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The Ultimate Guide to Online Master's Degrees

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Thinking about getting a Master’s degree? If so, you certainly have good reason. Getting a Master’s degree can serve you well and produce benefits for the rest of your life. It’ll give you the potential to grow your earnings and open the path to job opportunities that you may not have otherwise had. Pursuing a Master’s degree can also give you opportunities for networking among other career-minded people. If you feel like you’ve hit a wall in your career, then earning your Master’s degree can turn that wall into an open door. 

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All of that said, earning a Master’s degree is easier said than done. Even finding the right school for your degree can be a challenge if you’re already a busy person. If you already have a job, kids, and/or other responsibilities, finding the time to earn your degree can be tough. A Master’s degree is a big academic commitment, after all, and you’ll only get out of it what you can put into it. 

Don’t give up on earning your degree, though. It may be a tough pursuit, but it’s far from impossible, especially now that more and more schools are seeing the unique needs of busy working adults. You may not have a lot of time on your hands, but you do have possibilities. More specifically, there’s always the possibility of getting your Master’s degree online. In fact, the best degrees for adults returning to college are often online options because these degrees provide more flexibility than traditional degrees do. The top online Master’s programs can help you get where you need to go as you keep tending to your other responsibilities.

While a traditional degree requires the students’ physical presence inside the classroom, an online degree only requires a virtual presence. Students can log on from their homes, local libraries, coffee shops, or anywhere else that they happen to have a stable internet connection. They listen to live and recorded lectures, submit assignments through online portals, and participate in chat-style class discussions. 

Many of the best online colleges for working adults are also the top online Master’s programs, so you’ll know that you’re getting a great overall education. Another benefit of the best online colleges for working adults? They’re filled with working adult cohorts, which means that you’ll be able to relate to your classmates. 

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Of course, the best degrees for adults returning to college are not all the same. Some let you earn your degree on your own time. Others have set login times and fixed assignment due dates. Some are even accelerated. You’ll have a lot of options when looking for the Master’s degree program that will work best for you, so don’t rush the search. Take your time, and do your research. You’ll be glad that you did. 

Ready to get started on your search? Have a lot of questions about earning an online Master’s degree? Then keep reading. Over the next several paragraphs, you’ll find plenty of helpful information and answers to some of the most common questions about online Master’s programs. 

How Long Does it Take to Get a Master’s Degree Online?

Here’s the first question that a lot of people have about online programs: How long does it take to get a Master’s degree online? Most Master’s degrees take about two years to earn. Some people earn them in more or less time, but two years is the average for a Master’s degree in the same way that four years is the average for a Bachelor’s degree. An online Master’s degree generally takes the same amount of time as a traditional Master’s degree program. 

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Now, as you budget your time for earning your Master’s degree, don’t forget to set aside time for all of the work that you’ll have to do before your first class. Some people ask “How long does it take to get a Master’s degree?” but then don’t realize how much time it’ll take to get ready for those first classes. Before you get started, you’ll need to do several things, including: 

  • Researching potential schools. Before you can start attending virtual classes, you’ll need to find the right school for you. You’ll want to consider factors such as accreditation, the major you want to pursue, affordability, and the time that it will take to finish your degree. 
  • Taking the GRE. The GRE, or Graduate Records Examination, is a standardized test that many schools require students to take before they can attend classes. Some universities have minimum GRE score requirements. Others simply require that applicants take the exam. 
  • Gathering your necessary materials. Next, you’ll need to make sure that you have everything you need for the application process. For example, does your potential school require letters of recommendation from your undergrad professors? Will you need to pay an application fee? By knowing these things and gathering your materials ahead of time, you can make the application process smoother. 
  • Applying. Finally, of course, there’s the matter of submitting your application. This is the easy part. However, take a second look at your application and make sure that you have everything you need before you send it off.  

Having said all of that, there are some schools that will let you earn a Master’s degree online, no GRE required. These days, more and more universities are realizing the limitations of standardized testing to measure scholastic potential, so they’re limiting or removing the requirements to take them for admission. If the time or the cost of taking the GRE is holding you back from going to graduate school, just know that you do have alternate options. Start by searching “Master’s degree online no GRE.” You may be surprised by the amount of results you find. 

Again, once you’ve done all of the preliminary work, earning your degree will usually take about two years, whether you choose an online program or an in-person program. However, if a two year program doesn’t work for you, then you have other choices to find a program that will work better with your schedule. 

