Guide to the Best Online Master’s Programs in 2021

Review top-rated accredited online master’s programs that fit your busy schedule and can help you take the next step in your education and career.

best online master programs

Are you on the fence about whether or not to upgrade your bachelor’s credentials with a master’s degree? Whether you’ve been out of school a few months or a few years, going back to get an advanced degree can help you unlock new opportunities and earn a higher salary. The best online master’s programs combine flexible class scheduling with affordable tuition rates to help you complete coursework at times that fit your needs without breaking the bank.

Whether you want to study business, education, psychology, engineering, or one of a dozen other subjects for your master’s, we’re here to help you find a program that helps you achieve your professional goals. Read on to learn what you should look for in the best online master’s programs and find the schools where you can find them.

Grad School Spotlights: Best Online Master’s Programs of 2021

You can find countless master’s degrees online these days, but that doesn’t mean they’re all created equal. Some universities have been providing distance education for years, while others are new to the game. When finding the best online master’s programs, look for established distance learning departments with ample options. The three spotlighted schools below provide an excellent place to start your research but check back later this year for a full ranking of top choices.

North Carolina State University

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From its base in Raleigh, North Carolina State University offers 43 fully online master’s programs. With degree areas ranging from training and development to biological and agricultural engineering, you’re sure to find one that aligns with your professional interests.

Many NCSU’s best online master’s programs use asynchronous delivery via lecture videos and other pre-recorded videos while also incorporating cutting-edge learning management systems that allow for meaningful engagement with professors and peers. Consistently ranked as one of the more affordable online learning options, NCSU students living in North Carolina pay $446 per credit; their out-of-state counterparts pay $1,295 per credit. Regardless of location, expect to pay an additional $16 in fees per credit.

NC State uses the Course Quality Program, a Quality Matters system that works to continually improve online courses through professional development, instructional consultations, course/program reviews, and resources.

Colorado State University

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Colorado State University offers 40 online master’s degrees in agricultural sciences, arts and music, business and management, communications, computer science and technology, education, engineering, health and human services, and natural resources and environment. You can undertake many of these programs without ever visiting the Fort Collins campus, though some require campus-based summer sessions.

CSU Online prides itself on catering to the unique needs of distance learners. Some of the resources available include a digital writing center, assistive technology resource center, Canvas/IT support, career center, disability center, and a student case management program. [email protected] can also connect you with resources and educational tools alike.

Each department sets its tuition rates, with dietetics students paying $580 and engineering management learners paying $1,085 per credit. You should check with an admissions coordinator to determine how much your chosen program will cost.

University of Florida

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The University of Florida’s Distance Learning department provides an impressive 84 online master’s degrees covering areas such as medicine, engineering, business, journalism, and pharmacy, to name but a few.

Regardless of the program you choose, know that UF uses state-of-the-art learning management systems to make completing your master’s degree as streamlined as possible. Each department sets requirements around synchronous and asynchronous learning formats, making it important to check with your chosen program to learn what to expect.

In addition to offering easily accessed learning materials, UF prides itself on providing a menu of services designed to make your time as a student and alumnus as beneficial as possible. You can access writing and math support, student disability services, an online library, and a comprehensive career center during and after enrollment.

5 Things All of the Best Online Master’s Programs Have in Common

When comparing potential programs, certain facets keep in mind if you want to have a successful and fulfilling experience. Here are five components all of the best online master’s degrees should have in common:

  1. Proper Accreditation

    Attending a properly accredited online master’s program can make a difference in whether you’re able to transfer credits, receive certification/licensure, and even find a job after graduating. You should always look for colleges that hold regional accreditation from one of six approved bodies at the institutional level. Depending on your chosen subject, you may also need to ensure your program has programmatic accreditation through an approved agency. When in doubt, use the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to check on both institutional and programmatic accreditation status.

  2. Reasonable Costs

    Earning an online master’s degree shouldn’t mean you’re stuck paying student loans for decades. Finding reasonably priced programs is paramount to your success, and you can find top degrees that won’t break the bank. It’s essential to review both tuition and fees, as the fees can also add high costs to your program’s final price tag. If an option seems someone out of your price range, ask about school-sponsored financial aid programs that can help make the program more affordable.

