In 2019, graduate programs were the primary post-secondary degrees being offered online, edging out undergraduate degrees. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) reported that for the academic year 2018-2019, of the 3.03 million enrolled graduate students, more than 2 million or 70% of those students are taking their graduate courses online, whether in full or partially (only some online courses).
Graduate studies are either a master’s degree, a professional degree (i.e., medicine, law, and dentistry) or a doctoral degree (Ph.D.). Among the post-baccalaureate programs, master’s degrees are the most sought after by more students. Not only are master’s degrees the next step after a bachelor’s degree completion but, more importantly, the jobs that grew the fastest over the last decade – and are projected to rise till 2022 – require master’s degrees.
Today, because of the coronavirus pandemic, all forms of learning are being moved online to observe social distancing. Still, master’s degrees and graduate education, in general, are not part of the shift. Post-baccalaureate degrees have led the educational shift for years before the pandemic. According to a 2018 article by the Urban Institute analyzing the National Post-secondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) quadrennial surveys from 2000 to 2016, the rate of part-time or full-time enrollment of master’s degrees students in online programs has steadily grown at an average of 9.79%. Furthermore, from 2012 onwards, the number of master’s students fully enrolled in online programs have surpassed those who are just partially immersed in the said programs.
It’s clear that many master’s degree students have already made the complete shift to an online mode of instruction and are therefore equipped for the upcoming changes this fall. However, research published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) points to the negative effects of a purely online mode of learning or “tech-ed.” Other groups also share the same sentiment and are skeptical of the change.
Fret not! This guide will walk you through all these questions to help you get started with your online master’s journey, how to get in the right program, and how to pay for it, among other things. Use the links below to find the insights easily you’ll need, whether you’re a newly minted college graduate, an international student or an adult learner juggling life and school and have never dipped your toes into online learning. This guide has got you covered.
- Why Pursue a Master’s Degree?
- The Value of Online Master’s Degrees Then and Now
- Master’s Degrees that Pay Off Financially
- Master’s Degrees and MOOC Micro-credentials: Friend or Foe?
- How to Choose the Right Online Graduate School and Admission Requirements
- Financing Your Online Master’s Degree
- Is an Online Master’s Degree Really for You?
“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”
– John Maynard Keynes –
Education is shifting. Learning now takes place in the virtual space. This disruption in education isn’t that new if you think about it. Still, it is a change that has got learners (mostly but also significantly, adults) who are used to face-to-face or in-campus instruction questioning to the point of resisting the change. After all, before the current pandemic, online learning, or distance education (for simplicity, both terms will be used in this piece synonymously) was just an alternative modality. Since the ’70s, distance education has been a viable alternative mode of instruction in degree-granting institutions like the Nova Southern University in Florida, considered as the first school in the U.S. ever to have its online program accredited in 1985.
So, master’s degrees and, in general, graduate degrees, are trailblazers in the online learning game that has been serving students for about four decades now. It was in the new millennium the online master’s degrees took off in its enrollments. To better understand this paradigm shift in education, we need to understand the demographics of master’s degree enrollees, whether in-campus or online. We need to understand who enrolls in these programs, what drives him or her to pursue graduate studies, and what makes the online modality a perfect fit.
Why Pursue a Master’s Degree?
First, what are master’s degrees? The Department of Education defines it as the first level in a series of advanced, specialized program levels in what is considered as the graduate level of education. The minimum requirement for enrollment is the completion of a bachelor’s degree or a four-year college degree, also known as an undergraduate degree. Examples of master’s degrees include an MBA, Master’s in Engineering, Master’s in Nursing, and more. The curriculum at the master’s level is highly specialized, with a greater focus on the subject area or discipline the student is enrolled in. Its curricula do not have general education subjects, which is why the typical time for completion is about two years or four semesters. However, the requirements for graduation are more intensive, with more research and analyses works culminating in a thesis and its defense in front of a panel composed of the members of the graduate school’s academe.
So why do those with bachelor’s degrees still pursue a master’s degree?
It is because master’s degrees aren’t only leading the enrollment race in the online learning game, but it’s also leading the enrollment race in higher learning. An article on the New York Times puts it succinctly: “The Master’s as the New Bachelor’s.” The fastest-growing jobs and industries over the last ten years prefer, with the operative word being “prefer,” those with master’s degrees, even at the entry-level. What brought on this preferential change among employers?
