Who Should Get a Master’s Degree (Online)?

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Continuing your education at the graduate level is a big decision. It will take time, money, and effort. Before you make that commitment, you need to decide if it’s the best choice for you and your future.

Reasons You May Want to get a Master’s Degree:
Advance In Your Career
Looking for a Career Change

What are the pros/cons of getting a master’s degree online?

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting a Master’s Degree Online

Looking to Advance Your Career

If you want to advance in your career, a master’s degree can make a huge difference!

Generally speaking, higher education equals a higher salary. This is especially true in fields like business, education, and healthcare.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2019 median weekly earnings for full-time workers who held a master’s degree was $1497, compared to $1248 for those whose highest level of education was a bachelor’s. That’s a difference of almost $250 each week, which means a masters degree is worth it for many professionals.

There are a few fields in which earning a master’s degree will not have a big payoff – for example, Petroleum Engineers, Mining and Geological Engineers, and Chemical Engineers – so be sure to check the BLS for data specific to your field.

In addition to increased earning potential, a master’s degree can open the door to upper-level positions. You may be qualified for management and supervisory roles, or be able to transition into an exciting new area within your field.

Looking for a Career Change

If you’re feeling stuck or unhappy in your career, a master’s degree can help you transition into a whole new field.

Some master’s degree programs – especially those that require licensure or certification – will only admit candidates who hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field. But many programs do not have this requirement and will admit candidates with a bachelor’s in any subject. As long as you have a bachelor’s degree, you can apply and get started in an entirely new field.

Pros and Cons of Getting a Master’s Degree Online

Today, nearly all colleges and universities offer a variety of courses and even entire degree programs online. And more and more students – especially adult learners pursuing graduate degrees – are taking advantage of this convenient option.

Online learning is not a good fit for all learners, though, so it’s important to do your research.

Let’s take a look at all the pros and cons of online education.

Pros of Getting Masters Degree Online

  • Flexible schedule
    Online education can fit in around your existing work, family, and personal commitments. You will not have a strict schedule requiring you to be on campus by 9 a.m. several days a week. For the most part, you can go about your day as normal and complete your coursework at your convenience.
  • Faster completion
    Many online programs operate on accelerated schedules so students can earn their degrees quickly. Rather than attending classes for 16 weeks, you can speed through an entire semester in just 8 weeks. Many schools also have new classes starting every month or so, so that students can enroll and get started right away rather than waiting for a new semester.
  • Study anytime
    Most people cannot find an extra 4 hours in their day, but you probably have some small pockets of availability. You can listen to a lecture on the morning commute, read a few chapters over lunch, or quiz yourself while making dinner.
  • Study anywhere
    Traveling for business or pleasure isn’t a problem for online learners. Even a family emergency or an unexpected hospital stay does not have to disrupt your learning. You can log-in and complete your coursework wherever you are.
  • Access to more schools
    As an online learner, you won’t be limited to what’s available at the nearby college. You can enroll at any school, anywhere. And if a class you need isn’t offered at your school or isn’t available this semester, you can take it at another accredited school and transfer the credit easily.
  • No commute
    Online learners don’t have to waste precious time driving to class or dealing with traffic, car trouble or dangerous weather conditions.
  • Potentially cheaper
    At some schools, tuition for online programs is lower than traditional on-campus programs. You may also save on additional fees that tend to add up, such as out-of-state tuition fees, commuting and parking fees and pricy textbooks
  • Accredited programs
    Most online programs are accredited, meaning they adhere to the same strict standards as in-person programs. A degree earned online through an accredited school is just as credible and well-respected as one earned on campus. And in most cases, future employers won’t even be able to tell that you earned your degree online.
  • Access to financial aid
    Online students enrolled at accredited institutions enjoy the same access to federal and state financial aid as in-person students.

