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Selecting an online master’s degree program is a personal decision that depends on many factors. To help you find the one that’s best for you, we reviewed hundreds of online master’s degree programs for high-quality programs that fit a variety of needs. Our team spent more than 40 hours reviewing and comparing program data, including cost, graduation and retention rates, curriculum, and reputable rankings to create our list of the top online master’s degree programs.

We also interviewed College Admissions and Education Advisor Blanca Villagomez, a Program Counselor and Coordinator for UC-Irvine with more than 10 years of experience working with diverse and underrepresented student populations. Villagomez covers what students need to know when considering an online master’s degree, offers tips for selecting the right online master’s program, and answers frequently asked questions.

What You Should Know About Online Master’s Degree Programs

If this is your first experience with earning a degree online, there are a few things to know about how online degree programs function and how to ensure you’re choosing a high-quality online master’s program.

Program delivery formats

Often students assume that if a program’s advertised as “online,” it means all classes and requirements can be completed remotely. In many cases, that’s true, but there are exceptions. For some programs, the online component applies only to classes, with requirements like clinical rotations or internships that students must attend in-person at a specific location. Other programs are delivered in hybrid, blended, or low-residency formats, which combine online and in-person learning. Before starting your search, consider which type of delivery format best suits your needs and lifestyle, so you can focus on finding the right program.

Class schedules

There are two types of class schedules for online programs. Synchronous classes meet virtually at designated days and times. These classes tend to feature more interaction between faculty and students and hands-on learning. However, students must be available at specific, predetermined times in order to participate.

Asynchronous classes have no set meeting times. Students can access lessons and assignments 24/7, and complete them according to their own availability. Lessons are provided in the form of pre-recorded lectures, videos, reading assignments, and discussion forums. This is the most flexible type of online program, but the lack of consistent meetings means students need to be comfortable learning autonomously.

Pacing

Students in online programs have the option of choosing to enroll on a full-time or part-time basis. Each school sets its own policies, but typically graduate students are considered full-time if they take a minimum of nine credits per term. Specifics vary by program and institution, but typically master’s programs can be completed in 2-3 years of full-time study or 3-5 years of part-time study.

Because of the flexibility and convenience of online learning, many programs offer accelerated degrees, in which students complete coursework in a compressed time frame, such as one year or 18 months. These programs mean less time in school, but they require a bigger commitment while enrolled because they’re condensing the same amount of material into a shorter time frame.

Accreditation

There are two types of institutions that offer online degrees — brick-and-mortar institutions with an online component, like University of Houston and Florida State University, and schools that exist entirely online, like Western Governors University. Quality online master’s programs are available at both types of institutions. One way to ensure you’re enrolling in a worthwhile program is to confirm the school’s accreditation status. This means the institution meets standards for educational quality set by the U.S. Department of Education and the accrediting bodies it oversees. Accreditation not only affects the quality of the education you receive, but it can impact your financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, and future enrollment in other postsecondary programs.

Non-profit and for-profit status

Students should also be aware of the school’s status as a non-profit or for-profit institution, as both operate in the world of online degrees. As the name implies, for-profit colleges are designed to make money, which may be reinvested in the school — or may go into the pockets of the school’s executives and investors. At a non-profit college, any revenue must be reinvested in the institution, in the form of faculty and staff salaries, infrastructure, student services, and more. While there are reputable for-profit schools, students should be aware that their for-profit status may impact cost, financial aid availability, accreditation eligibility, and business practices. Our list focuses on non-profit institutions, including both public and private schools.

Eligibility and restrictions

While online degree programs greatly increase education accessibility for students, there are some restrictions in the U.S. that may prevent students from attending a specific school. Institutions must be authorized by individual states to grant degrees to students living in those states. Without this authorization, students aren’t eligible for enrollment. Over 2300 institutions throughout 49 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands participate in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA), ensuring their distance education programs are authorized to operate and grant degrees in multiple states.

