If you're considering graduate school, take some time to learn about online master's programs. Online graduate schools offer flexible, affordable options to help you balance the demands of work, family, and your education. Use this guide to learn more.

As you near a decision about earning your degree online, reach out to admissions counselors to get details about specific programs, including admissions and course requirements.

What is a Master's Degree?

A master's degree is an advanced college degree awarded to students who complete graduate-level coursework. Master’s degree recipients can expect to develop theoretical, analytical, and/or professional expertise in their field of study.

How Long Does it Take to Earn a Master's Degree Online?

The average length of a master's program for full-time, online or traditional students is two years. This can equal anywhere from 36 to 54 credit hours of study. Actual completion times may range from one to four years depending on the subject, program curriculum and format, and the number of credits completed per term.

Is a Master's Degree Worth it?

The worth of an online master's degree program is subjective, and may involve more than a simple calculation of the return on your tuition investment. Some things to consider include:

  • Cost: According to the most recent numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average program tuition for a master's degree can range from $19,000 for in-state residents at a public university to over $36,000 at a private university. Some professional programs may exceed $100,000, so it's important to verify estimated costs with an admissions counselor. Also of note, some colleges charge the same tuition to online students regardless of whether or not they hold in-state residency. Please verify with an admissions counselor before applying.
  • Earning Potential: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that master's degree recipients earn a median weekly salary of $1,434. Comparatively, those with a bachelor's degree earn a median weekly salary of $1,198. This means that master's degree recipients earn an average of $12,272 more per year than bachelor's degree holders.
  • Professional Aspirations: If you wish to pursue a career as a licensed professional, a master's degree from an accredited institution may be mandatory. For example, Licensed Clinical Social Workers must hold a Master of Social Work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. State licensure requirements can be verified through your state government website.

As interest in distance education grows, so do the number of graduate programs offered online. BestColleges features over 130 unique pages dedicated to online master's degree programs. Use the following list to begin your search for a program that meets your goals.

'' Art & Design

Online Master's in Art & Art History

Online Master's in Film

Online Master's in Graphic Design

Online Master's in Interior Design

'' Business & Management

Online Master's in Art & Art History

Online Master's in Film

Online Master's in Graphic Design

Online Master's in Interior Design

Online Master's in Finance

Online Master's in Project Management

Online Master's in Sports Management

Online Master's in Supply Chain Management

Online Master's in Accounting

Online Master's in Digital Marketing

Online Master's in Entrepreneurship Programs

Online Master's in Human Resources

Online Master's in Business Intelligence

Online Master's in Business Law

Online Master's in Economics

Online Master's in Entertainment Management

Online Master's in Hospitality Management

Online Master's in Management

Online Master's in Organizational Leadership

Online Master's in Organizational Management

Online Master's in Real Estate

Online Master's in Training & Development

Online Master's in Negotiation & Conflict Management

Online Master's in Taxation

Online Master's in Business Administration (MBA)

Online MBA in Entrepreneurship

Online MBA in Finance

Online MBA in Human Resources

Online MBA in Information Systems Management

Online MBA in International Business

Online MBA in Marketing

Online MBA in Nonprofit Management

Online MBA in Project Management

Online MBA in Supply Chain Management

Online MBA in Sustainability

Online Master's in Public Relations

'' Computers & Technology

Online Master's in Data Science

Online Master's in Computer Engineering

Online Master's in Computer Forensics

Online Master's in Computer Science

Online Master's in Cybersecurity

Online Master's in Database Management

Online Master's in Information Systems Security

Online Master's in Information Technology

Online Master's in Web Development

Online MBA in Information Technology

Online Master's in Software Engineering

'' Criminal Justice & Legal

Online Master's in Criminal Justice

Online Master's in Corrections

Online Master's in Crime Scene Investigation

Online Master's in Criminology

Online Master's in Forensic Accounting

Online Master's in Forensic Science

Online Master's in Homeland Security

Online Master's in Law Enforcement Administration

Online Master's in Legal Studies

Online Master's in Public Safety Administration

Online Master's in Security

'' Education & Teaching

Online Master's in Education (M.Ed.)

