The answer to this question is most likely yes. However, there are a few key factors that students should consider before enrolling in an online master’s degree program.
These considerations include the differences between learning online versus in person, the benefits and drawbacks to earning a master’s degree online, and personal considerations like the availability of online programs in your desired area of study, your learning style, and your remote learning environment.
This article will dive deep into these factors to help you ask the right questions when considering whether you should get your master’s degree online.
The Difference Between Online Grad School and Attending Class on Campus
Taking courses online versus attending classes in person has significant differences in class schedules. In a traditional master’s program, classes meet in a specific location at predetermined times. Many online programs are asynchronous, meaning there aren’t scheduled class meetings, and students review lessons and complete assignments independently.
Online master’s programs also rely on different delivery content methods, including pre-recorded videos, chat rooms and forums, and online learning platforms. In-person classes feature more hands-on and interactive learning experiences.
There is also a difference between the two types of programs in terms of how students interact with their peers and faculty. Remote students rely primarily on email, messaging, and video chats to contact classmates and instructors. In-person students will have in-class interactions, as well as impromptu interactions around campus. While on-campus students might have more opportunities for networking events like job fairs, the benefit of remote learning is building a network that’s not limited by geography.
The costs associated with online and in-person programs are different as well. All programs charge students tuition, but in-person students may also pay for room and board, parking, and student activity fees. Meanwhile, additional costs for remote students include reliable Wi-Fiand hardware like cameras and microphones.
The Benefits of an Online Master’s Program
In many ways, earning a master’s degree online is more convenient than enrolling in an in-person program. Students don’t have to spend time commuting to campus and can choose an asynchronous program that allows them to complete lessons and assignments whenever their schedule allows.
Online master’s students also have far more flexibility regarding where they live and study. Students who can’t move to a new location because of work, family, or other obligations can still access the programs they want. They can also live in a more affordable area than where their school’s located. When it’s time for class, students can be in the most comfortable environment, like an office, bedroom, or living room, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all classroom.
Another benefit is increased accessibility. Students are no longer bound to the choices offered at their local colleges. Online classes also make learning more accessible for students with physical or other limitations that make it challenging for them to learn in a traditional classroom setting.
Attending an online master’s program is often more cost-effective than an on-campus program. Online students save money on room and board and commuting costs. They’re also usually able to continue working a full- or part-time job while enrolled, which can offset school costs.
Thanks to technological and pedagogical developments, there’s generally no difference between in-person and online master’s programs in terms of quality. Online classes are usually taught by the same faculty who teach in-person courses using the same curriculum. When applying for jobs, employers generally view online degrees as equal to traditional degrees. In the current remote-friendly work environment, employers may actually prefer students from online programs with more experience with remote work technology and skills.
The Drawbacks of an Online Master’s Program
Not compatible with all programs
Even with all the advancements in educational technology, there are some programs that cannot be completed entirely online. Many fields focusing on person-to-person interactions, like nursing, teaching, and social work, have residencies, student teaching, or internships that must be completed in person. Students may not need to go to campus to complete these parts of their programs, but they do require attendance at a specific time and place, which runs counter to the convenience of online learning.
Not suitable for all learners
Online learning is best suited for focused, self-motivated, and well-organized students. Individuals who are easily distracted, prone to procrastination, and struggle with accountability and time management may find that an online master’s program isn’t a good fit for them. Also, the content in online programs is typically delivered via lectures (either live or pre-recorded), reading assignments, and online discussion forums. Individuals who learn best through demonstrations, hands-on experiences, and face-to-face interaction might find it challenging to stay engaged and master material as it’s delivered in online courses.
Requires technology skills
Regardless of what type of program a student enrolls in, technology will be part of their educational experience. However, online students must be particularly tech-savvy to use equipment like webcams and microphones, troubleshoot connectivity issues, and leverage online resources and tools. Schools typically have tech support services for remote students, but dealing with tech issues can cost precious time and energy, especially when assignments are due. Access to reliable hardware and internet connections is also critical for students to be successful in online programs.
What to Consider Before Starting an Online Master’s Program
There are a few factors that students should consider before they enroll in an online master’s program to ensure that their online education experience is as positive and fulfilling as possible.
Are there any in-person requirements for the program?
Even if all classes for a particular program are available online, there may be in-person requirements such as clinical rotations, internships, student teaching, and residencies. These types of experiential learning components are common in programs like nursing and other healthcare-related fields, education, social work, counseling, and more. Before committing to a program, students need to know the expectations for experiential learning so that they can plan their schedules and budget accordingly.
Is an online program compatible with your learning style?
Because of how online classes are delivered, they’re more suited to some types of learners than others. Visual/verbal learners tend to do well in online classrooms because they learn through visual aids, like PowerPoints or videos, and written content, like articles and textbooks. Meanwhile, tactile/kinesthetic learners may need the hands-on experience and face-to-face engagement that a traditional classroom setting provides to grasp the material thoroughly. A learning style assessment can help students determine if an online master’s program is right for them.
Do you have an adequate learning environment and tech set-up?
To set themselves up for success in an online master’s program, students need a dedicated, distraction-free space where they can attend classes and complete their assignments. They should also be sure that anyone they live with, including roommates, partners, and kids, respects their class and study time. It’s also important for students to confirm that they have good-quality hardware and software, including a computer, webcam, microphone, and reliable high-speed internet access.
How will you pay for your online master’s degree?
Students shouldn’t wait until they receive their first tuition bill to consider how they’ll pay for their online master’s degree. Throughout the process of researching and applying for online master’s degrees, consider all costs associated with the program, including tuition, fees, technology requirements, and textbooks. Students should research financial aid options, including scholarships, loans, assistantships, employer tuition reimbursement, and any current savings and income. If there are questions or concerns, contact the school’s financial aid office to learn more about options for paying for the program.
The Best Online Master’s Programs
Intelligent.com’s research team evaluated hundreds of programs to create their list of the 50 best online master’s degree programs for 2023.