Master’s Degrees Online

The first level of graduate study is known as a master’s degree program. While some students enroll in them immediately after earning their bachelor’s degree, others begin a master’s degree after working for some time. Those who pursue a master’s program right away may do so because they are still in the mindset of completing homework and taking exams… and they want more time to better define their goals and career targets. Others might already have a very specific career in mind — one that typically requires a master’s degree for entry. Students who wish to pursue graduate programs at this level can explore traditional, online, or hybrid program options. Online master’s degree programs can be a convenient way to further education goals while still allowing students to work and/or manage family responsibilities. The increased prevalence of online master’s degree programs may be one reason why degrees conferred at this level have increased by 66 percent since the 2000-01 academic year. In the 2015-16 term, 786,000 master’s degrees were awarded by post-secondary institutions. Over half of them were concentrated in the business, education, and healthcare fields.

5 Benefits of a Master’s Degree

While completing a graduate-level program may be personally and intellectually satisfying, there are four major tangible benefits of earning a master’s degree online.
  1. Individuals can gain the specialized knowledge they need to advance in their field.
  2. A degree at this level can open doors to senior-level positions in leadership and management.
  3. Master’s degree graduates earn more money. In 2017, those with master’s degrees had average weekly earnings of $1,401, while those with bachelor’s degrees earned $1,173. When that difference is multiplied over the span of a career, investing in a master’s degree makes economic sense.
  4. Master’s degree students may be able to change careers and become qualified for jobs that are in a completely different field from their bachelor’s degrees.
  5. As competition increases for certain jobs, having a master’s degree may offer applicants a competitive edge. The unemployment rate in 2017 for those with a master’s degree was slightly lower than those who only had a bachelor’s degree: 2.2 percent instead of 2.5 percent.

Timeline of a Master’s Degree Program

While no two master’s degree programs are exactly alike, most students complete master’s degree programs in about two years of full-time study. Programs at this level generally follow the same timeline.
First Year
During the first year of a master’s degree program, students usually begin taking core classes related to their particular specialty as well as some electives. Students who are switching to an entirely new field may need to take even more core courses in order to get up to speed on their new subject.
Second Year
Year two of a master’s degree program typically involves completing core classes and related electives. This is also the time when they can gain work experience from an internship. Depending on the the field of study, this year may also involve preparing for a licensing exam.Some master’s degree programs require a dissertation or thesis, which is a final research paper in which a student selects a topic and performs research related to it.

Types of Master’s Degrees

At this level, there is a significant range in the types of master’s degrees that can be earned — on campus and online. These are the most popular types:

Top Master’s Degree Programs

When considering earning a master’s degree online, prospective students should review rankings, as they can be a way to understand how different schools might serve their needs. Schools are ranked based on factors like acceptance rate, admission requirements, tuition and fees, and other data points related to how schools support degree attainment for students. With this information, prospective master’s candidates can make an informed decision on a program that is right for them.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific degree being ranked. 1. Offer a master’s degree program, either on campus, online, or via hybrid format 2. Have awarded at least one master’s degree in 2015-16 3. Have reported data for all 12 ranking variables listed below Based on those criteria, we ranked 1,183 colleges and universities in the United States on 12 criteria, using 2016-17 data from the National Center for Education Statistics:


  1. Program prominence, based on how many master’s degrees were awarded in 2016-17
  2. Ratio of graduate students participating fully or partially in distance education to total enrollment
  3. Average in-state tuition for graduates
  4. Number of programs that are offered at the master’s degree level on campus
  5. Number of programs that are offered at the master’s degree level via distance education
  6. Credit offerings
    • Life
    • Military
  7. Services
    • Academic/Career
    • Placement for Completers
  8. The availability of any tuition plans
    • Payment
    • Prepaid
    • Other

RankingSchool NameIn State Avg. Undergrad Tuition% Receiving Financial AidRetention RateCareer CounselingPayment Plan
1East Carolina University$4,45281%81%11
2Grand Canyon University$16,39998%64%11
3Liberty University$15,83797%82%11
4Purdue University Global-Davenport$13,35625%100%11
5University of Florida$4,47793%97%10
6National University$13,320%50%10
7Texas Tech University$6,57678%85%11
8North Carolina State University at Raleigh$6,53570%94%11
9Lamar University$5,91286%64%11
10Sam Houston State University$5,61689%76%11

Financial Aid

Enrolling in a master’s degree program is a significant investment. And as the earnings studies from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show, it can be a very worthwhile one. But those higher earnings start to come in, tuition (and other) bills need to be paid in the short term. Fortunately, there are a number of financial resources that can help make a master’s degree program more affordable. Scholarships, grants, and educational loans are all designed to aid eligible master’s degree students in paying for tuition, books, and living expenses.

Why Accreditation Matters

It’s essential for prospective students to search for online master’s degree programs that are accredited. An accredited master’s degree program has gone through a rigorous process to verify that it provides quality education to students. Enrolling in an accredited master’s degree program is a critical first step in helping a student qualify for financial aid. Having a degree from an accredited online or traditional institution can also make a candidate more competitive in the job market.

