Overview: The Best Online Master’s Degree Programs
Online master’s degree programs are exploding in popularity. They are in very high demand, and a huge variety of schools have begun to offer online degree programs in recent years.
Because there are so many options, finding the best online master’s program for you can be overwhelming. A few questions that many people ask as they search for the best programs are:
- What makes one online degree program better than another?
- What are the benefits of earning a master’s online?
- What is accreditation?
Students and professionals pursue the best online master’s degree programs for a number of reasons. Some people hope to switch career fields, some people would like to advance an established career, and others plan to join the workforce while continuing their education.
Every professional or student seeking the best online master’s program will have their own needs and goals that will make the criteria for the best online master program unique to them. It is crucial to keep this in mind as you are searching for the best online master degree programs for yourself.
The Benefits of an Online Master’s Degree Program
The best online master’s degree programs have some wonderful benefits:
- Flexible schedules
- No need to relocate
- Often less expensive than traditional programs
- No need to discontinue career
- No need to lose income
- Open up career opportunities and increased earning potential
An online degree program can offer more specialized expertise and an in-depth knowledge of your field than a bachelor’s degree or work experience alone.
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This new expertise can make degree holders more qualified for upward movement and increased earnings. US News reported a that professionals with master’s degrees in their field can expect to earn significantly more over their professional lifetime.
The best online master’s degree programs offer flexible schedules that allow students to study and earn their degrees when it best suits their busy lives.
This makes the best online master’s degree programs particularly attractive to working professionals and people who are unable or unwilling to uproot their lives and move closer to a university.
Since online university courses can be completed remotely, students can choose a program that fits into their lives instead of making their lives fit into a master’s program.
The best online degree programs are a great option for people looking for ways to advance an established career.
The flexibility of studying online allows them to continue working while they study, so they do not need to put their careers on hold. Students can also choose to study online university courses in order to switch from one career to another.
They can continue to work so that they can still earn an income and plan the best time to switch from one job to another after they have finished their online master’s degree program.
Limitations of the Best Online Master’s Programs
Even the best online master’s degree programs do come with disadvantages. Each program will have different strengths and weaknesses—it is important to make sure that the balance of good and bad works for your individual needs.
One of the greatest limitations of even the best online master’s degree programs is that it can be difficult to make networking connections.
With the best online master’s programs, it can be difficult to make personal connections while you are pursing your degree.
Traditional master’s programs offer unique opportunities to network and gain professional references that can be difficult to recreate with online university courses.
This is because online university courses are completed remotely and require little to no direct contact with professors or other students. If you do not have an established career in your field, an online degree program may required you to work just a little bit harder to find these opportunities to network elsewhere.
It is important to make sure that you work with an accredited online college. A degree from an accredited online college shows employers that you were held to a high academic standard and that your degree is valuable and competitive.
Though some programs must be accredited individually, there are two general kinds of possible accreditation: regional and national.
It is crucial to understand the difference between these two types of accreditation. Your school’s accreditation determines what kind of minimum standards they are required to expect of their students, and it determines how competitive your degree will be in the open job market. Different levels of accreditation may be helpful depending on your own needs and goals.
Regional accreditation is the standard to which most traditional universities and colleges are held. This means that they are governed by one of six regionally based accreditation agencies.
Online university courses offered by traditional universities are held to the same accreditation standards as traditional courses. There are some pros and cons to regional accreditation.
The benefits of a regionally accredited online college are:
- Highest academic standard possible
- Held in high esteem
- Credits are widely recognized and easiest to transfer
- Eligible for corporate tuition reimbursement plans
- Most courses will be instructor-led
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Some disadvantages of a regionally accredited online college are:
- Often more expensive
- Requires more liberal arts courses
- May be more academically and less career-oriented programs
- Most competitive admission standards (this might be considered an advantage)
National accreditation is less widely known and less widely respected. These standards are significantly lower and are usually held by career, vocational, for-profit, and trade schools. This is called national accreditation because it is not organized or limited to regional areas. This kind of accreditation also has positive and negative aspects.
Some advantages of a nationally accredited online college are:
- Usually less expensive
- More relaxed admission standards (may not always be a good thing)
- More focused on practical, career-oriented coursework
Some disadvantages of a nationally accredited online college are:
- Credits not widely recognized and difficult to transfer
- May not be accepted for professions that require licensing, like teaching, accounting, engineering, and healthcare fields
- May be excluded from corporate tuition reimbursement plans
- Courses may be self-taught instead of instructor-led
It is extremely important to make sure that you are attending an institution with the appropriate kind of accreditation. If you are looking to advance in your career in such a way that national accreditation is appropriate, an online master’s degree program from a regionally accredited school might be a huge waste of money.
However, by that same logic, if you are hoping to advance in a field that really requires you to be backed by a more prominent regionally accredited school, having any other kind of online degree program will not serve your purposes.
