Who Benefits from Online Master’s Programs?
Online master’s degree programs provide many benefits to both traditional and non-traditional students. Here’s a look at some of the primary benefits for both types of student.
Why Get a Master’s Degree Online?
There are many compelling reasons to choose online study after complete a bachelor’s degree. Before committing, students must be confident they have the wherewithal and dedication for online study – it’s not the same as attending classes on campus. For those who are confident they possess the self-discipline to take the online route, here’s a look at two outcomes that they can expect from online master’s degree program, as well as insight into competency-based degree programs.
Higher Education May Lead to Higher Salaries
We’ve noted that higher salaries typically come with greater educational obtainment – as much as 74 percent over workers with bachelor’s or associate degrees. Here’s a look at median weekly wages by educational obtainment in the fourth quarter of 2017.
|High school graduate
|Master’s or other advanced degree
Source U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
It’s one thing to look at weekly earnings, but project those numbers out over the course of 10 years.
Someone with a master’ degree who makes just under $1,500 a week earns roughly $77,000 annually – or about $770,000 over the course of 10 years.
Compare that to the worker with a bachelor’s degree, whose wages add up to just over $60,000 a year, or $600,000 over a 10-year span.
While that’s not such a huge gulf, consider that someone who holds a master’s will potentially earn about 85 percent more in 10 years than someone with just an associate’s degree ($416,000).
That’s a big difference, and these are only averages. Many people with master’s degrees make much more per week than the national median pay range listed here.
Many career paths require a minimum educational obtainment of at least a master’s degree, including: psychologists, economists, social workers, mental health counselors, urban planners, historians, political scientists, college professors and educational administrators.
Some of these jobs come with notable salaries. College-level administrators, for instance, enjoyed median annual salaries just above $90,000 in 2016, the BLS reports. Median annual salaries for economists, meanwhile, was more than $101,000 per year.
Flexibility and Accelerated Learning
The ability to learn on your own time, at your own pace is one of the hallmarks of earning a degree online. That’s incredibly important to working adults who don’t have the option of attending classes during the day.
Many campus-based and online master’s degree programs take about two years of full-time study to complete. Coupled with their undergraduate study, students spend six or more years in college. However, many colleges offer accelerated online master’s degree programs where students can complete both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in just five years.
The graduate college at University of Arizona offers an accelerated master’s program for exceptional undergraduate students who plan on earning a master’s in their major or in a closely related field.
It’s the same at the University of Nevada, Reno with its public administration and political science programs. Students begin working on graduate-level courses their senior year and can complete 120 credits of undergraduate study and 36 credits of graduate-level coursework in five years.
Journalism students at Northwestern in Chicago, meanwhile, can earn both degrees in less than five years through the university’s accelerated master’s program.
Other colleges offer online master’s degrees that can be completed in about one year. Concordia University, for instance, offers an online Master of Education with courses that run in five-week blocs. Students who enjoy the flexibility of studying at their own pace can quickly tackle the requirements of a year-long master’s degree program and get their career aspirations underway in as few as 12 months of full-time study.
Competency-based Master’s Degrees
Competency-based education is a relatively new model of higher education that values subject mastery over seat time.
Western Governor’s University and Southern New Hampshire University are two institutions that offer degrees based on this model. Their online programs allow students to work independently on educational modules and demonstrate subject mastery and competency to move forward in the program. Bachelor’s degrees can be completed in a few as three years at SNHU under this online educational model for students who can quickly assimilate subject matter.
How to Choose a Graduate Program
Students have several choices for online colleges that offer master’s degrees in standard educational pathways such as computer science, mathematics, education, business or nursing. Options become a bit more narrowed for students interested in specialty fields such as hydrology, green energy or cybersecurity.
Two factors that weigh on any enrollment decision are cost and time of study. Students should thoroughly research program costs and all available funding options prior to enrollment to ensure they have the financial wherewithal to complete the program, as well as the ability to dedicate two years or more to full-time study.
Next, students need to have the end-goal in mind. Many students enroll in college without really knowing what they want to study, but that’s not an option for graduate students who need to have a razor-sharp focus on their career path and how earning a master’s degree will get them there. It’s important because unlike undergraduate studies, master’s degree programs are highly specialized. For instance, a college’s master’s in psychology program may offer concentrations in child and adolescent development, industrial organizational psychology, or forensic psychology. Knowing the end-goal before enrollment helps students choose a program that best meets their educational objectives.
Common Educational Paths for Graduate Students
Grad schools commonly offer three educational options: master’s degrees, doctoral degrees, and graduate certificates. Here’s a closer look at the benefits of each.
Stumped with the application process? There are many fee-based third-party companies that help prospective graduate students navigate the application and admissions processes. A few of these graduate-school counseling companies include Ivy Coach, Accepted and Kaplan Test Prep.
Scholarships & Financial Aid for Graduate Students
Tuition for graduate school can be expensive, especially for students who choose to enroll in one of the more prestigious colleges in the nation. There are a number of ways students can pay for college, however. Here’s a look at some of the most common financial aid and scholarships available for graduate students enrolled in online master’s degree programs.
Federal Financial Aid
Students enrolled in graduate or professional degree programs can receive tuition aid from the federal government. In most cases, parental income thresholds don’t apply. Students who want to be considered for federal tuition assistance programs must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Direct Unsubsidized Loan
Graduate students can borrow as much as $20,500 per year to pay for tuition.
Direct PLUS Loan
Students who enroll in colleges where tuition exceeds the subsidized amount can apply for this program to cover the difference.
Grad students who borrow from the federal government must sign a master promissory note, which is a legal document stating students’ intent to pay back the government for their subsidized or unsubsidized loans.
