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Online Master's Programs in Coaching

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Updated on: 10/24/2018

A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that business represents the most popular field of study among those pursuing master's degrees. With the number of business graduate students continuing to grow each year, executive coaching has developed as an independent and robust profession. Designed for business professionals who want to increase their salary potential and help business and other executives reach their full potential, these programs instill the leadership and consultancy skills needed to work with many different types of clients.

Individuals pursuing master’s in coaching online programs must already possess a bachelor’s degree and have several years of full-time work experience. They must also hold a clear understanding of their career goals and know why they want to study this topic. This guide describes common coursework, career outcomes, and salary expectations.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Coaching Program?

Master’s in coaching online programs exist to prepare graduates to provide practical and actionable coaching services to high-powered executives in myriad industries. Coursework covers organizational behaviors and culture, coaching theories and frameworks, working with groups and individuals, influencing change, navigating organizational politics, and how to create action plans based on an organizational diagnosis. The majority of programs require between 30 and 36 credits, meaning full-time degree seekers finish the program in approximately two years. Those enrolled on a part-time basis typically need three years to complete the program.

Master’s in coaching online programs exist as both brick-and-mortar and online programs to ensure all students, regardless of their personal and professional responsibilities, can find a suitable option. Because coaching revolves around such individual, hands-on services, most programs require practice labs and simulations to help students hone their skills. While campus-based students usually accomplish this face-to-face, distance learners often practice through videoconferencing.

What’s the difference between a master’s in coaching and an MBA in coaching?

When researching coaching programs to meet their professional needs, degree seekers often notice that these programs exist as both master’s in coaching degrees and master's of business administration (MBA) degrees with concentrations in coaching. Students should understand the subtle differences between the two before choosing and applying to a program. MBAs tend to focus more on business and business-related coaching, while master's in coaching programs discuss how coaching can be used in many industries. Students in both programs gain similar skill sets, yet those in master’s in coaching programs may find more diversified coursework that helps them work in a wider variety of settings. Both degrees typically take two years to complete and often offer students the choice of campus-based or online options.

What common courses are offered in a master’s in coaching program?

The following section highlights a few of the courses common to a master’s in coaching online program. While these class descriptions can help learners gain a general sense of what to expect, note that all programs provide unique classwork so degree seekers should check with individual schools to get a clearer understanding of curricular requirements.

Organizational Behavior

This core course, typically included in the first year of the program, exposes learners to the theories and concepts governing how organizations behave and progress. Topics covered include motivating employees, managing group dynamics, handling conflict, providing leadership, understanding power dynamics, and making effective decisions.

Creating Organizational Change

Students in this class learn about strategies and methodologies for affecting change in a variety of different types of organizations. Coursework covers business strategy, leadership styles, understanding waves of change and how to respond, and positioning businesses to succeed in shifting markets.

Executive Coaching

The coursework in this class helps students develop coaching approaches focused on problem-solving and solutions. Students also learn how to evaluate their clients, understand their personalities and leadership styles, and develop coaching strategies that cater to individual needs.

Group Coaching

This course teaches students how to provide effective professional coaching within a group setting. Students gain experience creating actionable presentation materials, facilitating group learning, using case studies, and conducting motivational interviews to better understand individual personalities and leadership styles.

Developing Effective Leaders

Degree seekers enrolled in this class develop a toolbox of skills and frameworks to bring out the best in those they coach. The course particularly emphasizes helping clients realize their natural leadership capabilities, developing self-assessment techniques, and providing effective feedback to those they oversee.

What exams or projects should I expect?

In addition to mandated coursework, all master’s in coaching online programs include some type of culminating requirement. Some schools may offer multiple options to meet the individual needs of students, while others require all students to follow the same path. At Bellevue University, for example, students participate in both executive coaching internships and a culminating applied leadership project that addresses a current issue within executive coaching. At INSEAD, conversely, all degree seekers must write a master’s thesis of up to 50 pages that focuses on a unique topic within the field and explores it through independent research of primary and secondary sources, interviews, case studies, and organizational observations.

What elective courses are available in a master’s in coaching program?

In addition to the core courses reviewed above, many programs offer electives to help students create individualized degree paths that better suit their career goals after graduation. Electives tend to vary between schools, but the following list highlights a few options that degree seekers may come across in their research.

