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Online Degrees in Massachusetts (MA)

Massachusetts is an undisputed leader in higher education -- and it has the schools and rankings to prove it. Read on to learn more about key cities, colleges, degrees, and cities in Massachusetts, including both traditional and online programs.

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

Spotlight: Massachusetts College Trends

Massachusetts is one of the nation's oldest and most highly educated states, a distinction that serves it well. It is home to several big name (and exceedingly prestigious) schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Amherst, not to mention the so-called Knowledge Corridor, which boasts the second-highest concentration of higher learning institutions in the country. Lumina Foundation reports that in 2012, just over 50 percent of the Commonwealth's 3.6 million working age adults had at least a two-year degree, obliterating the national average of 39.4 percent that same year. This is likely no surprise given the state's impressive crop of notable schools and its historic reverence for higher education. What is surprising? It may not be enough.

In late 2014, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education released a report called "Degrees of Urgency." It's tagline: Why Massachusetts Needs More College Graduates -- Now. The report acknowledges that Massachusetts surpasses most, if not all, states in several higher education benchmarks. The problem is that the state's young population is shrinking. It projects that within six years of publication, the Commonwealth's high school population will fall by 9 percent, and college enrollments along with it. By 2020, the system will be underproducing much-needed college graduates by an estimated minimum of 55,000 to 65,000 students. This is not an abstraction; it is a reality, and the proof is in the metaphorical pudding: In Fall 2014, the Massachusetts public university system posted its first decline in enrollment, and Lumina reports that even the state's impressive 2012 education attainment rate marked a decline (though slight) from the 2011 average.

It is easy to minimize Massachusetts' looming college graduate problem since the Commonwealth will still produce more graduates each year than most states in 2020, and by no small margin. But this shift can have major economic consequences in a state whose economy has been largely driven and defined by higher education. Massachusetts colleges not only attract employers from a myriad of knowledge-based industries, but also employ hundreds and thousands of residents each year. Losing college graduates means losing jobs, and both colleges and public leaders know it.

The Commonwealth's plan to turn things around is the MDHE's "Big Three Completion Plan." Its goals: 1) To help more students succeed in and complete college; 2) redouble efforts to close persistent achievement gaps among minority groups; and 3) attract and retain more students. In other words, Massachusetts wants to make college more accessible to everyone and boost completion rates. This is where online education comes in. Online degrees in Massachusetts allow almost anyone, anywhere to go to school, and their flexible nature makes it easier to finish a program, even when working full time or caring for a family. Today, even the region's most prestigious schools offer online classes, and state-funded tools like Massachusetts Colleges Online -- a consortium of Massachusetts colleges offering online degrees -- makes them easy to find. More on this later.

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Why Should I Earn My Degree in Massachusetts?

The economy is not the only thing that draws hundreds of thousands of students to Massachusetts colleges each year (though it certainly does not hurt). Many students flock to the Commonwealth for the same reason so many tourists do: Its culture. As one of the oldest states, Massachusetts played a key role in our nation's history, and it has the battlefields and historic landmarks to prove it. It is home to major cities like Boston, Worcester, and Springfield, and all the symphonies, theaters, museums, and festivals they bring with them. Outdoor enthusiasts, culture hounds, art buffs, amateur historians, foodies, and sports nuts alike can live quite happily in Massachusetts, though quick day trips to areas like Cape Cod offers a nice retreat from the usual grind. All of this makes it easy for students (and most anyone else) to call Massachusetts home, but perhaps the best reason to go to school there has just as much to do with legacy and reputation.

Massachusetts is a bona fide leader in higher education. It is home to hundreds of respected colleges, universities, and research institutions, and its residents are among some of the most highly educated in the world. Students can study almost anything there, and efforts to expand distance learning in Massachusetts only increase their options. These data points are more than bragging rites -- they translate to jobs and a higher quality of life. More education usually brings higher earnings, better employment prospects, and all the peace of mind that accompany them. This economic stimulus benefits all workers, but graduates of Massachusetts colleges and universities are uniquely poised to reap the benefits of the region's booming knowledge-based economy, in part because employers tend to recruit from area colleges first, but also because schools adjust their curricula to reflect industry shifts and demands. Of course, this is doubly true for students who major in high-demand fields.

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What Makes Massachusetts Ideal for Online Education?

What makes distance learning in Massachusetts so valuable to residents are the same factors that make it so important in every other state: Online education allows students to study almost anything, anywhere, so long as they can access the internet -- even students who work full-time, have children, or juggle other obligations. Online learning also allows students to enroll in the programs that best meet their goals and budgets, without regard for geography, and complete them at their own pace. For many students, these conveniences can shave months and thousands of dollars off their educations, which, for some, is the lifeline that makes college possible at all.

