Online Master’s Degree Programs

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by Meg Whitenton

Updated September 22, 2022

Edited by Kayla Leng
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You can boost your career by earning a fast and focused online master's degree. An online degree can offer greater accessibility and affordability than an in-person program. Perks may include accelerated courses, set or in-state tuition rates for all learners (regardless of residency status), and generous transfer credit policies.

Students should consider a multi-faceted approach when it comes to finding and applying to schools. Choosing the right program requires research and organization. Our guide will help you understand what to expect from distance learning. We also review some of the top online master's programs in U.S.

www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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How We Rank Schools

In order to create the Best Online Degree Programs ranking, the BestColleges Rankings Team sourced the most recent data available from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and College Navigator, both of which are hosted by the National Center for Education Statistics.

To qualify for our ranking list, each school must be an accredited public or private, nonprofit institution offering an online master's degree program. Each school is ranked based on a formula measuring academic factors (50%), affordability (25%), and the availability and popularity of online programs (25%). Read more about our rankings methodology.

Best Online Master's Degree Programs

Rankings compiled by the BestColleges Ranking Team

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#1

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

School Information
Location Little Rock, Arkansas
Admission Rate 66%
Graduation Rate 43%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 54% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

UA Little Rock offers more than 450 total online courses. The university oversees 11 online master's programs in fields like mass communication, criminal justice, health education and promotion, and professional and technical writing. 

Most programs do not have any on-campus requirements. Faculty deliver coursework asynchronously through the Blackboard platform, providing increased flexibility for working professionals. Admission requirements vary by individual program. 

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $383
Out of State | $383

Credits to Graduate
27-60

Program Information
Institutional Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission


View School Profile
#2

Franklin University

School Information
Location Columbus, Ohio
Graduation Rate 28%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 80% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Based in Columbus, Ohio, Franklin offers more than 20 online master's programs in fields like business, public administration, computer science, cybersecurity, and nursing. Distance learners can take courses that last for six, 12, or 15 weeks, and most programs eliminate on-campus requirements. Programs use a variety of methods to keep students engaged, including discussion boards, projects, labs, and simulations. 

Admission requirements are different for each of Franklin's individual master's programs, although common requirements include holding a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. 

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $670
Out of State | $670

Credits to Graduate
30-42

Program Information
Institutional Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission


View School Profile
#3

Brenau University

School Information
Location Gainesville, Georgia
Admission Rate 58%
Graduation Rate 46%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 60% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Located in Gainesville, Georgia, Brenau offers more than 40 online master's programs in fields like education, business, nonprofit leadership, healthcare management, and conflict resolution. Most of these programs deliver coursework asynchronously through the Canvas learning management system. Courses in these programs typically last for seven weeks, and most classes are capped at around 20 students. 

Applicants to Brenau's online master's programs must submit an application and official postsecondary transcripts.

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $755
Out of State | $755

Credits to Graduate
30-42

Program Information
Institutional Accreditation | Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges


View School Profile
#4

Franciscan University of Steubenville

School Information
Location Steubenville, Ohio
Admission Rate 77%
Graduation Rate 77%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 43% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Located in Steubenville, Ohio, Franciscan maintains a Roman Catholic affiliation. The university offers six online master's programs in the following fields: catechetics and evangelization, Catholic studies, theology and Christian ministry, Catholic leadership, business administration, and education. 

Online students at Franciscan can access recorded lectures and complete coursework around their schedules through the Blackboard learning management system. Prospective students must complete an application and submit official transcripts from prior schools.

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $525-$550
Out of State | $525-$550

Credits to Graduate
36-39

Program Information
Institutional Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission


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#5

Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis

School Information
Location Indianapolis, Indiana
Admission Rate 81%
Graduation Rate 50%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 41% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Located in Indianapolis, Indiana, IUPUI offers online master's programs in more than 15 different fields, including social work, public affairs and administration, public health, parks and recreation, and computing and technology. Online offerings take advantage of the Indiana University System to provide a variety of program options for distance learners. 

