For those who don’t have the time to sit in a traditional classroom, online learning provides an opportunity that would not otherwise be possible. This is a major reason why master’s degrees are extremely popular in the online format. Since the master’s degree is such a high-level degree, many students seeking the credential already have well-established careers and full-time jobs, yet are seeking ways to continue their professional advancement. And many master’s degree students already have children and other family responsibilities that preclude spending all day on a college campus.
Recognizing the need to help those individuals with work and family responsibilities earn the higher education degree they need; many colleges and universities offer several online master’s degree programs. We’ll take a look at what prospective master’s degree students can expect from an online degree program and provide a bit of advice in choosing the right program for their unique needs.
Getting more education is one of the best ways to increase an individual’s salary. However, it’s important to remember that the increase in salary is not universal. It depends on many factors, including the subject area the graduate degree is in, where the worker lives and much more. The following table provides a sampling of what graduates of a master’s degree program might expect from certain careers.
|Subjects||2014 Median Pay|
|Human Resources Manager||$106,910|
Prospective online master’s degree students can begin the important search for schools with the following list. This ranking of schools offering online master’s degree programs takes into account various important factors, such as tuition and program offerings. This makes it easier for curious students to decide if the higher-ranked schools will effectively meet their academic needs.
To find the best colleges of 2016-17 for earning an online master’s degree, our researchers and higher education experts collected and analyzed data from every accredited postsecondary institution in the United States. The goal? To see which colleges offered the most notable balances of academic rigor, program availability, student support and affordability for online learning. The specific criteria and scoring metrics for the ranking are as follows:
*PBV: is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or “bang for your buck” – of an online degree.-
|Rank||University||Location||Score||Annual Tuition||# of Online Programs||Financial Aid %||Student-Teacher Ratio||Grad Rate||Credit for Experience||Placement Services||Counseling Services||University Information|
|1||Western New Mexico University||Silver City, NM||99.79||N/A||9||26%||16:1||16%||No||Yes||Yes|
|2||Fort Hays State University||Hays, KS||99.51||N/A||12||72%||17:1||41%||No||Yes||Yes|
|3||University of Central Arkansas||Conway, AR||99.40||N/A||12||85%||17:1||41%||No||Yes||Yes|
|4||Arkansas State University-Main Campus||Jonesboro, AR||99.39||N/A||11||65%||17:1||39%||No||Yes||Yes|
|5||Wilmington University||New Castle, DE||99.32||N/A||16||20%||14:1||34%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|6||University of Southern Mississippi||Hattiesburg, MS||99.29||N/A||15||74%||17:1||50%||No||Yes||Yes|
|7||Saint Leo University||Saint Leo, FL||99.28||N/A||21||99%||15:1||43%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|8||East Carolina University||Greenville, NC||99.10||N/A||31||50%||18:1||58%||No||Yes||Yes|
|9||Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide||Daytona Beach, FL||99.04||N/A||11||14%||12:1||48%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|10||Wayland Baptist University||Plainview, TX||98.98||N/A||15||33%||10:1||36%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|11||University of West Alabama||Livingston, AL||98.96||N/A||9||47%||15:1||27%||No||Yes||Yes|
|12||Delta State University||Cleveland, MS||98.93||N/A||8||42%||13:1||37%||No||Yes||Yes|
|13||Troy University||Troy, AL||98.76||N/A||10||45%||15:1||35%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|14||Southern Arkansas University Main Campus||Magnolia, AR||98.58||N/A||7||82%||16:1||35%||No||Yes||Yes|
|15||University of Nebraska at Kearney||Kearney, NE||98.56||N/A||10||55%||15:1||56%||No||Yes||Yes|
|16||Indiana State University||Terre Haute, IN||98.52||N/A||17||75%||20:1||43%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|17||University of Memphis||Memphis, TN||98.52||N/A||15||40%||14:1||40%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|18||University of Idaho||Moscow, ID||98.50||N/A||18||78%||17:1||56%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|19||New Mexico State University-Main Campus||Las Cruces, NM||98.48||N/A||7||39%||17:1||44%||No||Yes||Yes|
|20||Columbus State University||Columbus, GA||98.36||N/A||10||13%||17:1||34%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|21||Adams State University||Alamosa, CO||98.35||N/A||8||70%||15:1||25%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|22||Emporia State University||Emporia, KS||98.35||N/A||16||76%||18:1||42%||No||Yes||Yes|
|23||University of Central Missouri||Warrensburg, MO||98.30||N/A||14||60%||18:1||49%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|24||The University of Texas at Tyler||Tyler, TX||98.30||N/A||13||39%||21:1||41%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|25||Western Carolina University||Cullowhee, NC||98.28||N/A||9||67%||16:1||48%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|26||University of Louisiana at Monroe||Monroe, LA||98.16||N/A||17||56%||21:1||37%||No||Yes||Yes|
