Online master’s programs prepare students to earn new jobs and pursue management-level positions within their current organization. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the top career fields for master’s degree-holders include healthcare, postsecondary teaching, and STEM areas. Applicants to master’s programs must typically hold a bachelor’s degree and submit recommendation letters and standardized test scores.
Top 10 Master Degree Program Rankings
|1||Sam Houston State University||Huntsville, TX|
|2||North Carolina State University||Raleigh, NC|
|3||Arizona State University||Tempe, AZ|
|4||Auburn University||Auburn, AL|
|5||University of Wisconsin||Madison, WI|
|6||University of Nebraska-Lincoln||Lincoln, NE|
|7||Colorado State University||Fort Collins, CO|
|8||Florida State University||Tallahassee, FL|
|9||University of Florida||Gainesville, FL|
|10||Liberty University||Lynchburg, VA|
Featured Online Schools
Is a graduate certificate and a master's degree the same thing?
Although both options involve graduate-level coursework, master’s degree programs feature additional courses and graduation requirements, such as a thesis. Most graduate certificate programs emphasize career-aligned skills.
What can you do with a master's degree?
An online master’s degree may qualify graduates for a new career or a promotion in their current field. A graduate-level education can lead to increased earning potential, making a master’s degree a wise financial investment.
How long does it take to earn a master's degree?
Degree completion time depends on the program and the student’s enrollment status. Most full-time students earn a master’s degree in 2-3 years. However, part-time learners may need longer.
What are the most popular master's degrees to earn?
The most popular master’s degrees include options in business, education, healthcare, engineering, public administration, and computer and information sciences. Degrees in these fields often lead to lucrative career opportunities.
Top Online Schools for a Master’s Degree 2021
#1 – Sam Houston State University
Sam Houston State University tops U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of online master’s degrees in criminal justice, and the school ranks among the best schools for online master’s degree programs in computer information technology and education as well. Specific offerings include an MS in Criminal Justice Leadership and Management, MA in Higher Education Administration, MS in Victim Services Management, and MA in Communication Studies, for instance. It’s important to note that some of Sam Houston State’s online master’s degrees do require minimal campus visits.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 27
In-State Tuition: $5,391
#2 – North Carolina State University
Among the nation’s top online colleges for master’s degree programs, North Carolina State University offers over 90 online programs, including top-ranked offerings in computer information technology, engineering, business, and education. Specific masters degree programs include the Master of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, MEd in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, MS in Computer Networking, and Master of Soil Science. Although most of NC State’s online graduate degree programs are offered completely online, some require campus visits and/or proctored exams.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 41
In-State Tuition: $8,492
#3 – Arizona State University
Arizona State University has been lauded as one of the top online schools for master’s degrees, consistently ranking in the top ten online graduate programs for business and education and the top 50 for criminal justice and engineering. Specific programs include the Master of Advanced Study (MAS) in American Media and Popular Culture, MS in Business Journalism, MS in Biomimicry, and MS in Information Management. US News & World Report has also recognized Arizona State University for its innovation in education.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 54
In-State Tuition: $11,240
#4 – Auburn University
Auburn University has positioned itself among the top online schools for master’s degrees in business, education, and engineering as well as numerous other subject areas. Through the Office of Distance and Continuing Education, the school offers a Master of Accountancy, Master of Turfgrass Management, Executive Master of Real Estate, and MS in Nutrition, for example. Auburn offers these programs through various different delivery modes to accommodate the schedules and preferences of their online students.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 27
In-State Tuition: $9,342
#5 – University of Wisconsin
The University of Wisconsin is one of the best online schools for master’s degree program in terms of the number of degrees available. The school offers over 60 online graduate offerings, the vast majority of which are master’s programs. Some of these programs include a Master of Science in Administrative Leadership, an MS in Cartography and Geographic Information Systems, an ME in Engineering, and an MS in Training and Human Resource Development. The curricula for these programs are as rigorous as the school’s on-campus programs, and many offerings are available in hybrid formats for students who desire more interactivity.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 55
In-State Tuition: $10,728
#6 – University of Nebraska-Lincoln
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is well-known as one of the top online schools for masters degree programs in business administration, but it offers online master’s programs in many other subject areas as well. Specific programs include Master of Applied Science in Community Development, MS in Interior Design, and MS in Family and Consumer Sciences Education, for example. UNL’s online programs are comparable in academic rigor to their on-campus counterparts, and distance students receive many of the same resources as traditional students, including career counseling, academic advising, and library resources.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 29
In-State Tuition: $7,518
#7 – Colorado State University