If these benefits of online learning are fairly universal, why would students earn online degrees in Massachusetts specifically? Because Massachusetts is particularly well suited for online learning. Each year the Milken Institute releases its rankings of the most high-tech states in the country, and according to StateTech Magazine, Massachusetts has earned the no. 1 spot every single year. All those high-speed connections and Wi-Fi hotspots make it easier for students to squeeze classes in between meetings or other obligations. They also help explain why Massachusetts is a major innovator in the online learning realm: When MOOCs took off like wildfire in 2012, one of the two largest online course providers -- edX -- was formed by Massachusetts institutions (Harvard and MIT). The state has also long recognized the power of online learning, especially with respect to accessibility and completion, and has invested in tools to make it easier for students to find online programs. Students who want to learn more about online degrees in Massachusetts can do so by visiting schools online, or by logging on to Massachusetts Colleges Online, a state-sponsored directory of online classes hosted by a consortium of Bay State community colleges and universities.

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Top 10 Degrees in Massachusetts

When the MDHE analyzed the state of higher education in Massachusetts, it did not just look at whether it is producing enough graduates to meet employer demand, it considered which industries need those graduates the most. According to its 2014 report, Massachusetts needs more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers, but especially those specializing computer science and information technology. It also requires more nurses with bachelor's degrees and allied health professionals. Students who study these and other high-demand fields not only have an edge in tomorrow's job market -- they help their state thrive.

Here are ten of the most in-demand degrees in Massachusetts along with some of the top schools that offer them. Note that this list was derived using occupational projections from both the MDHE and the state's Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (EOLWD). Unless otherwise specified, school rankings are based on U.S. News & World Report's 2015 college rankings list. Degrees are listed in no particular order.

Computer Science

According to the 2014 MDHE report, Massachusetts needs more computer science and information technology workers. So much so that it created the Technology Talent Initiative Workforce Plan to address what it calls the "critical gap between the number of degrees granted in computer science and information technology" and the projected employer demand. To bring the point home, the MDHE reported that Massachusetts offered 17.4 tech jobs for every one computer science and IT graduate it produced in 2013. Prospects are excellent across several fields, but especially information security analysis: the EOLWD projects that demand for these professionals will grow by a whopping 39 percent between 2012 and 2022.

Top Computer Science Schools in Massachusetts

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology. No list of top computer science schools is complete without a nod to MIT, home to the no. 1 computer engineering and computer science programs in the country, at least according to U.S. News & World Report in 2015. MIT offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees in several computer disciplines, including high-ranked artificial intelligence, systems, and programming language programs. Some computer science classes are available online, for free, through MIT OpenCourseWare and the massive open online course (MOOC) provider edX, which was founded by MIT and Harvard in 2012.
  • Harvard University. Harvard University regularly rankings among the top three colleges and universities in the country, and its high-ranked computer science and computer engineering programs are an extension of that legacy. Students can earn degrees of all levels in computer engineering or computer science, including programs that specialize in programming languages and computer science theory. Harvard offers some free online MOOCs through provider edX, though they do not result in credit.
  • University of Massachusetts at Amherst. UMass Amherst is yet another top-25 nationally ranked computer science school (per U.S. News & World Report in 2015). It also happens to be home to the no. 12 artificial intelligence program in the country.

Nursing

According to the 2014 MDHE report, Massachusetts needs more nurses, specifically nurses with bachelor's degrees, which have been linked to better patient outcomes. While many students who earn nursing degrees in Massachusetts become registered nurses, or RNs, the state's EOLWD reports that there are several other high-demand jobs that begin with nursing school. Among them: nursing instructors and physicians assistants, which are projected to see employment growth of 34 and 29 percent, respectively, between 2012 and 2022.

Top Nursing Schools in Massachusetts

  • Boston College. Boston College in Chestnut Hill's Connell School of Nursing was ranked no. 21 nationally in 2015 by U.S. News & World Report, and its nurse practitioner program (with an emphasis on family medicine) came in at no. 24. Students can earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), or master's, post-master's, and direct master's degrees in areas like clinical nursing, nursing anesthesia, and practical nursing. It also offers a joint MS/PhD nursing program.
  • University of Massachusetts in Amherst. UMass Amherst's nursing program was ranked no. 64 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report in 2015, but its online graduate-level nursing programs came in at an impressive no. 2. The school offers traditional and accelerated 2nd BSN degrees, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a clinical focus (including an online component), graduate certificates in nursing education, and RN to BSN bridge programs. It also offers an online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.

Diagnostic Medical Sonography

Diagnostic medical sonographers (sometimes called ultrasound technicians) capture the sonographic images doctors and radiologists use to confirm patients' health or diagnose medical problems. They are part of the booming allied health industry in which the MDHE projects Massachusetts desperately needs more graduates. The Commonwealth EOLWD estimates that demand for sonographers will grow by 42 percent statewide between 2012 and 2022. Ultrasound technicians can typically enter the field with a certificate or associate degree rather than a four-year degree, so it is often community colleges and career schools that offer such programs.

Top Diagnostic Medical Sonography Schools in Massachusetts

  • Bunker Hill Community College. BHCC is a Boston-area community college offering a plethora of certificates and associate degrees, including one of only a handful of diagnostic medical sonography programs in Massachusetts accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. This 70-unit program prepares students for the national certification exam, offered through the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers.
  • Middlesex Community College. This Bedford-area community college is also home to a CAAHEP-accredited associate degree program in diagnostic medical sonography.
  • Springfield Technical Community College. STCC is situated in the city of Springfield, the second largest city in Massachusetts (and one of the largest in New England). Its associate degree program in diagnostic medical sonography has also been accredited by the CAAHEP.