|27||Northern Arizona University||Flagstaff, AZ||98.15||N/A||24||66%||18:1||49%||No||Yes||Yes|
|28||Missouri State University-Springfield||Springfield, MO||98.07||N/A||10||51%||20:1||55%||No||Yes||Yes|
|29||Concordia University-Saint Paul||Saint Paul, MN||98.05||N/A||14||85%||15:1||47%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|30||Oklahoma State University-Main Campus||Stillwater, OK||98.05||N/A||16||73%||20:1||62%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|31||Northwestern State University of Louisiana||Natchitoches, LA||98.04||N/A||15||48%||20:1||36%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|32||Southeastern Oklahoma State University||Durant, OK||98.03||N/A||6||59%||17:1||30%||No||Yes||Yes|
|33||Ball State University||Muncie, IN||98.01||N/A||14||47%||15:1||57%||No||Yes||Yes|
|34||Graceland University-Lamoni||Lamoni, IA||97.93||N/A||8||10%||13:1||50%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|35||Brenau University||Gainesville, GA||97.89||N/A||10||98%||11:1||45%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|36||North Carolina Central University||Durham, NC||97.86||N/A||6||81%||15:1||43%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|37||University of North Carolina at Greensboro||Greensboro, NC||97.76||N/A||10||49%||17:1||54%||No||Yes||Yes|
|38||Liberty University||Lynchburg, VA||97.72||N/A||23||78%||18:1||46%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|39||Indiana Wesleyan University||Marion, IN||97.68||N/A||22||50%||16:1||70%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|40||Western Kentucky University||Bowling Green, KY||97.68||N/A||23||37%||18:1||50%||No||Yes||Yes|
|41||North Carolina State University at Raleigh||Raleigh, NC||97.66||N/A||33||50%||16:1||71%||No||Yes||Yes|
|42||University of Arkansas||Fayetteville, AR||97.65||N/A||16||38%||19:1||60%||No||Yes||Yes|
|43||Chadron State College||Chadron, NE||97.65||N/A||8||66%||21:1||42%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|44||Webster University||Saint Louis, MO||97.61||N/A||20||94%||13:1||64%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|45||Purdue University-Main Campus||West Lafayette, IN||97.60||N/A||13||47%||12:1||70%||No||Yes||Yes|
|46||University of Colorado Denver||Denver, CO||97.59||N/A||12||48%||16:1||45%||No||Yes||Yes|
|47||University of Texas Rio Grande Valley||Brownsville, TX||97.59||N/A||8||7%||24:1||23%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|48||University of Arkansas at Little Rock||Little Rock, AR||97.47||N/A||6||50%||13:1||19%||No||Yes||Yes|
|49||University of Alabama at Birmingham||Birmingham, AL||97.43||N/A||10||66%||18:1||48%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|50||University of North Dakota||Grand Forks, ND||97.42||N/A||23||30%||19:1||52%||No||Yes||Yes|
For the most part, a master’s degree is a way for someone with an undergraduate degree to further specialize in a particular area of study. This is often to help the student achieve a promotion or move into a different career path from one they would otherwise have with just a bachelor’s or associate degree. To learn more about some of the popular fields students choose for a master’s degree, check out the following chart, which links to more detailed pages about particular subject areas.
Master’s degree programs are a bit less uniform than their undergraduate counterparts, and the timeline for the graduate degree is more subject-area specific. However, the typical master’s degree program is designed to take about 18 months to two years to complete. Up to three years of study is possible, especially for those who need to slow down the pacing due to family or professional obligations. With so much flexibility in master’s programs, the following timeline will only provide a basic overview of each year of schooling.
Online master’s degree programs in unique areas can be particularly competitive. Given this, prospective graduate students should work hard to get the best grades possible in undergraduate work and aim for the highest possible graduate entrance exam scores. High grades and scores can also help make a master’s degree more affordable. Just as with undergrad, academic merit makes it more likely to receive an academic scholarship, grant or fellowship.
The actual application process will vary based on each school’s admissions requirements, as well as the program. For example, most online MBA programs will prefer applicants to take the GMAT and not the GRE, although there are a growing number of exceptions. Besides the entrance exam, students should expect to provide all undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation, a resume or curriculum vitae, personal statement, any exam scores and the application itself. Additional requirements, depending on the program, could include submission of a portfolio of work.
Students can think of the first year of a master’s program as being somewhat similar to their junior year of college: There are no general education requirements and the first day of class begins with jumping right into the subject matter for the degree. Entering students already have the bachelor’s degree, work experience in the field or both. Given that, they should already have a solid understanding of foundational concepts in their chosen degree area.
In some programs, students may decide on an area of specialty or focus during their first year, although the bulk of these specialized courses may not begin until year two of the master’s program.
