Online Master’s Degree

From 2000 to 2018 the number of people holding a master’s degree has doubled to 21 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Online master degree programs can be part-time (hybrid programs) that are a blend of on-campus and online courses, or fully online programs that eliminate the need for students to commute to campus. Online degree programs can allow students to access classes and work on assignments at a time that is convenient to them.

Working professionals, busy parents, people who love to learn and career changers could find an online master’s degree program a good fit to their busy schedules allowing students to balance work, life commitments and study.

A master’s degree can provide unique areas of study. Students can gain knowledge in a new field or to build more advanced skills in their current field. Types of master’s degrees can include:

  • Master of Arts (M.A.): This degree can help students to build broad skills and is offered in areas such as education, history, political science and social studies.
  • Master of Science (M.S.): In contrast to the M.A., a Master of Science degree is usually focused on science or math and could lead to a career in engineering, math or medicine.
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA): This business degree, geared toward the corporate arena, can provide core business work in areas like accounting, finance, entrepreneurship or global management.
  • Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.): This interdisciplinary degree can provide an education in an art field, such as the visual arts or even creative writing. Some online master’s degree programs in fine art may include seminars and critiques.
  • Master of Professional Studies (M.P.S.): This degree is typically offered in an applied field, such as emergency management, homeland security or information security, and is particularly useful for professionals already working in the field.
  • Master of Education (M.Ed.): These programs may be offered in curriculum design, assessment and administration. Individuals who want to teach students typically work toward a master of arts in teaching (MAT) degree.

There are plenty of good reasons why someone might pursue a master’s degree. Here are just a few of them:

Earning a master’s degree may entitle you to a salary increase. Pay is generally higher for individuals with a master’s degree compared to those with lesser education. With weekly median wages of $1,380, master’s degree holders can earn $224 more weekly than those with only a bachelor’s degree (BLS). This becomes impressive when viewed from the perspective of an entire year. In fact, over a year, that weekly $224 accounts for a difference of $11,648 more.

Additionally, Lumina Foundation, an organization that promotes higher education for adults, notes that: “The difference in average earnings from college attendance is commonly referred to the college earnings premium. The earnings premium for bachelor’s degrees is particularly large: 134 percent. The earnings premium for graduate degrees (master’s, professional and doctorates) is 46 percent.

The job market is predicted to need more master’s degree holders. With more organizations raising their educational standards, a master’s degree not only can help you to gain specialized knowledge, but help you be prepared for new challenges that can arise. About 18 percent of jobs are expected to require a master’s degree by 2022, according to the BLS.

A master’s degree can open the door to additional career opportunities. One common reason for pursuing a master’s degree is to become more qualified for advanced work and challenges on the job. Of note, 85 percent of people with a master’s degree worked in management positions, according to information from the BLS.

Pursuing a master’s for the passion of learning. Many people pursue a master’s simply because they are passionate about a subject and want further education.

The list of colleges below with the best online master’s programs was compiled using information from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. This information was then ranked using various metrics such as average tuition, average financial aid awarded by the college, student service including placement services, and more. Take a more detailed look at our methodology to see why these online colleges can be your best options for a master’s degree.