Business

All industries benefit from savvy business professionals, but some business-specific jobs are in greater demand than others. In Massachusetts, these include market research analysts and operations research analysts. The Massachusetts EOLWD projects a 31 percent rise in employment for both of these occupations between 2012 and 2022. Operations research is as much a math or computer field as it is a business concentration, but earning an MBA with an operations focus grooms graduates for future management positions (and the pay increases that accompany them).

Top Business Schools in Massachusetts

  • Harvard University. Harvard School of Business is a global leader in business education, and its no. 1 national ranking (per U.S. News & World Report in 2015) certifies its status as one of the best business schools not only in Massachusetts, but in the country. Harvard offers a plethora of MBA degrees, including the country's no. 8 Operations and Productions MBA. It also hosts several online MBA courses, plus a handful of business-focused MOOCs through edX (though, as usual, these courses do not result in credit).
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT's Sloan business school is home to the nation's no. 1 Production/Operations MBA program, as reported by U.S. News & World Report in 2015. Other top-ranked MBA programs include those in supply chain/logistics and information systems, while its finance and entrepreneurship programs also cleared the top 10.
  • Boston College. Boston College is yet another U.S. News-ranked top 50 business school, with its part-time MBA program coming in at no. 25 in 2015. Students can earn full-time and evening MBAs in a diversity of specializations, including marketing.

Counseling

Counseling degrees come in a number of shapes and sizes. Many disciplines are in demand in Massachusetts, especially when coupled with master's-level degrees and professional certifications or licensure. According to the Commonwealth's EOLWD, three types of counselors in particular are projected to see substantial job growth between 2012 and 2022. Among them: genetics counselors (31 percent growth), marriage and family therapists (30 percent growth), and substance abuse counselors (29 percent growth). Substance abuse counselors can often enter the field with less than a four-year degree, but candidates with more training have a market edge. Marriage and family therapists and genetics counselors typically earn bachelor's degrees in counseling, then specialize through master's degrees, certification, and licensure.

Top Counseling Schools in Massachusetts

  • Harvard University. Once again, Harvard tops U.S, News & World Reports' 2015 rankings, this time in the field of substance abuse medicine and counseling. The school also ranks well in a number of related disciplines, like psychology.
  • University of Massachusetts in Boston. UMass Boston is not just home to a thriving counseling program -- it is home to one of the only Marriage and Family Therapy programs in Massachusetts to be accredited by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Students can earn master's degrees in family therapy, including an online MFT degree.
  • Boston University School of Medicine. Genetics counselors walk the line between social and biological sciences: they must understand genetic diseases in order to counsel the patients who may suffer from them. Genetic counseling programs are rarer than many other counseling specialties, but Boston University School of Medicine offers a master's degree in the field. In fact, its MS in Genetic Counseling is one of only two genetics counseling programs in Massachusetts to be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling.

Psychology

It is not uncommon for prospective students to blur the lines between counseling and psychology professionals: both are known to use talk therapy and those big leather couches. Psychologists tend to be more clinical or research-oriented in nature, which means they must often earn advanced degrees to practice. There are several different types of psychologists, though industrial and organizational psychologists -- who tend to work in corporate settings -- are the fastest growing specialty in Massachusetts. The EOLWD projects that demand for these professionals could increase by as much as 27 percent statewide between 2012 and 2022.

Top Psychology Schools in Massachusetts

  • Harvard University. By now you are likely accustomed to seeing Harvard creep into our list, but its high rankings -- including its no. 4-ranked psychology program -- justify it. Students can earn bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in a variety of psychology disciplines, including cognitive psychology (ranked no. 2), social psychology (ranked no. 3), developmental psychology (ranked no. 4) and clinical psychology (ranked no. 14).
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences is a well respected, research-oriented program that also happens to host the no. 9 ranked psychology program in the country, per U.S. News & World Report. Students can earn bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in brain and cognitive science with a psychology specialty.
  • Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. The Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology is a specialty graduate college based in Newton, but with a campus in the Greater Boston area. It trains students in a plethora of psychology disciplines, including the industrial and organizational specialty that is in such high demand in Massachusetts. Students can earn a Master of Arts in Organizational Psychology on-campus, online, or through a hybrid of the two.

Statistics

Big data aficionados like Nate Silver have brought the field of statistics squarely into the limelight, but this is more or less a cultural renaissance of a long-revered math discipline that does everything from predict presidential elections to track major economic shifts. Actuaries, market researchers, and even research psychologists often study statistics, but the fastest-growing occupation to do so in Massachusetts is statisticians. The Massachusetts EOLWD projects that demand for these professionals -- who often work in fields like public health, economics, and medical research -- will grow by 33 percent between 2012 and 2022. Thankfully, the Commonwealth has plenty of top-tier statistics programs to meet this demand.