Known as one of the top online schools for master’s degrees in engineering, Colorado State University also offers online master’s programs in the areas of business, arts and music, agricultural sciences, computer science and technology, education, communications, and more. Program offerings include an MS in Dietetics, an ME in Biomedical Engineering, a Masters in Applied Statistics, an MBA program, and more. Hybrid programs are also available at the graduate level as are online Ph.D. programs.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 38
In-State Tuition: $9,000
#8 – Florida State University
Among the top online colleges for master’s degree programs as well as doctoral offerings and post-graduate certificates, Florida State University is well-known for its online master of science programs in the areas of education, criminal justice, business, social work and more. Specific program offerings include the MS Nurse Educator, MS in Risk Management and Insurance, MS in Learning and Cognition, and MS in Information Technology, for example. These and other online master’s degree programs are offered through FSU’s Office of Distance Learning.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 19
In-State Tuition: $9,684
#9 – University of Florida
Highly ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best online schools for master’s degree programs in education, the University of Florida is home to over 170 online degree and certificate programs, including those in areas such as business, engineering, agricultural and life sciences, journalism and communication, and more. Specific programs include the Master of Urban and Regional Planning, MS in Veterinary Medical Sciences, MS in Aerospace Engineering, and MA in Mass Communication, for example.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 35
In-State Tuition: $10,770
#10 – Liberty University
Liberty University’s top online master’s degrees can be completed entirely online with no residency requirements or proctored exams requires. Programs span subject areas such as arts and sciences, education, communication, divinity, behavioral sciences, and more. Students may enroll in specific degree programs such as an MA in Professional Writing, Master of Public Administration, MS in Social Media Management, MS in Political Science, and MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, for instance. It is important to note that Liberty University is a religious school, and course topics may be approached from a Christian perspective.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 39
In-State Tuition: $8,217
#11 – Ball State University
Nationally recognized as one of the top online colleges for master’s degrees in the areas of business, nursing, and education, Ball State University offers nearly two dozen online master’s degree programs. Some examples include an online Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis, an MA/MS in Interior Design, an MA in Emerging Media Design and Development, and an MA in Curriculum and Educational Technology. While most programs are offered completely online, some include residency components, and others are offered via a blended learning format.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 22
In-State Tuition: $8,554
#12 – University of Missouri
The University of Missouri offers over 1000 online courses and more than 100 different degree programs, including top online master’s degree programs. Some of the school’s popular offerings include an MA in Architectural Studies, MS in Biomedical Studies, MA in Youth Development, and MS in Personal Financial Planning, for example. It is important to note that many of the school’s online graduate degree programs include a blend of synchronous and asynchronous elements, meaning students may be required to log on to their learning platforms at specific times.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 45
In-State Tuition: $8,640
#13 – University of Memphis
The University of Memphis offers top online master’s degree programs in subject areas such as arts, business, education, health, humanities, social sciences, and more. Specific program offerings include an MA in Journalism and Strategic Media, Master of Public Health, Master of Science in Educational Psychology, MS in Sport Commerce, and more. All programs are offered entirely online with no required visits to campus. Credit for prior learning is available for some online degrees.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 18
In-State Tuition: $9,054
#14 – Faulkner University
Faulkner University is best known as one of the best online schools for master’s degree programs in criminal justice, but it offers programs in a variety of other areas as well. Specific program offerings include an MA in Humanities, Master of Justice Administration, MEd in Curriculum and Instruction, and MA in Christian Ministry. Some of these programs are accelerated, allowing distance students to complete their degrees in approximately one year.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 13
In-State Tuition: $9,450
#15 – University of Alabama
The University of Alabama is routinely ranked among the top online colleges for master’s degree programs in business, engineering, nursing, education, and more. Some of the school’s popular online graduate offerings include an MA in Management, Master of Library and Information Studies, MS in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics, MA in Journalism, and MS in Marketing, for example. The professors who teach the university’s online programs are the same distinguished faculty members who teach on-campus classes. Some programs offer credit for prior learning or work-related projects.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 35
In-State Tuition: $10,780
#16 – University of Massachusetts
The University of Massachusetts is not only one of the best online schools for master’s degree programs, it has also been a leader in distance education for a quarter of a century now. The university offers over 150 online degree and certificate programs and more than 1500 online courses. Online master’s degree offerings include a Masters in Engineering Management, an MA in Criminal Justice, an MA in Science in a Changing World, and an MA in History among many others. Though most of these degree programs are offered completely online, some blended programs are also available.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 44
In-State Tuition: $13,210
#17 – National University