These online options primarily serve working professionals. To that end, most programs deliver coursework asynchronously and eliminate on-campus requirements. 

100% Online | Self-Paced Courses

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $320
Out of State | $450

Credits to Graduate
30-54

Program Information
Institutional Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission


View School Profile
#6

Campbellsville University

School Information
Location Campbellsville, Kentucky
Admission Rate 70%
Graduation Rate 36%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 77% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Located in Campbellsville, Kentucky, CU offers more than 30 online master's programs, including degrees in criminal justice, education, English, business, computer science, nursing, sociology, and ministry and theology. The university primarily serves working professionals and delivers the majority of online coursework asynchronously. Classes are available fully online, eschewing on-campus requirements. 

The university offers a significant tuition discount for military members, along with several scholarships available to online learners.

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $299-$559
Out of State | $299-$599

Credits to Graduate
30-75

Program Information
Institutional Accreditation | Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges


View School Profile
#7

Marquette University

School Information
Location Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Admission Rate 83%
Graduation Rate 82%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 11% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Marquette offers eight online master's programs in fields like business administration, Christian doctrine, clinical mental health counseling, and computing. Distance learners can also pursue graduate degrees in corporate communication, healthcare data analytics, management, and supply chain management. 

The supply chain management program includes an on-campus residency, while the other seven programs take place entirely online. Admission requirements are different for each individual program — consult the program's website before applying.

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $500-$1,220
Out of State | $500-$1,220

Credits to Graduate
30-60

Program Information
Institutional Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission


View School Profile
#8

Liberty University

School Information
Location Lynchburg, Virginia
Admission Rate 51%
Graduation Rate 47%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Located in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty serves more than 100,000 students, many of whom enroll in online programs. The university offers a variety of online master's programs in fields like the arts and sciences, aviation, business, criminal justice, and education. Most of these programs serve working professionals by eliminating on-campus requirements and delivering coursework asynchronously. Many courses last for seven or eight weeks. 

Applicants must submit official postsecondary transcripts. Minimum GPA requirements for Liberty's online master's programs range from 2.50-3.25.

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $565-$615
Out of State | $565-$615

Credits to Graduate
30-60

Program Information
Institutional Accreditation | Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

View School Profile
#9

University of New England

School Information
Location Biddeford, Maine
Admission Rate 84%
Graduation Rate 68%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 47% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Based in Biddeford, Maine, UNE offers nine online master's programs through its College of Professional Studies. Distance learners can pursue online graduate degrees in applied nutrition, education, health informatics, public health, and social work. 

Each program delivers all coursework online and asynchronously through the Blackboard and Brightspace learning management systems. Students never need to visit campus to graduate. Prospective students must complete an online application and submit official undergraduate transcripts.

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $600-$980
Out of State | $600-$980

Credits to Graduate
30-64

Program Information
Institutional Accreditation | New England Commission of Higher Education


View School Profile
#10

University of Northwestern-St Paul

School Information
Location Saint Paul, Minnesota
Admission Rate 92%
Graduation Rate 68%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 50% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, UNW offers seven online master's degrees in business administration, divinity, education, human services, ministry leadership, organizational leadership, and theological studies. Students can complete each of these degrees entirely online, although some programs offer blended learning options for learners who want to take some courses on campus.

All prospective students must submit an application, a resume, two essays, and demonstrate a "new birth in Jesus Christ." Applicants must also have earned a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. 

100% Online | Self-Paced Courses

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $499-$550
Out of State | $499-$550

Credits to Graduate
30-76

Program Information
Institutional Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission

View School Profile

How to Choose the Right Online Master's Program

Students should consider a variety of factors when choosing an master's program, including accreditation. Schools commonly offer accredited online master's degrees in diverse majors and concentrations, which may be ideal for students looking to level up their skills in a particular career field.

Applicants can often choose from several delivery methods, depending on which learning style suits them best. Students should consider whether they prefer a live online learning environment or self-paced, pre-recorded courses. Hybrid programs may suit students looking to blend online and in-person learning.