The second year of a master’s program is comprised of electives and courses in the chosen specialties. The courses will be in-depth, high-level courses devoted to a deeper understanding of the field. Most of the work for a capstone project or thesis will be completed during the second year, too.
For students who won’t be returning to their same job after graduation, it’s a good idea to begin the job search process during this second year. These students can expect to spend a lot of effort on networking opportunities and applying for jobs.
For a select few students, planning on a doctoral degree may be in full swing during this second year of graduate study, although it’s common for master’s degree graduate to obtain several years of work experience before deciding on or entering a doctoral program.
The price of obtaining an online master’s degree is typically comparable to a conventional, on-campus master’s program. There are also a few costs associated with online education that aren’t usually present with on-campus learning. However, it’s common for an online program to be cheaper and more cost effective than attending class in-person. Below are some of the added costs—as well as some cost savings—an online student can expect in a typical master’s degree program.
This is one of the biggest ways online students can save money. These savings are a little less common than at the undergraduate level, because it’s not as common for graduate students to live on campus. However, for students who would otherwise attend class in-person, they no longer have to find housing close to their chosen school.
Online courses typically have fees not found with on-campus courses. These “technology” fees are usually rather small and manageable, but they can sometimes be significant, amounting to up to $100 per class. At some schools, these fees are charged to all students, regardless of whether a student is attending class online or not. The impact of these fees is highly dependent on the specific school policy in place, so students need to find out which fees they may be required to pay and factor that into their tuition costs.
Going to school anywhere there’s an internet connection means no more driving to campus. This can save a bundle on gas and vehicle maintenance or public transportation costs. On the other hand, for students enrolled in a hybrid or blended online program, there will be on-campus or in-person requirements. These expectations may result in significant travel expenses, especially if the student lives across the country from their online school. The good news is that for some, these travel costs may be minimal, especially if the in-person requirements can be satisfied locally. This is often the case in healthcare programs, where colleges and universities allow students to find a nearby clinic or hospital at which to meet the clinical or practicum requirements of their respective program.
Tuition for online programs is usually the same as with on-campus programs, though this is not always the case. For example, at many schools, the online cost per credit hour is the same tuition as for in-state residents. Some schools boast online tuition that is cheaper for all students, a price even lower than the in-state rate. At other schools, it’s more expensive than the in-state rate, but still cheaper than the out of the state rate. In this latter case, the online tuition rate can sometimes be more expensive for students who would have received the in-state tuition rate if they chose to attend the school on-campus.
Having reliable and fast internet access is critical for postsecondary learning, but it’s even more important for online students. On-campus students usually have access to an on-campus computer lab and of course, they can receive lectures and course materials in a physical classroom. At most schools, Wi-Fi access is free for all students and a few schools even provide laptops for their on-campus students. Online students can’t take advantage of these benefits, so buying a personal computer and paying for broadband internet is an added cost they need to consider.
Most master’s degree programs are designed to allow their students to continue working full-time. This means the curriculum is set up in a unique way that accommodates the students’ needs outside of the classroom, including work, family and community obligations. This ability to work while in school can make an otherwise expensive educational pursuit much more financially viable.
Attending school online rarely makes any difference with respect to eligibility for financial aid. Online students have access to the same state, federal and privately funded financial aid awards as any other student. The biggest exception has to do with accreditation.
Accreditation is the independent review of a school and/or program to ensure it meets basic levels of education quality. In other words, it makes sure the degree a student receives actually means something. A degree from an accredited school is readily recognized by other schools (assuming a student chooses to transfer or further their education with the doctorate), as well as potential employers. But when it comes to financial aid, accreditation is vitally important—most financial aid providers will only give financial aid to students who are attending an accredited program or school.
Most students will need to complete the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, to become eligible for financial aid. The FAFSA is the official application for federal financial aid. There are numerous federal-based aid options for graduate students, with more information available at the official federal government website, Federal Student Aid.
Even if students don’t want to apply for federal financial aid, they’ll still need to complete the FAFSA. It’s almost always required for the granting of state-based aid. Additionally, many private scholarships will require applicants to complete the FAFSA to be eligible.
Master’s students should keep in mind that most federal and state-based aid will be available to them, but not quite as much as they got as undergraduate students. This is because many government-supported financial aid awards focus more on undergraduate students. However, master’s degree students can find certain types of financial aid awards available to them that aren’t usually available at the undergraduate level, such as fellowships.
Because the idea of “best” is based primarily on the particular needs of the student, making a universal list of “best” programs is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. While the following list ranks schools, it does so by analyzing a number of different factors on which students typically place heavy consideration when choosing a program. For example, students more interested in getting a degree as cheaply as possible can focus in on the cost of attendance and place less emphasis on student-to-faculty ratio. Decisions like this allow future college students to find the best program within the context of their specific needs.Start your School Search