How to choose an online grad school

How to choose an online grad school

Are you interested in furthering your education and moving on to graduate school? For busy adults, an online grad school may be the perfect choice. We share tips on choosing the right online grad school for you.

Key Takeaways

  • Online programs at the master’s degree and doctoral degree level are growing in popularity and availability.

  • Accredited online master’s degree programs offer flexible and accessible opportunities for career advancement and salary growth.

  • Students who get their master’s degree online typically enjoy access to the same master’s degree curriculum, course materials, and professors as traditional students.

Five Facts About Online Master’s Degree Programs

  1. Online master’s degree programs will typically require you to earn 30 to 60 credit hours, which can take between 1 and 2 years to complete.

  2. The typical online graduate degree program will include both online coursework in your discipline and a research or capstone project.

  3. The minimum admission requirements for a graduate program are typically the completion of a bachelor’s degree, submission of any official undergraduate transcripts, and retention of a GPA that meets a basic academic threshold (usually a 3.0). The admission requirements are generally the same whether you pursue a traditional or online degree.

  4. Distance learners who pursue their online master’s programs through public colleges or universities will typically be eligible for in-state tuition rates.

  5. The best online degree programs are designed to be flexible so that working adults can attend school while balancing professional duties and family responsibilities.
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Six Important Factors in Choosing an Online Master’s Degree Program


Higher education accreditation is extremely important when it comes to choosing an online master’s degree program. As an online student, you must do your due diligence to be sure that you are pursuing a degree from a credible online university.

Accreditation provides assurances that you are getting a quality education, receiving current course material, and gaining access to qualified faculty members.

Moreover, only students attending graduate schools with accreditation from Department of Education-recognized accreditors will be eligible for financial aid. Be sure that your master’s program is accredited by a colleges and schools commission in your region.

You should also be aware that you must have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college in order to be eligible for a regionally accredited master’s program.


The reputation of your online master’s degree can tell you a lot about the quality of the educational experience. This is especially important when considering online degrees. Most programs that rank high on U.S. News & World Report will be viewed as reputable by prospective employers and colleagues.

However, reputation may be even more important in certain fields. For instance, earning an MBA from a highly reputable graduate school can significantly improve your chances for career advancement and a top salary.

By contrast, the career prospects for online students earning master’s degrees in areas like education or criminal justice will not be as dependent on reputation. Most graduate programs with full accreditation will provide access to similar course material, curricula, and credentials.

Therefore, students taking graduate courses in certain fields might be better served by prioritizing affordable online programs over prestigious learning institutions.

Program Format

Prospective students often have a variety of options when it comes to the format of a graduate program. Broadly speaking, online education can be divided into two categories: asynchronous and synchronous learning.

Online programs using synchronous learning employ real-time methods such as livestream lectures, Zoom class discussions, and one-on-one video conferences with instructors. Online programs using asynchronous learning rely on methods such as pre-taped lectures, online bulletin boards, and self-paced learning modules.

Most online programs will include some mix of these instructional media. Before you choose a master’s program, make sure you understand the format of your online experience. You have a lot of options. Choose an online learning approach that works for you.

Availability of Online Classes

Prospective students with an interest in primarily online courses must consider the variety of online master’s programs available through a given college or university. Make sure that the graduate programs on your list offer online courses in your area of study.

If you are seeking a specific graduate program, you’ll want to determine whether or not you can complete coursework online. Some programs may also include some on-campus requirements for online learners. The right graduate school for you will offer a quality online program in your specific area of study.

Financial Aid

Prospective students considering an online master’s degree should fill out their Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year. Your online master’s program may or may not be eligible for federal financial aid, state-based financial aid, or even assistance directly through the financial aid office at your grad school.

While graduate students are typically not eligible for as many financial aid opportunities as undergraduate students, it’s important to complete your FAFSA. This is true for both traditional and online students. You may be able to offset at least some portion of the cost for your online degree.

