7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting a Master’s Degree Online
Earning your master’s degree online can give you a real competitive edge when it comes to landing your dream job and earning a bigger paycheck.
But those benefits come at a cost. Getting a master’s will take time and money. Plus, it’s hard work!
Before you commit to going back to school to earn an online master’s, you need to decide if it’s the best choice for you and your future.
To do that, ask yourself these seven questions.
1. Is there an online master’s program that will help me reach my career goals?
Probably! You can earn your master’s degree in nearly any field. Whether you’re interested in a Master’s of Science, a Master of Arts, or just the highest paying master’s degree programs, My College Guide can help!
Some of the most popular online programs are in:
Some fields, however, don’t lend themselves to online learning.
For instance, many medical programs are not available in an online format because students need to be trained to use specialized equipment.
If you’re looking to further your education in the medical field, you may be able to take some courses online, but will also need to attend classes on campus or in another professional setting.
2. What are the benefits of getting a master’s degree online rather than on campus?
If you’ve never taken an online class before, the idea may be a little intimidating. But there are a lot of reasons that this format is appealing to students, and especially to adult learners.
Here are just a few of the benefits:
- Flexibility – The number one perk of online learning is the flexibility! It can fit around your other commitments, like your career or family, so you won’t need to put your life on hold. You can study while traveling, listen to lectures on the way to work, write a paper after your kids are in bed, and so on.
- Selection – You won’t be limited to schools in your area, or forced to consider moving. Online programs give you access to the top universities all around the world.
- Cost – While online and on-campus programs are typically equal in price, at some schools the online programs are cheaper. In addition, you will also save money on your commute, parking, and perhaps even text books.
- Controlled environment – In a classroom setting, there are a lot of distractions, but as an online learner you can control the environment you learn in. If you are your most focused when there is background music playing, or in the late night hours, you can do that!
For a more in-depth comparison between online and on-campus learning, read about the online college vs traditional college.
3. What are the drawbacks of getting a master’s degree online?
Despite the many advantages, there are also some disadvantages to earning your degree online.
Here are a few you should be aware of:
- Scams – There are unaccredited schools, as well as outright scams online. Be sure to research the school or program you choose to make sure it’s accredited and legitimate.
- Less (or different) personal interaction – Though you will be encouraged to interact virtually, you won’t have opportunities to “read between the lines” of a professor’s mannerisms or expressions or engage in casual conversations with classmates. It’s not a very social experience, and some students struggle with that.
- Not right for everyone – You will need certain personality traits to succeed as an online learner. (See Question #4.)
4. Do I have the right personality to be an online learner?
Earning a degree online is a whole different experience than earning it inside a classroom. It’s important that you understand the differences upfront, and truly consider whether this format will work for you.
You will need to be:
- Self-Motivated – It will be up to you to make sure you get online regularly, participate in online discussions, reach out when you are struggling, seek advice on course selection, and so on.
- Self-Disciplined – In some courses, you may be given a syllabus, access to lectures and an assignment list, and simply be expected to complete the necessary work by the end of the term. Will you make time to study each day, or will you be scrambling to catch up near the end?
- Organized – No one is going to remind you about assignments, exams or homework due dates. You will need to be highly organized in order to stay on track.
- Self-aware – You will need to determine how many classes you can handle, what pace works for you, and where and how you do your best studying.
- Comfortable using technology – You should feel comfortable exploring new software or online platforms, using your printer, web cam and headset, saving things to flash drives and using other tools that are necessary in your field.
If you aren’t sure how you will do as an online learner, consider signing up for a MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses). These are free, no-credit courses, so you can try out the online learning format before committing to – or paying for – a whole program!
5. Will getting a master’s degree online pay off in my field?
In most professions, the answer is yes – a higher degree equals a higher salary.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2013, the median annual wage for full-time workers who held a master’s degree was $68,000, compared to $56,000 for those whose highest level of education was a bachelors. That’s a $12,000 premium on average, which makes it well worth the investment.
BLS data for professions such as Web Developers, Biological Scientists, Editors, Mathematicians, Public Relations Specialists, Pilots, Designers, etc. support that.
However, there are professions in which earning your master’s will not have much of a pay off. For example, Petroleum Engineers, Mining and Geological Engineers, and Chemical Engineers will not see an increase in earnings (and may even see a decrease) after earning a master’s degree.
Check the BLS for data about how a master’s will affect your career. If earning more money is your goal and a master’s won’t help you achieve that, you can instead look for a master’s program that will help you transition you into a higher paying field.
6. Do I have time to earn a master’s degree online?
Online learning is remarkably flexible!
Whether you’re busy with work, a family, or both, earning a master’s online is absolutely possible because it can fit in around those commitments. You can listen to lectures on your morning commute, catch up on assigned reading during the lunch hour, review your notes while cooking dinner, and post to the message boards after the kids are in bed.
We all have some small pockets of downtime throughout our day. With online learning, you can fit class work in without sacrificing any of the other important things in your life.
7. Can I afford to earn a master’s degree online?
Online degree programs typically cost the same or less than on-campus programs. You may also save on additional fees that tend to add up, such as out-of-state tuition costs, commuting and parking fees, and pricy textbooks.
But even with those savings opportunities, higher education is never cheap. According to FinAid.org, the average cost of master’s degree is between $30,000 and $120,000. The cost varies depending on the school, the type of school (public or private) and the specific program.
Most likely, you will need financial aid to help pay for your online master’s program.
Here are some places you may be able to get that assistance:
- The federal government, through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
- Your state
- Your school (check with the financial aid office)
- Your employer
- Private organizations such as churches, community programs, businesses, ethnic organizations, etc.
- Scholarship search sites such as FastWeb.com
Be sure to check out all these resources to help make earning your master’s degree online more affordable. And once all grant and scholarship opportunities have been exhausted, then you can consider low interest student loans to cover the remaining costs.
Earning a master’s degree can be a game changer when it comes to your future. It can open new doors, leading to a better position with better pay. But it’s important to plan wisely.
Consider the above 7 questions to make sure you’re making the best decision for you and your future. And if earning an online master’s degree is your plan, don’t miss our step by step guide to going back to school as an adult.