Students who are considering degrees in fields that require licensure should also review their state’s licensure requirements. In some cases, students are required to obtain their degree in the state in which they plan to get licensed.

Our Research

This list features some of the best online master’s programs at top colleges across the country. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions.

We evaluated each school’s program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, and reputation as well as the student resources provided for online students. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of online master’s programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the U.S. News & World Report among others to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

Online Master’s Degree Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

The Top 50 Online Master’s Degree Programs

Best Master's Degree Programs 2023 Badge
01

University of Florida
01

Concordia University Chicago
01

NC State University
01

Liberty University
01

Montana State University
01

Texas A&M University
01

Arizona State University
01

University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign
01

East Carolina University
01

Penn State World Campus
01

University of South Florida
01

Purdue University
01

Fresno Pacific University
01

Texas Tech University
01

Ohio State University
01

Colorado State University
01

University of Cincinnati
01

Concordia University Wisconsin
01

Ohio University
01

Lesley University
01

Kansas State University
01

Wilmington University
01

Georgia Institute of Technology
01

Northeastern University
01

University of South Carolina
01

Florida International University
01

Regis University
01

University of Missouri
01

Nova Southeastern University
01

Lindenwood University
01

Indiana University
01

University of Arizona
01

The University of Alabama
01

Missouri State University
01

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
01

Webster University
01

University of Mary
01

University of Wisconsin at Madison
01

Oklahoma State University
01

George Mason University
01

Ball State University
01

Clemson University
01

UNC Greensboro
01

University at Buffalo
01

University of North Texas
01

University of Michigan
01

Sam Houston State University
01

Johns Hopkins University
01

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
01

Boston University

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Advice from an Expert

Blanca Villagomez

Blanca Villagomez

College Admissions and Education Advisor

Blanca Villagomez is a seasoned professional with over ten years of experience developing programs, curriculums, and initiatives supporting diverse and underrepresented student populations. She completed her master’s in Counseling at CSU Long Beach (CSULB). Her experiences navigating college as a first-generation, low-income student equipped her with a deep understanding of the educational inequities that impact student sense of belonging. Her formal training in educational counseling has equipped her with a skill set in fostering meaningful relationships with students that prepare them to graduate successfully. She currently serves as a Program Counselor and Coordinator for the University of California, Irvine (UCI). As a lifelong learner, Blanca strives to create growth experiences that help students thrive in college and beyond.

What questions should students ask when considering an online master's degree?

  1. What are your motivations for earning a master’s degree? Often, there is external pressure to pursue a graduate degree from social comparison, familial expectations, or cultural norms. Pursuing a master’s degree needs to be a personal choice since you’ll be investing your time, energy, and money into the process. A master’s degree isn’t required to advance in all careers, so conducting extensive research and multiple informational interviews with current graduate students, alums, and professionals in your desired career is important.
  2. What topics are most interesting to me that I want to become an expert in? Consider who you want to work with in your day-to-day life, which type of individuals you want to help, and what issues, problems, or topics are most interesting to you that you would like to become an expert in.

When is the best time for a student to attend graduate school?

The decision to pursue a graduate degree ultimately depends on your current priorities, life circumstances, and career goals. Consider how pursuing a master’s degree will impact your finances, personal relationships, and life plans. Assess the costs and benefits. Additionally, ask yourself if you’re currently competitively eligible for graduate programs. If you don’t feel as qualified or competitive yet, think about how you can start developing the necessary skills or strengthen your application.

Are there networking opportunities for students in online master's programs?

While traditional in-person programs offer easier access to connect with peers and faculty, online programs still provide many opportunities to foster meaningful connections. You can prioritize your networking efforts by understanding what kind of people you want to meet. You might find a more diverse student body in online programs due to the increased accessibility that allows anyone to take classes remotely.

Should I choose a regular or accelerated online master's program?

If time is of the essence to you, some accelerated online programs can help you complete your degree quicker. However, due to the fast pace, I usually recommend these programs only to those with strong time management and stress management skills.