Types of Graduate Degrees

Graduate degrees encompass both master’s degrees and doctoral degrees. Online graduate programs are available at both levels. In some areas of study, the online master’s degree will be a terminal degree. For instance, in the field of architecture, the master’s degree is the highest level of academic credential that you can earn.

In some cases, a master’s degree may not technically be a terminal degree but it will likely be the preferred graduate degree for most learners. For instance, a master of science in a technical field like accounting, computer science, or data analytics will be the highest degree sought by most prospective students as well as professionals already working in these respective fields.

A doctoral level graduate degree is more commonly reserved for professionals who plan to conduct research or teach at the postsecondary level. In many fields, the doctorate degree is the highest degree you can earn. Doctoral programs are regarded as terminal degrees in areas like psychology, philosophy, and history.

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Look for Online Master’s Programs By Discipline

The online master is offered in a wide variety of disciplines and concentrations. If you are interested in a specific online master’s program, you can start by looking for online graduate schools that specialize in your discipline.

Choosing an online advanced degree based on subject area is a good school search strategy both for working professionals interested in career advancement in their industry, and for bachelor’s degree holders looking to continue their higher education in a specific subject area.

Interested in pursuing a graduate education in a particular subject? Start your search by looking at the top master’s degree programs in the most popular disciplines including accounting, data science, business administration, and more.

Look for Specialized Online Master’s Programs

Some professions may require you to pursue very specific types of master’s degrees. For instance, there are numerous online nursing degree programs available at the graduate student level. If you are a nursing professional seeking an online education at the master’s level, the best way to proceed is to simply navigate within your field. Find the right graduate program with a look at the best master of science in nursing degrees online.

And by far, the most popular online master’s is the Master of Business Administration (MBA). The MBA can prepare students for leadership opportunities and specialized roles in their organization. The online master’s program in business administration is a particularly versatile degree.

Getting your advanced business education online makes it possible to balance your current workplace responsibilities with your coursework. To get started, check out

the best online master’s programs for MBA students.

Look for Online Master’s Degrees By State

Prospective students are increasingly choosing online degrees based on geography. But if you’re pursuing an online degree, why bother looking in state? Well, for one thing, online students are eligible for the same in-state tuition discounts as traditional students. If your online program is offered by a public college or university in your state, you could save a lot on the cost of your higher education.

Not only that, but at the graduate degree level, online students must sometimes complete in-person components. For instance, some online master’s programs will require campus visits for in-person workshops, laboratory exercises, or seminars.

So in addition to the tuition savings, getting your online master’s from a graduate school nearby could save you time and money on travel. To remain close to home and possibly enjoy in-state tuition rates, check out the very best online master’s degrees in your home state.

Shop for Affordable Master’s Degree Programs

For many graduate students, the top priority is saving money. Getting your degree online is already a great way to save. While distance learning students will typically pay online delivery fees, they will also save on expenses like housing, transportation, and an array of campus fees.

Accelerated programs offer another pathway to affordability. Online graduate students often have access to self-paced programs that allow students to complete coursework on their own timeline. While the traditional program can take between 2 and 3 years, it may be possible to complete an accelerated degree online in as little as 12 to 18 months. This can save you a fortune on your graduate school education.

Check out the most affordable advanced degrees online to get your graduate school education at a manageable price.

Look for the Best Master’s Programs Based on Excellence

Online students can also search for graduate schools that are best based on their overall excellence. While rankings from sites like U.S. News & World Report place a heavy weight on reputation survey, Academic Influence measures excellence with a unique metric called Influence. Influence is based on the real-world impact of a school’s students, alumni, and faculty members.

This metric is a more objective and transparent way of measuring actual student success, especially in the sometimes opaque online learning sector. Ranking for Influence is a great starting point as you search for your master’s degree online. An online program that ranks high for Influence will give you access to top professors, inspiring classmates, and a robust alumni network.

Learn more about applying to and excelling in your advanced degree program with a look at our Guide to Grad Life.

Or jump to our student resource library for tips on everything from studying to starting on your career path.

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