In some programs, for example, students can take more than two years to earn a Master’s degree. In these programs, students have the option to earn their degree on their own time. A student may take fewer classes at once than they would in a traditional program. Some students even take just one class at a time. These programs work for many students because they can lessen the academic burden, which often means less stress and more time to balance their classes with their other responsibilities. They also give students the freedom to focus more fully on their classes when they do have the time to log in. This increased focus can mean better absorption of the material.

Master’s degree programs that let students control their own schedules often make earning a degree possible for people who otherwise would have been too busy. Of course, these programs can ultimately cost students more money than traditional two year programs simply because they take longer. For many, though, the payoff is worth it when it means more focus and less stress. 

For other students, the opposite approach works best. These students may have a limited window of opportunity to earn a Master’s degree, and they want to take advantage of that window. Some students would rather take as many classes as possible upfront with accelerated degree programs for working adults. This way, they can get their degrees as quickly as possible and start making career advances quickly, too. These students look for 1 year Master’s degree programs online or even a 6 month Master’s degree online. For these students, finding the quickest Master’s degree online is worth the extra academic pressure that they’ll experience in the short term because the long term payoff is graduating faster and moving on quickly to the next chapter of their lives. 

Now, if you’re looking for 1 year Master’s programs online or a 6 month Master’s degree online, keep in mind that you’re in for a challenge with this route. You may find the quickest Master’s degree online, but that degree won’t be the easiest Master’s degree to obtain. Far from it, in fact. Granted, accelerated degree programs for working adults are designed, by definition, for busy people. If you choose this route, your professors should understand that you have responsibilities, and your classmates will all have similar responsibilities as the ones that you have. 

Still, these accelerated programs aren’t the easiest master’s degrees in the world simply because of the way accelerated programs work. When you earn your degree through an accelerated program, you’re not doing half the work. On the contrary, you’re doing all of the work in half the amount of time. This means that for six months to a year, you’ll have to dedicate a large amount of focus to your studies.

Before you commit to this type of program, ask yourself whether or not you’ll have the time and space to dedicate to earning your degree this quickly. Students who choose an accelerated program should be very motivated, responsible, and willing to do the work. You should also make a plan to balance your responsibilities in light of your accelerated school schedule. 

The bottom line is that if you’re looking for easy Master’s degrees, don’t look for an accelerated program. You’ll find just the opposite. As a matter of fact, there’s really no such thing as easy Master’s degrees. By definition, a Master’s degree is challenging. Master’s degrees provide advanced knowledge that help students move forward into more challenging and rewarding careers. 

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However, the easiest Master’s degree for you will be the one that works best for your schedule, so set some time aside to consider your options and decide which one fits best into your lifestyle. Every student works differently, so you’ll want to make sure that you make the right choice for yourself. 

What Are the Most In-Demand Online Master’s Degrees?

What are the best graduate degrees to pursue? That depends on your particular goals. The top Master’s degrees in demand, according to Indeed, are: 

  • Business Administration (MBA). A Master’s in Business Administration can give you a deep understanding of how business works. These programs cover a wide range of business topics, including marketing, HR, and much more. Of course, you can pursue different concentrations to match the degree to your specific business interests. 
  • Healthcare Administration. Healthcare Administration careers are in high demand, and so are Healthcare Administration degrees. These degrees focus on the leadership and organizational skills that students will need to work “behind the scenes” in the healthcare field. 
  • Engineering. Engineers work with the technical world, and with so many tech needs in the world today, engineers have plenty of employment potential
  • Nurse Anesthesia. Nurse Anesthetists are uniquely qualified to administer anesthesia and monitor patients’ vitals during the anesthesia process. These nurses also make more money than most other nurses, so if you already have a Bachelor’s degree in nursing, this particular degree may be the right one for you. 
  • Physicians Assistant. The Physician’s Assistant job description is exactly what it sounds like. PAs don’t practice medicine themselves, but they aid the doctors who do.  
  • Math. An advanced degree in math can open up several career possibilities, including jobs in business, accounting, and more. Some math majors go on to teach math in high schools or universities. 

Now that you’ve seen some of the most in-demand Master’s degrees, you’re probably wondering which ones come with the highest salary potential. If you’re considering salaries while looking for your Master’s degree, then know that the Master’s degree average salary depends on the particular degree. The options with the highest Master’s degree average salary, also according to Indeed, are: 

Notice the large amount of overlap between the top Master’s degrees in demand and the highest paid Master’s degrees. Most Master’s degree students are focused on increased earnings. Salary is one of the top reasons to pursue a Master’s degree, so it makes sense that the degrees with the highest earning potential are also the degrees with the most students in their cohorts. 