What additional advice would you give students interested in earning a master's degree?

My greatest advice is to develop a healthy and positive mindset by accepting that this investment comes with temporary sacrifices but long-term gains. Earning a master’s degree is a marathon, not a sprint so start developing a mindset to focus one day at a time.

I also recommend learning to set boundaries to help you manage your time and stress effectively. Along with that, learn how to ask for help and accept it when needed.

Create your own sense of community within the master’s program and maintain meaningful connections with your peers and faculty. Knowing that you have a strong network of individuals that want to see you succeed can be a great source of motivation.

Finally, pursuing a master’s degree is a unique personal experience, so focus on paving your own career path to reduce the social comparison that can surround you.

Online Master’s Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How much does an online master’s degree cost?

Many students assume an online master’s degree will be less expensive than an in-person degree, but that’s not necessarily true. Several factors influence the overall cost of an online program. When determining how much their master’s degree will cost, we recommend students consider the following factors:

Tuition is the main cost associated with an online degree.

Most online graduate programs charge tuition on a per-credit basis, but the specific amount varies based on multiple factors:

  • Institution status — Tuition at public universities is typically lower than at private institutions. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2020-21 academic year, the average annual tuition for graduate programs was $12,394 at public universities and $26,621 at private universities.
  • Student residency status — Public institutions may charge students a  higher tuition rate if they live out of state versus in-state. Private institutions charge the same tuition regardless of residency.
  • Enrollment status — Schools may charge students different tuition based on the number of credits they’re taking, with students enrolled in more classes getting a lower per-credit rate.
  • Student military status — Many schools offer discounted tuition for students who are active-duty military, veterans, or married to servicemembers.
  • Degree program — Per-credit tuition rates for graduate programs often vary by the specific area of study based on projected ROI, program reputation and popularity, resources needed to run the program, and more. For example, the Education Data Initiative reports that the average cost of an MBA is $61,800, compared to $52,000 for a Master’s in Education, and $59,720 for a Master’s in Science.

But the cost of an online master’s degree includes more than just tuition.

Here are additional costs that contribute to the price of your online master’s:

  • Fees — Schools often charge additional fees for tech support, online student services, and more.
  • Technology — Online students need good-quality tech, including computers, webcams, microphones, and reliable high-speed Internet. Depending on your program of study, you may also need specific software or hardware.
  • Books and materials — Even if a class is delivered online, it may still use textbooks and other hard-copy materials you’ll have to purchase on your own.
  • Travel costs — Some online master’s require attendance at in-person events, such as internships, orientations, residencies, or other experiential learning opportunities, which may have related costs for transportation, hotels, etc.

Some factors can make an online program more affordable.

  • Room and board — Rather than pay for on-campus housing and meals at a fixed price, online students have more flexibility with where they live and how to budget for living expenses.
  • Location — Online students can live in a more affordable area even if they’re attending a school located somewhere with a higher cost of living. There are also many public universities that offer out-of-state students the same tuition rate as those who live in-state.
  • Commuting — Students completing their degrees at home spend less money on transportation, like gas and car maintenance or public transit.
  • Flexibility — Many students choose online programs to work full- or part-time and maintain a steady income while completing their degree.

Ultimately, the only way to know the actual cost of an online master’s program is to research specific programs and compare their tuition and fees. This information is typically available on a program’s website, or you can learn more by contacting the school’s financial aid office.

How long does it take to earn an online master’s degree?

The specific length of time it takes to complete an online master’s degree varies by program. Generally, it takes anywhere from 18 months to 3 years to earn an online master’s degree.

Several factors influence how long it’ll take for you to earn your degree. These include the total number of credits in the program (master’s degrees typically require 30-48 credits), your enrollment status (full-time versus part-time), the pace of study (self-paced versus structured), and the course delivery format (synchronous versus asynchronous). Transferring previously earned credits from another degree program can shorten completion time.