Students enrolled in master’s degree programs in education or education administration may be eligible for Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grants.
Grants, Fellowships & Scholarships
Organizations across the country need highly trained specialists – especially as their senior employees approach retirement. Private, public and government organizations support graduate students through a wide range of grant and scholarship programs to help fund advanced college education. Here are a few:
American Cancer Society Graduate Scholarship in Cancer Nursing Practice
The ACS provides up to $20,000, ($10,000 per year) for students pursuing master’s degrees in cancer nursing or a doctorate of nurse practicing.
American Meteorological Society Graduate Fellowship
Awards $25,000 to students pursuing master’s degrees in atmospherical and related sciences, including hydrology, environmental sciences, physics and oceanography.
AICPA Fellowship for Minority Doctoral Students
Awards $12,000 to full-time minority students pursuing advanced degrees to become educators in the field of accounting.
Center for Cyber Safety and Education
Provides $5,000 award to graduate students pursuing advanced degrees in cybersecurity or information assurance.
Ford Foundation Fellowships
Awards predoctoral, dissertation and postdoctoral fellowships to minority students enrolled in research-based doctoral and science programs.
Goldman Sachs MBA Fellowship
Provides $35,000 for first-year M.B.A. students, as well as an associate’s salary for work during summer months in select cities.
National Retail Foundation Ray Greenly Scholarship
NRF awards four $10,000 scholarships and one $25,000 to students in any major, with emphasis on ecommerce, engineering, journalism, graphic design or advertising degree programs.
Harry S. Truman Scholarship
Provides funds for tuition for students pursuing advanced degrees in law, public administration, public health, social work, education, international affairs and public policy.
National Science Foundation
The NSF and associated institutions offer grant programs for students in economics, law and social sciences, mathematics, language, anthropology, archaeology, astronomy and astrophysics, and many more areas.
National Gem Consortium
Provides fellowships for underrepresented minority groups pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees in engineering and science.
Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans
Provides merit-based fellowships for immigrants and their children who are pursuing graduate degrees from U.S. colleges and universities.
Social Science Research Council
This non-profit organization has awarded more than 15,000 fellowships since its inception in 1923.
American Association of University Women
Offers career grants for women pursuing an advanced degree, fellowships for women conducting full-time doctoral research, and professional fellowships for women pursuing degrees where women are underrepresented, such as STEM fields, medicine, law and business.
Fulbright U.S. Student Program
Offers research, teaching and study opportunities to graduate students in more than 140 countries.
Q&A With an Expert
Dr. Gary Rader is the director for online education and policy development at Missouri State University. He has been involved with online teaching and program development since the mid-1990s. Dr. Rader founded and directed Drury University’s online program in 1999.
Q: What are the main benefits of earning a master's for people who might be debating about putting in the extra time in college.
A: The main benefit is career promotion possibilities. Twenty-five years ago, a B.A. or B.S. was the path to advancement after a high school diploma. Now, companies expect a master’s degree in order to be promoted.
Q: Why go the online route? What are the primary benefits?
A: More than 20 years of education delivered by the Internet has provided advancement for people seeking promotion and professional training in a timely manner. Online pedagogy and technology has and continues to improve content delivery for many who have been previously underserved. The greatest benefit or advantage is clearly the flexibility for family and work time. The amount of work required is the same or even more than face-to-face, but the rigidity of coming at a specific time on campus opens up a world of opportunity for advanced education.
Q: Can you address increased earnings potential and career flexibility that online education provides?
A: Most accredited institutions that offer online programs are required to reveal potential earnings and career possibilities for their degrees. Students shopping for online degree programs should familiarize themselves by visiting online education websites for institutions offering advanced online degrees. Call the contact number provided and ask questions. Be a comparative student shopper for the online degree plan that fits your schedule and professional needs.
Q: Do you have any tips for choosing a master's, PhD or graduate certificate program. What should students look for and avoid?
A: Always do your research on the programs in which you are interested. Always check for accreditation of the institution itself and any accreditation or recognitions given for the department offering the program.
Q: What are the most important first steps to getting started in a graduate program?
A: Accreditation of the institution is foremost. Check for any additional fees that might be required beyond the tuition rate. Read the institutional website for online education and find out how they approach distance learning and the training and development of their faculty. Are there testimonials posted? Make a list of your educational needs and compare to program surveys — these sources and others rank the best online schools and programs.
Graduate Student Resources
Today’s graduate students have the benefit of a wealth of resources at their fingertips. Here are some places where students enrolled in online master’s and Ph.D. programs can find additional help and benefits to help them successfully complete their educational journeys.
American Historical Association
With a large membership of graduate students, the AHA provides a comprehensive guide to beginning, navigating and completing graduate school.
Council of Graduate Schools
The CGS, an organization consisting of colleges and universities that provide graduate-level education, offers a variety of resources for students.
Site that aggregates information on scholarships, financial aid, student loans, career planning, college selections and more.
Master’s Thesis example
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides an excellent example of how a thesis should be formatted.
Faith-based non-profit provides support, crisis care and resources to help graduate students flourish academically and personally.
Help with writing a dissertation
Purdue University offers insight and writing guidelines for candidates whose graduate program requires a dissertation.
National Association of Graduate-Professional Students
This student-run non-profit organization offers a wide range of resources for graduate students, as well as acts as the legislative voice for graduate and professional students at the national, state and local levels.
Purdue Owl Online Writing Lab
Provides online presentations about various forms of graduate school writing, including peer review, organizing arguments, effective literary analysis, persuasion techniques and more.
Office of Graduate Studies
Most colleges have staff dedicated to helping graduate students, from financial aid to entrance exams to professional and community resources.
Federal Student Aid
Contains information from the Department of Education regarding all types of federal financial aid.