A 2015 article by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists 33 occupations that usually require master’s degrees for its entry-level positions. It includes economists, nursing practitioners (midwives, anesthetists, and instructors), statisticians, librarians, urban and regional planners, educational administrators (school principals), and counselors, among many others. If you look at the list, it’s an array of occupations in various industries, occupations which a lot of people thought a bachelor’s degree would suffice.
The landscape of the job market and the U.S. economy changed drastically from the ’60s – the era when a bachelor’s degree was more than enough to land you a career and not just a job, and when the middle class had more dispensable income – to today. This resulted in a gap in the quality and competency of college graduates who are indeed knowledgeable but lack the required expertise demanded by industries today. With automation, A.I., machine learning, robotics, and labor outsourcing to developing countries taking over local blue-collar jobs and creating redundancies among professional occupations, this resulted in a streamlined demand for highly specialized employees with a combination of good technical or hard skills and soft skills. Thus, the birth of specialized master’s degrees, which are myopic or highly focused versions of traditional master’s programs like an MBA. It offers a combination of advanced theoretical and relevant industry learnings. Examples of these are the M.S. in Finance or Supply Chain, or the relatively new Professional Science Master’s, which combines advanced science and mathematical learning and its current applications in the workplace or businesses. These are advanced specializations that can also be found in typical MBA curricula.
The difference is an MBA program would only touch upon these areas (plus, it’s also more expensive and takes longer to complete as it tries to tackle more subjects). In contrast, a specialized master’s program will provide a higher or deeper level of concentrated learning and training in a specific subject area, which could prove beneficial to both the employee and the employer.
The bottom line: the objective of pursuing a master’s degree is a better job outlook that could lead to a flourishing career. One that is both relevant and resilient or disruption-proof.
The Value of Online Master’s Degrees Then and Now
Unlike classroom-based education, online education underwent a series of evolutions, from one form media to another – from correspondences to radio, to television then finally, to computers and mobile devices via the internet. The initial goal of offering distance education was to reach students who are geographically challenged, which the correspondence system in the 18th century was able to accomplish.
As time went on, distance learning evolved as technology has. Students’ reasons to partake in distance learning also diversified. Aside from location, other students cited other obligations such as personal or familial, which means they need to be able to study but without the requirements of a structured schedule. The same requirement also held – and still holds – true for part-time students who are also working at the same time. Distance learning was also more affordable since miscellaneous payments like school facilities and other service fees are eliminated.
Today, the objectives of online learning, particularly, online master’s degrees, are still the same. NCES data show what the most resonating benefit of online learning is – flexibility, especially for students with other responsibilities. About 70% of students enrolled part-time in graduate studies, both on-campus and online, are aged 30 and above. We could infer that most of these students are either working graduate students or have familial responsibilities or both. They take advantage of the asynchrony of online learning, allowing them to attend virtual classes at their own time and pace, which perfectly complements their multi-faceted lives.
As the world copes with the current pandemic and the physical restrictions it has imposed, online degrees certainly serve another purpose, a timely and life-saving purpose. With classes being delivered virtually, it can be taken in the comfort of one’s home, eliminating the need to commute, travel, and physically interact. It promotes social distancing and self-quarantine, which are paramount these days. The resulting social isolation can be daunting, though, but there are ways to cope with it.
Master’s Degrees that Pay Off Financially
Why do college graduates decide to go on and pursue higher education? Why do professionals go back to school to pursue the same when American education is so costly, to begin with? It’s simple. With the right master’s degree and lower tuition fees – thanks to online degrees and public schools – the return of investment is not only promising but also realistically certain. Next to associate degrees, master’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees are toe-to-toe for second place in the hierarchy of ROIs based on educational attainment. That makes pursuing a master’s degree a worthy investment.
In another NCES report, graduate school attendance – both full-time and part-time – has risen by 70% from the year 2000 to 2018. The primary reason for this is the equally rising demand for jobs that require graduate degrees, particularly master’s degrees, at the entry-level. The upward trend for master’s degrees is projected by the BLS to continue until 2022. Most of these jobs are in the healthcare industry like physician’s assistants, industrial psychologists, orthotists, prosthetists, and nurse practitioners. Occupations in STEM, education, and business management industries are also projected to rise until 2022 continually.
Job growth in the STEM sector, especially in engineering, is actually to be expected. It has consistently grown by almost 80% from 1990 to 2018, according to the Pew Research Center. Also, the report compared the median annual wages of master’s degrees graduates who are employed in either STEM or non-STEM related jobs. It revealed that with the same level of educational attainment, STEM job employees earn 75% more annually, or more than $91,000, than non-STEM job employees.