Cons of Getting Masters Degree Online

  • Less (or different) personal interaction
    Online courses often make use of message boards for online conversations, and may even offer opportunities for live virtual discussions, but it’s still not quite the same as a face-to-face learning environment. You cannot read the professor’s body language or engage in spontaneous conversation with classmates, for example.
  • Not all majors are available
    Some subjects simply don’t lend themselves to an online format. Fields that require hands-on training or specialized equipment, for example, typically cannot be completed entirely online. Students in these programs may need to be on campus or in another in-person setting at least part of the time.
  • Increased personal responsibility
    You will be responsible for your education. No one will remind you to log in to message boards or submit an assignment. No one will be helping you select the right courses or fill out a financial aid application.
  • Networking challenges
    On-campus students have opportunities to meet (and make an impression on) professors and faculty, fellow students, guest lecturers, and so on. These interactions with people in your field can be helpful when it comes to finding internships or jobs in the future. It’s not quite as easy to make these connections in an online environment.
  • Requires self-direction
    You will need to direct your educational journey, determining your course load and pace as well as setting short term and long term goals.

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting a Master’s Degree Online

1. Is there an online master’s program that will help me reach my career goals?
2. What are the benefits of getting a master’s degree online rather than on campus?
3. What are the drawbacks of getting a master’s degree online?
4. Do I have the right personality to be an online learner?
5. Will getting a master’s degree online pay off in my field?
6. Do I have time to earn a master’s degree online?
7. Can I afford to earn a master’s degree online?

1. Is there an online master’s program that will help me reach my career goals?

In most cases, the answer is yes. Online learning is so popular that you can earn a master’s online in nearly any field.

That said, there are a few fields that don’t lend themselves to a fully online format. If you’re looking to further your education in the medical field, for example, you may need to attend a portion of your classes on campus or in another professional setting so that you have access to hands-on training and specialized equipment.

What is a Master's Degree?

2. What are the benefits of getting a master’s degree online rather than on campus?

Online degree programs are growing in popularity because they’re a good fit for many busy adults.

Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Flexible Schedule
  • Faster completion
  • Study anytime
  • Study anywhere
  • Access to more schools
  • No commute
  • Potentially cheaper
  • Accredited online programs
  • Access to financial aid

For a more in-depth comparison of online and on-campus learning, check out Sub-topic 4- Pros/Cons.

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:

  • Less (or different) personal interaction
  • Not all majors are available
  • Increased personal responsibility
  • Networking challenges
  • Requires self-direction

It’s important to be honest about your limitations, and decide whether this type of learning will work for you.

For a more in-depth comparison of online and on-campus learning, check out Sub-topic 4- Pros/Cons.

4. Do I have the right personality to be an online learner?

Earning a degree online is different than earning it in a classroom, so it’s important to consider whether this type of learning is a good fit for you personally.

You will need to be:

  • Self-Motivated
  • Self-Disciplined
  • Organized
  • Self-Aware
  • Comfortable using technology

If you aren’t sure how you will do, consider signing up for a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). 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 almost all professions, the answer is yes – a higher degree equals a higher salary. You could earn hundreds of dollars more each week.

However, there are a few professions in which earning your masters will not have much of a payoff. For example, Petroleum Engineers, Mining and Geological Engineers, and Chemical Engineers will not see an increase in earnings after earning a master’s degree.

Check the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for data about how a master’s in your field will affect your earning potential.

6. Do I have time to earn a master’s degree online?

You probably do, because online learning is remarkably flexible!

Whether you’re busy with work, a family, or both, you will be surprised how many small windows of downtime you have each day. You can fit classes or studying in on your commute, over the lunch hour, while making dinner or when your kids are in bed.

Some experts think these short bursts of study time are more effective than long sessions.

7. Can I afford to earn a master’s degree online?

At most colleges and universities, the tuition cost for online degree programs is 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 fees, commuting and parking fees, and pricy textbooks.

But even with those cost savings, higher education is never cheap. You may need financial aid to help pay for your online master’s program.

Here are some places you may be able to get that assistance:

Once these opportunities have been exhausted, then you can consider low-interest student loans to cover any remaining costs.

Earning a master’s degree can be a game-changer, but it’s important to plan wisely. Take the time to really think about the questions above so you can be sure you’re making the best decision for yourself and your future.

Ready to start your journey?
Elizabeth Abner
WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.