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Is Earning an Online Master’s Degree Worth It?

Thinking about advancing your degree? Learn why earning an online master’s is worth your while and discover the top degrees worth the upgrade.

Author: Shannon Lee

Editor: Staff Editor

A woman in a red sweater and glasses speaking on the phone while using a laptop, sitting by a window in a cafe. a disposable coffee cup is visible on the table.

You know that a master’s degree is a big commitment. Not only do have to dedicate the time and effort to your studies, but you’re also making a substantial financial investment. And just like any kind of investment, you want to know that your return on investment is going to worth it. You want to know that your master’s degree is going to pay off in your chosen field.

With the BLS reporting that the average salary increase between a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree to be $12,480, and with the cost of a master’s degree ranging from $11,000 to $25,000, graduates can theoretically see an ROI after just one year. But not all degrees are created equally and more than that, not all fields value a master’s degree equally. While a master’s degree may make a big impact in one profession, it could hold no more weight than a bachelor’s in another.

Before you take the leap and enroll in an online master’s degree, taking the time to review your options and run the numbers is key. Learn which master’s subjects can help you start earning more quickly and find out if the master’s program you’ve been eyeing tops our list of the most worthwhile degrees to pursue.

Why Earn an Online Master’s Degree?

There is no shortage of solid reasons to pursue a master’s degree. Whether you want to become more of an expert in your field, make more money, or land that coveted promotion, a master’s degree can help you do it. Here are just some of the major reasons for students to enroll in an online master’s degree.

  • Your career requires it

    Some careers require a master’s degree to begin work in a particular field. A good example of this is working as a marriage or family therapist. A bachelor’s degree won’t allow you to practice in this field; you must have a master’s degree. Economists and post-secondary teachers are two others of the many careers that require a master’s degree.

  • You want to hone your craft

    While a bachelor’s degree can teach you a tremendous amount about your chosen profession, many want to go beyond that. If you want to really make an impact in your profession, a master’s degree introduces you to new theories, concepts, and practices that will help you better understand your profession and move forward into exciting new areas. You can feel confident knowing that you’re an expert in your field.

  • You’re thinking of changing careers

    If you think you want to take your career in a different direction but you’ve already earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s can be the perfect path to change. For example, if you earned a bachelor’s in education and have years of teaching experience but have found that your passion has shifted more into psychology and you want to help your students work through complex feelings, earning a master’s in psychology can help you transition your career from teaching to counseling.

  • You want flexibility with your studies

    Many master’s degrees are designed for busy professionals and can be completed entirely online, without ever setting foot on a physical campus. Besides that, most online master’s programs are designed for maximum flexibility, with asynchronous learning that allows you to attend virtual class whenever is most convenient for you.

  • You’re hoping for a higher salary

    Though a master’s degree isn’t necessarily mandatory for a higher salary, in some professions it can certainly provide a boost. Those working in the business world, for example, might choose to pursue their MBA in the hopes of earning a higher salary when they get promoted or change employers.

  • You want to spend less on tuition

    One big draw to the online classroom is the relative cost. Online master’s programs often cost less than their in-person counterparts which can be a huge plus for those concerned about their budget. This can also mean that you’ll have the ability to attend an out-of-state school at a flat-rate rather than paying the standard out-of-state tuition you’re familiar with. You’ll also save in ways that aren’t related to tuition such as no money spent on communicating and no need for parking passes and the like.

  • Your field is competitive

    For those in competitive fields where many candidates are vying for the same position, a master’s degree can make you stand you. For instance, a bachelor’s degree in information technology paired with a certain amount of work experience may be enough to qualify you for some top-level roles. But with so many qualified candidates, how can you draw attention to yourself? A master’s degree. A master’s degree shows not only that you’ve gained extra insight and knowledge in your field, but it shows a level of dedication and passion that employers often look for in their new hires.

  • Your company will pay for it

    Some employers want to see their employees become even greater assets to the company to the extent that their willing to pitch in with tuition. This where employer tuition assistance and reimbursement come into play. In some cases, tuition is completely paid for by the company, as long as you agree to work for them for a specified period after earning your master’s degree. Every employer is different, however, so it’s important to iron out the details with your company before enrolling.