Top Statistics Schools in Massachusetts

  • Harvard University. Harvard University ranked among the top three statistics schools in the country in 2015, as reported by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in statistics, many of which can be specialized through concentrations in areas like bioinformatics and computational biology, and quantitative finance.
  • Boston University. Boston University's graduate-level statistics program ranked in the top 50 nationally in 2015, per U.S. News & World Report, but the school offers a number of program options at all levels. For instance, students can minor in statistics or earn bachelor's degrees, joint bachelor's and master's degrees, master's degrees, and PhDs in math with an emphasis on statistics. The school also offers a biostatistics program through its School of Public Health.
  • Brown University. Brown University is a prestigious Ivy League School located in the Providence-New Bedford metropolitan region, but is technically in the Rhode Island side of the border. Because it is a private school, this distinction matters little, so many of its students hail from Massachusetts. Brown is home to yet another top-50 statistics program (U.S. News & World Report, 2015), and its Center for Statistical Sciences (a joint program between its public health and biostatistics schools) engages in cutting-edge statistical research.

Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical engineers and scientists harness and leverage the chemical power of living things to create new products and medicines. They study biology, chemistry, physics, biochemistry, and chemical engineering. As biotechnology continues to grow and advance, so does demand for biomedical engineers. The Massachusetts EOLWD projects that demand for biomedical engineers in the Commonwealth will rise 28 percent between 2012 and 2022. These professionals certainly fall under the STEM umbrella -- a class of occupations the state is intentionally (and rigorously) working to develop.

Top Biomedical Engineering Schools in Massachusetts

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT is virtually synonymous with STEM, so it is only natural that the school would be home to the no. 1 biomedical sciences and no. 3 biomedical engineering programs in the country in 2015 (per U.S. News & World Report). MIT offers bachelor's degrees and PhDs in biomedical engineering. Often students choose between two tracks: bioengineering and applied bioscience. MIT is also a major biological engineering research institution, giving students the chance to be on the cutting edge of this exciting field.
  • Harvard University. Harvard University's biomedical sciences program is tied with MIT for no. 1 nationally (U.S. News & World Report, 2015). Harvard offers a number of bioengineering-related disciplines, including biomedical engineering, biomedical science, and biomedical informatics. Degrees range from undergraduate to post-doctoral.
  • Brown University. Brown University's Center for Biomedical Engineering is a major research institution offering undergraduate and graduate education in a number of biomedical disciplines. Among them: Neuroengineering, mechanobiology, biosensors and bioplatforms, and tissue engineering. According to U.S. News & World Report, Brown's biomedical sciences program ranked 34th in the country in 2015.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a school of therapy used to help treat and prevent conditions that impact patients' ability to move and function, often as a result of injury or other medical problem. Physical therapists are advanced practitioners, which mean they must earn advanced degrees and be licensed to practice. Not all physical therapy professionals need this extensive training, however. Physical therapy assistants can often enter the field with an associate degree and proper certification. They work under the direction of PTs, so are more restricted in the therapies they provide. Physical therapy aides require even less training, though a certificate can give candidates an edge in a competitive market. The Massachusetts EOLWD projects demand for physical therapists to grow 27 percent between 2012 and 2022, while demand for physical therapy assistants and aides should increase 31 percent each.

Top Physical Therapy Schools in Massachusetts

  • MGH Institute of Health Professions. MGH Institute is a specialized graduate school offering advanced degrees in a range of health disciplines, including physical therapy. In fact, according to U.S. News & World Report, its physical therapy program was the no. 7 program in the country in 2015. Students enrolled in the entry-level Doctor of Physical Therapy program complete three years of full-time study -- including academic, clinical, and research training -- followed by a year-long internship.
  • Boston University. Boston University's Doctor of Physical Therapy program strikes a balance between academic and clinical study with much of the latter honed on campus in the BU Physical Therapy Center and the BU Physical Therapy and Athletic Training Lab. U.S. News & World Reports ranked BU's physical therapy program no. 16 nationally in 2015.
  • Springfield Technical Community College. Prospective students who would prefer to enter the field of physical therapy without spending eight years or so in college can look to associate-level physical therapy assistance programs like the one offered at Springfield Technical Community College. STCC's PTA program is one of five such programs in Massachusetts to be accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association. One of its primary goals is to prepare future PTAs for the national licensure examination, and the numbers suggest it succeeds: STCC graduates boasted a 100 percent PTA licensure examination pass rate for three years running (from 2011 to 2013, the latest round reported as of the time of this writing).

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy helps patients who have learning disabilities, physical handicaps, illnesses, or other conditions lead normal lives by using adaptive equipment or making other modifications. Where physical therapists focus on rehabilitation, OTs emphasize adaptability in everyday tasks. Like PTs, occupational therapy professionals include both practitioners and support professionals, namely assistants and aides. OT assistants and aides have less professional latitude when working with patients, but they require far less training than OTs. They are also in demand in Massachusetts, where the EOLWD projects employment opportunities for aides and assistants will grow by 30 percent and 27 percent, respectively, between 2012 and 2022.