Specialized MBA programs such as finance, business administration, economics, and marketing also consistently yield high ROIs for master’s students. However, there is also evidence of a growing demand for professionals in the field of enterprise management, communications, critical thinking, and technology. Thus, Professional Science Master’s (PSM) degrees, which we mentioned earlier, have also become a parallel option to specialized MBAs and are posed to compete, if not replace, traditional MBAs.
We’ve already established the main purpose of master’s degrees, which is to improve one’s career outlook, especially financially. With that in mind, when considering a master’s degree, consider the returns of investment. In 2020, consider pursuing a master’s degree in fields that have promising financial returns, as well as career growth, and these are in healthcare, STEM, specialized MBAs like finance or marketing, or a PSM degree. According to the BLS, job opportunities for master’s degrees graduates are also projected to grow in the areas of education and social service, although not as meteoric as the other fields.
Master’s Degrees and MOOC Micro-credentials: Friend or Foe?
MOOCs or massive online open courses have existed since 2012 as a disruptor not only in distance education but in the education sector. Courses are offered online, which allows for everyone in the world to enroll. Sites like edX, Coursera, Udacity, Udemy are the known leaders in this industry. Courses offered via its platform range from short to lengthy lectures or can be threaded into a series of lectures to form one course. Quizzes and exercises are interspersed in between. Lecturers are from renowned experts in their fields and or members of the academe.
With or without the pandemic, universities and colleges worldwide recognize that disruptions in education will change how education is being delivered. The pandemic acted as its accelerator, though. With MOOCs paving the way, several renowned institutions have also begun offering many of its in-campus degrees online through any of the three ways:
- by hosting it through their graduate school websites. For example Stanford University, New York University,
- by partnering with industry and MOOC leaders to curate online master’s programs that combine the concise and open format MOOCs are known for, skills training based on market and industry demands, and the prestige of earning such a degree from an accredited and renowned institution, which allows access to its faculty and advisors. The courses are hosted on the university’s website, for example, Georgia Tech, or
- by offering select master’s programs through the popular MOOC sites. The latter is perhaps an effort by traditional universities to neutralize the competition – “if you can’t beat them, join them.” For example, edX hosts a select number of master’s programs from six universities, namely, Georgia Tech, University of Texas – Austin, Indiana University, Purdue University, Arizona State University (ASU) and Boston University (B.U.). Each university only offers 1 to 3 online master’s programs that students can enroll via edX. Tuition fees are also more cost-effective, ranging from $9000 (Georgia Tech’s Master’s in Cybersecurity) to $24,000 (B.U.’s MBA). The same can be observed for Coursera’s master’s degree offerings – select, few courses (but more than edX) that are focused on STEM master’s and MBAs. These are also offered by the same universities – Illinois and ASU, for example. Udacity took a slightly different approach by offering its technologies to a renowned university and let them take the reins with its online master’s offering. The result is Georgia Tech’s Online MS in Computer Science program, which is the first MOOC-like online master’s program offering in the country and the example we used in the second bullet. If you prefer a European brand of education, though, UK-based MOOC FutureLearn is also offering and hosting 22 online master’s degree programs in partnership with the likes of Coventry University and the University of Glasgow. FutureLearn has slightly more offerings than Coursera and, of course, edX and Udacity.
So, do MOOCs rival or complement online master’s degrees offered by traditional institutions? It’s both. When viewed as a delivery platform for the online offerings of brick-and-mortar schools, they’re complementary, or better yet, a partner. All their programs are in partnership with various universities and industries worldwide, but MOOCs did not rise to prominence by hosting the semestral online graduate degrees of its partner institutions. It disrupted education by offering open, flexible, fast-track, graduate-level programs that promote rapid upskilling and re-skilling, or what is collectively known as micro-credentials. This is what the business is built upon, and it’s in this perspective that they pose a serious competition to online master’s degrees. There are no admission requirements to enroll in a micro-credential program, which is good news for many students looking to ramp up their resumes with credits – even if it’s just credits – from renowned universities.
With industry- or career-centric curricula—and because the courses are curated in partnership with industry titans – MOOC courses also lead to a stable career.