1
Liberty University
Lynchburg, VA
https://www.liberty.edu
Average in-state tuition
$15,837
No. of online programs
137
% of students in distance education
90%
Avg. amount of Aid
$7,509
Admissions Rate
56%
Graduation Rate
50%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
2
American Public University System
Charles Town, WV
https://www.apus.edu
Average in-state tuition
$6,480
No. of online programs
160
% of students in distance education
100%
Avg. amount of Aid
$1,705
Admissions Rate
N/A%
Graduation Rate
42%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
No
3
Capella University
Minneapolis, MN
https://www.capella.edu
Average in-state tuition
$14,148
No. of online programs
205
% of students in distance education
100%
Avg. amount of Aid
$5,051
Admissions Rate
N/A%
Graduation Rate
N/A%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
4
Western Governors University
Salt Lake City, UT
https://www.wgu.edu
Average in-state tuition
$6,380
No. of online programs
63
% of students in distance education
100%
Avg. amount of Aid
$2,635
Admissions Rate
N/A%
Graduation Rate
29%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
No
5
Purdue University Global-Davenport
Davenport, IA
https://www.purdueglobal.edu/campus-locations/davenport-iowa/0
Average in-state tuition
$13,356
No. of online programs
114
% of students in distance education
100%
Avg. amount of Aid
$4,150
Admissions Rate
N/A%
Graduation Rate
48%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
6
Grand Canyon University
Phoenix, AZ
https://www.gcu.edu
Average in-state tuition
$16,399
No. of online programs
93
% of students in distance education
90%
Avg. amount of Aid
$7,074
Admissions Rate
73%
Graduation Rate
37%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
No
7
University of the Cumberlands
Williamsburg, KY
https://www.ucumberlands.edu
Average in-state tuition
$22,640
No. of online programs
47
% of students in distance education
86%
Avg. amount of Aid
$15,130
Admissions Rate
73%
Graduation Rate
33%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
No
8
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC
https://www.ecu.edu
Average in-state tuition
$4,452
No. of online programs
67
% of students in distance education
45%
Avg. amount of Aid
$7,795
Admissions Rate
82%
Graduation Rate
65%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
9
Walden University
Minneapolis, MN
https://www.waldenu.edu
Average in-state tuition
$10,786
No. of online programs
127
% of students in distance education
100%
Avg. amount of Aid
$3,885
Admissions Rate
N/A%
Graduation Rate
N/A%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
No
10
Lamar University
Beaumont, TX
https://www.lamar.edu
Average in-state tuition
$5,912
No. of online programs
27
% of students in distance education
71%
Avg. amount of Aid
$7,041
Admissions Rate
84%
Graduation Rate
27%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
11
Arkansas State University-Main Campus
Jonesboro, AR
Average in-state tuition
$6,300
No. of online programs
38
% of students in distance education
56%
Avg. amount of Aid
$9,145
Admissions Rate
77.213021130782
Graduation Rate
48
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
12
Columbia Southern University
Orange Beach, AL
Average in-state tuition
$5,400
No. of online programs
50
% of students in distance education
100%
Avg. amount of Aid
$1,903
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
24
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
No
13
Fort Hays State University
Hays, KS
Average in-state tuition
$3,990
No. of online programs
36
% of students in distance education
83%
Avg. amount of Aid
$4,629
Admissions Rate
92.286627110908
Graduation Rate
44
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
14
University of Maryland-University College
Adelphi, MD
Average in-state tuition
$7,056
No. of online programs
86
% of students in distance education
90%
Avg. amount of Aid
$3,315
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
15
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
No
15
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT
Average in-state tuition
$7,997
No. of online programs
15
% of students in distance education
34%
Avg. amount of Aid
$7,505
Admissions Rate
66.855732594389
Graduation Rate
70
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
16
Trident University International
Cypress, CA
Average in-state tuition
$9,240
No. of online programs
28
% of students in distance education
100%
Avg. amount of Aid
$3,832
Admissions Rate
68.534482758621
Graduation Rate
19
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
No
17
The University of Texas at Arlington
Arlington, TX
Average in-state tuition
$8,080
No. of online programs
18
% of students in distance education
52%
Avg. amount of Aid
$6,611
Admissions Rate
79.521686258614
Graduation Rate
49
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
18
Saint Leo University
Saint Leo, FL
Average in-state tuition
$22,400
No. of online programs
65
% of students in distance education
74%
Avg. amount of Aid
$10,869
Admissions Rate
60.256933115824
Graduation Rate
51
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
19
National University
La Jolla, CA
Average in-state tuition
$13,320
No. of online programs
128
% of students in distance education
61%
Avg. amount of Aid
$5,026
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
36
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
20
Sam Houston State University
Huntsville, TX
Average in-state tuition
$5,616
No. of online programs
52
% of students in distance education
53%
Avg. amount of Aid
$7,649
Admissions Rate
78.543023944496
Graduation Rate
52
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2018-19, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/

Online master’s degree programs are often just as rigorous as on-campus programs. Since investing in your master’s education requires both time and money, it can help to know how these online programs work and what to look for before you enroll:

  • Timeline for a master’s degree: Most online master’s degrees can be completed in two years, but some offer an accelerated format closer to 18 months. Bridge programs can give students the opportunity to complete a master’s degree and doctoral education at the same time, but typically take longer to complete. Some colleges may offer credits for work or life experience which may help to shorten the duration of your program.
  • Learning options: Online master’s programs may use either synchronous or asynchronous learning. You may want to consider which type of learning would be more suitable for you:
Synchronous learning

Synchronous learning takes place in a real-time setting with live chats, live videoconferencing and other live components. Students must be available to log in at specific times in order to join live lectures that are being held.

Asynchronous learning

Asynchronous learning implies that learning takes place at times that are convenient for the student. Students can complete activities, watch videos, post responses and share information any time they want — as long as they meet syllabus due dates, of course.

How long does it take to complete an online master’s degree program?

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Most online master’s degree programs can be completed in two years, but some offer an accelerated format closer to 18 months. Bridge programs can give students the opportunity to complete a master’s degree program and doctoral education at the same time, but typically take longer to complete.

What are the requirements to apply for master’s degree programs?

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An application, application fee, resume, test scores, a short essay and letters of recommendation may be required for admission into an online master’s degree program. Some colleges may look at GMAT or GRE scores.

