
- Master of Library Science (MLS)
- Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
- Master of Engineering (MEng)
- Master in Architecture (March)
- Master of Music (MM)
Popular professions that require a master’s degree include:
- Administration of education at all levels of education
- Post-secondary education
- Medical assistant
- Nursing trainees
- Nurse midwife
- Social work
- Addiction, family, rehabilitation and mental health counseling
- K-12 Education
- Internet security
- Occupational therapy
- Urban and regional planning
- Political science
Popular careers where salaries are much higher with master’s degrees include:
- Business: sales professionals, financiers, marketers and public relations specialists, auditors, accountants, general and operational managers and property managers
- Education: Administrators; Teachers for preschool, elementary, secondary, special education, post-secondary and more
- Health and social services: medical assistants, nurses, counselors, social workers and health and social services managers
- STEM fields: statisticians, mathematicians, information systems administrators, information security analysts, web developers, and bio, chemical, or environmental scientists.
Many engineering fields may award a master’s degree in a specific type of engineering instead of a master’s degree. Likewise, there may be other study options for other subjects, such as economics, which may be a major in an MBA program or a master’s program.
Pro tip: There are also “Executive Masters”, which are aimed at mid-career professionals. These are often shorter programs as experience is credited and are designed to be flexible with a busy work schedule.
How to Choose an Online Master’s Degree
With that in mind, the next step in considering an online master’s degree is to review the requirements for each program and narrow your search based on your personal needs and preferences.
- Can I commit to a full-time program or do I want to participate part-time?
- Can I commit to a year-round program or do I prefer breaks between semesters?
- Do I have the personal motivation to enroll in an accelerated degree?
- Do I prefer to progress in a peer-led program or do I prefer an individual self-paced course?
- Can I complete a hybrid program with the required components on campus or would an online-only master’s program be more appropriate?
- What practicums or internships are offered that will help me expand my professional network and practical skills?
Pro Tip: Because graduate school involves in-depth, theoretical exploration of topics, group discussions and debates are important. Today’s online discussion forums provide a welcoming environment for students to interact with their peers and teachers.
Accreditation for Online Master’s Degrees
As with any university degree, make sure the program you are applying for is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting body. The cheapest online master’s degree may be good for your pocket, but not for your future.
It is important to enroll in a program offered by a national or regional accrediting body that is recognized by the US Department of Education. Some institutions may be accredited by a regional and national body, but the institution itself must be accredited to ensure that your title and credits are widely recognized.
A second type of degree is the programmatic or specialized accreditation. For each subject or grade, there is an agency that oversees the specific courses in that field. The USDE and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation approve programmatic accrediting agencies.
For example, for an online master’s degree in health informatics, the program accrediting agency would be different than the one that approves master’s degrees in engineering.
You would like your college or university and your specific master’s degree to be accredited by the department responsible for the desired profession.
Other reasons for an accredited degree are:
- Greater availability of grants
- Best quality of education evaluated by a third party
- Ease of credit transfer
- Recognition of title by employer
- Ability to pass certification or licensing exams
Graduate School Application Process
Before completing an application for a master’s program, find out about the admission requirements of the university of your choice. Graduate programs typically require college-level standardized test scores.
Final exams include:
- Final exam (GRE)
- Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
- Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
- Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
- Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
Each of these tests covers high-level topics and assesses the aptitude of the people who take them. It is important to note that these tests have similar fees to the SAT or ACT.
Pro Tip: Never let test scores stop you from registering for an online master’s degree. Standardized test results are often only part of the equation. Schools also take into account previous academic achievements and work and life experiences.
What to Expect in an Online Master’s Program
The exact requirements differ by subject and course. For those who have a bachelor’s degree in a subject other than their master’s degree, they will need to do some preparatory work before starting their studies or during the first few semesters.
Once you start your program, you will lead the core courses through to completion. These courses provide insight into your chosen field and lay the foundation for the knowledge and skills needed to continue your studies.
Online master’s programs don’t require a lot of general education courses outside of the major. Some require classes in communication, writing, math, or science, which are integral to the concentration. There are opportunities for people who have worked in their field of study to withdraw from these courses based on their experience or tests.
Online master’s programs follow a degree or specialty with specific courses offered in the later part of the program. For example, earning an online MBA may mean majoring in finance, business analysis, risk management, marketing, entrepreneurship, or another specific business area.
Many programs offer a general course for underage students. Small programs often have less specialized tracks available, but some small programs have tracks in less common specialties such as aerospace engineering. Different programs for the same degree may offer multiple options or specialties, so it pays to research your options to find a program that has a strong focus on what interests you most.
It is important to note that many graduate programs, especially in the medical, educational, and technological fields, require practical experience, internships, and final projects as part of degree requirements. In addition to writing papers, participating in class discussions, and attending lectures online, students must bring real professional training to their program. In some cases, this can be accomplished by maintaining a current career and having a supervisor recognize this practical experience. In other cases, you may need to complete an internship at an approved location separate from your paid work.
