Online higher education has transformed professional education, and nowhere is that more obvious than in graduate education. Over the last two decades, bachelor’s degrees have become standard for entry-level jobs in nearly every occupation, and as more workers went into the job market with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree became more valuable as a way to specialize and stand out from the competition. Fortunately for busy professionals, online education also evolved during that time, making a master’s degree more convenient and accessible for adults who want to advance in their career.
Where online degrees were once dominated by predatory for-profit diploma mills, today, nearly every reputable, trusted university in the nation offers at least some fully-online graduate programs. A lot of these are in the most in-demand fields, like technology, healthcare, and business. Interfaces have improved to the point that many online classes are just as engaging and interactive as real-world classes. And more importantly, employers no longer see an online master’s degree as a liability – they see it as the valuable professional training that it is.
Ranking the Best Online Graduate Schools: College Consensus Methodology
To rank the best online graduate schools, College Consensus began with our vast field of Consensus-ranked colleges and universities. We narrowed down our pool with institutions offering at least 3 fully-online master’s degree programs. Finally, we ranked them according to their Consensus score. Prospective students can be sure College Consensus has the most comprehensive and inclusive ranking of the best graduate schools for online master’s degrees.
Stanford UniversityStanford, CA
University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia, PA
University of Michigan-Ann ArborAnn Arbor, MI
Columbia University in the City of New YorkNew York, NY
University of Virginia-Main CampusCharlottesville, VA
Washington University in St LouisSaint Louis, MO
Northwestern UniversityEvanston, IL
University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel Hill, NC
University of FloridaGainesville, FL
Georgetown UniversityWashington, DC
University of Wisconsin-MadisonMadison, WI
The University of Texas at AustinAustin, TX
Georgia Institute of Technology-Main CampusAtlanta, GA
Purdue University-Main CampusWest Lafayette, IN
University of Washington-Seattle CampusSeattle, WA
University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaign, IL
California State University-Long BeachLong Beach, CA
Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimore, MD
William & MaryWilliamsburg, VA
University of Southern CaliforniaLos Angeles, CA
Citadel Military College of South CarolinaCharleston, SC
Texas A & M University-College StationCollege Station, TX
California State University-San BernardinoSan Bernardino, CA
California State University-NorthridgeNorthridge, CA
Carnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburgh, PA
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg)Blacksburg, VA
California State University-Dominguez HillsCarson, CA
Lehigh UniversityBethlehem, PA
Wake Forest UniversityWinston-Salem, NC
James Madison UniversityHarrisonburg, VA
University of GeorgiaAthens, GA
North Carolina State University at RaleighRaleigh, NC
University of Northern IowaCedar Falls, IA
Ohio State University-Main CampusColumbus, OH
Michigan State UniversityEast Lansing, MI
Appalachian State UniversityBoone, NC
University of ConnecticutStorrs, CT
Bentley UniversityWaltham, MA
Eastern Illinois UniversityCharleston, IL
University of Minnesota-Twin CitiesMinneapolis, MN
Florida State UniversityTallahassee, FL
George Washington UniversityWashington, DC
Boston UniversityBoston, MA
Brandeis UniversityWaltham, MA
Rutgers University-New BrunswickNew Brunswick, NJ
Northwestern College (IA)Orange City, IA
Indiana University-BloomingtonBloomington, IN
Tulane University of LouisianaNew Orleans, LA
California State University-FullertonFullerton, CA
University of Maryland-College ParkCollege Park, MD
John Brown UniversitySiloam Springs, AR
University of MiamiCoral Gables, FL
New Mexico Institute of Mining and TechnologySocorro, NM
University of Illinois at ChicagoChicago, IL
Southern Methodist UniversityDallas, TX
University of Michigan-DearbornDearborn, MI
Cedarville UniversityCedarville, OH
New York UniversityNew York, NY
University of IowaIowa City, IA
University of ArizonaTucson, AZ
Milwaukee School of EngineeringMilwaukee, WI
Villanova UniversityVillanova, PA
University of Wisconsin-La CrosseLa Crosse, WI
California State University-FresnoFresno, CA
University of Massachusetts-AmherstAmherst, MA
Clemson UniversityClemson, SC
University of DelawareNewark, DE
Case Western Reserve UniversityCleveland, OH
Stony Brook UniversityStony Brook, NY
Central Washington UniversityEllensburg, WA
Salisbury UniversitySalisbury, MD
University of San DiegoSan Diego, CA
San Jose State UniversitySan Jose, CA
Illinois Institute of TechnologyChicago, IL
Iowa State UniversityAmes, IA
American UniversityWashington, DC
Hamline UniversitySaint Paul, MN
Syracuse UniversitySyracuse, NY
Buena Vista UniversityStorm Lake, IA
University of TulsaTulsa, OK
Worcester Polytechnic InstituteWorcester, MA
Santa Clara UniversitySanta Clara, CA
Radford UniversityRadford, VA
Pepperdine UniversityMalibu, CA
University of Central FloridaOrlando, FL
Marquette UniversityMilwaukee, WI
La Salle UniversityPhiladelphia, PA
West Chester University of PennsylvaniaWest Chester, PA
Towson UniversityTowson, MD
Michigan Technological UniversityHoughton, MI
George Mason UniversityFairfax, VA
California State University-East BayHayward, CA
Montclair State UniversityMontclair, NJ
SUNY College at BrockportBrockport, NY
Webster UniversitySaint Louis, MO
Winona State UniversityWinona, MN
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh CampusPittsburgh, PA
Rutgers University-NewarkNewark, NJ
University at BuffaloBuffalo, NY
Dominican UniversityRiver Forest, IL
Are Online Master’s Programs Really Reputable?
