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Earn an Online Master's Degree

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An online master’s degree program can give you the flexibility to continue your education during your own time and at your pace. But, how do you know if online learning is the right choice? How do you choose a school that will get respect in the workplace? And, is it possible to convince your employer to fund your education? Read on.

Who Should Earn an Online Master’s Degree?

Before enrolling in an online graduate program, ask yourself two questions: “Why do I want to earn this degree?” and “Will earning the degree actually help be achieve that goal?” Do you want to earn the degree to make more money, qualify for a new job, or simply have the opportunity to learn? While undergraduate degrees are helpful in a majority of workplaces, not everyone’s career can benefit from a graduate degree. Some positions require a specific master’s degree or offer substantial monetary incentives for graduate degrees. Other positions do not consider graduate work a factor for granting promotions or increasing salaries. Earning an online master’s degree requires a considerable investment of time and money – make sure that the payoff is worth it.

Online studies are best suited for students with organized and dedicated personalities. Mid-career professionals are often successful in online master’s programs. Potential students should be able to read and understand advanced texts and be able to write at a college-level. Students should be aware that most online graduate programs award grades based on writing assignments, online reading discussions, and written exams.

Online Master’s Degree Program Accreditation

Don’t be tricked by a “diploma mill” school. Degrees from unaccredited, low-quality programs are almost always rejected by employers. Instead, find a school that is regionally accredited from one of the six regional organizations. This will help ensure that your degree is accepted by employers and that your transcripts are accepted by other schools should you choose to transfer or pursue additional studies. See also: Check Any School’s Accreditation Status.

Alternatively, you may choose to enroll in an online master’s degree program accredited by the Distance Education Training Council (DETC). Although many employers accept degrees with DETC accreditation, be aware that DETC accreditation is not as universally accepted nor as highly regarded as regional accreditation.

What Else to Look for in an Online Master’s Degree Program

In addition to selecting a regionally accredited school, make sure that your online master’s program provides the support you will need as a student. Quality schools offer a competitive student to teacher ratio, student mentors, and career placement services. See: Choosing the School for You.

Types of Master’s Degrees

There are many different types of master’s degrees. The most common are the Master of Arts (MA) and the Master of Science (MS).

Master of Arts (MA) – This degree is awarded to students completing studies in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Fine Arts, or in Theology. Some MA programs are also designed for students intending to do additional graduate work after graduation (i.e. earning a doctorate degree). Typically, the degree takes two-years of full-time study and requires a thesis or a comprehensive exam (or both).

Master of Science (MS) – This degree is granted to students completing studies in the Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Business, and Technology. Many (but not all) MS programs are designed to be professional degrees for students entering the workforce instead of pursuing additional studies. Typically, the degree takes two-years of full-time study and requires a thesis or a comprehensive exam.

Other master’s degrees include: Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Fine Arts (MFA), Master of Education (MEd), Master of Health Administration (MHA), Master of Library Science (MLS), Master of Music (MMus), Master of Public Health (MPH), Master of Philosophy (MPhil), and additional specialized degrees.

Online Master’s Degree Residency Requirements

Many online graduate programs require students to clock a specified number of “residency hours” attending lectures on school grounds.

No residency – Some online master’s programs can be completed without setting foot on campus. Exams are typically taken under the care of a proctor in your area.

Limited residency – Other master’s program require students to attend weekend or week-long seminars at a physical campus. The limited-time seminars are generally held during weekends or in the summer months.

Substantial residency – Some master’s online master’s programs require students to spend an extended residency at the college campus. If you enroll in one of these programs, you may be expected to spend a semester or two in on-campus courses, even though your degree is technically being earned online.

Paying for an Online Master’s Degree Program

Online master’s programs can be expensive. Paid teaching fellowships, which are a staple of many traditional master’s programs, are not an option for students who choose to learn online. However, many students qualify for government subsidized grants and loans. You may also want to search the web for private scholarships.

If your master’s degree will help you in your current job, you may be able to convince your employer to pay for part or all of your education. Ask your employer if there are any educational funding programs in place. If not, ask for a meeting to explain how funding your degree will benefit the company.


Earning a graduate degree through the internet can be a challenge. But, carefully choosing your school and master’s degree program can help you make the most of your experience.
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