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Inside the Best Online Master’s Programs in California (CA)

Get ready to transform your career from the comfort of your California home as we dive into the exciting realm of online master’s programs in California. Keep reading to learn how these top-notch programs bring success to your doorstep.

Author: Angela Myers

Editor: Staff Editor

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Panoramic view of the golden gate bridge at sunset with clear skies and calm waters, showcasing the iconic red structure extending across the san francisco bay.

One of the best ways to ensure a higher salary and more job opportunities is to get a master’s degree. According to the University of California Riverside, those with a master’s make $12,000 more on average than their counterparts with only a bachelor’s degree.

But while a master’s degree could be the next step in your career, it can be hard to balance your studies with full-time work and other responsibilities. A more flexible alternative to a traditional degree is an online program. This guide discusses everything you need to know about getting your master’s degree virtually and reveals the top-ranked online master’s programs in California.

Top-Rated Online Master’s Programs in California for 2024

While most of us are familiar with online master’s programs, it can be tricky to understand how they work. That’s likely because no two online graduate programs in California are the same. Some schools, like Stanford University, host synchronous online class sessions at set times. Others, including select classes at the University of California, Berkeley, have asynchronous modules students complete at their own pace.

It’s also important to note if a program is completely online, like the MBA from Pepperdine University, or is delivered in a hybrid format, like the master of social work at California State University, Northridge that requires an in-person internship.

No matter the format, all accredited online master’s programs in California provide the same result: a quality graduate education that’s more flexible than an on-campus degree program. This makes it easier to balance education with work and life responsibilities, can lower transportation costs, and can reduce some student fees. Plus, more hiring managers are seeing the value of online degrees and adjusting their hiring practices, according to The University of Kansas, as more well-respected universities offer online-only programs.

To help you learn more about program content and tuition, here’s a look at three top California schools offering online master’s degrees.

The California State University

The California State University offers single courses and complete master’s degrees via its Cal State Online program. They have one of the largest selections of online graduate programs in California, with fully online master’s degrees in 13 academic departments. Popular online programs include master’s in engineering, business, and computer science

All Cal State Online classes are taught by world-renowned faculty and offer the same rigor as in-person options. Many classes have synchronous components, but Cal State Online attempts to accommodate as many time zones as possible. The school also offers online professional development resources to help graduate students reach their professional goals. Plus, with an average cost of $7,176 annually for state residents, this school could be considered one of the most affordable in California for online master’s programs.

University of California, Berkeley

Logo of the University of California, Berkeley in dark green, featuring the word "Berkeley" prominently with "University of California" written in smaller letters above.

Anyone looking at online master’s programs in California should consider the offerings from the University of California, Berkeley. This school is among the top-ranked in the nation, and its online master’s degrees are no exception. Berkeley Extension offers three ways to study online, including live synchronous classes with set times, fully asynchronous classes, and asynchronous courses with fixed start and end dates. Popular online master’s degrees at Berkeley include the hybrid MBA program, the fully online master’s in data science, and the 100% online master’s in cybersecurity. On average, in-state residents pay $15,260 per year in tuition.

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California (USC) offers a wide range of courses and degree programs through USC Online. Unlike other online master’s programs in California, most of the program is asynchronous, meaning students can watch class modules and complete course assignments on their schedule. While courses can be taken at a student’s convenience, they offer the same rigor as the University of Southern California’s on-campus classes and are taught by nationally recognized faculty.

The school also offers one-on-one virtual opportunities to meet with faculty or representatives from the school’s professional development center. USC also hosts online networking events to help students explore career possibilities after graduating. At $2,424 per credit, this university ranks among the most affordable for online graduate programs in California.

Types of Online Master’s Programs Available in California

Not all online master’s programs in California are created equal. There are different types, including full-time, part-time, no-GRE required, and accelerated degree programs. To understand which is right for you, let’s explore the four most common types of California online master’s programs.

Full-Time Online Master’s Programs in California

If getting your master’s degree is your priority, a full-time program might be right for you. Full-time online master’s students take a full course load and often spend 20 to 50 hours a week on their degree. Because of the time commitment, it can be hard to balance education with a full-time job. Popular full-time online graduate programs in California include those from the California State University, Northridge, and the University of California, Berkeley.

Part-Time Online Master’s Programs in California

Let’s say you’re working full-time while getting your degree. Or maybe you have a lot of obligations that make it impossible to devote 20 to 50 hours a week to your coursework. In either case, a part-time online master’s program in California could be a good fit. With these programs, students adjust how many classes they take, often on a semester-by-semester basis. Stanford University and California State University both have a wide variety of part-time programs.

No-GRE Online Master’s Programs in California

For many online graduate programs in California, applicants must take the GRE before applying. If you want to apply faster or have test anxiety, consider a no-GRE master’s program. A no-GRE program is what it sounds like — you can apply for the master’s without taking the GRE or another entrance test. No-GRE programs are more common in some disciplines, but they can be found for almost every degree type. California State University, Long Beach, and California Southern University offer popular no-GRE online master’s programs in California.