Now one of the top online schools for master’s degrees, National University has been striving to make education more accessible since 1971. It currently offers a range of online graduate degree programs, including offerings in engineering and technology, social sciences and psychology, healthcare and nursing, business and marketing, teaching and education, and more. Specific degree programs now available include an MA in English, MEd in Secondary Education, Global Master in Business Administration, MA in Digital Journalism, and Master of Criminal Justice, for example.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 34
In-State Tuition: $14,976
#18 – Creighton University
One of the top online schools for master’s degrees in areas such as business, healthcare, and leadership, Creighton University offers well over a dozen purely online programs as well as some hybrid options for graduate students. Sample programs include an online MBA, a Master of Science in Educational Leadership, an MS in Emergency Medical Services, an MS in Nursing, and more. Multiple annual start dates make it convenient for online master’s degree students to begin their studies. The university also offers multiple online graduate certificates and doctoral degree programs as well.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 16
In-State Tuition: $15,300
#19 – Penn State University- World Campus
Penn State University- World Campus has been nationally recognized as being one of the top online schools for master’s degrees in computer information technology, but online graduate degrees in numerous other areas of study are also available. Some examples include an MS in Mechanical Engineering, a Master of Professional Studies in Organizational Development and Change, a Master of Science in Nursing, a Master of Education in Lifelong Learning and Adult Education, and more. The curriculum for these programs is vocationally-focused and mimics the school’s on-campus offerings.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 44
In-State Tuition: $20,470
#20 – Fort Hays State University
As one of the top online schools for masters degrees, Fort Hays State University offers many flexible degree offerings, many of which can be customizable to student’s individualized career goals and interests. Available degree programs include an MS in Health and Human Performance, MEd in Higher Education-Student Affairs, MS in Instructional Technology, Master’s in Nursing Administration, and more. According to U.S. News & World Report, the university’s strongest online graduate offerings are in the areas of education and nursing.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 17
In-State Tuition: $3,497
#21 – Lamar University
Lamar University is one of the top online schools for master’s degrees, especially for those distance education students looking to complete their degrees quickly. The school’s accelerated options enable students to earn their credentials in as few as 14 months, depending on the chosen program. Sample offerings include the MS in Port Terminal Management, MEd in Teacher Leadership, an RN to MSN program, and an MS in Nursing Administration. U.S. News & World Report ranked Lamar in the top 50 online schools for graduate degrees in criminal justice.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 20
In-State Tuition: $6,174
#22 – University of Central Florida
The University of Central Florida is well-known as one of the top online colleges for master’s degree programs, particularly in the areas of criminal justice and nursing. However, robust offerings are available in other subject areas as well. Specific program offerings include an MA in Applied Learning and Instruction, MS in Digital Forensics, MS in Engineering Management, and the Executive Master of Health Administration. It is important to note that although UCF’s online degrees can be completed entirely online, not all elective classes or prerequisite courses are available via distance education.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 25
In-State Tuition: $6,916
#23 – Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green State University offers numerous online master’s degree options, including a MEd in Learning Design, Master’s of Food and Nutrition, MS in Criminal Justice, and MA in Media Communications, for example. These programs feature multiple start dates, making it convenient for distance students to begin their graduate studies. In addition, 8-week accelerated classes enable students to finish their degrees sooner. According to U.S. News & World Report, BGSU’s strongest online graduate options are in the areas of criminal justice and education.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 15
In-State Tuition: $7,821
#24 – Concordia University-St. Paul
Concordia State University-St. Paul is one of the best online schools for master’s degree programs, in part because of its emphasis on experiential learning. Program offerings include an MA in Criminal Justice Leadership, MA in Differentiated Instruction, MA in Family Science, MA in Human Resource Management, and MA in Sport Management, for example. The curricula for these programs are heavily career-focused, preparing students for advanced roles in their respective fields immediately following graduation.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 16
In-State Tuition: $8,550
#25 – University of Illinois-Springfield
The University of Illinois-Springfield is one of the top online schools for master’s degrees in business as well as many other graduate subject areas. Sample offerings include a MA in Social Services Administration, MS in Data Analytics, MA in Liberal and Integrative Studies, MS in Management Information Systems, and MA in Political Science, for example. Numerous online certification and endorsement programs are also available. In addition, distance students may choose to pursue a number of the university’s online offerings via a hybrid format if desired.
Number of Online Master’s Programs: 13
In-State Tuition: $8,772
Types of Master’s Degrees
Students choose from numerous types of master’s degrees, each emphasizing a different set of knowledge and skills. The list below features a few of the available options. The type of degree an individual chooses significantly influences their academic experience and career outcomes. Students can contact an admissions or academic counselor for assistance selecting the best online master’s program for their interests and goals.