Online Master's in Educational Leadership

Online Master's in School Counseling

Online Master's in Educational Administration

Online Master's in School Counseling

Online Master's in Special Education

Online Master's in Early Childhood Education

Online Master's in Child Development

Online Master's in Coaching

Online Master's in Adult Education

Online Master's in Assessment & Measurement

Online Master's in Curriculum Instruction

Online Master's in Educational Technology

Online Master's in Elementary Education

Online Master's in ESL Education

Online Master's in Gifted & Talented Education

Online Master's in Higher Education

Online Master's in K12 Education

Online Master's in Library Science

Online Master's in Math Education

Online Master's in Music Education

Online Master's in Reading Literacy

Online Master's in Science Education

Online Master's in Secondary Education

Online Master's in Social Studies

Online Master's in Special Education

Online Master's in Online Education

'' Liberal Arts & Humanities

Online Master's in Communication

Online Master's in Creative Writing

Online Master's in History

Online Master's in Human & Family Development

Online Master's in Journalism

Online Master's in Liberal Arts

Online Master's in Media Communication

Online Master's in Ministry

Online Master's in Music

Online Master's in Political Science

Online Master's in Public Administration (MPA)

Online Master's in Public Policy

Online Master's in Social Work (MSW)

Online Master's in Sociology

Online Master's in Theology

'' Nursing & Healthcare

Online Master's in Clinical Research

Online Master's in Emergency Management

Online Master's in Gerontology

Online Master's in Health Education

Online Master's in Health Informatics

Online Master's in Health Science

Online Master's in Health Services

Online Master's in Healthcare Administration

Online Master's in Human Services

Online Master's in Nursing Administration

Online Master's in Nutrition

Online Master's in Public Health

Online Master's in Sports Medicine

Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Online MBA in Healthcare Management

Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

'' Psychology & Counseling

Online Master's in Addiction Counseling

Online Master's in Behavioral Psychology

Online Master's in Counseling

Online Master's in Christian Counseling

Online Master's in Educational Psychology

Online Master's in Marriage & Family Counseling

Online Master's in Forensic Psychology

Online Master's in Organizational Psychology

Online Master's in Psychology

'' Science & Engineering

Online Master's in Biomedical Engineering

Online Master's in Biotechnology

Online Master's in Civil Engineering

Online Master's in Construction Management

Online Master's in Electrical Engineering

Online Master's in Electronics Engineering

Online Master's in Engineering

Online Master's in Engineering Management

Online Master's in Environmental Management

Online Master's in Industrial Engineering

Online Master's in Mechanical Engineering

If you're unsure about what you want to study, another way to begin your search for an online master's program is to see what specific schools have to offer. The following list highlights schools that offer a broad range of master's programs online.

Colleges Offering Online Master's Degree Programs
College Location # of Master's Programs
Offered Online
Southern New Hampshire University Manchester, NH 101
University of Florida Gainesville, FL 74
Liberty University New Castle, DE 64
Wilmington University Lynchburg, VA 55
Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL 52
Pennsylvania State University - World Campus University Park, PA 51
George Washington University Washington, D.C. 48
Texas A & M University - College Station College Station, TX 44
Concordia University - Chicago Chicago, IL 43
East Carolina University Greenville, NC 40
National University La Jolla, CA 38
North Carolina State University at Raleigh Raleigh, NC 38
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL 38
Northeastern University Global Network Boston, MA 38
Concordia University - Wisconsin Mequon, WI 37

Continue reading for additional information about earning your master's degree online. We'd love to help you become one of the 1.2 million students taking graduate coursework online.

Is an Online Master's Degree as Good as an On-Campus Degree?

Online higher learning has grown in popularity among students and schools over the last decade. During that time, the number of online degree programs has skyrocketed. A study by the University of the Potomac found that more than 250 accredited colleges and universities offer online courses to students. Furthermore, Inside Higher Education recently reported that roughly 6.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in 2017 – a 5.6% increase from the prior year.

Employers are coming around too. Although some remain convinced that online degrees are less valuable than brick-and-mortar degrees, BestColleges 2019 annual survey data indicates that 61% of employers believe that online degrees are as good or better than on-campus programs. According to a recent article by U.S. News & World Report, experts cite two important factors. The first is accreditation; if a college or university is properly accredited, then the educational delivery method makes little difference to most employers. Name recognition is the second factor, as certain institutions have a more favorable reputation than others in certain niche career fields. One interviewee ― the director of a career services company with more than 100,000 clients ― noted in the article that roughly 75% of her clients believe online degrees are on par with brick-and-mortar credentials.

Is it Better to Enroll in an Online Master's Program in my State?

According to the NCES, most graduate students attend college out-of-state. Of the 726,000 [graduate] students who exclusively took distance education courses, 298,000 were enrolled at institutions located in the same state in which they resided, and 383,000 were enrolled at institutions in a different state. A school's location will significantly impact the overall cost of a master's degree program. Although rates vary by institution, most colleges and universities offer lower tuition for students who are residents of the state where their brick-and-mortar campus is located. A survey by College Data found that, on average, in-state students pay $9,650 in annual tuition; out-of-state students pay $24,930 per year to attend the same school ― an increase of more than 250% over their in-state counterparts.