Accelerated Online Master’s Programs in California

Usually, a master’s degree takes two to three years to complete. If you want to complete a degree faster, consider accelerated California online master’s programs. Accelerated master’s programs provide the same quality of education in a shorter timeframe. Sometimes, these programs are referred to as a one-year master’s program, since they’re designed to be completed in about two semesters. The master’s in engineering from the University of California, Riverside, and the master’s in social work from the University of Southern California are two examples of accelerated degrees.

In-demand Online Master’s Degrees in California

Business Administration

A master of business administration is a great option for anyone looking to advance their corporate career or start a business. Students can tailor their MBA to a specialization of interest, such as marketing, human resources, or operations management. Since most MBA candidates also work full time, flexible, online options are available.

Examples of Quality Online Programs


A master’s degree in engineering is often needed to advance in an engineering career. Even if not a necessity, this degree can make you a more competitive candidate for leadership roles in the field. In California specifically, there is a high demand for engineers with a master’s, especially in the aerospace, geological, and agriculture industries.

Examples of Quality Online Programs

Social Work

With an 8.7% growth rate in the state of California, social workers are some of the most in-demand professionals. To be a licensed social worker in the state, you must graduate from a master’s in social work program. Luckily, there are plenty of online master’s programs in California for this career path, meaning you can easily get your MSW from the comfort of your home or in a hybrid format.

Examples of Quality Online Programs


Nurses are in high demand across the board in California, but the three with the highest job growth rate — nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, and nurse midwife — require a master’s of science in nursing. For added flexibility, hybrid or online MSNs are available, though many require in-person clinical hours.

Examples of Quality Online Programs

Sports Management

California has one of the highest concentrations of entertainers and athletic professionals, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To be a manager for an athlete or sports team, you often need to get an MBA in sports management. There are some outstanding online master’s programs in California designed for those interested in the business side of sports.

Examples of Quality Online Programs

How Much Does an Online Master’s in California Cost?

A master’s degree usually costs between $54,000 and $73,000, according to the Education Data Initiative. The programs we researched often fell within or above that range, but online graduate programs in California may come with lower student fees and transportation costs, which aren’t reflected in the tuition rate. Plus, some California online master’s programs offer in-state tuition to all students. To make your degree even more affordable, set up a plan for paying for your degree and research financial aid options.

For a better idea of how much online master’s programs in California cost, explore the three programs in the table below.

School Name No. of Credits Resident
Est. Tuition Cost












California’s Master’s Degree Funding Opportunities

Financial aid opportunities can bring down the initial cost. Popular financial aid types include:

Almost all types of aid are available at the federal level, from private organizations, and from your state. There are also additional financial aid opportunities for California residents exclusively, including the California State University pre-doctoral fellows program and the California G.I. Bill Award program.

When looking at aid types, make sure you apply for aid intended for students in master’s degree programs. The U.S. Education’s guide for graduate degree funding can help you navigate financial aid for online master’s programs in California.

Top Earning Careers with a Master’s in California

Although it varies by industry, on average, those with a master’s degree make 20% more than their counterparts who only have a bachelor’s, according to the Indeed.com Career Guide. For nearly all industries, having a master’s degree opens the door to more job prospects, salary increases, and leadership roles. To better understand the monetary perks of online graduate programs in California, we researched five popular careers that often require a master’s degree.

Physician Assistant

Thanks to California’s healthcare shortage, there are plenty of high-paying and in-demand healthcare jobs in the state. One of the most in-demand is physician assistants. Like a doctor, these licensed medical professionals provide patient care. They use their graduate degree to diagnose and treat conditions and perform smaller procedures.

State Median Annual Pay State Job Outlook Related Master’s Degree
$144,520 35% MS in Physician Assistant Studies

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022

Software Engineer

Thanks to Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, California has a reputation in tech. That reputation has produced high-paying and plentiful software engineering jobs. While many of these roles are open to candidates with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s in computer science can make an applicant more competitive or can help them land senior roles.

State Median Annual Pay State Job Outlook Related Master’s Degree
$182,570 36.1% MS in Computer Science

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022


Economists use big-picture data to predict micro- and macroeconomic trends. Their jobs involve analyzing data and interpreting trends based on that data. Often, they have a background in finance or a related field. For most higher-level economic jobs, a master’s degree is preferred.

State Median Annual Pay State Job Outlook Related Master’s Degree
$137,090 23.5% MS in Economics

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022

Compliance Officer

Graduates of a legal studies master’s program are ideal candidates for compliance managerial roles. Compliance managers ensure an organization is following laws and regulations for their industry. They often work with executives to create risk management strategies.

State Median Annual Pay State Job Outlook Related Master’s Degree
$87,020 9.6% MS in Legal Studies

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022

Education Administrator

Education administrators like principals and superintendents manage schools within a public school district or at a private K-12 institution. Usually, they have work experience as a teacher and are passionate about ensuring a high quality of education across classrooms. Most successful candidates have an education master’s degree with a focus on leadership or administration.

State Median Annual Pay State Job Outlook Related Master’s Degree
$134,520 8.3% MS in Education

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022