Earning your Masters degree adds to your knowledge base and the skills you need to succeed in your chosen field of work and may increase your earning potential. Masters degree programs generally focus on coursework or research and require that you've already obtained your bachelor's degree.
More than MBAs
Although a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) is one of the most common online degree programs you'll find, you'll also see program offered in health care, education and engineering with new areas of study, like psychology, starting to appear to meet the demands of the job market.
Online Masters degree programs are also becoming more specialized within fields of study. For example, if you do choose to pursue an MBA, you may have the option of focusing on international business. This trend is starting to take hold in areas as well and as more employers begin recognizing the value of online education, these specialized programs are likely to increase in number.
What it Takes to Earn a Masters Degree
Just because you're pursuing your degree online doesn't mean the program is easier than attending regular on-campus classes--you'll need to apply the same dedication, self-discipline. What you won't have to do is be a slave to the school's class schedule. Getting your degree online affords you far more flexibility when it comes to when you do your work, although you'll still be held accountable for any deadlines set by your instructors.
It can take as little as two years to complete a Masters degree online, which is on par with traditional degree programs. Your work obligations and other responsibilities as well as your ability to pay for the courses you're taking will all influence quickly or slowly you want or need to go. Some programs may set a maximum time frame during which you're required to complete your coursework in order to receive your agree. Before you commit to a program, be sure you understand what, if any limitations, the school has set.
Most online Masters degree programs require you to complete a thesis or other research paper. Your chosen field of study for your online Masters degree will determine whether you write a paper, complete a project or take a specialized exam to complete your coursework. If you're pursuing an online master's degree in health care or education, you may also be required to complete an internship.
Not all online Masters degrees can be earned 100 percent online, although there are plenty of online Masters degrees that can. Period campus visits--up to two to three times per semester, for a week at a time in some cases--are often a requirement for online Masters degrees offered by schools that feature both on-campus and distance learning.
Usually, the online Masters degrees that require campus visits fall into more scientific or technical applications where you need to access the school's labs or other equipment. If you have the flexibility in your schedule and the desire, then you have the option of earning your Masters degree by taking a combination of online and on-campus courses.
Paying for Your Degree
Tuition for online Masters degrees is generally less than in-class tuition, but that doesn't mean your dream program will be more affordable because it's online. However, financial aid sources don't distinguish between online and on-campus schools; education is education when it comes to student loans.
Some online schools are approved for federal student aid, while others offer their own financial aid packages. Unlike traditional graduate programs, online Masters degree programs don't include paid fellowships as part of their student aid. Do your research and get an average estimate of the cost per credit for the kind of online Masters degree you want to earn. If you're already working, especially in your chosen field of business, you should check your company's tuition reimbursement policy to see which online master's degree programs may be covered.
Check the School's Accreditation
Before you commit to any online Masters degree program, be sure you understand whether the school is accredited and then take it step further: determine if the accreditation agency is reputable and recognized. The accreditation process is unregulated and guidelines vary among states. Look for online Masters degrees offered by school with an accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council on Higher Education.