2021 Best Online Masters Programs [Ultimate Guide]

Ready to start your journey?

With so many universities offering online master’s programs these days, we created a guide to help you select the graduate program that best matches you.

Online master degree students studying together

Earning a master’s degree online can help you restore your passion and open new doors for your future. Compare top schools offering accredited graduate degrees in 30+ fields!

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Accelerated Online Master’s Degrees

If you don’t want to spend any more time in the classroom than necessary, you can earn your master’s degree online through either an accelerated master’s program or by taking accelerated classes.

Some colleges offer 5 week, 6 week, or 8 week online courses.

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What is a master’s degree?

A master’s degree is an advanced degree that shows you have a “mastery” of a particular subject.

Earning this degree can help open the door to new career opportunities as well as increased earning potential.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), full-time working adults with master’s degrees earn on average $240 per week more than workers who hold a bachelor’s degree.

In order to pursue a master’s degree, you must first earn your bachelor’s degree.

Why Should I Earn a Master’s Degree Online?

If you’re thinking about pursuing a master’s degree, you are likely already well established in your career. You may also have a family, own a home and have other adult responsibilities. These are things you can’t just put on hold to go back to school!

Online master’s programs can help you obtain the flexibility to maintain your obligations while earning your degree.

What’s more, some online programs may allow you to speed up the process, helping you complete your master’s program in a fraction of the time it would take on campus. They do this by offering accelerated 6 week to 8 week terms and omitting the traditional thesis requirement.

What are the Highest-Paying Master’s Degrees?

Advancing your education almost always results in increased earning potential. But there are, of course, certain fields in which it’s especially beneficial.

Here are the online master’s degrees that lead to the highest paying jobs:

Major Median Annual Salary
Computer Information Research / Computer Science $126,830
Political Science $125,350
Mathematics / Statistics $110,860
Economics $108,350
Education Leadership / Education Administration $97,500
Sociology $86,110
Genetic Counseling / Genetics $85,700
Speech Pathology $80,480

There are also many high-paying fields you maybe be able to get into without a master’s, but a master’s can potentially lead to faster advancement and increased pay.

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

The time it takes to get a master’s degree is usually about two years, but this is normally for traditional master’s degree programs. Online masters programs may be able to be completed much faster!

You may be able to earn your master’s in just one year if you…

  • Attend online
  • Choose an accelerated program with 8 week semesters online
  • Take at least 2 classes per 8 week term
  • Choose a program that does not require a traditional thesis

Does an online master’s degree require a thesis?

Not always! More and more universities are finding ways to offer online masters programs without thesis requirements.

Instead of the daunting thesis, schools may offer alternatives like capstone projects, internship opportunities or other courses or projects that serve as a culmination of the program. You will still need to demonstrate that you’ve “mastered the field” but now you may be able to do it in a way that doesn’t take a year or more!

How many credits is an online master’s degree?

Most online master’s programs require students to complete 36 to 54 credit hours, which is equal to 12-18 courses.

One of the most time-consuming elements of many master’s programs is the thesis, which can often take a year or more to complete. Fortunately, many online masters programs have eliminated the thesis component, making it possible for some students to earn a master’s degree online in just a year!

Can You Get Financial Aid for Online Master’s Programs?

Absolutely! Just like on-campus students, online students have a variety of financial aid opportunities to pursue.

Let’s review the options.

  1. Federal Financial Aid: To receive federal aid, you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Thousands of students fail to submit the FAFSA because they don’t believe they will qualify for aid. However, the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Office reports that there is more than $150 billion in federal financial aid available to college students, including graduate students. So be sure to apply! The three types of aid available through the FAFSA are:
    1. Grants: Money that does not have to be repaid; Maybe need-based or offered for students in certain in-demand fields, like teaching
    2. Loans: Must be re-paid with interest; Opt for Federal Loans before private ones, as they generally have lower interest rates and more repayment options.
    3. Work Study: Part-time employment that helps pay for educational expenses
  2. State Financial Aid: Check here to see what aid resources are available in your state
  3. Institutional Aid: Check with the financial aid office at the school you choose to find out what aid they offer and how you can apply
  4. Employer Tuition Reimbursement: Many companies offer tuition reimbursement programs to encourage their employees to pursue higher education and training. The terms of the agreement may require you to maintain a certain GPA or agree to stay with the company for a certain length of time after completing the education, for example. Be sure you’re familiar with all the terms upfront.
  5. Payment plans: Find out if your school offers payment plans with incentives, such as low or no interest loans if you are paid off at the end of each semester.
  6. Scholarships & Fellowships: You can find scholarship and fellowship opportunities by contacting your school’s financial aid office, professional associations, local organizations and through search sites such as FastWeb.

To be clear, as long as you are enrolled in an accredited program, you should have no trouble finding financial aid to help cover the costs of earning your master’s degree online.

One Year Masters Degrees

Since most master’s degrees are only 36 credit hours, one year masters programs online are quite common.

Online Master’s in Public Health Degree Programs

Online Master’s in Business Administration

You can read more about online MBA programs here. If you prefer to earn your MBA fast, you can read about accelerated online MBA programs in this article.

Online Master’s in Social Work

Want to make a difference in the lives of others and impact your community? A Master of Social Work (MSW) might be a good degree choice.

Want to earn your MSW degree fast? We cover accelerated Master of Social Work programs in-depth in this article.

Online Master’s Degree FAQs

Universities Offering Online Master’s Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University campus

Arizona State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Auburn University

Auburn University campus

Auburn University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Ball State University

Ball State University campus

Ball State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Boston University

Boston University campus

Boston University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

Colorado State University

Colorado State University campus

Colorado State is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Florida International University

Florida International University campus

Florida International University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Florida State University

Florida State University campus

Florida State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Fort Hays State University

Fort Hays State University campus

FHSU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

George Washington University

George Washington University campus

George Washington University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University campus

The Johns Hopkins University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Lamar University

Lamar University campus

Lamar University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Liberty University

Liberty University campus

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

North Carolina State University

North Carolina State University campus

North Carolina State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Sam Houston State University

Sam Houston State University campus

Sam Houston State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Central Florida

University of Central Florida campus

The University of Central Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Florida

University of Florida campus

The University of Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Nebraska – Lincoln

University of Nebraska - Lincoln campus

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill campus

UNC-Chapel Hill is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of South Carolina

University of South Carolina campus

The University of South Carolina Columbia is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin campus

The University of Wisconsin is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Final Thoughts…

Earning your masters degree online will require time, money and a lot of hard work.

But the investment can be worthwhile. With this advanced degree, you may be eligible for promotions, be able to pursue new positions, and dramatically increase your earning potential. But perhaps the biggest benefit to pursuing a masters degree online is that it can help breathe new life into your career, getting you excited to learn more about your chosen field!

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Lindsay Aldini
WRITTEN BY
Lindsay Aldini
Lindsay holds a Bachelor of Arts in Magazine Journalism & Graphic Design from Drake University. Lindsay's writing focuses on adults going back to college, higher education trends, and online learning.