These programs come in various forms – or trademark brands – depending on which site you’re browsing. The following are some examples:
- edX’s MicroMasters®, the XSeries, Professional Certificates programs, and Executive Education Courses
- Coursera’s MasterTrack™ Certificate and Professional Certificates programs
- Udacity’s Nanodegrees®
Remember, online master’s degrees, as flexible as they are, still follow the traditional semestral schedule as with its on-campus counterparts. This is another edge micro-credentials have over traditional offerings. By compressing the degrees into no more than ten subjects at most, the completion time is reduced by half. For example, the average completion time for the various MicroMasters® programs on edX ranges from 6 to 18 months, while it’s just three months for Udacity’s shorter, bootcamp-like Nanodegrees®.
However, such degrees do not equate to traditional master’s degrees. Still, some degrees can be used to gain credits to shorten your completion time if you decide to pursue a traditional master’s degree. Remember to ask the MOOC site you’re enrolling in and your prospective graduate school about this. In Europe, however, the European MOOC Consortium (EMC) has instituted the Common Microcredential Framework, which is a set of standardization rules that EMC-member MOOCs can or, at certain times, should follow. The standardization framework is a solution to the long-term problem of MOOCs’ lack of standardization and consistency, especially in the matter of credits, i.e., which courses or degrees can be applied for credits to a university or college once the student decides to pursue a traditional degree. In the U.S., the closest thing MOOC students and providers have when it comes to a credit-transfer framework is the Alternative Credit Project. The project was launched by the American Council on Education (ACE) in 2014, but it only included six MOOC providers – edX, Ed4Credit, Sophia, Saylor, StraighterLine, and Pearson – and 43 participating institutions.
Since the project ended in 2018, students still have to double-check credit acceptance from MOOCs. This inconsistency on the quality of education provided by MOOCs, despite its partnerships with renowned institutions, and the question of MOOC credits being accepted across all institutions worldwide is why traditional degrees, particularly master’s degrees, still matter.
Micro-credentials, therefore, complement online master’s degree programs. With both tracks being delivered online, it’s easy to fuse the lessons to encompass numerous skills. You can also see MOOCs as a steppingstone if, like many college graduates nowadays, you find yourself financially unprepared to pursue a master’s degree just yet, but you’re compelled to upskill for career advancement reasons. Just make sure to confirm with your prospective graduate school if they are accepting credits you’ll be earning from any MOOC provider should you decide to pursue an online master’s degree.
How to Choose the Right Online Graduate School and Admission Requirements
The thing with having everything in the online space is the possibility to create everything, literally everything. And with that premise comes to mind the need to safeguard and weed out what’s legit and what’s fake. Fly-by-night online schools are rampant in the virtual space, and so you must be vigilant and verify if a particular online graduate school checks out. Accreditation, therefore, is a must.
The most effective way to ascertain if an online graduate school is accredited is through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Post-secondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP) websites. Both houses accreditation information on more than 8,000 post-secondary institutions in the country. It lists the accrediting agency of each school and if it has been granted an institutional accreditation and or programmatic accreditation. Now, remember, CHEA or the USDE does not grant accreditation onto the institutions. These accredited agencies are usually found on the CHEA and the USDE-DAPIP websites. You can also check for accreditation information via the school’s website. This information can be usually found in the “About” page of the school’s site.
Why should I care whether my prospective school has institutional accreditation and or programmatic accreditation?
In graduate school, these two types of accreditation are important because of three things:
- one, for financial aid. Whether you’re applying for a federal loan or are asking for tuition assistance from your employer, you must be applying to an institutionally accredited school. Otherwise, your federal aid application or request for employee education assistance will be denied,
- two, graduating from an institutionally accredited school ensures that you can take the necessary licensure exams that are necessary for some professions,
- and three, degree programs which have been granted programmatic or specialized accreditation means that its curricula were certified to be at par by the governing professional organizations of the area of study or subject matter, e.g., Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE), International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE), etc.
There’s also the matter of regional and national accreditation. Unlike with institutional and programmatic accreditation, which makes sense to many, regional and national accreditation confuses many. But the thing that matters to graduate students, especially incoming students, is that regionally accredited schools are more accepting of transfer credits from fellow regionally accredited schools. The same custom applies to nationally accredited schools. The disconnect arises when a student transfers from a nationally accredited school to a regionally accredited school, or vice-versa. It’s common to see regional accreditation among more established institutions, like Harvard University, while national accreditation is common for trade and vocational schools. Your safest bet as a graduate school application is to choose a school that’s regionally accredited.
