Top Online Schools for a Master’s Degree 2021

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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.

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.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Online Master’s Degrees

  • 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. University of North Alabama

    Florence, AL



    A public university based in Florence, UNA offers online master's degrees in a variety of in-demand fields.

    Students may choose from over a dozen programs, including history, instructional technology and design, sport and recreation management, and criminal justice. Online students learn from the same professors as on-campus students. Learners can study on their own time thanks to asynchronous courses. The school also offers scholarships to first-year online students.

    All online programs maintain in-state tuition rates regardless of the student's residency status. Applicants should follow the admission requirements for individual departments. In general, students need a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution to qualify for admission. Some departments also require work history or standardized test scores such as the GMAT or GRE.

    UNA is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  2. Southeast Missouri State University

    Cape Girardeau, MO



    A public university based in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, SEMO offers more than ten online master's degrees for students who need flexibility and convenience.

    Notable degree options include general management, elementary or secondary school administration, teaching English to speakers of other languages, or healthcare management. The school also offers graduate certificate programs. Students are taught by the same faculty as on-campus students. Online learners have access to advising and career services, plus technical support.

    Applicants need to follow each department's requirements for admission. Typically, students need a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and should prepare to take any necessary standardized exams like the GMAT or GRE.

    SEMO is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  3. New Mexico State University

    Las Cruces, NM



    A public university based in Las Cruces, NMSU offers nearly 20 online master's degrees for students who need flexible education choices. Online students receive services such as advising, tutoring, and career services without needing to come to campus. Online learners also pay the same tuition rate no matter their residency status.

    Learners can choose from education-related degrees such as special education, early childhood education, or educational learning technologies. Other choices include degrees in information technology, hotel and tourism management, and criminal justice. Nursing students can complete a nursing administration program. The online school also offers certificates for further specialization.

    Applicants need a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Students should complete additional admission requirements for their chosen department. For some departments, requirements may include work history or standardized exam scores.

    NMSU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  4. University of Louisiana at Monroe

    Monroe, LA



    A public university based in Monroe, Louisiana, ULM offers several options for online master's degrees. Students can choose from over 20 programs and several certificate options to further their graduate studies.

    ULM offers degrees in elementary education, curriculum design and instruction, business administration, communication, or occupational therapy. Learners can also pursue degrees in counseling, public administration, and advanced nursing. Online students receive advising and career services virtually. Out-of-state students pay the same tuition rate per credit as in-state students.

    Applicants need a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. They must complete the individual admission requirements for their chosen department.

    ULM is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  5. University of Central Florida

    Orlando, FL



    A public university located in Orlando, Florida, UCF offers over 30 online master's degrees.

    Students can pursue degrees in civil engineering with concentrations in smart cities, transportation, structural, and water resources. The school also offers programs in elementary education, research administration, travel technology and analytics, along with optics and photonics. Asynchronous courses allow students to study on their own time. Students also receive online career advising and tutoring services.

    Applicants need a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, with some departments requiring an undergraduate degree in a related field. Students gain access to a success coach designed to help them with the application and registration process.

    UCF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

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.

Accreditation and Online Colleges

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: $1,500

    See 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: $5,000

    See 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: $2,500

    See Scholarship

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