Reasons to Earn a Master’s Degree Online

Obtaining a master’s degree offers you many career advantages. You can usually qualify for manager and director positions, higher pay, and have greater job security.

Today, there are many ways to earn a master’s degree in many fields. Many busy professionals choose to earn their master’s degree online so that they can continue to work and take care of their family.

How to earn a master’s degree online will vary somewhat. It depends upon your university, specialty and program, but there are some things that most online master’s programs will have in common.

One thing that all online master’s programs share is that your education will be more detailed and intensive than your bachelor’s program. For example, in a psychology bachelor’s program, students learn a basic overview of major psychological principles. In a master’s program, students learn much more in depth about specific psychological subjects, such as clinical methods, forensics, and industrial organizational psychology principles.

How Long It Takes

Earning a master’s degree takes from two to three years full time after you have earned your bachelor’s degree. If you are employed full time and are going to school part time, you may take up to five years to get your master’s degree. Many online universities offering master’s degrees are geared to part time programs for those who work full time.

Note that some universities have a limit on how many years you can take to earn your degree; seven years is a common number.

Your master’s program will usually require taking a set of core classes, followed by a number of electives in your interest area. For example, the online MBA program at Southern New Hampshire University requires students to take the following foundation courses:

  • Economics for Business
  • Financial Reporting and Analysis
  • Business Law
  • Human Behavior in Organizations
  • Mathematics and Statistics for Business

After you have taken these required, online foundation courses, you then can decide from more than 20 business concentrations.

Some graduate programs also will require you to complete an internship or clinical hours to graduate. For an online program, this usually requires you to take your internship or clinical hours in your local area.

For example, the nurse practitioner program at Georgetown University requires the student to complete their courses online, but 650 clinical hours are required in a local healthcare setting.

Georgetown also requires students to attend two campus intensives. These events typically occur on weekends during the course of the program. A large number of online graduate programs feature in-person intensive sessions, so you will need to plan for that.

Advantages of Online Master’s Programs

It is important to decide early on if you want to earn a master’s degree on a campus or online. Both have their advantages. An online degree allows you to take your classes from your home for the most part when you like. There may be some live, fixed time classes that you need to attend, but earning an online degree definitely has more flexibility.

A campus-based program obviously requires you to go to a classroom to take your courses. There is generally a higher level of personal interaction and networking that occurs in an in-person master’s program.

There also are other lesser-known benefits to online master’s programs to consider:

  • More intensive class discussions: Most online master’s programs feature discussion forums. This is a unique opportunity to understand what your classmates think about a topic. In many in person classes, discussions can be dominated by the more outgoing students. Discussion forums allow more introverted class participants to voice their views. Discussion forums online also bring the course content into more intense focus. This opportunity also allows students to accept constructive criticism from other students.
  • Improve virtual communication skills: Taking a master’s program online requires a lot of online interaction. It can be easy to not understand the tone being projected. Constructive feedback can seem arrogant to some readers. A stream of consciousness style can be very confusing. The online master’s program can help you to become more effective in communicating online. Some master’s program will feature cutting edge, video conferencing tools that are useful to know, such as
  • Better knowledge retention: The best online master’s program use both social and multimedia to communicate with students. These programs often have live and taped lectures, webinars, infographics, and online group discussions. The multimedia tools commonly used have been shown scientifically to boost retention and memory. A colorful infographic about a topic may be easier to remember than highlighting a passage in a text book, for example.

Online Master’s and Accreditation

A very important part of earning your online master’s degree is checking that the degree and program have been properly accredited by respected education authorities. Accreditation ensures that the program has met high standards of quality, so you are confident that you are learning the most important principles and material in your specialty.

At the university level, there are six regional accreditation bodies recognized by the Department of Education. Your university should have regional accreditation from one of the following:

  • 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

It also is desirable that the graduate program itself has been accredited by a respected body in that field. One of the most significant accreditation agencies in business education is the AACSB, or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Most major subject areas, whether it is public health, business, nursing, human resources or engineering, have respected accreditation agencies in that given specialty.

How to Apply

Once you have decided the type of master’s degree you want to earn, you then need to apply. Some programs are more competitive than others, so it may be necessary to apply to several.

To apply for graduate school, the standards and requirements will vary widely. However, you can expect to need to submit most of the following information:

  • Complete bachelor’s transcripts that show a GPA of 2.5-3.5 or higher, depending upon the subject
  • Two or three professional and/or academic recommendations
  • Updated resume that reflects significant work experience in your subject area
  • Writing samples such as a personal statement or an academic writing sample
  • GMAT or GRE scores may be required to be considered for admission.
  • Some highly competitive programs may require a personal interview
  • Some programs require significant work experience before you can qualify, such as some highly competitive MBA programs. Others, such as most master’s in nursing programs, require an active RN license.

Tips to Find the Best Master’s Program Online

There are many programs from which to choose, and you are more likely to choose a good one if you keep these pointers at top of mind:

  • Allow a lot of time: Do not wait until a month before application deadlines before you start researching online universities. It is recommended that you spend at least six months reviewing online degree programs and talking to people about which program and school is right for you.
  • Know your specialty: It is critical to understand the day to day job responsibilities of what you will likely be doing once you have your master’s. There are many students who earn a master’s degree without really understanding what they will be doing professionally for years to come. Talk to students and professionals in that field and see if that career or field is a good fit for your career goals and interests.
  • Look at a lot of schools: Experts recommend that you at least consider 10-20 online master’s programs. Rankings are important but it is important to spend significant time studying each school’s website and learning in detail about the program.
  • Test admissions and financial aid: As you research, it is likely there will be an important question or two that you cannot find on the school’s website. Email admissions and financial aid and see how long they take to get back to you, and if the answers make sense.


Obtaining your master’s degree online can be a wise career move. It is important to do your research about programs and universities, however, so that you are sure to make a wise investment in your education.

Additional Resources