Best Online Master’s Degree Programs of 2022
As mentioned above, different universities require different study programs. If you choose a major like psychology or economics, most of your classes will be in that subject. Carefully compare degree and credit requirements at different schools when choosing an online master’s degree that’s right for you.
1. Pepperdine University
Master of Science in Leadership in Higher Education
Experience a comprehensive and focused higher education leadership program with this fully online or hybrid master’s degree. This program is designed for future managers with a focus on impact in each relevant area of the discipline. The Online Master in Educational Leadership includes a comprehensive program that offers studies including, but not limited to:
- virtual learning
- student support
- government and politics
Develop your understanding of inclusive learning theory, tools and technologies applicable to classroom learning and institutional initiatives. Graduates of this online Masters in Educational Management are prepared for positions with higher earning potential, with opportunities in universities, nonprofits, public and private schools, and more. Join a prestigious university and enter the field of leadership with the skills to make a difference with Pepperdine University Online.
2. William Carey University
Master of Arts in Christian Theology
The mission of the MA in Christian Theology program is to expose you to a wide range of Christian theology and to integrate theological truths into reflection and practice. Strong independent research skills are required while receiving intensive assessment of professor’s work, weekly lectures, and peer review via WebEx or Microsoft Teams. The program combines seminars and symposia with independent research. Seminars cover a variety of theological disciplines, while conference colloquia focus on the theology of major periods in church history.
3. University of Kentucky
Master of Social Work (Advanced Standing)
The University of Kentucky’s CSWE-accredited online MSW program combines flexible online learning with a rigorous curriculum that prepares graduates for advanced social work practices. The MSW program emphasizes the involvement of others, uses evidence-based intervention strategies, embraces diversity and aspects of equity, and empowers students to improve communities through social change.
Options for an advanced program (30 credits) and a regular program with 60 credits provide experienced social workers and passionate newcomers with the practical skills needed to be effective in the field. Program graduates can:
- Exercise ethical and professional judgment to provide quality practice to individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.
- Respect how diversity and difference shape the human experience and impact all levels of practice.
- Recognize and promote human rights and social, economic and environmental justice.
- Recognize the role of quantitative and qualitative research methods and their contribution to advancing social work practice.
- Succeed as analysts, planners, advocates, leaders, and change agents in developing and implementing policies at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels.
- Use and apply social work knowledge and values to effectively engage, assess, engage and evaluate practice at all levels.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, social worker jobs will increase by 16% from 2016 to 2026. The MSW program at the University of Kentucky gives students the adaptable skills to explore opportunities in the many practice areas and environments of this dynamic and fast-growing field. The University of Kentucky CSWE-accredited online MSW prepares students for effective advanced practice on the micro-macro continuum with diverse populations.
4. St. John’s University
Master of Science in Library and Information Science
The online Master of Science in Library and Information Science (MSLIS) equips you with the knowledge to analyze, evaluate, and organize information effectively to improve information dissemination and become a knowledge specialist on the area and industry of your choice. Accredited by the American Library Association (ALA), this program teaches you how to analyze, evaluate, and organize information to improve information delivery in your chosen subject area. Develop a specialty through your choice of Concentration in:
- Academic library
- Archival studies
- Legal Information Professional
- Public librarianship
- Specialized Librarianship
- Youth service
MS L.I.S. of St. John offers an electronic portfolio and a mentoring program to help students develop their capacity for an advanced position in library science. Students can choose from seven unique majors, benefit from a strong alumni network, and also qualify for the merit-based O’Connell Scholarship.
5. Queens University of Charlotte
Master of Communication/General
Customize your online Master of Communication to achieve your career goals with Queens University of Charlotte. This program offers students opportunities to focus on organizational communication as well as strategic communication. Both concentrations are designed to provide the skills and understanding necessary to lead and succeed in the field. Basic studies in online communication will cover topics including but not limited to:
- Search methods
- Communication theory
- Ethical Communication
Small class sizes allow for a more personalized experience where students can be supervised and collaborate with teachers on projects. Tuition is self-paced and students can accelerate their completion. While most graduate programs end with an exam, this online communication degree can culminate in an interview-ready online portfolio. Graduates of this program are prepared for careers in advertising, public relations, writing, management, and more.
6. Meridian University
Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology
The online MA in Counseling Psychology program emphasizes clinical courses as well as core courses that support the development of the student’s relationship with professional practice. The Master of Counseling Psychology meets the educational requirements of the California Behavioral Sciences Board, Senate Bill 33, Section 4980.36 of the Business and Professions Code (MFT).
This degree also meets the educational requirements of the California Behavioral Science Board, Senate Bill 788, Section 4999.33 of the Business and Professions Code for the Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). 100% online and hybrid options are available.
7. Grand Canyon University
Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision (Gateway to Doctorate)
Grand Canyon University’s Bridge to Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision program is designed for independently licensed or associate-level mental health professionals who wish to teach students in counseling, mentor clinical counselors, and become qualified professionals in clinical or academic counseling settings.