Now that you’re set on which school – or schools – to apply to, it’s time to get your requirements in line. The first step is to gather your undergraduate transcripts and diploma as a bachelor’s (not an associate) degree is a requirement to be admitted into any master’s degree program. Next is to take and pass the standardized test(s) for admission to grad school. The most general of them all is the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Other graduate school programs like law, medicine, and business studies all have their versions of the GRE that is specialized to its respective field study. These are the LSAT, MSAT, and GMAT.
Over the last few years, though, several graduate schools across the country have been eliminating GRE scores as an admission requirement. These schools see the GRE as an unnecessary requirement for both on-campus and online master’s programs because of issues of it being a non-reliable predictor of student performance and retention, and non-inclusivity of minorities, thus affecting a graduate school’s enrollment. The current pandemic has also boosted this phenomenon even further as more and more institutions either waive it or simply remove the requirement from their admissions processes.
Check with your school of choice whether their GRE requirement has been waived or if they still require it. If they do, the GRE can be taken remotely through a testing center or at home.
If you are currently employed or have previous working experiences, submit proofs of these as well, as you might be able to use them as credits through the ACE’s Credit for Prior Learning Network. The list of institutions accepting these are listed on the ACE website, but you should still confirm with your chosen school if the policy is still in effect.
Financing Your Online Master’s Degree
We’ve discussed the “R” in ROI. Now we have to talk about the “I,” which stands for investment.
Post-secondary education in the U.S. is expensive, whether you’re in college or grad school. But the silver lining is, online master’s degrees are way less expensive than on-campus degrees, and that’s a fact.
But let’s run down a few other facts as well before we deep dive into this topic:
- In-state and out-of-state tuition fee rules still apply even for online degrees.
- The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (NC-SARA) allows institutions that offer online degrees to admit out-of-state students because of the reciprocity agreement. However, one state does not participate in this.
- The process for applying for federal student aids or loans for online degrees is quite similar to that of on-campus degrees. It all starts with the FAFSA form.
Even if online master’s degrees are a fraction of the cost of in-campus master’s degrees, it’s still considered to be expensive. But the price difference is obvious. For example, at Georgia Tech in 2017, the cost of its in-campus M.S. in Computer in Science is at least $42,000 for the entire degree, while its online counterpart is just barely $7,000. However, for many grad students, four-figure tuition is still steep, and this is where subsidies, aids, and loans come in.
What makes financing graduate school different from the undergraduate study is the fact that many graduate students are already employed. That doesn’t mean that they have deep pockets. It just means that if they show signs of potential and, of course, with the right company – usually a multinational – graduate school costs may be shouldered by the company, either in full or partially. And that’s a benefit you should take advantage of.
Companies run different policies when it comes to tuition subsidies for their employees. The usual route here is through a tuition reimbursement program, but it comes with stringent conditions. For one, there is a grade requirement. There is also a school requirement where you can only attend the school prescribed by the company. You must also agree to work for the company for a certain period as part of the agreement. And lastly, your chosen degree should be in line with your role or what your company projects as your future role. In short, they agree to assist you in your master’s degree because they see great things in you. They are banking on you, but they set out conditions to mitigate possible losses in case you’re thinking about going AWOL.
Some companies, like UPS, Ford, Bank of America, and military technology company Raytheon offer educational assistance in the form of awards instead of reimbursement. The same conditions apply, but of course, there is a greater advantage when your company fronts you the money for your tuition. Company scholarships are also available, while some industry leaders, like petroleum multinational Shell, has its in-house graduate offering for successful candidates.
If you’re employed and are not sure about your company’s educational assistance program, or if they have one, ask your H.R. team about this. If you’re job-hunting and have plans of pursuing your online master’s while employed, then these are the things that you need to look for in a prospective employer.
Another way you could finance your online master’s is through interstate reciprocity agreements or interstate exchange student programs. Higher Education in the U.S. is subdivided and governed by regional “compacts,” which is a group of states that are in proximity to each other, which share interstate agreements on education, particularly tuition fees. It lightens the burden that out-of-state tuition fee rules bring about by providing discounts to students who choose to attend school – even if it’s online – out-of-state but is within the region. In some states, they extend the same resident tuition fee privilege to non—residents by the regional compact.
Where does the NC-SARA fit in all these? And what is it in the first place?
