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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Accredited Online College Programs

Explore our featured online programs and find the right match for you today.

Top 5 Online Master’s Program

Rank School Location
1 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
2 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
3 Penn State World Campus University Park, PA
4 University of South Florida Tampa, FL
5 North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC

FAQ


  • 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.

  1. University of Florida
    Location

    Gainesville, FL

    Tuition

    $11313

    A public university based in Gainesville, UF offers a variety of online master's programs. Students can choose from subjects such as science, education, and technology.

    UF distance learning offers 84 different master's degree programs. They require little to no residency requirements and accept students from all over the world, not just Florida.

    Notable programs include a master of arts in Latin and a master of arts in communication with eight possible concentrations. Students can also pursue a master of science in pharmaceutical studies with 14 possible concentrations and a master of science in forest resources and conservation with three possible concentrations, among others.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Each department requires different GPA minimums and amounts of work experience. The school also requires students to submit GRE or GMAT scores for most master's programs.

    UF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  2. University of Central Florida
    Location

    Orlando, FL

    Tuition

    $13016

    Based in Orlando, UCF offers a variety of online master's programs. Students can earn a degree from anywhere in the world.

    UCF offers 34 online master's programs in subjects such as engineering, analytics, and science. Notable programs include a master of arts in English with specialization in technical communication, an executive master of health administration, and a master of nursing. Students can also take advantage of several masters of science in engineering concentrations to advance their careers in the sciences.

    The school provides a success coach to prospective students to answer admission questions and create a plan. UCF master's programs require students to submit GRE or GMAT scores. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution to qualify for admission.

    UCF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  3. Penn State World Campus
    Location

    University Park, PA

    Tuition

    $21678

    Drawing on its expertise as a top-ranked research institution, Penn State launched World Campus, designed to open education opportunities for students worldwide. Based in University Park, Penn State World Campus offers online master's programs in a variety of fields with few to no residency requirements.

    Notable master's programs include a master of professional studies in turfgrass management, a master of science in spatial data science, a master of public administration, and a master of science in nursing. The nursing master's also leads to an online doctor of nursing for motivated students.

    Courses happen 100% online, with some degrees requiring periodic residency or in-person seminars. Asynchronous learning offers students flexibility.

    Graduate program admissions vary by department, but all require students to hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited university. Most master's programs also require students to submit GMAT or GRE scores to qualify for admission.

    Penn State World Campus is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

  4. University of South Florida
    Location

    Tampa, FL

    Tuition

    $10460

    A research facility located in the heart of Tampa Bay, USF now offers more than a dozen online master's programs. Students can complete their graduate education from anywhere in the world and on their own schedules.

    USF offers a rich master's catalog in education, healthcare, and behavioral sciences. Students can choose from seven different education master's programs, covering special education and curriculum design topics. Other notable programs include seven master of public health concentrations and an interdisciplinary master of science in cybersecurity. Most programs take 1-3 years to complete and happen mostly online with few to no residency requirements.

    Each department lists different admission requirements. However, all applicants should hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited university and require students to possess some previous work experience. The school also requires students to submit GMAT or GRE scores for admission into most master's programs.

    USF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  5. North Carolina State University
    Location

    Raleigh, NC

    Tuition

    $14771

    Based in Raleigh, NC State offers a variety of online master's programs, including options in high-priority fields such as education, science, and technology.

    Notable programs include a master of science in forest biomaterials, a master of education or master of arts in teaching with several concentrations, and a master of science in integrated systems manufacturing engineering. Students complete courses online with few residency requirements. The school welcomes students from all over the world.

    The graduate school uses the common application to begin the admissions process. Individual departments field admissions requests and forward their selections to the graduate school for final approval. Students must check the individual admissions requirements for each specific program before submitting an application. Most departments require students to submit GRE or GMAT scores.

    NC State is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

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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