Master's Degrees Online
In short: Earning a master's degree usually requires one to three years of postgraduate or graduate study. The two basic types of masters degrees offered in the U.S. are the Master's of Arts and Master's of Science. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, master's degree holders earned an average of $1,102 per week, almost $200 more than those with bachelor's degrees.
A master's degree is a graduate, or post-baccalaureate, degree awarded to candidates who complete one to three years of concentrated study in a field of knowledge. A master's level education can mean entry into a profession, the chance for promotion in an existing position, or personal enrichment and achievement. It's a degree only three percent of Americans ever attain, so the letters M.A. or M.S. on a business card or letterhead command respect.
Graduate education differs from undergraduate schooling. The coursework is significantly more demanding--and more interesting--and the students are more determined and goal-oriented. Those who lack self-discipline quickly fall by the wayside; those who remain can form friendships and develop wisdom that lasts a lifetime. Networking is built into the master's degree experience, as students form professional connections with peers, professors, and experts in their chosen field. In fact, the social benefits of master's degree programs come as a pleasant surprise and welcome support to students who get their graduate degrees online.
At the master's level, graduate students take advanced courses, some write a thesis (a significant scholarly work based on independent research), and others have internships or practical work experience, depending on their field of study.
Though some master level degree programs lead directly to a career, others do not. An M.A. in Family Counseling qualifies its holder to serve an internship leading to testing and a counseling position. An M.A. in History, by contrast, prepares its holder to go on to doctoral study and a university career, but the connection between the degree and a career path is indirect. That History master's won't qualify its holder to teach, unless he or she has an additional teaching credential and experience.
Some master's degrees are considered "terminal degrees," meaning no further degree is expected or needed for professional advance in that field. The MFA, or Master of Fine Arts, is a terminal degree for painters, photographers, sculptors, and creative writers.
Most campus-based M.A. and M.S. degrees take three to four semesters (about 30 semester hours) of full-time study to complete. However, some master's degrees can require up to 60 semester hours, especially those such as the MSW (Masters of Social Work), which prepare their holders to intern in their profession upon completion of their degree. Still, time to completion runs 16-36 months.
M.A. and M.S. degrees in fields other than education attract 29 percent of advanced-degree seekers. Here's how the remaining master's degree study breaks down, according to a National Postsecondary Student Aid Study:
- Business (MBA; M.S. in Business)
Nearly one in five students pursuing a master's degree is working on an MBA. It is the most popular degree choice for online graduate study. The MBA can be either a general business administration degree or a specialized degree with a focus on finance, globalization, e-business, and the like. Dozens of sub-specialty MBA programs help online students tailor their business educations to fit their existing positions.
The M.S. in Business is a research-oriented degree. Students frequently choose this degree when they ultimately want to go on to a Ph.D. in business in order to research and teach at the university level.
- Education (MEd; MAT; MSEd)
At least 28 percent of the students pursuing master's degrees focus on education. The Master of Education degree is a generalist degree that includes educational psychology and theories of education. Like the MBA, the MEd degree has specializations. The MEd in Corporate Training or E-Learning goes hand in hand with online study and a technology oriented teaching career.
The Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) prepares the graduate to teach a specific subject at a specific level, middle school or high school. The MAT is more hands-on, often including practice teaching or related classroom experiences.
The MSEd degree is for those who want to work in administration. It's a popular degree with teachers who are ready to transition from the classroom to the principal's office.
- Other Master's Degrees (MSW; MLS; MPH)
The remaining 24 percent of master's degrees are granted in fields such as social work (MSW) or library science (MLS). Master's degrees in nursing and the health professions are available for medical practitioners and medical administrators as well. The Master of Public Health (MPH) degree is for health professionals who want to work in the public sphere on problems that effect society as a whole.
Online Graduate School: Some Advantages
In technological fields of study, an online master's degree can be an advantage. Degrees oriented to teaching with technology; corporate-training degrees; and MBAs with specializations in technology, e-commerce or international business, gain extra respect when earned online.
You can comparison shop for the online master's degree program that best suits your needs. Once in, you'll be able to study at the times that are best for you. Be aware that online master's study is fast-paced. Many students find that their retention is improved, as they immediately and continually apply what they are learning to discussion and collaboration. You won't have to wait until September or January to start your studies, since you can find master's degree programs starting each and every month of the year.
- "The brains business," Economist 376.8443 (Sept. 10, 2005).
- "Going the Distance," by Sherry Reuter and Rosalind E. Schwartzberg. Applied Clinical Trials 13.10 (October 2004).
- National Center for Education Statistics
- "Online colleges come into their own," by Paul Tosto. Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN)(July 18, 2005).
- "Online degrees," by Holly Dolezalek. Training 40.5 (May 1, 2003).
- Online-Education Survey Finds Unexpectedly High Enrollment Growth," by Scott Carlson. Chronicle of Higher Education 51.14 (Nov. 26, 2004).
- "Sink or Swim?" by Alana Klein. University Business 7.4 (April 2004).
- "Taking the E-Train," by Doug Bartholomew. Industry Week/IW 254.6 (June 2005).
- U.S. Department of Education
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Argosy University offers doctoral, master's, and bachelor's degree programs to students through its seven colleges: Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, Business, Education, Health Sciences, Undergraduate Studies, The Art Institute of California and Western State College of Law as well as certificate programs in many areas.
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The USC School of Social Work’s MSW@USC offers the opportunity to earn a Master of Social Work degree through the Virtual Academic Center without relocating to Southern California.
- Master of Social Work
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