Students must have completed a master’s level course in statistics and obtained a degree from an entry-level institution accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) OR an equivalent degree.
Visit Grand Canyon’s website for the most up-to-date information on admission requirements, tuition, scholarships, and more. Please note that not all GCU programs are available in all states and in all learning modalities. Program availability is dependent on student enrollment. GCU reserves its statutory rights in light of its Christian mission, but is committed to maintaining a university environment free from unlawful discrimination.
8. Champlain College
Masters in Business Administration/Advanced Management
Do you want to distinguish yourself with a recognized business degree and experience in a specialization applicable in any environment? Look no further than the online MBA in Advanced Management from Champlain College. Whether you want to work for a large corporation or start your own management consulting firm, this online business administration degree will give you the opportunity to communicate, negotiate and create an environment conducive to productivity and innovation.
You can apply what you’ve learned to almost any industry, whether public or private. Champlain’s accelerated eight-week online MBA courses are designed to be interactive and engaging, and students benefit from networking with classmates across the country. Key concepts covered in the program include:
- innovation management
- project management
- communication and negotiation
- supply chain management
9. California Baptist University
Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership
Find out how this online master’s in organizational leadership can inspire growth and innovation in your organization. At Cal Baptist, you will gain experience in facets that impact effectiveness, such as: B.: Strategic Decision-Making, Communication, People Management, Conflict, and Change.
The program also covers planning, teamwork, technology and development from an organizational perspective. You’ll be prepared for leadership roles in any industry after studying a program that typically includes these topics, among others:
- Management of organizational changes
- Convenient financial management
- Human capital management
- Legal, ethical and public issues
10. University of San León
Master in Accounting
Saint Leo’s Master of Accounting program offers an in-depth study of advanced accounting principles to prepare you to pass the CPA and CMA exams. When recruiters are looking for talent, the first factor they consider is education. The accounting faculty at Saint Leo has worked hard to differentiate the program and elevate students to higher levels of excellence.
11. Wake Forest University
Master in Digital Marketing
Wake Forest University’s Master in Digital Marketing develops your digital marketing expertise across a wide range of topics, covering the latest technology, strategy, leadership skills and more. Stand out and develop a deep understanding of marketing communications to inspire diverse audiences.
12. Johns Hopkins University
Master of Arts in Communication
Johns Hopkins University’s Online Master of Arts in Communication provides practical, modern skills that will prepare you to take on leadership roles in your field. This diverse program can benefit professionals in all sectors, with graduates finding success as managers, directors, vice presidents, presidents, and other executives in a variety of industries.
Students learn the social sciences of communication that can be used to create more effective messaging and strategic communication programs. Courses prepare you to conduct, evaluate, and use research to achieve your goals. Program tracks are available in Research or Strategic Planning. Additionally, you can add any of the following concentrations:
- Public relations and media
- Political communication
- Health communication
- Digital communication
- Corporate and nonprofit communications
- Research in applied communication
13. University of Michigan
Master of Science in Criminal Justice
Michigan State University’s online Master of Science in Criminal Justice will prepare you for a successful career in the criminal justice system. The program was endorsed by the U.S. News & World Report and was ranked 5th among the best online criminal justice programs for 2021 for its extensive professional network and more than 80 years of experience in training criminal justice professionals.
Gain the knowledge and skills you need to rise through the ranks and serve in a variety of criminal justice areas, including the courts, corporate security, correctional services, and law enforcement. World-renowned professors will engage you in a program that goes beyond theory and places an emphasis on public policy and practice. They focus on innovative responses to crime, such as cybersecurity, intelligence policing, counterterrorism, and more.
A 15-Credit Online Graduate Certificate in Cybercriminology and Cybersecurity is also available to all students who wish to gain a basic understanding of cybercrime, cyberterrorism, cybersecurity, and digital forensics. It can be completed in as little as one year and added to your criminal justice toolkit. These digital skills can help you advance your career or educate yourself. Contact an enrollment advisor today to learn more about how the M.S. in Criminal Justice and the Graduate Certificate in Cybercriminology and Cybersecurity can help you excel in your current role or excel in a new area of expertise. .
14. Purdue University
Master of Public Health
This CEPH-accredited Master of Public Health program is offered entirely online. The program is ideal for professionals who want to help find solutions to local, national and global health problems. Students will learn how to create, implement, manage, and analyze evidence-based programs for community health and wellness. Courses focus on real-world examples and discuss research studies so you can easily translate your education into your career.
The online Master of Public Health focuses on family and community health. Coursework examines social factors, health disparities, nutrition, and family and community health-related communication. Graduates will have a strong understanding of aspects of public health, including:
- Biological statistics
- Administration and management of the health system
- Environmental Health Sciences
- Social and behavioral sciences
Regardless of your chosen career path, there are likely to be online master’s programs available that will help you advance professionally. It may be advantageous to have a master’s degree to apply for jobs with higher pay and more responsibility. With the information in this article in mind, you’re ready to begin the process of searching for a post-graduate college and developing career opportunities.