Top Occupational Therapy Schools in Massachusetts

  • Boston University. Boston University's OT program is not just good -- it's the no. 2 occupational therapy program in the country (per U.S. News & World Report). Boston University's College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences, called Sargent College, offers both Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT) and Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degrees. The ODT program in particular was designed with distance learning in mind and can be completed fully online.
  • Tufts University. Tufts University is a well known college based in Medford, not far from downtown Boston. It is used to high rankings across a variety of publications, and in a number of different program areas. Its occupational therapy program -- ranked no. 7 nationally in 2015 via U.S. News -- is no exception. Tufts' OT students can earn entry-level master's degrees, post-professional master's degrees, doctoral degrees, and graduate certificates, depending on their goals.
  • Bristol Community College. Students who want to become OT assistants, or who want to get a taste for the field of occupational therapy without committing to a post-graduate program, can look to area community colleges like BCC. BCC in New Bedford is one of four schools in Massachusetts offering occupational therapy assistant degree programs accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association. Students who complete this 72-unit program earn an associate degree in occupational therapy assistance while preparing to sit for national licensure exams.

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Top Cities and Metros for Massachusetts College Students

As one of the nation's oldest states, Massachusetts is known for both its historical and cultural significance, a balance of old and new. It is also a major economic and educational hub supporting millions of residents (and hundreds of thousands of college students). Massachusetts features several metropolitan centers in which most of its colleges and jobs thrive. Read on to learn more about a few of Massachusetts largest metros, and what it's like to live and learn in them. Note that unless otherwise specified, all population data is drawn from 2013 U.S. Census estimates. Popular majors are based on fall 2013 enrollment, as provided by U.S. News or each school directly.

Greater Boston

Greater Boston is the largest metropolitan area in Massachusetts. It includes several key cities, including Boston, Cambridge, and Quincy. An estimated 4.6 million people lived there in 2013, including more than 250 thousand college students from all over the world. The metro is a major economic hub. Education, tourism, and finance are among its largest industries, but its high-tech market is growing, and fast: In 2013, Forbes ranked Greater Boston no. 4 on its "Big Cities Winning the Battle for Information Jobs" list. The BLS reports that an estimated 2.5 million workers earned a mean annual wage of $59,080 in 2013, much higher than the national average.

The city of Boston is not just the heart of the Greater Boston metro -- it is the largest city in New England. It was also the site of several significant historical events, like the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, and the Battle of Bunker Hill. Students living in the area can visit many of these landmarks. Boston is also a notable cultural hub featuring a major Theater District, several famous museums, and a plethora of annual festivals and events. The city has a distinct sophisticated edge, thanks to its status as a sort of intellectual mecca. Hundreds and thousands of students flock to Greater Boston each year -- particularly to the cities of Boston and Cambridge -- bringing billions of dollars to the local economy, not to mention jobs.

Major Colleges in Greater Boston

  • Harvard University. Harvard University is a private Ivy League institution in Cambridge. Established in the 1600s, Harvard is one of the oldest (and most prestigious) research universities not just in the country, but the world. In 2015, U.S. News and World Report ranked no. 2 among all universities nationally, and no. 1 among global institutions. It was also ranked no. 1 that year for best value: tuition is steep, but the school is known for being generous with financial aid and graduates tend to earn high salaries. Many of its degree programs also ranked in the top 3 nationally, including its business, education, law, medical research, biological sciences, and economics programs, among others.
    • Most popular majors, 2013: Social Sciences, Biological Sciences, History, Mathematics, and Psychology.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT is one of the world's best known and most respected technical institutions: U.S. News & World Report ranked it no. 7 nationally and no. 2 globally in 2015. Several of its programs also earned top five rankings that year. Among them: engineering, business, biology, chemistry, computer science, economics, math, physics, and more. Its 168-acre Cambridge campus is just across the river from downtown Boston.
    • Most popular majors, 2013: Engineering, Computer Sciences, Physical Sciences, Biological and Biomedical Sciences, and Mathematics.
  • Boston University. Boston University is one of the largest nonprofit, independent universities in the country; it serves more than 18,000 students each year. Like MIT and Harvard, BU is one of the highest ranked universities in the Greater Boston metro, earning top 50 rankings across a number of categories in 2015 (per U.S. News & World Report). It also offers a number of high ranked online programs, particularly in the areas of business and information technology.
    • Most popular majors, 2013: Business Management and Marketing, Social Science, Communications and Journalism, Health Professions, and Biological and Biomedical Sciences.
  • More Greater Boston colleges to consider: Wellesley College, Northeastern University, Boston College, and Emerson College

Worcester

The Worcester metro is home to nearly 800,000 people and spans several notable Massachusetts cities, including Worcester proper, Leominster, and Fitchburg. Forbes calls Worcester, the second largest city in Massachusetts behind Boston, the "Heart of the Commonwealth" -- the city even made the heart its official symbol. The greater metro supported a BLS-estimated 245,000 workers in 2013, with a mean annual wage of just under $51,000. Health care, education, and technology (especially biotech) are among its largest industries.

Worcester is a hotbed of culture: its American Antiquarian Society is home to one of the largest early American history collections in the world, and the Worcester Art Museum is the second-largest museum in New England, behind the Museum of Arts. Worcester proper hosts dozens of popular festivals each year, like the U.S. Canal Festival, Rock and Shock, and the large Worcester County St. Patrick's Day Parade. Forbes reports that the Worcester Music Festival is the oldest music festival in the country.

