The online master’s degree is gaining popularity at a time when degree programs at other levels are actually struggling to maintain enrollment numbers. In the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges have seen a two-year enrollment decline after decades of steady growth. At the same time, more working professionals than ever before are setting their sights on an advanced degree.
The rising availability of high-quality, fully accredited online master’s degrees may be one reason for this growth.
The online master’s degree is an extremely valuable option for working adults, both because it offers a direct pathway to career advancement and because the growing availability of accredited online master’s degrees means you can pursue your advanced degree without disrupting your current personal and professional responsibilities. This may be why, according to CNBC, graduate enrollment increased by 4.6% between 2020 and Spring 2021 while undergraduate enrollment decreased by 4.9% over the same period.
If you would like to explore your online grad school options, dive right into our look at the Best Online Master’s Programs.
Otherwise, read on and find out why so many working adults are pursuing their master’s degree online...
In some fields, the master’s degree is actually a critical threshold for those who wish to take the next step in their career. For instance, in order to become a school guidance counselor, you may need to earn a master’s in counseling. To practice social work in a clinical setting, you would be required to earn a masters’s degree in social work (MSW). And in some states, you may be required to earn a master’s in education in order to teach in a public school, or at least earn tenure. In each of these cases, an online master’s degree is a great way to reach this threshold without taking time away from on-the-job training and growth.Back to Top
Your career may not technically require the pursuit of a master’s degree, but in many highly competitive fields, a masters can be your ticket to advancement. This is because many leadership roles carry the basic expectation of an advanced degree. For instance, if you are a registered nurse with the ambition to become a nurse manager or even a healthcare administrator, you will be competing with those who have earned a master’s degree in nursing. If you are an accountant who wishes to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), a master’s degree in accounting will likely incorporate much of the training and knowledge you will need to sit for and pass the CPA licensure exam. There are countless other examples, from information technology and communication to literature and engineering, where an online advanced degree can create upward trajectory without taking you away from your current day job.Back to Top
Certainly, making more money is one of the strongest imperatives for earning a master’s degree. there is considerable evidence to support this imperative. According to Indeed, professionals who earn a master’s degree earn substantially more than their counterparts with a bachelor’s degree. They report,
The earnings increase from the bachelor’s level to the master’s level is approximately 20%. Specifically, the median income for master’s degree holders is $77,844 per year, and the unemployment rate is 2%.
This compares favorably to the $64,896 annual median income for those with a bachelor’s degree and is more than twice as much as the annual median pay of $38,792 for high school graduates.
In most professions where the master’s is considered relevant, earning this advanced degree will improve your earning power. If you can earn this degree without cutting into your immediate ability to earn, your financial outlook will be that much better. This is one reason that the online graduate degree continues to gain in popularity and visibility. For instance, the widespread availability of reputable online MBA programs means it is more convenient than ever before to earn an advanced degree while holding down a full-time job.Back to Top
One of the best ways to improve your value, both in your current role and for future prospective opportunities, is to expand your skill set or achieve mastery in a highly specialized area of your discipline. For instance, pursuing a master’s in criminal justice with a focus on forensics could place you in prime position for an array of highly specialized roles in law enforcement. Pursuing a master’s degree in health science with a focus on epidemiology could make you a highly regarded expert in the area of public health management. With an online master’s degree, you could continue to serve in your day to day role while preparing for a more specialized (and perhaps better-paying) role.Back to Top
Another reason that many full-time working adults may be attracted to the online degree is the increasing willingness of employers to help pay for this mode of education. For employers, the online degree represents a great opportunity to improve the value of personnel without losing labor hours to lengthy and disruptive educational commitments. Because online education makes it possible to balance both work and learning, many employers are more likely to provide scholarship and tuition reimbursement programs. If you are willing to make a long-term commitment to your company in exchange for this financial aid, schedule a meeting with HR and see what it takes to get a little employer support on your way to an advanced degree.
Check out our tips on how to get your employer to pay for online grad school.Back to Top
Of course, the primary recurring theme here is that online education is especially well-suited to the needs of the full-time working adult. Access to asynchronous and self-paced learning opportunities makes it easier than ever to get a master’s while still working.
This does not mean that getting an online master’s is easy by any stretch of the imagination. Your experience will be just as rigorous as that of a traditional brick-and-mortar grad student. However, removing transportation, class-time commitments, and other time-consuming demands from the experience can significantly reduce the stress and pressure you might feel both at work and school.
Did you know that you can still get the in-state tuition rate for attending a public grad school as an online student? This is just one of several reasons that more students than ever before are looking for online grad school experiences close to home. Start your search for the right school with a look at affordable universities in your home state.
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.