  3. Extensive Online Student Support

    As the pandemic has shown, going it alone in work or school can add extra challenges. Finding a program that offers a wide variety of support services can help ease your burden and make the process feel more communal. The best online master’s programs provide cutting-edge services such as student coaches, online writing and math tutoring, digital libraries, and career offices that can help you find internships and jobs. If applicable, you should also ask about disability services and available accommodation support.

  4. Strong Online Education Track Record

    The best online master’s degrees proudly tout data showing their graduation and job placement rates. Suppose you’re going to invest substantial time and money into furthering your education. In that case, you want to know that the program you pick has a history of graduating successful and prepared students. If you can’t find data on the program website, reach out to an admissions counselor. You can also find program alumni on platforms such as LinkedIn to ask if they feel the program met their needs during and after enrollment.

  5. Innovative and Reliable Online Learning Technologies

    When your entire college career rests on accessing coursework and turning in assignments digitally, you want to make sure you find a program that continually invests in these technologies. It’s also important for the school to prioritize innovative and practical ways of staying connected to your instructors and fellow students. Some schools allow you to test drive the learning management system to get a feel for what online learning looks like – after narrowing down your top programs, ask if this is an option.

Best Reasons to Earn an Online Master’s Degree

When you’re already busy with personal and professional responsibilities, adding a master’s degree to your plate can feel overwhelming. During long nights of studying or weekends in coffee shop corners pouring over spreadsheets, it’s important to remember why you’re doing it. Earning a master’s degree offers myriad benefits, some of which we highlight in this section.

  • Ability to Specialize

    Many of the best online master’s degrees provide concentrations within the more extensive subject, making it easier to develop specialized knowledge. For instance, at Champlain College, the online M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education provides specializations in administration, teaching, and special education. At Georgia Tech, pursuing a master’s in computer science means you can choose from specializations in machine learning, interactive intelligence, computing systems, or computational perception and robotics.

  • New and Better Career Opportunities

    If you’re on the fence about whether a master’s degree is really all that better than a bachelor’s degree, know that these advanced programs can lead to enhanced career opportunities – whether that mean advancing in your current role or pivoting to a new field. National University, for example, highlights some of the benefits of a master’s in organizational leadership over a bachelor’s degree.

  • Higher Salary Ceilings

    Spending thousands of dollars on a master’s degree should result in higher earnings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, professionals with a master’s degree brought home weekly median earnings of $1,434. In contrast, their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees earned $1,198. The same report also showed that possessing an advanced degree can curb the chance of facing unemployment.

  • Flexible Degree Plans

    One of the best benefits of online learning is the flexibility it provides. Whether you need multiple start dates each year, the choice between asynchronous and synchronous learning, or accelerated, full-time, and part-time schedules, the best online master’s degrees can help you fit the program into an already busy schedule. Some schools, such as Walden University, allow you to complete classes at your own pace by showing subject competency.

  • Business

    MBAs may be the first type of advanced business degree you think of, but you can also find other professional degrees focused on essential topics such as finance, marketing, accounting, leadership, healthcare management, and other relevant subjects.

  • Counseling

    Earning a master’s in counseling or related subject qualifies you to take on roles such as marriage and family therapist, a sports psychologist, health psychologist, school counselor, and organizational counselor.

    Learn more and explore the best online master’s degrees in counseling.

  • Engineering

    Engineering covers a vast and ever-evolving discipline. Whether you want to work with electronics and computers, project management, mechanics, or even leadership, you can find plenty of online master’s in engineering.

  • Education and Teaching

    Education and teaching master’s degrees, in concert with licensure, provide the opportunity to take on myriad roles in administration, teaching, instruction coordination, counseling, and digital learning.

  • MBA

    Today’s MBA programs offer tons of specializations to help you work in high-paying leadership roles across many industries. Each school offers different options, but common ones include management, finance, entrepreneurship, human resources, operations, and supply chain management.

  • Psychology

    To work as a psychologist, you’ll need a doctorate, but a master’s in psychology opens up roles as social service managers, survey and market researchers, research assistants and project managers, and human resource managers.

Search the Best Online Master’s Programs by Subject

Whether you already know the exact online master’s degree you want to learn more about or are just seeing what’s available, we’ve got you covered. Find the best online master’s programs in each subject below.