Online Master’s Degree Guide

by Brendan Gawlowski
• 6 min read
TheBestSchools.org

thebestschools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Pursuing a master's degree is an important step in your educational and professional development. A master's degree opens doors to new careers and increases earning potential.

Over 3 million students are currently enrolled in grad school. In 2019, 833,700 people earned master's degrees. More than half of those graduates studied business, education, or healthcare. With so many job candidates entering the workforce with a master's degree, it's more important than ever to consider grad school.

Online colleges make it easier than ever to earn a master's degree online. Our resources help prospective students analyze the costs and benefits of earning master's degrees. Individuals considering grad school often wonder about switching fields, where to study for their master's degree, and who benefits from earning a graduate degree.

We also offer detailed information on the options for flexible enrollment in master's level study. We list programs that provide related degree fields — including healthcare, the social sciences, business, computer science, and education.

Once you've set your sights on a master's program, you can consider if you want to take a gap year to build up your professional resume. You can then check out the latest news for prospective and current students with our up-to-date resources.

Selecting an Online Master's Program

What is a master's degree? More importantly, do you need a master's degree to accelerate your career? Professionals with master's degrees earn high salaries in many fields. They also qualify for decision-making roles.

Before selecting an online master's program, each prospective enrollee must hold a bachelor's degree. Many programs offer accelerated bachelor's-to-master's programs. Next, narrow down your options to a particular discipline or department. If your career goals span multiple fields, consider a dual master's degree.

Most importantly, think strategically about the right master's degree program for your unique needs and circumstances. Check out the resources below for more on choosing a master's program online.

Highest-Paying Careers With a Master's Degree

Accelerated Bachelor's Degree Programs Online

Best Online Dual Master's Degree Programs

Health Professions Master's Degrees

The healthcare field will add more jobs than any other occupational group from 2019-2029, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projections. Master's degrees help health professionals advance their careers and specialize their training. A healthcare administration or public health degree opens the door to leadership roles in healthcare. Many universities offer affordable healthcare administration degrees.

Clinical practitioners can become nurse practitioners or dieticians and nutritionists after earning specialized master's degrees. Nurse administrators, nurse educators, and clinical nurse specialists also need master's degrees. Other focused programs include healthcare informatics and sports medicine.

Social Sciences Master's Degrees

The social sciences critically analyze human society. Social science fields like political science, economics, public policy, and legal studies strengthen analytical and research skills. At the master's level, an enrollee can also earn a history degree or a social studies degree to prepare for careers in education, museums and heritage, and public history.

In addition to common liberal arts social science disciplines, the field encompasses career-focused programs in public administration and professional coaching. An online master's in criminal justice offers a flexible route to administrative roles in law enforcement and the legal system. Check out other social science master's programs below.

Business Management and Administration Master's Degrees

Graduates with a master's in business can move into decision-making roles. Management occupations report the highest median wage of any occupational group, so graduate training in business management and administration can be a strategic investment. Students can pursue master's in business administration (MBA) or graduate degrees in diverse fields.

An accounting degree can lead to opportunities as a CPA or accounting manager. A finance degree prepares graduates for careers in financial management. Other common business degrees include human resources, strategic management, entrepreneurship, and business intelligence. These degrees also provide focused training for organizational leadership positions.

Computer Science and Information Technology Master's Degrees

Computer and information technology careers report much faster than average projected job growth and median salaries of more than double the national average. And a master's degree helps tech professionals advance their careers to the top levels.

A master's in information technology trains IT professionals in business decision-making, strategic technology management, and information management. With many industries prioritizing information security, a master's in network security leads to in-demand careers.

A master's in data science leads to opportunities in diverse industries from business to healthcare. Learn more about computer science and information technology degrees with the following links.

Marketing, Communication, and Journalism Master's Degrees

Graduate degrees in marketing, communication, and journalism build the research and writing skills needed for career advancement. With a master's in marketing, market research analysts can advance into management roles and increase their earning potential. Marketing managers earned a median annual salary of over $141,000 as of May 2020.

A master's in communication or a master's in journalism can also open doors to new careers. Students specialize their training by choosing focused programs like media communications, business communication, or public relations. At the graduate level, communication and journalism students strengthen their portfolios and increase their competitive edge in the job market.

Psychology, Counseling, and Social Work Master's Degrees

Many psychology, counseling, and social work careers require candidates to possess master's degrees. For example, graduates with a master's in counseling can work as marriage and family therapists or substance abuse counselors. A clinical social worker must hold a master's in social work. Master's degrees can also help psychologists launch careers in industrial-organizational psychology or prepare for doctoral programs.