Admission Standards for the Best Online Master’s Programs
Admission requirements are crucial to consider when choosing the best online master’s degree program for you. Admission requirements can be a bit of a double-edged blade. Though high standards can make the best online masters degree programs very competitive and difficult to enter, it can also make your online degree program much more valuable after graduation.
There are circumstances under which the value of your degree is not that important. For example, if you are hoping to go into business for yourself, the hireability of your degree might not matter. It is important to consider your own goals as you choose the best online masters degree program and admission standards for you.
In most cases, however, it would benefit any student to attend the highest standard of school possible. They should strive to qualify for the most rigorous admissions standards because in most job markets, a master’s degree is more valuable based on how difficult it is to qualify for the program. This is based on the simple principle of supply and demand.
The harder it is to qualify for an online master’s degree program, the fewer people will graduate with that degree, and fewer graduates make these degrees more valuable and in demand. Professionals who hold degrees that only a small number of people will be able to achieve are usually paid a much higher salary and able to climb much higher in their career.
The Cost of the Best Online Master’s Programs
For some students, the best online master’s program will be the most affordable program available. It can be difficult to determine which online master’s programs are the most affordable because many published tuition rates only cover the actual cost of credit hours and do not account for any extra or hidden fees.
While online university courses are usually more affordable than traditional programs, it is important to remember that this is a relative term and that the price of even the best online master’s degree programs is extremely variable.
College Choice has compiled a list of the most affordable online master’s programs, including hidden fees.
In this list, Fort Hays State University is ranked as the number one most affordable online degree program. Their tuition rate is only $272.24 per credit hour. One of their most popular programs is an online nursing degree, specifically, a master’s in nursing administration.
Second on the list of affordable online master’s degree programs is Amberton University with a tuition cost of $250.00 per credit hour. Amberton is designed and marketed specifically for working adults. They offer an online business degree, specifically, an MBA in general business, and it is one of their best-known programs.
As we go down the list, prices begin to change. Only thirteen more ranks down, prices nearly double. Mississippi State University is ranked number fifteen with a cost of $426.25 per credit. One of their most popular programs is an online computer science degree: master of science in electrical and computer engineering.
A little bit farther down the list, there is a school with a well-known online accounting degree. University of Maryland–University College is ranked the number forty most affordable online master’s degree program. Their online college courses are a little more expensive and cost $659.00 per credit.
North Carolina State University is ranked number forty-eight most affordable online master’s program and is more than three times as expensive as the highest-ranking program. Each credit for this school has a tuition cost of $1,077.88. One of their most popular programs is an online engineering degree: master of science in aerospace engineering.
The Most Popular Online Master’s Degree Programs
An affordable tuition may not be what is most important to everyone. Because each person has unique needs, it is important to find the best online master’s program based on your own criteria. Whenever you encounter a ranked list, make sure you understand how these rankings were determined so you can know if they align with your own values.
For example, in 2016, US News published a list of the top online masters programs for various fields of study. In an attempt to find qualities in a university that would be important to the largest number of people, these rankings were determined based on:
- Student engagement
- Faculty qualifications
- Student services
- Available technology
The best online master’s degree programs were as follows:
- The best online business degree (non-MBA) was offered at Indiana University Bloomington.
- The best online engineering degree was offered at the University of California in Los Angeles.
- The best online computer science degree was offered at the University of Southern California.
- The best online nursing degree was offered at the University of South Carolina.
Accounting is a very popular online master’s degree program but was not included in this list. College Choice published a list of the highest-ranked online accounting degrees. The number one online accounting master’s program was offered by the University of Maryland
Some fields are constantly changing. A good way for professionals to stay ahead in their fields is to study for a master’s degree. This can give them increased expertise and new skills that cannot be gained in any other way.
An online accounting degree or online engineering degree can help people increase their earning potential because they can study a more specialized part of a very large field.
Similarly, online business degrees or online computer science degrees are very popular because they are so versatile—it is possible to use either of these kinds of degrees to go into business independently.
Online nursing degrees are very popular for advancing an established career because medical professionals have such erratic schedules, and an online program is better because of its flexibility.
Conclusion: The Best Online Master’s Programs
It is crucial to understand that what makes an online master’s program the best online master’s program for you is completely subjective and based on your individual needs and goals.
The most important thing to help you find the best online master’s programs for you is to gather as much information as you can so that you can make the most informed choice possible.
Keep our key points in mind during your search:
- The costs of online university courses are variable.
- Choose an accredited online college.
- The best online master’s programs will help you advance your career without uprooting your life.
- All online master’s degree programs will have advantages and disadvantages.
With the right knowledge and information, finding the best online master’s program to suit your needs will be that much easier. Advancing or changing your career can be an exciting but stressful thing to tackle. A good way to eliminate some of that stress is to gather information and learn about which elements of online master’s programs are most important to you. This way you will be able to rest assured knowing that you have made the best choice possible.
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