Master of Arts
MA programs prepare students for career advancement and admission to doctoral programs in their field. Graduation requirements typically include multiple upper-division courses, which degree-seekers must complete with satisfactory grades.
Master of Science
Although academic and graduation requirements vary by university, most MS programs require learners to conduct original research and complete a master's thesis. MS programs generally feature the same level of academic rigor as MA programs.
Master of Business Administration
MBA programs emphasize marketing, finance, and operations fundamentals. Rather than pursuing doctoral studies, most graduates of MBA programs leverage the degree to advance their career.
Master of Education
Experienced teachers can earn an M.Ed. to qualify for roles such as vice principal, principal, and administrator. Some professionals enroll in M.Ed. programs to gain advanced training in specialized areas, such as working with children with disabilities.
Master of Engineering
Unlike MS in engineering programs, M.Eng. programs focus primarily on coursework and do not typically require a thesis. Most M.Eng. programs feature some academic flexibility, such as elective options. Students usually earn approximately 30 credits and graduate in two years.
Master of Social Work
Aspiring licensed clinical social workers must earn an MSW to qualify for state licensure. Students in the top online master's programs in social work spend more than 1,000 hours completing fieldwork at social services agencies.
Why Pursue a Master’s Degree?
Both recent college graduates and experienced workers can pursue online master’s programs. Graduate students often experience numerous benefits during their studies and after graduation. The list below highlights a few common reasons to earn an online master’s degree.
- Asynchronous Learning
- Many online master’s degree programs offer asynchronous courses, which do not require students to attend class at set times. This flexibility allows degree-seekers to balance their education with other responsibilities.
- Continue to Work
- Online master’s programs allow students to continue working full time or part time while earning a degree. Earning an income while studying can help degree-seekers save for the future and avoid debt.
- Career Advancement
- Many employers reserve promotions and management-level positions for employees and job applicants with a master’s degree. As a result, a graduate degree can make individuals more competitive in the job market.
- Earn More
- According to BLS data, master’s degree-holders earn a higher median salary than professionals with a bachelor’s degree. The widest salary gap occurs in the securities, commodities, and financial services fields.
- Personal Satisfaction
- Master’s programs provide new challenges, and earning a graduate degree is a significant accomplishment. Graduates can use the resulting confidence to tackle new professional and educational opportunities.
Master’s Program Requirements
Competitive applicants possess undergraduate transcripts reflecting a minimum 3.0 GPA. Other requirements may include satisfactory GRE or GMAT scores, as well as recommendation letters from college professors. Some master’s programs, such as accounting, nursing, and computer science, may require undergraduate prerequisites and professional experience.
Graduation requirements vary by degree type and program. Typical MS students write a thesis, while MA degree-seekers complete a final project. Learners’ graduation checklists may feature field experiences or internships. No matter their master’s degree online program, degree-seekers must earn satisfactory grades and meet their school’s minimum GPA cutoff.
Career Paths for Graduate Students
Online master’s programs prepare students for career paths requiring specialized knowledge and skills. The BLS projects demand for professionals with a graduate education to increase in the community and social service, legal, and healthcare fields from 2016-2026. Employment growth projections vary by job title, and individuals may need to meet additional requirements to qualify for certain positions.
In addition to preparing students for careers in their field, online master’s programs emphasize transferable skills. Learners develop abilities in research, oral communication, and writing. Graduates can apply these skills to nearly any job requiring an advanced degree. However, workers who pursue a career in a new field may need extra education or training.
Earning a master’s degree can also help professionals advance in their current career. For example, licensed educators may earn a master’s degree to study the latest teaching practices and provide their students with the best education possible.
Scholarships for Master’s Degrees
Although many online master’s degrees are more affordable than on-campus options, learners can further reduce out-of-pocket expenses by applying for scholarships. Typical application requirements include a minimum undergraduate or graduate GPA, recommendation letters, and financial need. The embedded links provide further information about each award.
Groundbreaker Leadership Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Against the Grain accepts applications for this scholarship from Asian American undergraduate and graduate students. Candidates need a minimum 3.0 GPA and must submit a brief video presentation demonstrating their leadership skills.
Amount: $1,500See Scholarship
Foster G. McGaw Graduate Student Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Graduate students earning a healthcare administration master’s degree can apply for this competitive scholarship from the American College of Healthcare Executives. Candidates must demonstrate financial need, possess U.S. or Canadian citizenship, and apply by March 31.
Amount: $5,000See Scholarship
The Melanie Foundation Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This award supports master’s and doctoral students preparing for careers in mental health. Application requirements include unofficial transcripts, two recommendation letters, and a two-page essay.
Amount: $2,500See Scholarship