Generally, if you’re pursuing a Master’s degree because you want a high paying job, then it’s safe to say that the best graduate degrees to pursue are STEM degrees. Georgetown University found that STEM majors pay $37,000 more at entry level than non-STEM majors. Business and health majors perform quite well, too. 

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How Much is an Online Master’s Degree?

Of course, before you start seeing a return on your grad school investment with a higher salary, you’re going to have to make that investment in the first place. 

So, how expensive is grad school? That’s a question that a lot of people ask before they start applying. It’s an understandable question. Graduate school debt can add an extra financial burden to a person’s life, especially if that person is still paying off their student loans from their Bachelor’s degree.

The average cost of graduate school tuition is between $30,000 and $40,000, according to a blog post by Franklin University. However, more prestigious schools can come with a much higher price tag. Some students even pay well over $100,000 for just two years of education. The aforementioned blog post also points out that students don’t necessarily save money by choosing online courses over traditional college courses. While some may assume that a degree would cost less if there’s not a building involved, the convenience of online learning can come at a cost.

That’s not necessarily true in every case, so take some time to compare options and costs. There are plenty of sources online that can show you current tuition rates. It’s very possible to find an affordable online Master’s degree if you take the time to look for it. As a matter of fact, you may even be able to earn a free Master’s degree online.

Now, it’s true that tuition free Master’s degree programs do exist. However, as tough as it is to find tuition free Master’s degree programs in general, it may be even tougher to find such free programs that exist entirely online. 

Still, looking for a free Master’s degree online is absolutely worth the effort when you consider the potential payoffs. US News and World Report lists some tuition-free college programs. However, the article does warn that you should read the fine print. Some of these schools only offer free degrees to particular students, such as those who have low incomes or those who have served in the military. Other schools require that you work for the school for a certain amount of time in exchange for the free tuition. 

If earning a free degree doesn’t work out for you, then you do have other options to save some money. Graduate assistantships can reduce the cost of your tuition, for example. You can also look for grants, scholarships, and employee reimbursement programs. 

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Again, though, if you’re looking for a tuition-free online master’s degree, the aforementioned article may give you a great place to start. While you won’t have as many options if you’re looking exclusively for a free Master’s degree online, you can save yourself from all of the stress and frustration that comes from paying off graduate school student loans. 

How Much Can I Make with an Online Master’s Degree?

If your “What graduate degree should I pursue?” question has anything to do with salary, than what you’re looking for are graduate degrees that pay off.

The good news is that having a Master’s degree at all is often a precursor to a better salary. Remember the Georgetown University study mentioned earlier? That same study also found the value of earning a Master’s degree in general. On average, according to the study, people with graduate degrees make $17,000 more than people who don’t have advanced degrees. 

Of course, as explored in previous paragraphs, the best ROI degrees tend to be STEM, business, and health degrees. In fact, with the earning potential that comes with these degrees, you may even feel like you’re looking for Master’s programs that pay you. 

STEM degrees are in high demand thanks to today’s ever-evolving technology. As the demand for new tech increases, so does the demand for people who can build and manage that tech. 

Business degrees, of course, will always be in high demand, and having a lot of business knowledge can really pay off. 

Health degrees are seeing a surge in salary potential because there’s such a big need for healthcare professionals these days. For one thing, there’s a big shortage in nurses now, and a lot of hospitals and other medical practices are offering large salaries and sign-on bonuses as incentives to fill in the gap. For another thing, healthcare technology is evolving just as quickly as other types of technology, which means that the healthcare world needs more people who can work with that technology. Finally, there’s the matter of the aging population. These days, people are living longer than previous populations did, and while that’s a great thing, it also means that there’s a bigger need for healthcare professionals who can tend to this population. 

The bottom line is that if you’re looking for the best ROI graduate degrees, you can’t go wrong with the ones listed above. That said, though, your question of “What graduate degree should I pursue?” isn’t just about the financial ROI. You should also look for ROI in terms of career and life satisfaction. Just because a STEM major pays well doesn’t mean that it’s neccesarily right for everyone. If you’ve spent your entire life pursuing a dance career, for example, then it’s highly unlikely that you’ll enjoy a career in in petroleum engineering, even if you do make a lot more money that way. Consider your passions and talents as you think about which Master’s degree will be best for you. 

Related Rankings:

Best Online Master’s Degrees
Fastest Online Master’s Degrees
Highest-Paying Online Master’s Degrees
Fastest Online MBA Programs

Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?