Like Greater Boston, the Worcester metro is a major center of higher education. There are more than a dozen colleges in Worcester alone, many of which (including all the schools featured here) comprise a network known as the Colleges of Worcester Consortium. Shuttle buses run throughout the area, giving students access to several schools and cultural institutions.

Major Colleges in Worcester

  • Jesuit College of the Holy Cross. College of the Holy Cross in Worcester is the oldest Roman Catholic college in New England, and one of the oldest in the country. It is a private institution serving about 3,000 students each year in a major higher education ward with a decidedly student-geared atmosphere (the immediate area features several institutions, restaurants, and nightlife options). This prime location attracts students like a magnet: Forbes reports that about 90 percent of its student population lives on campus.
    • Most popular majors, 2013: Social Sciences, Psychology, English Language and Literature, History, and Foreign Language and Linguistics.
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute. WPI is a major polytechnic institution that excels in a number of disciplines, especially engineering and biotechnology. A private school in the heart of Worcester's college ward, WPI enrolls more than 4,000 students each year. U.S. News reports that its student body has a reputation for being close-knit and active on campus; WPI hosts several fraternities, sororities, and student clubs.
    • Most popular majors, 2013: Mechanical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Civil Engineering.
  • Clark University. Clark university is a private institution serving nearly 2,500 students each year in the heart of Worcester's higher education ward. It earned several top 100 rankings in 2015 from U.S. News & World Report, including the no. 76 spot nationally and the no. 25 spot for Best Value Colleges. Clark emphasizes hands-on research: undergraduates are encouraged to launch research projects and showcase their work twice a year. The school is known for a variety of programs, particularly psychology: U.S. News reports that it was at Clark that world famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud gave some of his most famous lectures, coined the Clark Lectures.
    • Most popular majors, 2013: Psychology, Political Science and Government, Biology, International Relations and Economics.
  • More Worcester colleges to consider: Worcester State University, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Becker College, Assumption College, Nichols College, and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

Springfield

More than 700,000 people live in the Springfield metropolitan area. The metro encompasses several cities, but its namesake -- Springfield -- is the largest. Like Boston and Worcester, the Springfield metro is a major higher education center: Forbes reports that the Hartford-Springfield region is known as the Knowledge Corridor because it hosts more than 160,000 students and nearly 35 institutions. According to the BLS, about 290,000 people worked in the metro in 2013, earning a mean annual wage of $47,220. Major industries include education, health care, tourism, and trade. It also hosts a growing number of biotech and high-speed computing firms.

Springfield is known as both the City of Firsts and the City of Homes; the latter a nod to its famously attractive, historic architecture. Students won't want to miss The Quadrangle, which is a collection of five distinct museums, specifically: The Museum of Fine Arts, George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, the Springfield Science Museum, the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, and the Museum of Springfield History. The City of Springfield Club Quartet is the unofficial nightlife capital of the Pioneer Valley, notes Forbes -- it features about 60 dance clubs, bars, and music venues. Quality of life is high in the metro, and cost of living surprisingly low (about 0.6% below the national average in 2013, according to Forbes).

Springfield's Knowledge Corridor is famous for having the second-highest concentration of higher learning institutions in the country, including several large or otherwise well-known schools. Many of these schools are in the city of Amherst, including five distinct universities that make up the Five College Interchange.

Major Colleges in Springfield

  • The University of Massachusetts in Amherst. UMass Amherst is one of several public universities that comprise the University of Massachusetts system. It is also a large school serving nearly 25,000 students each year. UMass Amherst earned a no. 76 ranking nationally in 2015, per U.S. News & World Report, and several of its programs placed top 50, including its online business, online education, and online nursing programs.
    • Most popular majors, 2013: Psychology, Speech Communications and Rhetoric, Accounting, Biology and Political Science.
  • Amherst College. Amherst College is part of Amherst's Five College Interchange, and, according to U.S. News, consistently ranks as one of the -- and often THE -- nation's best liberal arts colleges. The college is known for its academic rigor and claims to have the oldest athletics program in the nation. Amherst offers primarily undergraduate degrees in several disciplines.
    • Most popular majors, 2013: Economics, History, Political Sciences, English Language and Literature, and Psychology.
  • Mount Holyoke College. MHC is yet another member of Amherst's Five Colleges consortium, serving a little more than 2,000 students each year. It was founded as a women's college in the 1830s and remains such today. In 2015, U.S. News & World Report ranked MHC no. 41 nationally among all liberal arts colleges, and no. 28 among Best Value Schools.
    • Most popular majors, 2013: English Language and Literature, Psychology, Biology, Economics, and International Relations and Affairs.
  • More Springfield colleges to consider: Hampshire College, Smith College, Westfield State University, Elms College, and American International College.