Places that offer online master’s programs are no different from any other learning institution. All the same rules apply. People seeking a master’s program will want to earn their online degree from one of the many fully-accredited online universities.
Accreditation means the program or institution received either regional or national validation from an official review board. A college or institution can only receive accreditation if it meets or exceeds the strict standards set by the review board. Online universities and institutes with online degree programs must also go through accreditation.
Fully accredited online universities hold the same weight and full reputation as any other university whether online or off. In fact, checking for valid accreditation is a good first step for those seeking a reputable online master’s program.
What Are Some of the Best Degrees for Adults Returning to College?
Returning to college can come with many challenges. Before choosing an online university, the choice of which master’s degree to pursue must come first. Often, it’s possible for people to figure out which degree to pursue by analyzing their personal goals.
For example, someone already working in their chosen profession may want to pursue a degree in that discipline so they can advance and do more with their careers. Some others may want to switch gears and jump into an entirely new career. No matter the case, there are a few degrees that work well for adults returning to college.
Business MBA – A postgraduate business degree works well for those who want to boost their earning potential and on take leadership roles in business. MBA programs are also good for networking with like-minded people.
Nursing MSN – Going from a bachelor’s to a master’s in nursing makes a lot of sense for RNs who want to branch out and take on specialized or advanced nursing practices.
Law LLM, MLS, MSL – Pursuing an LLM after obtaining a JD will help law practitioners specialize in a specific field. As a specialist, it’s possible to focus on a particular client base to maximize earnings. An MLS or MSL degree works for those who want to have advanced legal knowledge for any of a number of roles, but don’t want to practice law.
These represent good degrees to consider, but people should choose the online graduate programs that line up best with their goals.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Master’s Degree Online?
How long an online master’s degree program takes will depend on several factors. People can find 1-year master’s programs online and even 6-month master degree online programs. In most cases, the quickest master’s degree online will represent whichever program fits the applicant’s schedule.
Many accelerated degree programs for working adults exist. Some programs have short time frames by nature. For example, it’s possible to find 1-year master’s programs online for a Law LLM degree simply because that particular degree typically takes a year to complete.
By contrast, obtaining a 6-month master’s degree online will usually require the applicant to work extra hard. People should choose the program they legitimately feel they can handle. Earning the quickest master’s degree online is possible, but only for the dedicated.
Many accelerated degree programs for working adults often allow applicants to move at their own pace. So, someone can choose an accelerated pace, but don’t necessarily have to.
Can I Make More Money with an Online Master’s Degree?
One of the main reasons to pursue further study for a master’s degree is to increase earning potential. Just having a master’s allows someone to demand a higher salary. But, that master’s degree also allows people to move into higher paying positions and careers in general.
In the current job market, master degree average salary sits higher than the average salary of someone with a bachelor’s. Master degree average salary can also see numbers far higher depending on the degree’s specific field of study. For example, those with the top master’s degrees in demand will always see more by way of earnings.
However, the top master’s degrees in demand can change over time, so no one list can always say which is the best graduate degree to pursue. With that in mind, applicants should also consider those degrees that have stood the test of time.
Different people bring a passion to different careers. The best graduate degree to pursue is the one that can truly make a positive difference in someone’s life.
How Much Does an Online Master’s Degree Program Cost?
Online master’s degree programs can vary widely in pricing. Finding the most affordable graduate schools will depend on the location of the applicant and how much research they do. Loans, financial aid, and all the other traditional ways to fund college will also come into play.
The most affordable graduate schools for one person will not necessarily seem so affordable to another. Nevertheless, many accredited online master’s degree programs are out there. Even traditional colleges offer online degree programs, so there’s always something to suit anyone’s budget.