Online master’s degrees come with several advantages including higher salaries and the potential to find a position in management and leadership. According to an economic impact and educational attainment study from Georgetown University, about 11% of jobs in the American workforce will require employees to possess master’s degrees by 2020. This guide contains information on how to find the best online master’s programs; how much more you can earn with an online master’s degree; how you can find a career that matches your needs; options for online program formats; and various scholarships specifically for master’s students.
When considering an online master’s degree program, prospective students need to consider cost, time, benefits, and whether they can fit school into their schedules. Others might wonder whether to go for a master’s degree or a professional certification. Whether you identify as an undergraduate student looking at advanced degree options or a working professional hoping to advance your career, this guide will lay out what you need to know to make an informed decision.
A master’s degree can help you gain leadership potential in your career as well as additional knowledge and prowess in a specific field. However, you may a find similar payoff in other continuing education options such as professional certifications.
|Professional Certification||Master’s Programs|
|What types of institutions award these?||Professional associations, continuing education organizations, colleges and universities||Colleges and universities|
|How long does it take?||Varies depending on the field. Some certifications require independent study that candidates can complete in a few months||A traditional master’s degree program takes one to two years to complete for full-time students|
|What is the goal?||Professional certifications prepare you for one particular position in a low-cost and streamlined manner||Master’s degrees help people who want advance in their careers and earn higher salaries|
|Who would it makes sense for?||People without much time or on a strict budget; professionals who know exactly what position they aim for||People who want to increase their earning power, can commit a longer time to studying, who know which industry they want to enter but not necessarily what position they want to hold|
|Any caveats to consider?||Certifications fall into one specialized area, so you will not see a lot of flexibility if you want to switch up your position. In addition, a master’s degree typically holds more weight.||A master’s degree takes a huge investment of time and money. Calculate the costs to see if it will pay off in the long run.|
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Professionals with master’s degrees possess more negotiating power and hold advanced skills that give them an advantage in the job market. Below are some examples of careers that require a master’s degree and their respective salaries.
|OCCUPATIONS REQUIRING MINIMUM OF A MASTER’S DEGREE||Average of Mean Salary by State|
|Computer and Information Research Scientists||$109,009|
|Education Administrators, Postsecondary||$105,309|
|Education Administrators, Elementary and Secondary School||$92,943|
|Psychologists, All Other||$88,111|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017
Online master’s degrees can prepare everyone from creative types, math lovers, healthcare workers, and educational professionals to advance within their respective fields. Below, you’ll find the best master’s degrees to fit your career goals.
The federal government funds training and employment programs to help people find jobs. For instance, a workforce development office in your area might offer apprenticeship programs in the fields of health, public safety, or childcare development. If you earn your master’s degree in a field like healthcare or nursing and then acquire an apprenticeship, you may turn that apprenticeship into full-time employment.
You can also find industries with low unemployment numbers including agriculture, public administration, or information technology. If you earn a master’s degree in computer science, farm and ranch management, or public or business administration, your chances of finding employment increase.
Professionals who hold positions with flexible hours often work for themselves, pursue remote and freelance jobs, and work with clients. For example, those who earn their master’s degrees in computer science can become IT project managers or computer and information research scientists. Marriage and family therapists, nurse midwives, and occupational therapists can set up independent practices and take on their own clients. Political scientists can also set up their own practices and may work as consultants or advisers for politicians they take on as clients.
Prospective graduate students who want to work outdoors should consider earning a degree in an area like archeology, anthropology, farm and ranch management, crop production, or animal husbandry and production. Archeologists and anthropologists work outside for field research, and farm management advisers spend a lot of their time with crops and animals.Learn More About Careers Working in the Outdoors
Sometimes professionals with families, busy schedules, or other obligations prefer working from home. The home office setup gives them more flexibility to control their own hours, and often people can find remote jobs in information technology, like computer and information research scientists. These professionals must earn their master’s degrees in computer science.