Fastest-Growing Occupations with Master’s Degrees

Across the nation, these occupations — that typically start with a master’s degree — are expected to grow at the quickest rate during the 2016-26 period, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Current Employment : 6,560
Projected Employment : 9.4%
Archivists appraise, process, catalog, and preserve permanent records and historically valuable documents. Curators oversee collections of artwork and historic items, and may conduct public service activities for an institution. Museum technicians and conservators prepare and restore objects and documents in museum collections and exhibits.
Art, Drama, and Music Teachers, Postsecondary
Current Employment : 94,060
Projected Employment : 7.9%
Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and career and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.
Current Employment : 12,890
Projected Employment : 9.5%
Archivists appraise, process, catalog, and preserve permanent records and historically valuable documents. Curators oversee collections of artwork and historic items, and may conduct public service activities for an institution. Museum technicians and conservators prepare and restore objects and documents in museum collections and exhibits.
Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors
Current Employment : 296,460
Projected Employment : 8.4%
School counselors help students develop academic and social skills and succeed in school. Career counselors assist people with the process of making career decisions by helping them develop skills or choose a career or educational program.
Healthcare Social Workers
Current Employment : 174,890
Projected Employment : 17%
Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. One group of social workers'clinical social workers'also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.
Instructional Coordinators
Current Employment : 176,690
Projected Employment : 6.3%
Instructional coordinators oversee school curriculums and teaching standards. They develop instructional material, coordinate its implementation with teachers and principals, and assess its effectiveness.
Marriage and Family Therapists
Current Employment : 59,050
Projected Employment : 22.3%
Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists help people manage and overcome mental and emotional disorders and problems with family and other relationships. They listen to clients and ask questions to help the clients understand their problems and develop strategies to improve their lives.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
Current Employment : 117,770
Projected Employment : 17.8%
Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. One group of social workers'clinical social workers'also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.
Urban and Regional Planners
Current Employment : 38,560
Projected Employment : 10.7%
Urban and regional planners develop land use plans and programs that help create communities, accommodate population growth, and revitalize physical facilities in towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas.
Counselors, All Other
Current Employment : 25,420
Projected Employment : 10.5%

Highest-Paying Occupations with a Master’s Degree

An investment in a master’s degree program can pay off, especially for these occupations that usually require a degree at this level. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these master’s degree-related jobs typically have the highest wages nationwide.
Computer and Information Research Scientists
Mean Annual : $127,460
90th Percentile : $189,780
Computer and information research scientists invent and design new approaches to computing technology and find innovative uses for existing technology. They study and solve complex problems in computing for business, medicine, science, and other fields.
Mean Annual : $107,280
90th Percentile : $162,060
Mathematicians conduct research to develop and understand mathematical principles. They also analyze data and apply mathematical techniques to help solve real-world problems.
Mean Annual : $116,630
90th Percentile : $185,020
Economists study the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services by collecting and analyzing data, researching trends, and evaluating economic issues.
Education Administrators, Postsecondary
Mean Annual : $112,400
90th Percentile : $194,090
Postsecondary education administrators oversee student services, academics, and faculty research at colleges and universities. Their job duties vary depending on the area of the college they manage, such as admissions, student life, or the office of the registrar.
Nurse Practitioners
Mean Annual : $111,840
90th Percentile : $152,160
Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, also referred to as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), coordinate patient care and may provide primary and specialty healthcare. The scope of practice varies from state to state.
Occupational Therapists
Mean Annual : $86,210
90th Percentile : $121,490
Occupational therapists treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working.
Physician Assistants
Mean Annual : $112,410
90th Percentile : $157,120
Physician assistants, also known as PAs, practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They examine, diagnose, and treat patients.
Psychologists, All Other
Mean Annual : $98,230
90th Percentile : $129,530
Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how people relate to one another and their environments.
Speech-Language Pathologists
Mean Annual : $82,000
90th Percentile : $121,260
Speech-language pathologists (sometimes called speech therapists) assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent communication and swallowing disorders in patients. Speech, language, and swallowing disorders result from a variety of causes, such as a stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, Parkinson's disease, a cleft palate or autism.
Mean Annual : $95,680
90th Percentile : $146,770
Statisticians use statistical methods to collect and analyze data and to help solve real-world problems in business, engineering, healthcare, or other fields.

What Comes After a Master’s Degree

Of course, after earning a master’s degree, individuals can pursue careers in their fields of study. But before graduating, it can be worthwhile to join industry- or occupation-specific professional organizations, and to network with professors and other master’s degree students — actions that can result in potential employment opportunities. Others may wish to continue their education and enroll in doctoral degree programs. The doctorate route is particularly common for individuals who want to land research-based positions or high positions in academic or non-academic settings. It is also common for master’s degree graduates to focus on a specialization or earn a license. For example, an individual with a master’s degree in nursing may choose to become a nurse practitioner. In this case, they would be required to receive a license from the state in which they live as well as a certification from a national organization. A nurse practitioner can also decide to specialize in acute care, adults, pediatrics, or families.

Browse Master’s Programs by Subject features colleges and universities that offer online master’s degree programs in the following disciplines:
Architecture Human ResourcesTravel & Tourism
Art HistoryInformation AssurancePublic Administration
Behavioral ScienceInsurance Risk ManagementTechnology & IT
BusinessEducationPublic Health
Conflict ResolutionJournalism & CommunicationsPublic Policy
Counseling PsychologyLaboratory ScienceReligious Studies
Early Childhood EducationNursingSocial Work
Engineering ConstructionNutritionSpecial Education
Forensic NursingOperations ManagementSports & Fitness
Healthcare AdministrationPhotographyTechnology Management
Healthcare ManagementPhysical TherapyTaxation
HealthLaw & Criminal JusticeTheatre Arts
Article Sources


  • 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  • Current Population Survey, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017,
  • Graduate Degree Fields, National Center for Education Statistics,, Accessed August 2018
  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics,
  • Is a Master’s Degree Worth It?, Monster,, Accessed August 2018
  • Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics,, Accessed August 2018
  • O*NET OnLine,, Accessed August 2018
  • When a $100,000 Grad Degree is Worth the Cost, U.S. News,, Accessed August 2018
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