How to Choose the Best Graduate Degree Online

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This article will describe what a online graduate degree is, and the important things to consider as you select one. It also will discuss the types of career options you may have with various graduate degrees, and entry requirements for many programs. Also included are reviews of several online graduate schools.

Why Earn an Online Graduate Degree?

Many education experts today argue that earning just an undergraduate degree is not enough to land good-paying jobs now or in the future. More and more, they advise, many professionals would be wise to earn a graduate degree online.

The most important reasons that you should consider getting a graduate degree are:

  • More employment opportunities: Many career sectors today, including public affairs, education, social services and higher education administration, a master’s degree is the minimum requirement to even be considered for a job. Thirty years ago, it was possible to get an entry level job in admissions, student services or academic advising. Today, it generally is required to hold a master’s degree to be considered.
  • More career advancement: Earning a graduate degree shows that you are persistent, determined, smart, and can handle a challenging intellectual environment. All of these qualities are important for professionals needed for management, corporate and director roles.
  • More money: The return on investment is one of the most popular reasons that people go to grad school. US News and World Report states that people with a master’s earn an average salary of $55,242 and those with a bachelor’s earn $42,877. This is almost a 30% difference, and offers evidence that getting a master’s can improve your finances.
  • More credibility: Having an advanced degree from a respected university makes one stand out when looking for work. It also indicates that you have a high level of dedication in your field.
  • More security: People with graduate degrees often have better job security when companies begin to downsize. Professionals with more experience and education often are in essential positions that cannot be easily cut.
  • More networking: One of the major advantages of graduate school is being exposed to highly educated and talented professionals in your classes. These people can be a great source of learning and possible job contacts for the future.

Career Options With a Graduate Degree Online

Clearly, one of the major reasons that professionals choose to earn a graduate degree is the enhanced career possibilities. Professionals with more education and experience that come with master’s degrees tend to earn more and can acquire positions with more responsibility and complexity.

Just how much you will earn and how high you will climb will depend upon your skills and your specific field, naturally. But Forbes magazine recently selected the graduate degrees with the highest career pay and job possibilities. As you are thinking about a graduate degree online, it may be wise to consider one of these master’s programs:

  1. Physician assistant studies: Mid-career pay is $100,000 per year, with projected employment increase of at least 30% by 2024. Job growth including replacement needs as people retire is 57% in the coming years.
  2. Computer science: Mid-career pay is $111,000, and projected employment increase is 27% by 2024. Job growth with replacement needs is 39%. Some of the common in demand jobs in this field are cyber security managers, information technology managers, software architects, and database administrators.
  3. Civil engineering: Mid-career pay is $99,000 per year, with employment projected to increase by 25% by 2024. Job growth, including replacement needs, is 41%. Common occupations with this graduate degree are project engineer, civil engineer and structural engineer.
  4. Mathematics: Mid-career pay is $96,000, and projected job growth is at least 20% by 2024. Many in the field are slated to retire soon, and job growth with replacement needs is 50%. Popular jobs are statistician, actuary and teacher.
  5. Physics: Projected mid-career compensation is $110,000 per year, and jobs with increase by 16% by 2024.
  6. Information technology: Mid-career pay is at least $98,000 per year, and can go higher in certain industries. Employment will increase by 30% by 2024; with replacements it will be 40%. Common roles are software developer, IT managers and IT specialist.
  7. HR management: Mid-career pay is $83,000 per year, and projected employment will be 22% greater by 2024. Common positions today include HR consultant and HR manager.
  8. Median mid-career pay is $108,000, and projected employment by 2024 will be 19% greater. Job growth including replacement needs are nearly 40%.

What Makes a Great Online Graduate Degree Program?

Students who want to find a great online graduate degree program should consider their options carefully. There are many programs to choose from and and many specialities. Below are some of the most important aspects to look for in great grad programs online:

Accreditation

Accreditation of a university is similar to a stamp of approval from a respected organization. Accreditation tells you that the online school or degree program has met high standards of quality. It also tells employers that graduates of that program are likely to be fully prepared to succeed in their profession.

There are two basic types of accreditation that you should be on lookout for: regional and program accreditation.

Regional accreditation is provided for the university itself by one of the six regional accreditation bodies that are recognized by the US Department of Education. They are:

  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Northwest Accreditation Commission
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

The other other of accreditation that you should consider is program accreditation for the specific degree speciality you are focusing on. Each major industry has major accreditation bodies that accredit graduate programs in that given profession.

In business graduate programs, such as MBA, the most well known accreditation agency is the AACSB. Each major program specialty has its own respected accreditation agencies.