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals the most popular online programs of study (by program count) at the master’s degree level include the following:

The information below on the fastest-growing occupations for those with a master’s degree for entry-level employment comes from the BLS. These details could be important for adults looking for the online master’s programs that meet their career goals, but also seeking assurance about job availability after graduation.

Is a master’s degree worth it? Which master’s programs are likely to pay well? The information below on the highest-paying master’s degrees was compiled using data from the BLS and the National Center for Education Statistics. To make this even more helpful we have used additional factors such as total number of jobs projected in 10 years of all occupations matched to the major and the number of schools offering the degree online. For a more complete list of factors used, check out our methodology at the bottom of the page. 

Master
Education Level Required & Percentage of Respondents

The buttons below lead to more information about various types of online master’s degree programs. This can give you an opportunity to explore several master’s degree programs and compare their outcomes.

Methodology for Best Colleges Offering Online Master’s Degrees

Requirements:

  • Offer a degree or certificate program in that subject, either in an online or hybrid format
  • Have at least 1% of students attending some form of distance education
  • Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in 2015-16
  • Have reported data for all 19 ranking variables listed below

We ranked 1071 colleges and universities in the United States on 19 criteria, using 2016-17 data from the National Center for Education Statistics:

  1. Master’s Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2016-2017 were in this particular subject
  2. Ratio of undergraduate students participating fully or partially in DE to Total Enrollment
  3. Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
  4. Retention rate
  5. Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid
  6. Average amount of federal, state, local, institutional, or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students
  7. Student-to-faculty ratio
  8. Number of programs offered via distance education at the associate degree level
  9. Total electronic library collections, including digital books, databases, and media
  10. The availability of any tuition plans: Payment
  11. The availability of any tuition plans: Guaranteed
  12. The availability of any tuition plans: Prepaid
  13. The availability of any tuition plans: Other
  14. Services: Academic/Career
  15. Services: Placement for Completers
  16. Credit offerings: Dual
  17. Credit offerings: Life
  18. Credit offerings: AP
  19. Credit offerings: Military

Methodology for Most Popular Master’s Degrees to Earn Online

For this analysis, we ranked 220 online master’s degrees. To be included in the ranking, each major had to:

  • Match to a corresponding code in the Classification of Instructional Programs
  • Be offered online at the associate level at five or more institutions

We scored each major on the following data points, using a 10-point scale:

  1. Number of conferred master’s degrees in all schools nationally, IPEDS, 2016-17
  2. Total number of jobs projected in 10 years of all occupations matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-26
  3. Annual median wage of each occupation matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017
  4. Annual median wage of each occupation matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017

Methodology for Fastest-Growing Occupations with a Master’s Degree

For this analysis, we ranked 37 occupations using data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics associated with a doctoral degree on the following variables:

  • Annual Median Wage
  • Employment Number
  • Employment Change Percent

Methodology for Highest-Paying Master’s Degrees to Earn Online

For this analysis, we ranked 86 online associate degrees. To be included in the ranking, each major had to:

  • Match to a corresponding code in the Classification of Instructional Programs
  • Be offered online at the master’s level at five or more institutions

We scored each major on the following data points, using a 10-point scale and the weights specified:

  1. Annual median salary of each occupation matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017
  2. Annual 25th percentile wage of each occupation matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017
  3. No. of schools offering this degree online at the master’s level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
  4. Average projected growth rate of all jobs matched to each major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-26
  5. Total number of jobs projected in 10 years of all occupations matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-26

Methodology Sources

  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
  • 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov
  • 2016-26 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central, projectionscentral.com
  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/

Article Sources

  • Asynchronous Learning, University of Michigan, Accessed October 2018, http://umich.edu/~elements/asyLearn/learning.htm
  • Digital Learning Compass, Distance Education Enrollment Report, 2017, Accessed October 2018, https://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/digtiallearningcompassenrollment2017.pdf
  • “It’s not just the money,” Philip Trostel, Lumina Foundation, Accessed October 2018, https://www.luminafoundation.org/files/resources/its-not-just-the-money.pdf
  • Number of Master and Doctoral Degrees Doubles Among Population, United States Census Bureau, February 2019, https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2019/education-degrees-double.html
  • Measuring the Value of Education, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accessed October 2018, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2018/data-on-display/education-pays.htm
  • “Profile of the Labor Force by Educational Attainment,” Vernon Brundage, Jr., U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 2017, https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2017/
  • “The Benefits of a Master’s Degree in Today’s Job Market,” Northeastern University, July 19, 2017, https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/master’s-degree-benefits/
  • What Really is an MBA Degree? Northeastern University, Accessed October 2018, https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/what-is-an-mba-degree/
Methodologies and Sources