Who doesn’t need a master’s degree?

While a master’s degree can benefit an individual in a variety of ways, there are times when it may not be worth it. If you’re happy in your current position or know that you can climb the career ladder in your field without degree advancement, you might be better off saving your money. Additionally, some fields don’t value a master’s degree the way others do. For example, if you have a bachelor’s degree in computer and information systems, you stand to earn an above average salary with a bachelor’s degree alone. And many employers in fields like this value work experience more than advanced degrees.

Additionally, if you’re not earning a solid salary currently and are worried that pursuing a master’s degree will land you debt, considering a different route could be beneficial. Students who want to make a career change and think that a master’s degree could be their way forward should also do their research before enrolling. Sometimes, earning a master’s degree in a subject unrelated to your bachelor’s degree or unrelated to your current profession may not be enough to qualify you for positions in the field of your master’s degree.

Top 25 Master’s Worth the Upgrade

From higher pay and career advancement to job security and direction change, there’s a lot that a master’s degree can do for you. With so many master’s programs out there, knowing which degrees will make the greatest impact can help you narrow down your choices. Below are just some of the most valuable master’s degrees available today.

#1

Master’s in Human Computer Interaction

This program focuses on design and the user experience when interacting with smart devices and other computer-based media. This master’s degree blends computer science and programming with human psychology and behavioral science. Though a bachelor’s degree in human computer interaction is available, as with other master’s programs in technology, computer science, and programming, the salary of a master’s-prepared student tends to be higher.

Available online?
Yes, this program can be completed in one to two years through online courses only.

Starting salary for bachelor’s degree holders:
$25,300

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$87,933

Salary increase:
$62,633

#2

Master’s in Entrepreneurial & Small Business Operations

This master’s degree is great for those who want to start their own business and need the skills to handle small business operations, understand venture capital and other funding, know how to build up a client base and staff, and have in-depth knowledge of business plans, launches, recovery, and more. This master’s degree—usually offered as an MBA with an emphasis in entrepreneurship or small business—offers a solid foundation to help launch a new business and a promising increase in average pay.

Available online?
This degree is often available fully online.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$37,907

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$84,680

Salary increase:
$46,773

#3

Master’s in Allied Health Diagnostic, Intervention, & Treatment Professions

This master’s degree can take the form of several majors, some of which are required at the graduate level to become licensed, such as physical therapist, occupational therapist, or physician assistant, and all of which focus on direct work with patients. Keep in mind that this major can lead to many different careers with varying pay scales; for instance, an exercise science bachelor’s degree can lead to work as an exercise physiologist at about $44,000 per year, while the master’s degree can lead to around $53,000 for the same job.

Available online?
This depends on the program and major; some require clinical experiences or hands-on training.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$50,698

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$95,483

Salary increase:
$44,784

#4

Master’s in Real Estate

The master’s in real estate development offers an opportunity to move into many areas of the real estate world, including construction project management, community development, commercial lending, real estate management, and more. A bachelor of business administration in real estate prepares graduates to work in assisting roles; a master of business administration in real estate opens doors to managerial work.

Available online?
MBA in real estate programs are often 100% online.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$48,783

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$93,083

Salary increase:
$44,300

#5

Master’s in Legal Professions & Studies

Those who earn a master’s in legal professions or legal studies work in a variety of roles, such as human resources director, senior business analyst, contract negotiator, senior compliance director, and more. The master’s degree takes students more in-depth with legal matters and provides them with a firm background from which to move into management and administrative positions.

Available online?
100% online Master of Legal Studies programs are quite common with this degree.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$35,825

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$75,733

Salary increase:
$39,908

#6

Master’s in Science Technologies & Technicians

Those who pursue this degree learn solid research skills, laboratory techniques, how to set up and run tests without errors, and how to replicate their work, analyze results, and present those results to those who need the information; this could range from large businesses to governments to local law enforcement agencies. The master’s provides excellent background for advancement for epidemiologists, forensic science technicians, medical scientists, microbiologists, computer security engineers, and more.

