Best Online Master’s Programs 2021

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A master’s program typically takes two years of full-time study to complete. However, several factors affect completion time, including enrollment status, credit requirements, field of study, and delivery format. Online master’s programs may take less time to complete because they often offer multiple start dates and accelerated delivery schedules.

Most schools do not make a distinction between their on-campus and online master’s programs. An online master’s degree maintains the same rigor and requirements as an onsite program. A master’s degree presents the holder as a committed and well-trained professional who possesses the expertise needed for leadership and managerial roles in their field.

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Top 10 Online Master’s Program


  • What is a master's degree?

    A master’s degree is the first level of postsecondary study, usually consisting of 36-54 credits and requiring applicants to hold at least a bachelor’s degree.

  • What kinds of master's degrees are there?

    Master of science and master of arts degrees currently make up most master’s programs. However, there are several other types of master’s degrees, such as master of education and master of engineering.

  • How long does it take to earn a master's degree?

    Master’s degrees typically take 1.5-2 years to complete. However, a program’s delivery format and student’s enrollment status often impact the amount of time it takes to earn a master’s degree.

  • Are master's programs funded?

    Master’s students can often take advantage of fellowship programs offered by their school. Professional organizations and federal agencies may also offer financial aid for students pursuing a master’s degree.

Best Online Master’s Programs 2021

Many colleges and universities now offer some of their best master’s programs online. Students reap several benefits from pursuing a master’s degree online, several of which are described in a section below. All of the online master’s programs in this ranking hold regional accreditation, ensuring they meet the same academic standards as their accredited on-campus counterparts.

Career and Salary Outlook for Master's Degree Graduates

Pursuing even the most affordable master’s online programs often requires a substantial financial investment. However, a master’s degree can lead to high-paying roles, making the investment of time, effort, and money worthwhile.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), master’s degree-holders earn a significantly higher weekly median salary ($1,497) than the average worker ($969). Additionally, they enjoy an unemployment rate of just 2%, lower than the average unemployment rate of 3%.

Nurse practitioner is one of the highest-paying occupations requiring a master’s degree. The BLS reports an annual median pay of $115,800 for these professionals. Additionally, the top-paying occupations for master’s degree-holders (above $100,000 per year) do not require extensive experience or additional on-the-job training. This means graduates can immediately enter the workforce after completing their program.

Accreditation for Master’s Degrees

Accreditation attests to the quality of a school’s academic offerings. Schools may hold regional or national accreditation, with regional accreditation generally considered the more prestigious of the two. Regional accreditation typically applies to nonprofit, degree-granting institutions, while national accreditation applies to for-profit vocational schools. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) recognizes both types of accreditation.

Attending an accredited school benefits students in several ways. For instance, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid. Many schools also only recognize degrees and transfer credits from accredited institutions.

The Distance Education Accrediting Commission accredits schools that offer at least 51% of their academic programs online. Some accrediting agencies focus on specific programs rather than entire schools. In fields where programmatic accreditation exists, such as business, social work, and education, students should look for accredited programs.

Why Study for a Master's Online?

Online master’s programs benefit students in several ways. For example, many programs offer asynchronous coursework, which gives students the flexibility to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations. In addition, online courses often follow accelerated delivery formats. Many online programs also offer several start dates throughout the year, allowing students to begin classes at their convenience.

Financial Aid

To find financial aid opportunities, students should begin by submitting the FAFSA. Colleges and universities rely on FAFSA information to determine an applicant’s eligibility for financial aid, such as scholarships, grants, and fellowships. Professional associations, private companies, and nonprofits may also use FAFSA information to award financial aid.

Undergraduates usually apply for merit-based scholarships, while graduate students often apply for fellowships that feature some type of teaching or research responsibility. Students at any level can often apply for need-based financial aid opportunities.

Online students often save a considerable amount of money on transportation and housing costs. In addition, many off-campus enrollees can continue working while pursuing an online master’s degree.

Scholarships for Graduate Students

Students in online master’s programs can apply for financial aid opportunities, such as scholarships, grants, and fellowships. The following list outlines several scholarship opportunities for online master’s students.

CyberCorps: Scholarships for Service

Who Can Apply: Administered by the National Science Foundation, the program welcomes applications from undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a degree in cybersecurity or a closely related field. After graduation, recipients must work for the U.S. government for a period equal to the length of the scholarship.
Amount: $32,000

MS Engineering Fellowship Program

Who Can Apply: Administered by the Graduate Engineering Management (GEM), the program accepts applications from underrepresented minority students pursuing a graduate degree in natural science and engineering. Applicants must be enrolled in a GEM member university.
Amount: Full tuition and fees, plus $4,000 living stipend per semester

SMART Scholarship for Service Program

Who Can Apply: Undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in an accredited STEM program can apply to this program administered through the American Society for Engineering Education and the Department of Defense (DoD). Recipients must work for the DoD for a set period of time after graduation.
Amount: Full tuition and fees, plus $25,000-38,000 stipend per year

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