Earning a master’s degree may take less time online than in-person, as asynchronous classes allow students the flexibility to complete more courses per term. Before enrolling in an online master’s program, confirm the expected length of the program with a program representative. It is also important to verify if there is a maximum period of time in which a student must complete the program.

How do I apply to an online master’s degree program?

To apply for an online master’s degree, you should first review the admissions requirements of the program(s) you are interested in. Each school and program have its own specific admissions process and deadlines. You can find this information on the school’s website or by contacting their admissions office.

After that, you’ll complete an application and submit the required supplemental application materials. These can include official transcripts from all colleges attended, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and resumes.

Some programs may also require standardized test scores, such as the GRE or GMAT. You can have your scores sent directly from the testing agency to the school(s) you’re applying to if you take one or more of these tests.

It’s important to be mindful of deadlines to ensure that all application materials are submitted on time. We also recommend confirming a program’s admission requirements, such as minimum undergraduate GPA, prerequisite courses, or a minimum level of work experience.

Is earning an online master’s degree worth it?

“As the landscape of higher education is evolving, online master’s programs can be a strategic investment of your time, money, and energy resources to advance your career,” Villagomez says. Among the numerous documented benefits of earning a master’s degree, there’s the increased earning potential. Individuals with master’s degrees earn a median weekly salary of $1574, compared to $1057 per week for all employees in the U.S.

Having a master’s degree can also lower your unemployment risk. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for those with master’s degrees in 2021 was 2.6%, compared to 3.5% for those with bachelor’s degrees and 4.6% for those with an associate’s degree.

More career options are also available to individuals with a master’s degree. This can include in-demand jobs like computer and information research scientists, social workers, nurse practitioners, statisticians, epidemiologists, and more.

Other benefits of earning an online master’s degree include the following:

  • Expanding your knowledge base and skill sets.
  • Making professional connections that can lead to jobs and other opportunities.
  • Exploring new career paths.

However, as Villagomez says, “Your return on investment ultimately depends on your personal needs, educational goals, and potential career outcomes.” If you’re ready to commit the time and energy to earning an online master’s degree, the experience can be well worth it.

How to Choose the Right Online Master’s Degree Program

When it comes to choosing the ‘right’ online master’s degree, Villagomez says, “It’s about finding one that aligns with your current priorities, motivations, skillset, and career aspirations.” That means taking time to gain clarity on what those priorities and aspirations are and conducting thorough research on the pros and cons of individual programs before deciding.

“Getting in the right mindset and staying organized are key for the master’s degree search process,” says Villagomez. “Select your preferred method of keeping notes, whether it’s a notebook or an online spreadsheet. Make sure the information is centralized in one location since you’ll reference it continuously.”

Once you have an organization system in place, Villagomez recommends the following steps for choosing an online master’s degree program:

Step 1: Choose your area of study

The first step in your online master’s degree journey is deciding what you want to study.

There are hundreds of options for graduate majors. Many are similar but have subtle differences. For example, students interested in an MBA can choose between a general MBA or one specializing in areas like healthcare management, IT, or human resources.

There are also various types of master’s degrees, including Master of Arts, Master of Science, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Business Administration, and more. Different types of degrees have different credit and curriculum requirements, which can influence the length and delivery of the program.

To decide which area of study and type of degree is right for you, consider why you want a master’s degree. Are you seeking advancement in your current field? Pivoting to a new career? Do you want to acquire specific professional credentials, increase your earning potential, or continue into further post-secondary study? What specific skills and knowledge do you want to gain from this educational experience?

“Gaining clarity on your interests can help you find the program curriculum that is best aligned with them,” says Villagomez.

There are many ways for students to get this clarity. Here are some Villagomez recommends:

Step 2: Research schools and programs

Once you know what you want to study, the next step is deciding where you want to study.

Students often start by looking at schools that offer the specific program of study they want, but there are many other factors that need to be taken into consideration when choosing an online master’s degree program.

“Some key factors that students should also consider are flexibility and accessibility, cost of attendance, financial aid availability, program duration, curriculum design, faculty, networking opportunities, and more,” says Villagomez.