Some master's students may be able to pay in-state tuition rates regardless of their residency status. Many colleges and universities will grant in-state residency to anyone who has resided in that state for at least one year, allowing master's degree-seekers to reduce their financial burden by relocating one year prior to enrollment. A growing number of institutions also offer in-state rates to students after they have attended classes at the school for six months to one year (although this may require on-campus attendance). If in-state tuition is not feasible, master's students may still be able to reduce their tuition rates by a significant margin through a system known as state authorization reciprocity. Select U.S. schools offer reduced out-of-state tuition rates for students from neighboring states. For example, the Midwest Student Exchange Program offers lower out-of-state rates for students from nine other states in that region of the country.

Online students are usually able to pay in-state tuition if their current residence is located in that particular state. Online degree programs utilize tracking technology that allows them to pinpoint the location of each student, preventing anyone living out-of-state from paying in-state tuition rates. As with brick-and-mortar students, the tuition policy for online students will vary by school. Some charge all online students the same tuition price regardless of state residency; in most cases, this rate is cheaper than the school's out-of-state rate, but more expensive than the in-state rate. Online students should research the tuition policies of each school they are considering ― and contact campus officials if possible ― in order to determine the most affordable options.

In addition to lower tuition rates, master's degree-seeking students often choose to attend college in their home state for other reasons too. These include unique degree programs and specialization options, athletic programs, and well-renowned counseling and advisement services.

How to Choose an Online Master's Degree

Before settling on an online master's degree program, applicants should carefully research all potential schools and grade them using the same set of criteria. These factors include the following:

Cost

Creating a budget plan is an important first step for any prospective master's student. Browse the tuition rates at each school on your list to see if the overall costs will fit within your personal budget constraints. Add up all expenses ― including tuition, housing, and student fees ― to calculate an accurate cost estimate. Also research scholarships, grants, and other financial aid opportunities that are exclusively offered to students enrolled at certain institutions. Finally, be sure to look at the student outcomes of each school ― particularly the average salaries of master's-earning graduates after they leave school.

Flexibility

The choice between a synchronous or asynchronous master's online program should come down to student preference. Some learners appreciate the flexible schedule of a self-paced program, and look forward to potentially earning their degree ahead of schedule. Others prefer a firmer academic structure, and don't mind investing in the full two years (or more) in order to earn their master's degree.

Proximity

The distance between your current residence and your school's campus may play an important role in your decision. While most coursework in an online master's program will be done at home, some courses require regular campus visits. These include classes with lab and/or practicum components. Living close to campus also allows you to utilize school resources like libraries, computer labs, writing centers, and job boards, which are not always available online.

Not-for-profit vs. For-profit

For-profit online colleges and universities have recently caught flack due to below-average academic offerings and student outcomes compared to their not-for-profit competitors. As a result, many students who graduate with an online master's from a for-profit school are saddled with more debt, but considered less employable than those who have earned a master's from other schools. It should be noted that for-profit institutions often provide the best academic pathway for students, and programs and student outcomes vary by school. Nonetheless, students should take the time to vet each for-profit and not-for-profit school on their list to look for past criticisms and controversies.

Private vs. Public

For most students, total cost is the primary consideration when choosing between public and private schools. At private colleges, the tuition rates for online courses tend to be less expensive than the rates for both brick-and-mortar courses and out-of-state students. In contrast, in-state online students enrolled at public universities often pay more in tuition than their in-state counterparts attending courses on campus.

Christopher Gerhart

Graduate: Master's in Addiction Studies

For some personal insight into the opportunities a master's degree can provide, we spoke with Christopher Gerhart, a small business owner who received his master's degree in Addiction Studies online from the University of South Dakota in 2013.

In your opinion, is earning an online master's degree easier than earning a traditional, on-campus degree?

My wife completed law school at Texas Tech, in Lubbock, TX and while we were there, I took one graduate level class, so I have some grounds for comparison, both from my own experience and observing hers. Earning my degree online was easier in some ways and harder in others. Working at my own pace, on my own schedule made my experience smoother in many ways, but it also could also present challenges at times. Having classmates around the world in similar demographics (employed, family life, more life experience) was helpful. At the same time, I missed some of the face-to-face discussion that a student would receive at a traditional, on-campus program.

Have opinions of fully online programs changed in the recent years?

I think that there are a lot of credible options out there for online schools. Opinions of employers and licensing boards vary; but, the common wisdom that I have experienced is that if a school has a brick and mortar presence, it tends to be a better choice when choosing an online program. Most people don't question where I got my degree, just what licensing and certification I have.

Do employers respect online master's degrees?

I have had two employers since earning my degree online. One was the company I was working for while I was in school. I did my internship and supervision hours there with my clinical and management supervisors. The other was with another company and they did not ask where I got my degree as long as I had one. I am now in private practice and don't think of my online degree any differently than I would have if it was a degree from a brick-and-mortar program.