Providence-New Bedford

The Providence-New Bedford metro spans the border between Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and though it is one of the largest metros in the region by population (about 1.6 million people lived there in 2013), the bulk of its residents live on the Rhode Island side. Providence, R.I. is the largest city in the metro, and New Bedford the largest on the Massachusetts side. The BLS estimates that the metro supported about 540,000 workers in 2013 who earned a mean annual wage of $41,730. Health care and financial services are among its largest industries.

Rhode Island's Providence is both the largest and most culturally active city in the metro, drawing thousands of Massachusetts residents across the border each day. Water is important and the basis for several of Provident's longest-standing and most popular traditions, including the WaterFire environmental art installation featuring about 100 bonfires. New Bedford is known mostly for its heritage as a whaling community, which explains why it is home to the country's largest whaling museum, the New Bedford Whaling Museum. History buffs won't want to miss New Bedford's nine historical districts or the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden museum, which is a 28-room Greek Revival mansion.

The Providence metro sports several notable colleges and universities. Though some -- like the Ivy League Brown University -- are on the Rhode Island side of the border, this residency distinction matters very little for most private schools, which explains why so many students choose to live in Massachusetts and commute to Providence for school.

Major Colleges in Providence-New Bedford

  • Fisher College. Fisher College is a private institution serving less than 3,000 students each year. Though Fisher is based in Boston, it serves many students in the Providence metro -- especially in the cities of New Bedford, Taunton, and Fall River -- via satellite campus in New Bedford. Fisher is primarily an undergraduate university, meaning it offers certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor's degrees. Fisher offers programs in a wide breadth of disciplines, many of which can be completed mostly (or completely) online.
  • University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. UMass Dartmouth is a public four-year institution serving nearly 7,500 students each year. It is based in North Dartmouth, not far from New Bedford. In 2015, U.S. News named UMass Dartmouth one of the best universities in the Northern region, and the no. 25 best public school in the nation. Several of its programs also earned top 100 billing, including its fine arts, nursing, and online bachelor's degree programs.
    • Most popular majors, 2013: Business Management and Marketing, Health Professions, Engineering, Social Sciences, and Visual and Performing Arts.
  • Brown University. Brown University is a prestigious Ivy League institution located in Providence. Though it is technically in Rhode Island, many of its students hail from Massachusetts. While U.S. News ranked Brown highly in a number of college categories in 2015 (including no. 16 among all universities nationally), its teaching, applied math, and developmental economics programs really stood out.
    • Most popular majors, 2013: Economics, Biology, Engineering, International Relations and Affairs, and Political Science and Government.

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College Roadmap

The only way to truly experience all Massachusetts and its schools have to offer is to explore the state yourself. If you're up for a good ol' fashioned college road trip, this itinerary can help:

Boston: The Hub

Begin in Boston, especially if flying in from out-of-state. Writer Oliver Wendell Holmes once coined Boston "The Hub of the Solar System," and you need not spend days in the city to see why. Boston offers something for everyone (which explains why it draws about 12 million visitors each year, according to the City of Boston). Walk the Freedom Trail to get in touch with America's richest history. Cheer on the Celtics, Red Sox, Bruins, or Patriots. Shop, dine, and catch a show in the Theater District. You could spend weeks in Boston and still not have your fill, but try to squeeze some campus visits in between your shenanigans. Do not overlook nearby Cambridge. Note that students interested in UMass Lowell can start further north and trek down through Boston afterward to minimize driving.

Schools to visit: Boston University, Harvard University, Northeastern University, Boston College, MIT, UMass Boston, Suffolk University, Tufts University, Cambridge College, Babson College, Wellesley College, and more.

Option 1: A Coastal Drive to the Providence-New Bedford Metro

Head east to the coast and follow it south. This path brings you near the Wompatuck State Park and historical Plymouth, both worthwhile side-trips. Those who have time to burn can continue all the way to Cape Cod (cutting through Nickerson State Park to the Cape Cod National Seashore) before heading back west to the New Bedford-Providence area. We recommend making Providence your basecamp -- you can easily access several colleges on both sides of the border from there. Providence has several major parks and historical sites, including the Roger Williams National Memorial Park, home to a major botanical center and the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium. Shop and eat downtown. Gothy types can channel the likes of Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, both of whom spent a great deal of time in Providence. Note that Massachusetts residents on a budget will want to concentrate their college tour efforts on the Massachusetts side of the border (think: UMass Dartmouth and Fisher College). Out-of-state students or those that can swing private school tuition can tackle schools like Brown and Providence College. Once you've completed your tours you can circle back up north to Worcester, which we will cover extensively next.

Schools to visit: University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Fisher College, Brown University, Johnson & Wales, and Providence College.

Option 2: Drive the Massachusetts Turnpike to Worcester

Interstate 90, or the Massachusetts Turnpike, carries travelers from Boston right through the heart of the Bay State. You can take Highway 9 to Worcester, or follow 90 to the Upton State Forest before cutting back north. Key sites in Worcester include the American Antiquarian Society (home to one of the biggest collections of early American history in the world), the Worcester Art Museum, the Worcester Memorial Auditorium, and the Higgins Armory Museum. Shop, dine, and be merry. Worcester is home to several major colleges (many of which comprise the Colleges of Worcester Consortium), so plan to spend at least two days in the area if you can spare them.