If you’ve been taking online courses, especially full courses, chances are, you might have heard of the NC-SARA. The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements is a national consortium composed of accreditors and federal agencies and organizations. It provides guidance and oversight through policies to ensure that students, regardless of residence, have access to standardized online education provided across the country and its territories, while reducing the burden on institutions brought about by bureaucratic policies. It acts as both the bridge and overseer between the regional compacts, which are:
- The New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) – which serves the Northeastern region made up of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. It instituted the Tuition Break program that would allow residents of the six states to enroll outside their states but within the region for a discounted tuition fee. It also embraces New Jersey as a SARA-affiliate state.
- The Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) – which serves, as the name implies, the Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Ohio, and Wisconsin. This compact offers the Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP) in which non-resident enrollees for some programs are eligible to in-state fees (up to a maximum of 150%) at public institutions. In comparison, those enrolled at out-of-state (but within the region) private institutions are eligible for a 10% discount on school fees.
- The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) –encompasses all the southern and Gulf states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. It also serves Pennsylvania, DC, and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as SARA-affiliate states. Its Academic Common Market (ACM) reciprocity program (only applicable to the 15 aforementioned southern states, North Carolina excluded) offers hundreds of specialized online master’s degrees to which out-of-state enrollees can take advantage of in-state tuition rates.
- The Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) – is comprised of all the remaining states that have not yet been mentioned here: Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and the Dakotas. The Dakotas are members of two regional compacts, WICHE and MHEC, which is a win-win situation for everyone involved. WICHE also includes Hawaii, Marshall Islands, and Guam. The Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP) is its prime reciprocity offering for grad students in the region. It offers in-state tuition rates of up to 150% to non-residential students provided that they are indeed non-residents but are residents of other states belonging to the compact.
- The State of New York is the lone SARA-member state not belonging to any compact (without the SARA, the tri-state area composed of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania are all independent of any regional compact). While its membership allows its participating institutions to provide online learning past state borders, licensure exams will require state residency, though.
California is the only state that has opted out of the SARA, which is unfortunate. The hold-out stems from bill opposition by consumer advocates who have had bad experiences with for-profits, leading to mistrust – a topic for another piece. It is unfortunate, though, because amidst all the hoopla, it is Californian students who will be greatly affected by all these, as they lose the chance to gain significant savings from the interstate agreements being overseen and administered by SARA and the regional compacts.
Then, of course, there’s the FAFSA or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Remember that for your application to be approved, your online school should be accredited institutionally, at the very least. Your enrollment status will also affect the amount of aid you’re getting should you get approved. Full-time enrollees tend to get more aid than part-time enrollees, and this could be a concern for part-time students who are also working at the same time. Grants are also a viable option, while private loans and federal subsidies, which vary by state, can also be explored if necessary and as of last resort.
Is an Online Master’s Degree Really for You?
We’re not going to lay out a list of pros and cons here, and if you notice, we didn’t. That’s because, moving forward, as the world gradually copes with the new normal, online education is no longer just a disruptor or an alternative. It is now and will be the mainstream mode of education for all levels. Online master’s degrees have been serving millions of American professionals for forty years. It has vastly improved so for those who say that with all its limitations, it can’t and won’t replace classroom-based education, well, that’s just backward thinking. It’s safe to say that for graduate degrees, at least, this is how education will be delivered to all its students.
So, the question is, is this for you? Can you cope with the fact that for 2 to 3 years, you very rarely see your classmates, professors, and advisors in person? Is 2 to 3 years of staring at a computer screen filled with boxes a-la “Celebrity Squares” too long for you? Is it the length of the program or the modality of the program?
If it’s the length of the program, you’re better off with micro-credentials and stack them through time in the hopes that employers would see them as equal to master’s degrees. If it’s the modality, that’s a denial of what appears to be a more permanent change in education delivery. We were headed this direction anyway, virus or no virus. The virus just sped things up.
For many, to pursue higher education when you already have attained the bare minimum may seem unnecessary and impractical, especially in these uncertain and frightening times of contagion, death, unemployment, and recession. Now, more than ever are these words more important – why would I want to pursue an online master’s degree in the first place? Do an inventory of your objectives. If it’s all about the money and you don’t care about career growth and development, then think twice. While we elaborated on the ROI gains of earning a master’s degree, particularly online master’s, because of the lower overhead, we always coupled it with the returns in career growth.
The answer to the question should be both because to better yourself only for more money would leave you drained and empty, but if it’s for a more fulfilling and rewarding cause, then the benefits would outweigh all the cons.