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 Michigan-Ann ArborAnn Arbor, MI
University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel Hill, NC
Columbia University in the City of New YorkNew York, NY
Northwestern UniversityEvanston, IL
University of Virginia-Main CampusCharlottesville, VA
Georgetown UniversityWashington, DC
University of FloridaGainesville, FL
University of Southern CaliforniaLos Angeles, CA
University of Wisconsin-MadisonMadison, WI
University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaign, IL
University of Washington-Seattle CampusSeattle, WA
Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimore, MD
Purdue University-Main CampusWest Lafayette, IN
Texas A & M University-College StationCollege Station, TX
Carnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburgh, PA
Lehigh UniversityBethlehem, PA
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg)Blacksburg, VA
Michigan State UniversityEast Lansing, MI
New York UniversityNew York, NY
California State University-Dominguez HillsCarson, CA
University of GeorgiaAthens, GA
Rutgers University-New BrunswickNew Brunswick, NJ
North Carolina State University at RaleighRaleigh, NC
California State University-NorthridgeNorthridge, CA
University of ConnecticutStorrs, CT
Ohio State University-Main CampusColumbus, OH
Case Western Reserve UniversityCleveland, OH
California State University-San BernardinoSan Bernardino, CA
Indiana University-BloomingtonBloomington, IN
Villanova UniversityVillanova, PA
University of Illinois at SpringfieldSpringfield, IL
Florida State UniversityTallahassee, FL
Citadel Military College of South CarolinaCharleston, SC
Boston UniversityBoston, MA
Worcester Polytechnic InstituteWorcester, MA
University of Northern IowaCedar Falls, IA
Southern Methodist UniversityDallas, TX
Brandeis UniversityWaltham, MA
Western Carolina UniversityCullowhee, NC
Dominican UniversityRiver Forest, IL
University of IowaIowa City, IA
Syracuse UniversitySyracuse, NY
Montclair State UniversityMontclair, NJ
University of Wisconsin-La CrosseLa Crosse, WI
University of MiamiCoral Gables, FL
Clemson UniversityClemson, SC
University of Massachusetts-AmherstAmherst, MA
George Washington UniversityWashington, DC
California State University-FullertonFullerton, CA
Fresno Pacific UniversityFresno, CA
SUNY College at BrockportBrockport, NY
University of DelawareNewark, DE
Stony Brook UniversityStony Brook, NY
LeTourneau UniversityLongview, TX
University of Colorado BoulderBoulder, CO
The University of West FloridaPensacola, FL
Towson UniversityTowson, MD
West Chester University of PennsylvaniaWest Chester, PA
University of Illinois at ChicagoChicago, IL
George Mason UniversityFairfax, VA
University of UtahSalt Lake City, UT
University at BuffaloBuffalo, NY
Marist CollegePoughkeepsie, NY
Rochester Institute of TechnologyRochester, NY
University of ArizonaTucson, AZ
Canisius CollegeBuffalo, NY
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh CampusPittsburgh, PA
University of TulsaTulsa, OK
American UniversityWashington, DC
University of Missouri-ColumbiaColumbia, MO
Florida International UniversityMiami, FL
Rutgers University-NewarkNewark, NJ
Pepperdine UniversityMalibu, CA
University of DenverDenver, CO
La Salle UniversityPhiladelphia, PA
Webster UniversitySaint Louis, MO
Iowa State UniversityAmes, IA
Molloy CollegeRockville Centre, NY
Fordham UniversityBronx, NY
Stevens Institute of TechnologyHoboken, NJ
Illinois Institute of TechnologyChicago, IL
University of Central FloridaOrlando, FL
Appalachian State UniversityBoone, NC
The University of Texas Rio Grande ValleyEdinburg, TX
Marquette UniversityMilwaukee, WI
Auburn UniversityAuburn, AL
Washington State UniversityPullman, WA
SUNY Polytechnic InstituteUtica, NY
National Louis UniversityChicago, IL
Michigan Technological UniversityHoughton, MI
San Diego State UniversitySan Diego, CA
Drexel UniversityPhiladelphia, PA
Simmons UniversityBoston, MA
University of Oklahoma-Norman CampusNorman, OK
University of DallasIrving, TX
Niagara UniversityNiagara University, NY
University of South Florida-Main CampusTampa, FL
University of DaytonDayton, OH
Georgia College & State UniversityMilledgeville, GA
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’s 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 passion for 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.