Program Format

Schools may deliver the curriculum of an master's degree through various course formats. Most online programs offer remote learning options geared toward improved flexibility.

Students may choose a part-time program if they want to complete coursework around existing work and family obligations. Alternatively, they can pursue a full-time degree and/or accelerated coursework to graduate faster.

Online master's programs deliver course content using one or more of the following methods.

Accreditation

Students looking at online master's programs should make sure their target schools have the appropriate accreditation. Awarded by third-party organizations that hold approval from the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, accreditation signifies that a school is legitimate and provides a quality education. Students should only apply to accredited schools.

Beyond institutional accreditation, some online master's programs receive programmatic accreditation for their specialized curriculum. Examples include MBAs, which may be accredited by agencies such as the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. Additionally, master's in education programs often hold accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

For-Profit vs. Nonprofit Schools

For-profit and nonprofit colleges may appeal to different types of students seeking an master's degree. Nonprofits, which include state-run public institutions, often cost less than for-profit schools. Students who attend nonprofit schools can also qualify for federal financial aid. Additionally, public schools typically offer a wider variety of master's degrees in traditional subjects.

For-profit universities tend to maintain higher acceptance rates. These schools are more likely to emphasize technical or vocational training through specialized online master's degrees in subjects like culinary arts or medical coding.

Featured Online Master's Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Is a Master's Degree Worth It?

Students considering an master's degree should weigh the costs and benefits to determine if this is a worthwhile endeavor for their career. An online master's option may offer an affordable, convenient path toward career advancement and higher-paying jobs. Each student must decide whether they can incorporate the workload of an master's program into their work and family life.

The table below highlights some pros and cons of earning an online master's. The increased earning potential and ROI of a master's are among its benefits. However, higher earnings and career advancement are not guaranteed.

Pros of Master's Degree Online

  • Enables upskilling in a specialization
  • Master's degree-holders earn roughly $12,000 more annually than those with only a bachelor's (BLS)
  • Sets job candidates apart from those who only hold a bachelor's
  • Increases competition and viability in the job market
  • Helps professionals switch careers

Cons of Master's Degree Online

  • May exceed minimum job requirements in some fields
  • Highly specialized programs may not emphasize employability
  • Not all students can commit to the workload of a two-year graduate program
  • Graduate student debt is typically higher than undergraduate debt
  • No guarantee of career advancement or a higher salary in saturated sectors

How Much Does an Online Master's Cost?

Online college costs vary for master's courses. Some schools — especially public universities — maintain differential tuition rates for students who reside in or out of state. While some colleges still charge in- and out-of-state tuition for online programs, many degree levels set a universal per-credit rate, regardless of residency.

Students may enjoy lower overall costs by enrolling on a full-time basis. However, part-time learners may have lower costs per term. Select master's programs may allow students to transfer in some credits, which can help decrease costs and expedite graduation.

Fully online programs can save students the cost of commuting to or living on campus, and even hybrid programs may be less expensive than a traditional option. Earning a diploma online can also help students avoid hidden costs and fees related to physical textbooks, campus facilities, and in-person technology support.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Master's?

Most consist of 30-60 credits and take roughly two years to complete. They tend to offer more flexible scheduling options than a traditional program, including full- or part-time enrollment. Programs with accelerated coursework can typically be completed in less than two years. Additionally, some programs accept transfer credits.

Should I Get My Master's Degree Online?

Online degrees come with various pros and cons for potential applicants. Ultimately, the decision to pursue an in-person or online master's degree should be based on personal preferences and requirements. As online degree options are now commonplace at colleges, employers do not typically differentiate between traditional and online-educated job candidates.

