Online Master’s Degrees

Wondering whether an online master's degree is right for you? Use our guide to find the best subject for your academic and career goals.
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Updated on April 16, 2024
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Online master's degrees can be more affordable and flexible than their traditional in-person counterparts. From business administration to psychology, you have a wide array of fields you can choose from for your master's program.

An online master's degree can help you advance your career and even earn more money. You'll not only strengthen your skills and knowledge in your area of interest, but also increase your likelihood of standing out to potential employers.

Discover the many types of online master's degrees you can get and learn more about the pros and cons of earning an advanced degree.

Featured Online Master's Programs

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

Explore Online Master's Degrees by Subject

Use the jump links below to learn more about online master's degrees that interest you.

Arts & Humanities

A master's degree in the humanities strengthens your communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills by requiring you to analyze and interpret literature, art, and history. It can also prepare you to teach at the high school or community college level.

Business

If you're passionate about running a company — whether that's through entrepreneurship or by crunching numbers to inform business decisions — a master's in business could be right for you.

Criminal Justice & Legal

Online master's programs in criminal justice and legal studies can help you understand criminal behavior, the legal repercussions of crime, and how law enforcement works.

Education & Teaching

Master's programs in education qualify you to teach in various settings and across various age groups. These degrees — especially a master of education (M.Ed.) — can also prepare you to manage a school, develop curricula, and work more broadly in education administration.

Healthcare & Nursing

An online master's in healthcare or nursing will prepare you to work in higher-level roles in healthcare. Depending on what you study, you may have to complete practicums in person. Some healthcare master's programs may also require prior medical work experience.

Psychology & Counseling

Want to apply the study of the human mind in a higher-level role? Or aiming to advance your therapy career? Then consider a master's in psychology or counseling. You can study general psychology or counseling or specialize in a subtype, such as behavioral psychology and human development.

Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math

A master's degree in STEM can advance your understanding of specialized areas. Tech and computer science jobs are in particularly high demand as our world becomes more dependent on computer systems and machines.

Social Sciences

A master's degree in a social science can prepare you to work in a number of key roles in government, nonprofit organizations, and businesses. Social science entails the study of human behavior, societies, politics, and social systems.

Social Work

Social work can be challenging work but also highly rewarding. With an online master of social work (MSW) degree, you can work in fields like child welfare, mental health, and public policy.

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

Most master's programs consist of 30-60 credits and take roughly two years to complete. Online master's degrees tend to offer more flexible scheduling options than traditional in-person programs.

Online programs with accelerated coursework can typically be completed in less than two years — commonly one year or less.

Is an Online Master's Degree Worth It?

If you're considering a master's degree, it's important that you weigh the pros and cons.

An online master's degree can offer a more affordable, more convenient path toward career advancement and higher-paying jobs. For most people, however, this often means having to balance coursework with a full-time job and family obligations.

Here are some of the biggest pros and cons of online master's degrees to consider.

Pros of Online Master's Degrees

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    Gives you the opportunity to upskill and specialize
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    Master's degree-holders earn roughly $13,000 more per year than those with only a bachelor's degree, according to the BLS
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    Sets job candidates apart from those with only a bachelor's degree
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    Increases competition and viability in the job market
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    Helps professionals switch careers

Cons of Online Master's Degrees

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

How to Choose the Right Online Master's Program for You

Make sure you consider several factors when choosing a master's program, particularly how the program is set up, whether the school is accredited, and whether the school is a nonprofit or for-profit institution.

Program Format

Schools may deliver master's degree courses through various class formats. Most online programs offer remote learning options with an emphasis on flexibility and convenience for adult learners.

You may prefer a part-time program if you want to complete coursework around existing work and family obligations. Alternatively, you could pursue a full-time degree or an accelerated program to try to graduate faster.

Online master's programs deliver course content either synchronously, asynchronously, or in a hybrid format. Synchronous coursework means you'll participate in live online lectures and classes, whereas asynchronous means you can complete everything on your own schedule.

A hybrid program combines in-person and online courses.

Accreditation

Be sure to check that your target schools are accredited before you apply to any online master's programs.

Accreditation means a school meets certain quality standards set by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the Department of Education (ED). You can check a school's accreditation status using the directories on the CHEA and ED websites.

Beyond institutional accreditation, some online master's programs receive programmatic accreditation for their specialized curricula. Examples include MBAs, which may be accredited by agencies such as the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.

Similarly, master's in education programs often hold accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

For-Profit vs. Nonprofit Schools

As you search for online master's degrees, beware for-profit colleges. These schools are typically lower quality and costlier than nonprofit schools.

While you may find an online master's program at a for-profit school appealing, understand the potential problems you might face by attending. Issues with for-profit schools can range from earning nontransferable credits, to graduating with high amounts of student debt, to receiving a "bogus" degree.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Master's Degrees

Is an online master's degree respected?

An online master's degree is respected, so long as it's from an accredited school and program. Accreditation demonstrates that a school meets a certain standard of education for its students. An accredited online program is as credible as its in-person counterpart.

A master's degree in nursing boasts one of the highest salaries for master's degree-holders, with nurse anesthetists earning a median salary of $212,650 in 2023, according to the BLS.

Computer science and technology master's degrees can also lead to a high salary, with computer and information systems managers earning a median annual salary of $169,510.

The MBA remains one of the most popular master's degrees among career-focused college students. Other in-demand master's degrees encompass subjects like computer science, accounting, and nursing.

Earning a master's degree can qualify you for management-level roles in the technology, business, and healthcare sectors.

While you can't say for sure that one master's degree will be easier to get than another, humanities-related degrees generally provide more flexibility in curriculum requirements. More technical programs may have more rigid structures and rigorous curricula.

Ultimately, the difficulty of a master's degree program will depend on your own strengths and weaknesses, personal circumstances, and program requirements.


Note: The insights on this page were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by BestColleges.

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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