Curriculum and Credits

Many online graduate degree students may want to transfer the credits they earn online to another university eventually. It is important to verify that the credits earned online can be transferred elsewhere. If not, you should be wary of that online university. Most respected online universities have classes and credits that can be transferred to other schools.

Also, you should ask if credits that you took a decade ago are going to transfer to the online graduate university. It is very helpful if most if not all of those credits can be applied to your new degree program.

Students should also study the curriculum of the online degree program they are weighing. The curriculum for the program should be based upon current standards and topics that are relevant in that industry. For instance, if you are getting a master’s in computer science, the program should include courses on the most relevant computer programming languages today.

Strong Student Support Services

Earning a graduate degree online does not mean that academic assistance will not be needed. In fact, you may find that you need assistance even more because your degree is distance based. Because of this, it is smart to go to a school with a strong student support service program. There should be people ready to assist you with your needs from day one.

It is especially important for the online university to offer excellent career services. When you graduate, the school should be helpful in your job search, including interviewing practice, resume help, and finding you real interviews with companies in need.

As you ask questions, you should see how receptive the school is to getting you answers. If it is difficult to find information or to talk to people at the school, this could be a negative sign.

Strong Financial Aid Packages

Tuition for graduate school can be high, so you should look for a school that offers you many scholarship and grant opportunities. Also look for financial aid staff at the school that really know their subject. These counselors should be helpful in assembling your financial aid package and answering your questions.

Be sure that you understand the payment terms of any loans you are signing up for, and look out for online programs that want you to sign onto big private loans.

Statistics

There are important numbers to consider with graduate programs, beyond employment statistics, salaries, and the rank of the program. You should look for a high on time graduation rate. The program or university should make this information readily available on its website. You should ensure that a high percentage of students are graduating from the program within a normal timeframe. If a high number of students are transferring, it is a good idea to ask why.

Also, look out for high student loan default rates. This indicates that students have a hard time finding work that supports their debt payments. And if a low number of students are finding jobs a year after graduation, this is a poor reflection upon both the program and the career services staff.

Rankings

There are major publications that rank graduate degree programs both online and on campus. One of the most well-known is US News and World Report.

Many students will simply look for the top ranked programs in their specialty and apply to those programs. It is important to note that there are other factors that US News ranks that are worth considering:

  • Faculty credentials and training
  • Student services and technology
  • Student engagement
  • Admissions selectivity
  • Peer assessment

These factors also are important as you consider which graduate program is best for you. Also, consider the fact that high ranking programs also may have high tuition, which means that you will need to find a job that can support a higher load of debt. There are schools out there that may not be as high ranked, but are much cheaper and have been shown to help students to land relatively high-paying jobs.

For example, US News and World Report found recently that the following MBA programs had students with the highest salaries compared to their amount of MBA student debt:

  • University of Texas-Dallas
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology
  • Louisiana State University
  • University of Washington-Foster
  • Mercer University
  • Oklahoma State University
  • University of Missouri-Trulaske
  • Temple University
  • West Virginia University

Suggested Online Graduate Schools

Research suggests that the following graduate schools offer strong online programs that may be worth consideration.

University of New England

The University of New England is the largest private university in this area of the country. It features two campuses in Maine and a robust online university with dozens of degree and certificate programs available.

UNE regularly attracts highly respected international scholars in the health sciences, business, education, life sciences and the humanities. The welcome additions of these respected scholars allows graduate students to engage in highly valuable learning and research alongside truly dedicated faculty.

Some of the online graduate degree programs available are:

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University is based in Phoenix, Arizona, and has a full, regular campus with more than 10,000 students. But it also features a large online degree campus that offers many graduate degrees. It is a private, regionally accredited university, and it has a particularly strong reputation for its online master’s degrees in business, nursing, and education.

Some of the online graduate degree programs you can choose are:

  • MBA
  • Nursing
  • Organizational leadership
  • Criminal justice
  • Psychology and counseling
  • Teaching and school administration
  • Theology and ministry
  • Engineering

Liberty University

Liberty University is located in central Virginia, and is a liberal arts college with 16 schools and colleges. It offers strong online graduate programs in education, religion, law, aviation, business, the arts and more. Liberty graduates are regularly sought by well known international companies because of their high integrity, discipline and versatility.

Liberty is a regionally accredited, evangelical liberal arts college with a law school, medical school and school of divinity. It currently has more than 500 programs from the certificate to Ph.D. level. Some of its most popular and respected online master’s programs include:

Additional Resources

References

Sady Brown
Written by Sady Brown
Sady Brown is Editorial Strategist for Nogre.com