On-Campus Pros

  • Access to on-campus resources and support services
  • In-person social interaction and networking
  • Hands-on learning opportunities
  • Classroom learning environment with fewer distractions
  • Extracurricular clubs and activities

On-Campus Cons

  • May be more expensive than virtual programs
  • Set class times with less flexibility
  • Time/money spent on commuting

Online Pros

  • Flexibility to learn on your schedule
  • Learn from anywhere with an internet connection
  • Network with people around the world
  • Save time/money on commuting
  • May be more affordable than on-campus programs

Online Cons

  • Requires more self-discipline
  • Not all programs are available virtually
  • More technical requirements
  • Potential social isolation and loneliness

Explore Subject-Specific Degrees

Schools typically offer several types of traditional and online master's degrees. The most common degree programs include the master of arts (MA), master of science (MS), and master of business administration (MBA). Each degree offers unique majors and concentrations.

Majors in fields like art, English, and the social sciences typically award an MA degree, while MS programs tend to offer majors in technical disciplines or physical/natural science. MBA programs are also popular, especially in concentrations like IT management, marketing, and finance.

Biological Sciences

Philosophy & Religious Studies

Social Work

Visual & Performing Arts

Web Development

Featured Online Master's Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

How to Apply to an Online Master's Program

  • Explore options and stick to deadlines: Applicants should start researching schools as early as possible to finalize their short list of preferred programs. Schools often maintain different deadlines for application forms, financial aid forms, test scores, and transcripts. Create a calendar to organize the submission deadlines for each school.
  • Apply for financial aid: Applicants should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine their eligibility for federal student loans and grants. Graduate-level FAFSA applicants typically qualify as "independents," which means they provide their own financial information (not the information of their parents or guardians).
  • Complete the formal application: Most graduate programs offer a direct application link on the program page on the school's website. Applicants should make sure to read the program's admission requirements and track deadlines accordingly.
  • Request letters of recommendation: Students should ask for letters of recommendation at least 3-4 weeks (preferably longer) ahead of their application deadline. Recommendations from sources like professors, employers, or mentors who have had a close relationship with the student can give insight into the student's potential and experience.
  • Gather supplemental materials: master's program applications may require essays, a resume, and placement test scores (e.g., the GRE or GMAT), though some programs are test-optional. Students may also need to arrange for transcripts to be shipped from one school to another. International students may require English proficiency test scores, such as TOEFL or IELTS results.

See Our Graduate Admissions Guide

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Master's Degrees

How do I pay for a master's degree?

Students pursuing an online master's degree may qualify for many types of financial aid, including scholarships, grants, and fellowships. Applicants must complete the FAFSA to determine their eligibility for federal aid. They may also apply for private loans to help cover the cost of their degree.

Which master's degree is the most in demand?

The MBA remains one of the most popular master's degrees among career-focused college students. Other in-demand master's degrees are related to topics like computer science, accounting, and nursing. Earning an master's degree can qualify graduates for management-level roles in lucrative technology, business, and healthcare sectors.

MBAs continue to attract students with the promise of high salaries after graduation. Management occupations, which many MBA graduates pursue, often earn more than $100,000 a year. Master's degree-holders can also earn six-figure salaries as computer and information research scientists or nurse specialists, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Do people take online master's degrees seriously?

Yes. Employers do not typically differentiate between candidates educated on campus or online. Since many schools have spent decades developing their remote learning platforms, employers increasingly view master's programs online as equivalent to traditional ones.

In some cases, an online degree might even be considered superior to an in-person degree. For example, employers might appreciate candidates who have experience with online learning management systems.

Can I finish a master's degree online in one year?

Some accelerated programs allow students to graduate with an online master's degree in just one year. Schools may offer MBAs and other master's degrees that condense an entire graduate education into one year of study. Most one-year master's degrees require full-time enrollment and may require a minimum number of transfer credits.

One-year online master's degrees help students advance or switch careers more quickly than a traditional two-year program. Some accelerated online master's degree programs give students the option to enroll in shorter courses or attend school throughout the year. Others, such as an executive MBA program, might include coursework specially designed for an abbreviated program.

Featured Master's Degree Resources

Feature Image: Aurelian Lupu / 500px / Getty Images

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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