Fri. Jan 21st, 2022
A recent Survey of Online Learning (Online Learning Consortium) found that students taking one or more online courses is now over 6.7 million. This is an increase of over 550,000 students from year before. Students are now able to take advantage of entirely online master’s degree programs from accredited institutions and receive the same advanced degree as their traditional student counterparts. As the demand for online degrees increases, greater emphasis is placed on the quality and instruction of these programs.
Ranking Methodology
In order to be considered for this ranking of the best online master’s degree programs, institutions needed to have at least ten online master’s degrees and be accredited. Data points were obtained from College Navigator for ratio and tuition (unless specifically noted in the online program website). From those universities, we narrowed them down to the top 50 using the following point system.
Number of Online Programs:
Less than 20 – 1 point
Between 20-40 – 2 point
Greater than 40 – 3 point
Student-Faculty Ratio:
Greater than 30:1 – 1 point
Between 20:1 and 29:1 – 2 points
Less than 19:1 – 3 points
Tuition:
Greater than $20,000/year – 1 point
Between $10,000 and $19,999 – 2 points
Less than $10,000 – 3 points

Online Master’s Degree Programs vs. Campus-based Programs

Graduate Students are faced with more options than ever before when choosing a program that meets their professional and educational goals. Making the choice between a traditional brick-and-mortar program and a comparable online program has many considerations.
1) Students need to determine if they have the discipline and motivation to complete a program in a virtual environment. Campus based programs tend to provide more structure and accountability to students on an ongoing basis. Online programs rely more heavily on students being disciplined and organized enough to complete assignments, participate in online discussions and complete online group projects.
2) Students in either type of program need to be comfortable with technology, but online programs require students to be more self sufficient. Online students often need to be able to use technology such as video conferencing, message boards, chat, and web based learning platforms in order to participate in course activities. If students are not comfortable with that type of technology or getting themselves up to speed, then a more traditional program may allow them to be more successful.

Online Master’s Degree Programs vs. Campus-based Programs

Graduate Students are faced with more options than ever before when choosing a program that meets their professional and educational goals. Making the choice between a traditional brick-and-mortar program and a comparable online program has many considerations. An graduate education is not “one size fits all” so it is important that students do their due diligence to find a program that meets their needs and allows them to be successful.
1) Students need to determine if they have the discipline and motivation to complete a program in a virtual environment. Campus based programs tend to provide more structure and accountability to students on an ongoing basis. Online programs rely more heavily on students being disciplined and organized enough to complete assignments, participate in online discussions and complete online group projects.
2) Students in either type of program need to be comfortable with technology, but online programs require students to be more self sufficient. Online students often need to be able to use technology such as video conferencing, message boards, chat, and web based learning platforms in order to participate in course activities. If students are not comfortable with that type of technology or getting themselves up to speed, then a more traditional program may allow them to be more successful.

Selecting an Online Master’s Degree Program

When selecting an online program, there are several considerations students need to take in order to make sure the program will meet their professional and personal needs.
1) Students needs to ensure the program they are interested in comes from an accredited institution. There are six regional institutional accreditors in the United States and students will need to confirm that their institute is accredited by one of those bodies. Some professions, such as nursing and social work, require that the individual master’s program have specific accreditation. Students will need to make sure that the program they plan to enroll in meets licensing or certification criteria.
2) Students need to research the amenities included in the program. Will students have access to 24 hour tech support? Will online graduates have access to career services or an alumni network to assist with job placement? These are examples of factors that should be considered based on the needs of the student.
3) Not all online programs are 100% online. Some require students to come to campus for short residencies throughout the program to engage in face-to-face activities or professional development. Others may offer hybrid courses which combine online and classroom learning. Still others may require students attend an onsite orientation. Students need to be careful in reviewing course requirements ahead of time, especially if coming onsite is not an option.

Applying to Online Master’s Degree Program

Online programs can be just as competitive as their on-campus counterparts. Students may need to select more than one program to apply to depending on acceptance rates and a students own application portfolio. When applying to online master’s degree programs it is important that students carefully review admission requirements. Some schools will require applicants to apply directly to the program of interest, while others require students to apply to the university itself. Application deadlines are also important to review as they will differ from program to program. The deadline to apply to the university may be different than the deadline to apply to the program. Program requirements differ from school to school so it is important to note if applicants need a specific undergraduate GPA, graduate record exam (GRE) score or years of experience in the workforce to be considered. A school with lower admission standards may make it easier to be accepted, but the program may be less rigorous. Knowing these requirements up front will help applicants avoid surprises or have their educational goals put on hold.

Paying for an Online Master’s Degree Program

Whether pursuing an online or on-campus master’s program, students will need to complete a free application for federal student aid (FAFSA). By completing the FAFSA early in the year, students will receive consideration for grants and loans by meeting specific criteria. Graduate students have scholarships available to them, and more and more online schools are making grants and scholarships available to their students. Online programs may appear cheaper, but students need to factor in program fees that might be overlooked when looking at cost per credit hour alone. Students will need to review costs for their specific program and determine whether those costs will vary with an online option. While graduate tuition can vary dramatically between schools, online and on-campus programs typically cost about the same once all costs are factored in.

Are Online Master’s Degree Programs Worthwhile?

Online degree programs can be an excellent way for students to obtain their master’s degree while continuing to meet their employment and family responsibilities. The flexibility provided by online programs can be invaluable if a student cannot afford to take time away from the workforce to complete a traditional program. By allowing students to continue working and earning an income, online programs can be a great way to utilize the skills and knowledge learned immediately. Employers benefit when students can apply higher level skills and abilities to their existing position.
When students are able to utilize self-discipline and motivation to complete their online program, the benefits are identical to those graduating from a traditional program. Most schools do not differentiate between online and traditional degrees on a transcript, which means students do not have to disclose that they earned their degree online if they are not comfortable doing so. Online graduates are often able to take advantage of career services and alumni associations in order to network and develop professional connections. Since students often do not reside in the same community as their graduate program, they need to be intentional about making these connections (providing the school provides these amenities). When thoroughly planned, online master’s degree programs can give graduates additional earning power, greater knowledge and skills, and a lifelong network of other dedicated and educated professionals.

By Mrjef

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