Getting an Online Master's Degree

How does earning a master's degree online differ from attending a traditional graduate school?

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So you’ve decided to return to school and get your master's degree. The only problem is that there is not enough time in the day to drive to classes, sit through a lecture and get in the lab or library to perform your research, all the while working, raising a family or serving in the military.

Fear not. These worries have been erased, or at least minimized, with the rising popularity of earning online degrees. Why should you get an online master's degree? The trend of getting a master's degree online has grown because it requires little or no classroom time, which allows you to work on your thesis in your own time.

In order to be considered for acceptance into an online master's degree program, you may be required to complete a standardized test such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Some online master's degree programs are less competitive than traditional schools and have an open enrollment policy, which is great for those students who may not have done so well in their undergraduate studies.

Choosing your Online Master's Degree

Just like choosing a master's degree at a traditional college, getting a master's degree online requires a good deal of personal and career assessment. You need to know why you want to earn the master's degree. Is it going to help you advance in your career? Earn an entry-level position? Land that teaching job you’ve always wanted?

In order to do so, you must determine your own strengths within your chosen field. For example, with an online master's degree in business, you may specialize in accounting, financing, human resources, management, marketing and many others. This may be a bit harder if you do not have much work experience. Undergraduates looking to transfer into an online master's degree program after graduation should make a list of favorite classes. A common theme should develop, which can help you decide what you need to focus on.

You may be a military service member who is looking to make yourself more marketable to employers after you complete your service. Or, you may be committed to advancing your military career, but need additional skills to earn promotion. Either way, it is becoming more common for military members to get an online master's degree.

Top 5 Online Master's Degree Programs

Online Master's Degree Programs

How to survive online graduate school can be a mystery if you've never taken online classes before. Most online master's degree programs were designed with graduate students' other responsibilities in mind. Thus, the semesters are usually shorter and taught at an accelerated pace to ensure that the student has enough time for school and all other responsibilities. Most students pursuing their master's degree online take classes part-time.

If you are looking to get your master's degree fast, select a school that has shorter terms. Typically these schools have terms as short as five to eight weeks. You will usually have a few days to a week of rest before your next semester begins. Another way to speed up the rate at which you earn your degree is to take summer sessions. This way, even if you are taking part-time courses starting in the Fall of this year, by the end of Fall of next year, you will have completed your first year of your online masters degree.

Be sure to pay close attention to the residency requirements of the online graduate programs you are considering. There are some programs that require students to attend at least some of their courses on campus, while other programs can be completed 100% online. What type of program you choose depends on your scheduling needs.

Financial Aid for an Online Master's Degree

Before applying to an online master's degree program, you need to make sure you have the funding to finance your educational venture. Most scholarships that apply to bricks-and-mortar graduate students apply to those earning their master's degree online. In addition, you may also have access to Federal, State and local funding.

Many grad students however, whether online or on-campus, receive their funding from other sources. Foundations or government agencies are a great resource for online masters degree students in math, natural science, social science or technology. Students who were cream of the crop in undergraduate school may apply to several schools with the hopes of schools bidding on them, competing with the best financial aid package.

Unfortunately, if an online master's degree student wishes to pay for part of their tuition by completing an assistantship, they will be required to spend a certain amount of time on-campus. For this reason, assistantships are not a popular choice for online graduate students.

Tips & Tactics

  • Make sure the online school you choose to attend is accredited by a regional or national accreditation organization that is recognized by the federal government.
  • Some schools offer a competency test designed as a placement test for students. It determines how much knowledge you have coming into the program, and often takes place of the GRE or other standardized test requirements.
  • You might have to locate additional space or a laboratory in order to conduct your research and have a place to store materials when they are not needed.


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