Managing Difficult People

This elective delves into the business of handling conflict management arising from clashing personalities, ineffective team dynamics, or challenging employees. Students examine the methodologies and managerial skills surrounding this topic and use role-play in class to develop their own effective strategies.

Transformative Leadership

Especially when working with high-powered executives, coaches must understand the role leadership plays in their everyday lives. This course takes a look at behavioral and cognitive strategies that coaches can use to help their clients further hone leadership skills and elicit higher performance from employees.

Executive Coaching Relationships

Coaches often work with their clients for at least six months, and sometimes longer. Because of this, they must understand how to cultivate trust in professional relationships. This course helps students master the interpersonal skills necessary for building and maintaining these types of relationships with clients.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Coaching Degree?

Because so many different industries and fields can benefit from professional and executive coaching services, the career prospects for graduates of master’s in coaching online programs remain varied. The following section highlights a small selection of potential paths available to graduates, but prospective coaching students can complete independent research to find more options. Learners should also remember that even though earning the degree may move them closer to these careers, some positions may require them to complete additional education, often in the form of a certification. Some may also require licensure before applicants can receive approval to practice.

Training and Development Manager

Training and development managers work within companies to provide staff with training appropriate to their jobs. After assessing the needs of employees, these professionals meet with executives to understand the strategic goals in place. They then develop training materials aligned with the company’s budget, work with vendors to find appropriate development tools, and instruct staff in new methods. These managers also regularly evaluate training measures to ensure effectiveness.

Human Resources Manager

With a focus on hiring, supporting, developing, and firing staff members, human resource managers serve as a liaison between the management and employees of a company. They coach new and seasoned staff, consult with other managers on employee issues, and meet with potential new staff to ascertain whether they bring essential skills and knowledge to the company. Many HR managers hold bachelor’s degrees, but those hoping to move into the upper echelons often complete a master’s program.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Whether working in admissions, student affairs, financial aid, or career services, postsecondary education administrators work with staff, faculty, and students to continually improve the institution's services. They coach students through the admissions process, coach faculty through the process of creating effective classes, and coach staff through issues arising in their development as an employee. The majority of these professionals hold master’s degrees.

Top Executive

Working at the helm of their companies, top executives ensure that the organization meets its goals, stays aware of changing trends, supports and develops staff adequately, and earns a profit. Because they manage the company as a whole, these professionals often work as coaches to bring out the best in their employees, change habits or mindsets, or develop specific skills that need additional nurturing. While some positions only require a bachelor’s degree, those hoping to compete for roles at larger companies often choose to pursue a master’s degree.

Training and Development Specialists

These professionals regularly use their coaching skills to bring out the best in other staff members. Working alongside the training manager, they provide individual and group training, oversee surveys to understand organizational behaviors and needs, and conference with managers to understand what the company needs to thrive. Individuals working in a specialist role who aspire to a managerial or executive position should consider pursuing a master’s degree as a way of moving up the ladder.

Regardless of whether an individual recently graduated from a master’s in coaching online program or have worked in the field for years, professional organizations can help them progress in their careers. In addition to providing annual conferences and regional meetings, these groups frequently provide professional development opportunities, job boards, and career services.

Association of Corporate Executive Coaches

ACEC represents and supports executive coaches that work with leaders within Fortune 1000 organizations. Applicants must meet requirements in the following four areas in order to receive consideration for membership: competence, character, culture, and cohesion.

Association for Professional Executive Coaching & Supervision

APECS serves new and seasoned coaches alike, providing executive and team coach accreditation, best practice guidance, regularly scheduled events, ethical guidelines, and career support.

International Association of Coaching

The IAC maintains a membership of more than 25,000 coaches throughout the world. The organization offers its members regional chapters, three levels of certification, an active blog and newsletter, and a tool that enables individuals to locate certified coaches internationally.

International Coach Federation

Functioning as the largest group of professionally trained coaches, ICF maintains members throughout the world by providing the only internationally recognized credentialing program. The group also accredits programs, offers a coach-finding service, and provides events for professional development.

Institute of Coaching

Organized through Harvard University, this nonprofit organization provides resources, events, sessions with thought leaders, research grants, and information about effective coaching.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Coaching?

