2021 Best Online Master's Programs
Online Master's Degrees with the Highest Return on Investment
Earning an online master's degree can be a convenient way to gain advanced skills while balancing life's responsibilities. We developed the first program rankings list that uses student outcomes, such as salary and debt, to help you determine if an online master's program is right for you by revealing which online schools have the best overall return on investment (ROI). The highest-ranked schools typically offer online master's programs in business, computer science, and education. Below, we provide an overview of online master's degrees, including a comparison of in-person and online degree programs and whether enrolling will be worth it in the long run.
Students pursuing an accredited online master's program can browse our thorough list of options, including 588 colleges and 16,921 degree programs. The following comprehensive list of online master's programs includes accredited programs in fields like accounting, computer science, healthcare administration, management, nursing, and nutrition, and outlines how many online programs are available in each field of study. Average salaries for each program were calculated using earnings in the first year after graduation sourced from the 2020 release of the Department of Education's College Scorecard.
|a||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|b||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|c||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|d||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|Data Science||122||229||Not reported||Institutional|
|e||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|Elementary Education||130||297||$47,270||CAEP MACTE NCATE TEAC|
|f||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|h||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|Healthcare Informatics||104||207||$73,670||CAHIIM CAHME|
|Holistic Medicine||5||5||$28,240||ACAOM CNME|
|Human Resources||168||318||$61,020||AACSB ACBSP|
|i||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|l||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|m||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|Marriage & Family Therapy||27||70||$43,020||AAMFT COAMFTE|
|MBA||415||2,380||$78,150||AACSB ACBSP IACBE|
|Medical Office Administration||2||2||$65,500||ABHES|
|n||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|Nurse Practitioner (NP)||112||295||$97,500||ACEN ACEN CCNE NPWH|
|Nursing||263||1,194||$97,500||AANA ACEN ACEN ACME CCNE|
|o||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|p||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|Project Management||125||234||$78,150||AACSB PMI-GAC|
|r||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|RN to MSN||51||110||Not reported||Institutional|
|s||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|Secondary Education||108||310||$47,270||CAEP NCATE TEAC|
|Special Education||227||690||$52,040||CAA CAEP|
|Substance Abuse Counseling||32||42||$43,020||CACREP|
|Supply Chain Management||103||156||$78,150||Institutional|
|t||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
|Teaching||283||1,181||$48,740||CAEP MACTE NCATE TEAC|
|w||Online Schools||Programs||Alumni Salary||Accreditation|
Best Online Master's Programs Highlights
Overview: Online Master's Degrees
Can You Get a Graduate Degree Online?
Yes, you can earn a master's degree online. An accredited online master's degree demonstrates advanced knowledge of a particular subject and can carry the same prestige as an in-person degree. More than 580 accredited colleges offer fully online master's programs in over 100 disciplines, and the number of online degree programs continues to grow as technology steadily improves. In fact, in the fall of 2019, 33% of all postbaccalaureate students took courses exclusively online, including master's and doctoral students. Interestingly, enrollment in online master's programs outpaces bachelor’s programs.
An accredited online master's degree demonstrates advanced knowledge of a particular subject and can carry the same prestige as an in-person degree.
How Long Does It Take To Complete an Online Master's Program?
A master's program is designed to take students 1.5-2 years of full-time study whether it's completed in-person or online. Some colleges — mostly for-profit schools — offer accelerated programs requiring 5-6 eight-week terms each year. However, working students may prefer to enroll part-time, which could take three years or more.
Most master's programs are worth 30-60 credits, with full-time students completing 12-15 credits per term. Master's programs don't take as much time to complete as undergraduate degrees because no core courses are required.
- Typical time to completion: 1.5 - 2 years
- Typical credits needed: 30 - 60
Online vs. In-Person Master's Programs
Whereas in-person master's programs require attending a physical campus, online degrees can be acquired through e-learning platforms. These digital classes are often asynchronous, allowing participants to watch pre-recorded lectures, post in discussion forums, and complete assignments around their busy schedules.
While online learning can provide convenience, the main benefit of a traditional campus program is direct engagement with classmates and faculty. These relationships may lead to career-boosting opportunities. On the other hand, online study can prepare you for remote work, an increasing trend in many sectors of the economy.
Importantly, all regionally accredited master's programs — whether in-person or online — provide a high level of academic quality in their curriculum. A regionally accredited school has been evaluated by authorities to meet the nationally accepted educational standards via a rigorous peer-review process, and this stamp of approval is especially crucial for online learners because it signals a degree’s credibility to potential employers. Students should check if their school’s accreditation is recognized by the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
Is an Online Master's Degree Worth It?
Potentially increase your earnings
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those with a master’s degree make almost $13,000 more annually than a graduate with only a bachelor’s degree and also experience the lowest unemployment rates.
Build skills in your niche to increase leadership capacity
Not only can you learn industry-specific skills in a master’s program, but you can also learn organizational leadership, such as how to make strategic business decisions. By focusing on a specialization within your field of study, you become an expert in your field when you complete an advanced degree.
Conversely, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider. Earning your master's can be challenging and time-consuming because advanced classes are often complex and demanding. In an online environment, you may find support lacking, especially compared to the strength of in-person peer and faculty groups. Additionally, acquiring a master's degree may cause you to incur more debt, depending on your career path. The Education Data Initiative reports that the average debt among master's degree holders is $71,287, which is almost twice as much debt as graduates who only hold a bachelor's degree.
Are Online Master's Degrees Respected?
Even before the remote learning boom that occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers were increasingly accepting of online degrees. In 2018, Northeastern University conducted a study that showed how a solid majority of HR leaders already believed that online learning was of equal quality to traditional degrees. In fact, 71% of these recruiters claimed that they had recently hired someone with an online degree or credential.
Accreditation is the key factor in determining whether prospective employers will value and respect your online master's degree. We list accreditation information for all colleges on our site. However, unless you attend an exclusively online college, your employer may not even know you earned your degree online. For example, many colleges don't distinguish between online and traditional education programs in either their transcripts or diplomas.
Applying to Online Master's Programs
Letters of recommendation from professors or managers
Essay or statement of purpose about the applicant’s goals
Resume detailing relevant professional experience
GRE test scores within a given range, which is typically 310-315
Nonrefundable application fee, often ranging from $75-100
Students should verify the admission requirements of their chosen schools prior to applying.
How Much Does an Online Master's Degree Cost?
Earning an online master's degree can be a more affordable route than a traditional advanced degree, whether you attend a nonprofit college or private institution. Many schools charge online students a flat tuition rate regardless of their residency status. However, the cost of an online master's program varies according to the chosen discipline and school. Annual tuition rates range from approximately $7,000-$57,000 on our rankings list of the master's degrees with the highest return on investment.
|In addition to tuition and related fees, it may be helpful to consider future earnings. Our ROI scores can help you weigh a program's upfront cost against the likelihood that it will pay off in the long run. The scores show that a more expensive higher education doesn't necessarily lead to greater earning potential mid-career. For example, the second- and third-ranked schools on the master's degree list cost less than the fourth- and fifth-ranked schools.|
Although tuition makes up the most significant percentage of total college costs accrued, schools charge students a range of other expenses. Online learners are often expected to pay technology fees. On the other hand, they save money by avoiding moving expenses as well as on-campus costs, such as room and board. Financial aid can lower the total cost of graduate school and leave you with lower student debt. Online learners usually qualify for the same financial aid programs as on-campus students, but you should verify each program's eligibility requirements.