The good news is, online research makes it easy to find for schools and programs that meet your parameters.

“Just like you research the best restaurants using Yelp filters, you can do the same to narrow your search options for master’s programs,” Villagomez says. The more specific you are about what you want from an online master’s degree, the easier it will be to find one that suits your needs.

Villagomez also reminds students to confirm that the institution and, when applicable, the program are accredited to ensure the quality of the program and that financial aid and post-graduation employment opportunities won’t be adversely affected.

In addition to researching schools via their websites, prospective students can also contact school admissions counselors or program representatives, attend virtual open houses, follow schools and programs on social media, and request print admissions materials.

Current and former colleagues, supervisors, instructors, and classmates can also be excellent sources of support and information regarding careers and online master’s programs. Says Villagomez, “Reconnect with previous professors you enjoyed, current and former supervisors, and community organizations to gain insight and recommendations on choosing the program that’s the right fit.”

Step 3: Select the school(s) to which you’ll apply

After completing your research, narrow your options down to the list of schools to which you’ll apply. The number of schools graduate students apply to varies. If you’re looking at competitive programs, you may want to apply to a few schools to keep your options open. However, it’s not uncommon for master’s-level students to focus on one specific program based on their interests, a program’s faculty or research, or logistical considerations.

Once you have your list of potential schools, find out what their specific application requirements are, including deadlines. Many online master’s programs offer rolling admissions and multiple start dates. However, depending on the process, it can take a few weeks to a few months before an application is complete. Give yourself enough time to submit all pieces of your application so you can be considered for your desired start term.

Step 4: Prepare and submit your application

Selecting the programs to which you’re applying will guide the steps you need to take to submit your application.

Depending on the requirements of the program, these steps may include the following:

  • Preparing for and taking standardized tests like the GRE or GMAT
  • Requesting letters of recommendation from current or former instructors, managers, or colleagues
  • Completing prerequisite coursework required for admission
  • Ordering official transcripts from higher education institutions you attended

Confirm with the schools you’re applying to if application materials can be submitted individually or if they should be sent together.

You can also prepare for additional admissions steps, such as interviews or portfolio reviews.

Step 5: Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

As you prepare and submit your application, you should also consider how you’ll pay for your online master’s degree if you’re admitted.

During your research process, be sure to learn about the costs of attending an online master’s program and what types of financial aid and scholarships are available. This information may be available on the school’s website, or you can contact their financial aid office.

Graduate students can apply for federal student loans through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The application process for school-specific aid and scholarships will vary by institution.

Employed students should also check with their employers regarding possible tuition assistance or reimbursement plans.

Online Master’s Degree Scholarship Database

Intelligent Scholarship Finder Tool

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"A Helping Hand" Scholarship

Award Amount: $500

Due Date: January 31, 2025

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"Follow Your Own Path" Essay Scholarship

Award Amount: $500

Due Date: January 31, 2025

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"Tuition Solution" Scholarship for STEM Students

Award Amount: $500

Due Date: January 31, 2025

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$25k "Be Bold" No-Essay Scholarship

Award Amount: $25,000

Due Date: Closed for 2024

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(ISC) Graduate Cybersecurity Scholarship

Award Amount: $5,000

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(ISC) Women in Information Security Scholarship

Award Amount: $5,000

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A.C. "Kate" & Leo Joseph Merlone St. Dominic Catholic Church of Saginaw Member Scholarship

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A.C. "Kate" & Leo Joseph Merlone Teaching Scholarship

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a/e ProNet David W. Lakamp Scholarship

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AAAE Native American Scholarship

Award Amount: $1,500

Due Date: March 15, 2025

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Learn More About Online Master’s Degrees

Have additional questions about earning an online master’s degree? Our research team and experts have provided answers to students’ frequently asked questions about online master’s degrees, including how much an online master’s degree costs and the availability and accessibility of these types of programs. You can find these resources below, along with additional information about financial aid, standardized test prep, applying to programs, and more.