Guide to Online Master’s Programs and Graduate Degrees

By Thomas Broderick

Published on October 26, 2021

Guide to Online Master’s Programs and Graduate Degrees

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Are you ready to find your fit?

Master's degrees appeal to students for different reasons. Some learners need an advanced degree to attain a job or earn a promotion. Others return to school to increase their salary potential. Some students pursue a master's to meet a life goal.

This page explores why students apply to master's programs. It also includes admission requirements and financial aid resources. Students can click the embedded links at the bottom of the page for more information. Learners can also contact their prospective schools to learn more about master's programs.

Why Get a Master's Degree Online?

An online master's degree can offer many benefits that make grad school worth it. Advantages include an asynchronous curriculum and lower costs. Online learners do not incur fees for campus housing or parking.

Higher Education May Lead to Higher Salaries

Master's programs can provide the knowledge and skills needed to land a top-paying job. In 2020, Northeastern University found that the typical professional with a bachelor's degree earns approximately $64,900 annually.

Earning a master's degree raises salary potential by nearly 20%. Workers with a professional or doctoral degree can earn even more. Degree-seekers should note that salary varies by field and geographic location.

Median Weekly Wages by Educational Attainment
Degree Weekly Wages
High School Graduate $780
Associate Degree $940
Bachelor's Degree $1,310
Master's or Other Advanced Degree $1,550

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Flexibility and Accelerated Learning

Online master's programs may run asynchronously. This allows enrollees to complete coursework at their convenience. Asynchronous online programs resemble campus programs. Professors set due dates for assignments, and all students complete a course at the same time. However, enrollees do not attend virtual lectures at set times.

Accelerated learning is another benefit to online master's programs. Learners complete a course not on a set date but when they pass a comprehensive assessment.

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What Are Competency-Based Master's Degrees?

Accelerated learners can pursue a competency-based master's degree. This allows students to use their current knowledge to potentially graduate faster than their peers. Some programs require students to earn the degree within a specific time frame. Learners in competency-based programs earn the same degree as students in traditional master's programs.

How to Choose a Graduate Program

Prospective enrollees should consider program costs and their career goals when researching master's programs. Students can contact schools' admissions departments with questions. Department websites also provide helpful information.

Common Educational Paths for Graduate Students

Graduate students may pursue a graduate certificate or a master's or doctoral degree. Each requires rigorous coursework and may lead to a raise or promotion.

Steps to Getting Started in an Online Graduate Program

Prospective students can choose the best program by researching schools, interviewing faculty, and taking standardized tests. Steps may vary depending on programs' admission requirements.

Learners should ensure their prospective schools are regionally accredited. Colleges and universities with online programs should also be nationally accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. Some graduate programs feature programmatic accreditation from a private agency. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation provides a list of programmatic accreditation agencies. Faculty members can provide information such as course requirements and graduate outcomes. Students can also speak with faculty to learn about the overall student experience. An email can start the conversation. Many programs require GRE or GMAT scores. Applicants can brush up on their standardized test skills by purchasing study materials. These materials cover exam topics, format, and grading. Learners can use practice tests to improve their score and become familiar with the test format. Graduate school applicants take the GRE or the GMAT at an authorized testing center. Test-takers leave their personal items in their car or with the test proctors. Students should abide by scheduled breaks. Test-takers receive unofficial scores when they finish the test. Many programs require a personal statement and official undergraduate transcripts. They may also require recommendation letters. Prospective students should request their recommendations well in advance of the application deadline.

Financial Aid for Graduate Students

Learners can explore many types of financial aid for graduate school. The process begins by completing the FAFSA. Many schools use the FAFSA results to award need-based institutional aid. Other aid options include private scholarships and grants.

The federal government offers the following three types of aid to graduate degree-seekers. Different eligibility requirements apply for each.

Graduate students without financial need can apply. These loans begin incurring interest before learners graduate. Graduate students or their parents may apply. Eligibility requirements include a satisfactory credit score and financial need not covered by other types of aid. As of August 2021, the federal government awards up to $4,000 annually to teachers-in-training. Recipients must agree to teach at a high-need school for four years.

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 1990s. Dr. Rader founded and directed Drury University's online program in 1999.

Q. What are the main benefits of earning a master's?

A: The main benefit is career promotion possibilities. In the 1990s, a bachelor's was the path to advancement after a high school diploma. Now, many companies expect employees to have a master's degree in order to be promoted.

Q. Why go the online route? What are the primary benefits?

A: Online technology continues to improve content delivery. The greatest benefit is flexibility. A whole world of opportunity opens up for online students who do not have to attend campus at a specific time.

Q. Can you address the increased earnings potential and career flexibility that online education provides?

A: Most accredited institutions that offer online programs must reveal potential earnings and career possibilities for their degrees. Prospective students should familiarize themselves by visiting schools' websites. They can also call the school and ask questions. Students should shop for the online degree that fits their schedule and professional needs.

Q. Do you have any tips for choosing a master's, Ph.D., or graduate certificate program? What should students look for and avoid?

A: Always do your research. Check for the school's accreditation and any departmental or programmatic accreditation.

Q: What are the most important first steps to getting started in a graduate program?

A: School accreditation is most important. Next, check for any fees beyond tuition. Read the institutional website for online education. Find out how the school approaches distance learning. Look at faculty training and development. Look for testimonials. List your educational needs and compare them to program surveys.

Graduate Student Resources

Many private organizations help graduate students select a school and major. They also help degree-seekers find a mentor and financial aid. Explore the four resources below to plan for graduate admissions.

AHA encourages master's in history students to join. Members can review programs' typical courses and careers for history majors. They can also browse application requirements for doctoral programs. More than 500 member schools belong to CGS. The council advocates for higher education at the state, federal, and global levels. Learners can view reports on different institutions to judge programs' academic rigor and outcomes. Students can use this site to deal with stress and connect with a community of peers. On-call mentors and online guides provide crisis care and other mental health services. This student-run organization provides members with affordable health and liability insurance. Learners can also receive academic counseling. NAGPS uses membership dues to advocate for graduate student unionization and other causes.

Thomas Broderick is a freelance writer and the owner of Broderick Writer LLC. He creates study guides, informational websites, and blog posts for clients in the education field. Thomas is also a published author of over 20 short stories and a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.

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