How much work is it to get an online master's degree? How much time does it take?

The amount of work I put into my degree was reflected directly by my 3.5 GPA. The more I worked at it, the better I did in class, on papers and during exams. I worked full time during my studies and did not have much trouble balancing my life. My daughter was young (3-6 years old) and my wife was supportive. That said, I did not spend very much time on social media, watching television, or in my garden. I had a number of late nights and early mornings. If I was up and concerned about my studies, I just got up and worked on them.

Who is the ideal student for an online master's program?

I think that the ideal online student is self-motivated, balanced, and committed to making their life, and the lives of those around them better. I had highly successful classmates that ranged in age from their early 20's to their late 70's. Some were geographically isolated; others were involved in their local communities or careers such that leaving to attend graduate school was not an option.

An online program is not for everyone. Be honest with yourself about your own level of dedication and engagement.

From start to finish, the process of researching different schools, applying to top choices, and receiving admission can last for several months ― up to a year or longer, in some cases. The following section includes some of the most important steps that aspiring master's students will need to complete prior to enrolling in courses and obtaining their degree.

Things to Consider

Flexibility

This will be a particularly important consideration for students who are employed full- or part-time and plan to keep their jobs while they earn their master's. Asynchronous programs allow them to study at their own pace, which can be ideal for those with demanding schedules. Synchronous programs may be harder to handle while working, but students tend to complete these pathways faster than asynchronous pathways.

Transfer Credit Opportunities

Master's students may be able to enter their graduate programs with a handful of credits if they have held certain jobs or served in the military. This is known as experiential credit, and is awarded on the basis that the student's professional background negates their need for taking certain courses. This type of credit is not always available, but students with experience in certain areas should look into experiential credit opportunities at schools they are considering; just one course can potentially save them thousands of dollars.

Admissions Deadline

It is absolutely imperative to submit all application materials ahead of the school's admissions deadline. Some institutions will receive and review applications during certain periods of the year, and will discard applications that arrive outside that window. Others offer 'rolling admission', and will continuously review applications and grant admission to students throughout the calendar year. On average, schools with rolling admission will issue a response to applicants within four to six weeks of receiving their application materials.

What You Need to Apply:

Testing

Like undergraduate programs, many master's programs require applicants to submit standardized test scores. The most common test taken by master's applicants is the Graduate Record Examinations, or GRE. The GRE features three sections: verbal, consisting of reading comprehension, vocabulary, and critical reasoning; quantitative, which consists of mathematics and logical reasoning; and a critical writing assessment, which is optional. The GRE is scored on a scale of 130 to 170, and only accounts for the verbal and quantitative sections. In addition to the GRE, some master's programs require standardized test scores from exams concentrated in certain academic fields. These exams include the GMAT (business), LSAT (law), and the MCAT (medical). Students who speak English as a second language (ESL) may be required to take a graduate entrance exam that assesses their abilities to read, write, and understand English. The three most common ESL exams for master's students are the TOEFL, IELTS, and MELAB exams. It's important to note that many schools do not require standardized test scores of any kind for master's degree applicants.

Letters of Recommendation

Master's program applicants should carefully choose who they ask to write their letters of recommendation. The best options usually include undergraduate professors and advisors, current and past employers, relevant co-workers, and other individuals who have firsthand knowledge of the applicant's academic and/or professional background. Family members, friends, and classmates should be avoided. Be sure to allow enough time for the chosen references to write the letter; generally, six weeks prior to mailing the application is a good benchmark.

Resume

Applicants should tailor their resume to reflect academic and professional experiences that are relevant to their master's degree field of study. Prioritize jobs that showcase skills and knowledge related to the program, and be sure to include community service projects, volunteer experiences, and other applicable details that will bolster the employment history. Make sure all contact information is accurate and up-to-date; for most applications, a cover letter will not be required.

Icon - Person Personal Statement/Essay

Like undergraduate applications, many graduate school applications require candidates to write a personal statement and/or prompted essay. This section gives students the chance to show off their writing and critical thinking skills. The amount of writing requirements will usually vary from one or two to as many as five or six, depending on the school. Write or type everything out beforehand in order to review the language and check the grammar. If completing a paper application, always use a pen and write with the best possible penmanship.

Official Transcripts

In order to prove they have successfully completed their bachelor's degree studies, master's programs will always ask applicants to submit official undergraduate transcripts; high school transcripts are usually not required. An official transcript is printed on official school stationery and sealed in a tamper-proof envelope; these are easily available from undergraduate institutions for a small fee. Unofficial transcripts are also available, but applicants should always submit official transcripts as part of their master's program application.