Completing a master’s in coaching online degree sets learners up for success in numerous industries, depending on their interests. After reviewing some of the careers highlighted above, some individuals may want to learn more about the salary prospects and projected job growth statistics for each occupation. As demonstrated by the table, many of these roles can potentially lead to six figure salaries. When reviewing this chart, learners should keep in mind that, while this degree can lead to some of these careers, some roles may require additional certification or work experience.

Job Title Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
Training & Development Manager Less than $59,170 $108,250 More than $187,670 +10%
Human Resources Manager Less than $65,040 $110,120 More than $197,720 +9%
Postsecondary Education Administrator Less than $52,960 $92,360 More than $182,150 +10%
Top Executive Less than $68,110 $183,270 $208,000 +8%
Training and Development Specialist Less than $33,150 $60,360 $102,340 +11%

Source: BLS 2018

Given that coaching only somewhat recently developed into a formalized field, job growth rate for these and related roles remains solidly above the national average job growth rate for all occupations. As more startup companies enter the market, the need for experienced and qualified executive coaches to help them navigate the growing pains of a new business will remain strong. According to the Institute of Organization Development, approximately 77% of organizations felt that the use of executive coaching would increase in the future.

While extensive salary data is still lacking due to the relative newness of the field, the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University provides some lateral information about salary prospects as they relate to the level of education attained. For individuals focused in business management and administration, the median salary for bachelor’s degree graduates stands at about $62,000 annually. Those with master’s degrees, meanwhile, earn average median salaries of $81,000 each year. If operating within the top 25% of the workforce, these business professionals can expect to bring home approximately $119,000 each year.

Online Master’s in Coaching Program Accreditation

Factors such as available coursework, culminating projects, university ranking, and cost all play a significant role in a student’s decision-making process, but degree seekers also need to consider each school's accreditation status. While many students come across this concept in their research, they may not fully understand the specifics. Simply put, accreditation helps assure students that they receive a quality education. Accredited schools go through a multistep process whereby independent evaluation experts look at the school as a whole to ensure the curricula meet student needs and that adequate services exist to support them both during and after school.

While no programmatic accreditation bodies currently exist for master’s in coaching online programs, learners should search for regionally accredited schools to feel more confident in their choice. Both the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation maintain databases of accredited institutions. Learners who skip this step and attend an unaccredited or improperly accredited institution may struggle to transfer credits, receive certification or licensure, compete for jobs, or move into an advanced degree.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Coaching Degree

The financial cost of a degree can become quite substantial, but students can find numerous funding sources to help offset these costs. Learners who want to take the greatest advantage of these services should begin their search early to avoid missed deadlines or insufficient documentation to back up their accomplishments. Below, you'll find more details on common funding sources.

  • Federal Financial Aid

    Applicants should always fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA, as it not only can qualify them for federal student aid, but many institutions also use the information provided on this application to ascertain whether students qualify for institutional funding. Specific funding exists at the master’s level, some of which students do not need to repay after graduation. Federal loans also generally offer much lower and steadier interest rates than private loans.

  • Scholarships from Professional Organizations

    Numerous executive coaching companies and professional organizations offer scholarship funds that students do not need to repay. Requirements vary by organization, as some may only cover a certification program while others sponsor master’s programs. The Marshall Goldsmith Coaching Scholarship Program, for example, offers funding for specific coaching certification programs.

  • Programmatic Scholarships

    In addition to professional organizations, some colleges provide departmental scholarships to help cover educational costs. These funds tend to be competitive, as students of various educational backgrounds can apply for them. Students at the University of Dallas can apply to the Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business Graduate Scholarship, for example. Applicants should speak with their prospective schools to ascertain whether this type of funding exists.

  • Student Assistantships, Research Positions, or Fellowships

    At the graduate level, numerous schools provide funding in exchange for work in the form of assistantships, research positions, or fellowships. These tend to be highly competitive as schools only offer a few of them each year. At Georgia Tech, for example, master’s students can apply to become leadership fellows, offering them not only $3,000 towards their degree but also the chance to hone their coaching skills with fellow students.

  • Employer Tuition Assistance

    Students working at a company that values coaching skills may receive employer tuition assistance. Under this scheme, employers can provide up to $5,250 each year in tax-free educational benefits. In exchange, some organizations may require students to continue working at the company for a certain amount of time after graduating. Students should check with their employers about whether this program exists at their company.