Social work students benefit from online master's program options. An online master's in social work can provide a flexible path to clinical social work careers. Online programs also make specialized graduate degrees more accessible. Online programs can help students earn degrees in unique fields like conflict management without relocating.

Theology and Religious Studies Master's Degrees

Graduate study in theology or religious studies deepens a student's understanding of faith and can lead to diverse career paths in the church or secular settings. For example, learners with a theology master's degree gain the counseling and ministry skills needed for pastoral or nonprofit roles.

Within the broad field of theology and religious studies, graduate students can pursue diverse academic paths. Some choose master's in divinity degrees to focus on biblical interpretation and pastoral care. A focused master's in pastoral leadership emphasizes the ministry and leadership skills necessary to guide a congregation.

Some colleges also offer master's in global ministry degrees to provide missionary training at the graduate level.

Math and Engineering Master's Degrees

A master's in math or engineering provides focused, graduate-level training for in-demand fields. Students can earn master's in engineering degrees online. With a graduate degree, engineers can work in supervisory and decision-making roles. For example, a master's in electrical engineering trains engineers for advanced positions in research and development.

Other popular engineering graduate programs include biomedical engineering, civil engineering, and engineering management. An engineering management focus can lead to leadership roles and large pay increases. According to BLS data, the median salary for engineering managers reached nearly $150,000 in May 2020.

Education, Fine Arts, and Humanities Master's Degrees

A master's in education, the fine arts, or the humanities can prepare graduates for leadership roles in these fields. A degree in educational administration or educational leadership helps teachers advance to the administrative level to pursue roles as school principals and instructional coordinators. Educators often pursue master's degrees in curriculum and instruction to move into lead teacher roles or increase their earning potential.

A master's is commonly the terminal degree in the fine arts. Graduates can qualify for college professor roles or pursue fine arts careers. Earning a master's degree in these fields doesn't need to break the bank. Many programs offer affordable education degrees or tuition discounts for arts and humanities students.

Science Master's Degrees

The natural sciences hone research and laboratory skills at the graduate level. During science master's degrees, learners study advanced concepts in chemistry, biophysics, and earth science. Enrollees gain advanced knowledge and skills through a mix of classroom and laboratory coursework.

Cutting-edge master's programs in biomedical engineering and genetics prepare graduates for specialized careers in the sciences. Learners can also earn master's degrees in science education to become science teachers. Learn more about science master's programs and career paths with a master's in science below.

Biomedical Engineering

Science Education

Pursuing an Online Master's Degree

Can you earn a master's degree online? Many top-ranked universities maintain track records of success and offer online master's programs with flexible schedules.

Before enrolling in an online program, take some time to consider how to choose an online college. Next, walk through the online education checklist to make sure you're prepared. Then, check out our essential tools for distance learners. These resources help prospective online students start their graduate education on the right foot.

Paying for Your Master's Degree

The cost of college continues to rise, and graduate programs generally charge higher tuition rates than undergraduate programs. When it comes to college finances, planning makes a major difference.

Before applying to grad school, research master's scholarships and student loans. Making strategic financial aid decisions can help you avoid high student loan payments after graduation. Check out our resource on paying for online college, which introduces multiple ways to pay for school and save money while pursuing your degree.

Recent Publications for Prospective Master's Students

Are you considering grad school? Our recent publications cover how to make the most of an online program and what to know before pursuing a master's degree. We also explore topics like maximizing a gap year before grad school and increasing your productivity in school. Check out some of our recent pieces below and bookmark TheBestSchools Magazine for the latest posts on grad school, student life, and transitioning into the workforce.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pursuing a Master's Degree

true What's the Purpose of a Master's Degree?

A master's degree offers specialized, graduate-level training in a particular field. Many careers in fields like business, healthcare, education, and the social sciences require candidates to possess master's degrees.

true How Many Years Is a Master's Degree?

Earning a master's degree typically requires two years of full-time study. Some programs offer accelerated master's degrees that take one year.

true How Do You Get a Master's Degree?

An applicant must possess a bachelor's degree and meet any prerequisite requirements before entering graduate school to earn a master's degree. During a master's program, each graduate student completes 30-40 credits in their focus area, including any internship or practicum requirements. Many master's programs require students to complete thesis projects or exams in order to graduate.

Popular with our students.

Highly informative resources to keep your education journey on track.

Take the next step toward your future with online learning.

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.

woman in an office