Schools to visit: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Clark University, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester State University, College of the Holy Cross, Assumption College and Becker College.

Continue West on I-90 to the Springfield Metro

Springfield is perhaps the most student-friendly city in Boston thanks to its famous Knowledge Corridor, which (along with nearby Hartford) hosts the second highest concentration of colleges and universities per capita in the nation. Six Flags New England is just a couple miles beyond the city. Students who visit in September should make time for The Big E, which is the largest fair in the Northeast and a popular destination for area college students. Make time for The Quadrangle, the site of five separate museums and the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. Note that students of-age may want to head to Springfield's famous Club Quarter in the evening. The Club Quarter offers dozens of bars, clubs, and music venues.

Schools to visit: Western New England University, American International College, Amherst College, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College (for women), Hampshire College, UMass Amherst, Westfield State University, Elms College, Bay Path College, and more.

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Scholarships and Financial Aid

Choosing the right college is the first step toward earning your degree. The next is figuring out how to pay for it. Fortunately most students attending campus-based or online schools in Massachusetts qualify for some type of financial aid. The most common types include:

  • Grants. Grants are funds awarded to those who demonstrate financial need. They need not be repaid so long as the student abides by whatever rules might apply. Students who withdraw from classes before completing them must usually pay back their grants. Grants are typically awarded by the State of Massachusetts or the U.S. Federal government.
  • Scholarships. Like grants, scholarships do not need to be repaid. Unlike grants, scholarships can be awarded based on any number of criteria and do not necessarily depend on financial need. Merit based scholarships awarded for excellent grades or special talents are common, as are those reserved for students of various cultural or religious backgrounds, or who intend to enter certain fields. Schools, states, and even third-party organizations can award scholarships.
  • Loans. Loans must be repaid, but programs exist to make long-term repayment easier. For example, in the case of subsidized loans, such as federal Stafford Loans, the government pays all interest accrued while students are still in school. Other loans have fixed low rates or other incentive programs. The state, federal government, and third-party lenders manage most student loans.

First steps: File your FAFSA

The first step toward determining your financial aid eligibility is to submit your 

Application for Federal Student Aid. Do not be fooled by its name: many sources of financial aid require students to submit their FAFSAs along with any other applications and required materials, even in the case of state, institutional, or third-party aid. Students can submit their FAFSAs online. Mind all deadlines and be prepared to provide earnings and tax information (including that of your parents or legal guardians if you are under the age of 23).

Massachusetts Financial Aid Programs

Students attending Massachusetts colleges can apply for a variety of state-based aid programs, most of which are managed by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education's Office of Student Financial Assistance. These include grants, tuition waivers, scholarships, and loans. The following are just a few of the largest programs, as of 2014:

  • MASSGrant. The MASSGrant program is reserved for Massachusetts residents who demonstrate financial need. Students must be earning their first undergraduate degree, remain enrolled full-time, and meet basic academic performance requirements.
  • Gilbert Matching Student Grant Program. The GMSG program is available to students who attend certain Massachusetts colleges and nursing schools. Like the MASSGrant program, the GMSG program is reserved for Massachusetts residents, or the children of permanent residents, who demonstrate financial need. Students must be enrolled full-time, at the undergraduate level, and meet ongoing academic standards.
  • Part-Time Grant Program. As its name suggests, the Massachusetts Part-Time Grant program is reserved for part-time students, meaning those enrolled in at least six, but fewer than 12 credits per term. Students must be residents of the Commonwealth and demonstrate financial need.
  • Massachusetts High Demand Scholarship Program. The MHDSP was created by the Massachusetts Legislature to encourage degree completion in high-demand disciplines, as identified by the Office of Labor and Workforce Development. Students must attend public community colleges and universities in Massachusetts. Award varies by institution and enrollment status (think: full- or part-time enrollment).
  • Agnes M. Lindsay Scholarship Program. The Agnes M. Lindsay Scholarship Program is reserved for rural students attending public institutions. Students must be enrolled full-time and demonstrate financial need.
  • Career Advancement Program Tuition Waiver. The CAP Tuition Waiver program is for public school teachers working in Massachusetts. Its goal is to reward teachers for their service during their first three years of teaching, when attrition is highest. The funds are meant to cover career development and similar career-advancing investments.
  • Categorical Tuition Waiver. The CTW program is a component of the larger Single Tuition Waiver Program and was designed to help legal Massachusetts residents who demonstrate financial need. There are certain categories of eligibility, including those designed for military veterans, active members of the Armed Forces, Native Americans, senior citizens, and clients of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission or Commission for the Blind.
  • Massachusetts No Interest Loan Program. The Massachusetts NIL program was created to help Massachusetts residents attending college full-time who demonstrate financial need. Funds can be applied toward education costs in the course of earning one's first certificate, associate, or bachelor's degree. Students have 10 years to repay their NIL loans.

These programs are only a sampling of those available to students pursuing traditional or online education in Massachusetts. You can learn more about your options by visiting the Massachusetts Office of Student Financial Assistance or contacting your school's (or future school's) financial aid office. There are also a number of third-party scholarship databases available online at no cost.

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