If you want to find a remote job that allows you to work with animals, you should get a master’s degree in a topic like farm and ranch management, animal husbandry and production, or animal nutrition. With these degrees, you can find work in fields such as agricultural management, animal biology, or in a position as a farm and home management adviser.Learn More About Careers Working with Animals
People who want to work with children after earning their master’s degrees usually go into educational settings and can often find jobs as school counselors or school principals. Employers like to see school counselors who possess master’s degrees in education counseling and principals who hold a master’s in education administration.Learn More About Careers Working with Children & Families
Professionals go into nonprofit work to make a difference in people’s lives. Luckily, earning a master’s can open up career options for people who hope to enter the nonprofit industry. A graduate degree in psychology helps qualify people for mental health counseling positions, and a master’s degree in social work allows candidates to become qualified as social workers. Those who want to go into nonprofit survey research must earn a master’s in research methods, math, computer science, or statistics.Learn More About Nonprofit Careers
People with introverted personalities tend to find social situations more exhausting than their extroverted counterparts and often thrive when they can spend time alone. They may prefer jobs where they can limit their social interactions. For example, computer and information research scientists spend the majority of their time with machines instead of people and need a master’s degree in computer science or a related field. Mathematicians and statisticians also dedicate a lot of time to solving problems with computers and must possess master’s degrees in math or statistics. Archivists focus their attention on historical documents and should hold a master’s degree in history, library science, or archival science.
Students earning their master’s degrees online watch lectures, read class materials, and participate in class discussions from the comfort of their homes or other convenient location with internet access. These online programs allow for a flexibility that conventional programs lack, and oftentimes students are able to further personalize their degree path to accommodate their work-life balance. Read more about these special dual-track, accelerated, and part-time programs below.
Dual-track programs, or joint graduate programs, let master’s students enroll in two degree programs at one time. Online schools that run MBA programs, for instance, sometimes let students simultaneously enroll in degrees like a master’s in education, a juris doctor, or a master’s in public policy. Other online colleges may offer joint master’s of public administration and criminal justice or social work. When students graduate, they receive two diplomas. This option can widen job prospects for recent graduates.
Accelerated programs allow students to finish their degrees more quickly. Schools offer accelerated programs through different formats. Some online universities administer 4+1 programs, allowing undergraduate students to take graduate-level courses and finish their master’s degrees in one year. Other online programs offer credit for previous courses taken from another institution, and some colleges create abbreviated semesters and intensive courses that pack in more material over a shorter period of time.
Many online master’s degree programs allow students to enroll part-time, meaning students take one or two classes at a time instead of pursuing a full course load. Part-time programs let working adults attend to their daily responsibilities without overwhelming them with schoolwork. Full-time professionals and people with families often prefer part-time programs for that reason. Keep in mind that these degrees take longer to complete, and most schools set a time limit on the number of years students can pursue one degree.
The scholarships below make up only a small selection of the options you can find as online master’s students. Some scholarships are open to students in any field of study, but others cater specifically to one major.
Amount Awarded: $25,000
Eligibility & Requirements: This scholarship competition requires contestants to take a practice GMAT, and the award goes to the person who scores the highest. Students enrolled in master’s programs in business may enter the contest.
Amount Awarded: Up to $7,000
Eligibility & Requirements: Sponsored by the International Institute for Learning, this award is meant for graduate and undergraduate students pursuing a degree in project management or related fields. Candidates must submit transcripts, a resume, and a short essay.
Amount Awarded: $1,000
Eligibility & Requirements: The Gen and Kelly Tanabe Scholarship fund has given merit-based scholarships to high school, undergraduate, and graduate students since 2001. The scholarship fund accepts students from any discipline enrolled in an accredited school. Candidates must be enrolled or planning to enroll in school within a year, be legal residents of the U.S., and submit a personal statement.
Amount Awarded: Up to $2,500
Deadline: August and December
Eligibility & Requirements: Both undergraduate and graduate students can apply for this scholarship as long as they possess a minimum 3.4 GPA and are studying full time. Applicants must write an essay of 800-1,000 words about the importance of healthy living.
Amount Awarded: $1,000
Eligibility & Requirements: This scholarship is open to graduate and undergraduate students in STEM fields. Applicants should be pursuing a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree at an accredited institution and carry a minimum 3.0 GPA. A 500-word essay regarding why the applicant is interested in STEM or what their proudest achievement in the field is must be submitted along with their application.