Available online?
Most programs take a hybrid approach of online learning and in-person lab experiences.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$47,450

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$86,400

Salary increase:
$38,950

#7

Master’s in Food Science & Technology

This master’s degree focuses on the current technologies and emerging trends in food science, including the strategies that help keep both local and global businesses afloat in an ever-changing industry. Though a bachelor’s degree in food science and technology can start the journey, those who want to work with larger businesses, administration, management, customer experience, and more will be well-suited to the in-depth knowledge of the master’s program.

Available online?
While many classes will be online, most programs take a hybrid approach.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$41,155

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$79,400

Salary increase:
$38,245

#8

Master’s in Computer Software & Media Applications

This degree focuses on teaching students how to design, edit, and publish their work on the internet, such as for creating websites. They can also handle behind-the-scenes work, such as linking data through a database or managing the security of computer systems and networks. Though the bachelor’s degree is good for entry-level work, the option of moving into work with high-level teams and finding management roles are enhanced with a master’s degree.

Available online?
As with most computer-based degrees, this one is available fully online.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$36,645

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$74,757

Salary increase:
$38,113

#9

Master’s in Legal Research & Advanced Professional Studies

Programs under the umbrella of legal research and advanced professional studies include those in various types of tax law, banking and finance, international law, programs for foreign lawyers, and more. Those who choose the bachelor’s program begin with entry-level work in the legal field, but those who want to advance or move into administration or research positions will be well-served with the master’s degree.

Available online?
Many schools offer this degree 100% online.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$30,967

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$68,119

Salary increase:
$37,153

#10

Master’s in Computer/Information Technology Administration & Management

This master’s degree prepares students to manage computers and information technology, including computer systems, networks, operations, and organizations. The degree builds on what students learned in computer science or a related bachelor’s degree, with a focus on project management, information security, multimedia management, systems management, and more.

Available online?
Many schools offer fully online master’s in information systems (MIS) and online master’s in information technology (IT) programs.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$48,771

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$85,141

Salary increase:
$36,370

#11

Master’s in Pharmacology & Toxicology

Though a bachelor’s in pharmacology can get you in the door, a master’s goes further with pharmacology and toxicology, thus opening new avenues to work in health care systems, government positions, coroner’s offices, and more. Graduates might also choose to work on the pharmacology side, either alongside pharmacists, for pharmaceutical companies, or with regulatory agencies; in many cases, a master’s is required for entry-level work in these areas.

Available online?
Many programs are available 100% online.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$33,600

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$69,200

Salary increase:
$35,600

#12

Master’s in Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, & Management

You’ll need an associate or bachelor’s degree to become a registered nurse, but that still doesn’t open doors to management. A master’s of science in nursing (MSN) prepares students for work in administration and management in a hospital system, pharmaceutical company, government or state entity, and more. Master’s-prepared nurses garner higher pay in most cases and have plenty of room for advancement.

Available online?
Since students are already RNs, there are no clinical requirements; therefore, many MSN programs can be completed 100% online.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$62,246

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$97,473

Salary increase:
$35,227

#13

Master’s in Management Sciences & Quantitative Methods

Programs in management sciences and quantitative methods prepare students for a wide variety of positions that look to data warehousing, data mining, programming, operations research, statistical modeling, and the like. This master’s degree opens doors to work in public and private organizations, where graduates help determine performance issues and how they can be improved. Though the bachelor’s degree leads to entry–level work, those who want to advance in the organization should consider a master’s degree.

Available online?
Most programs like this one, which focus on management, can be completed 100% online.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$50,788

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$85,978

Salary increase:
$35,190

#14

Master’s in Computer Science

Earning a master’s degree in computer science opens the door to management and administration, as well as advanced work as a software developer or engineer, programmer, and data scientist. Many of the world’s largest tech companies are always looking for new talent, and as the field becomes saturated and more competitive those with a master’s degree will stand out more than those with a bachelor’s.

Available online?
Yes, online master’s degrees in computer science are quite common, with many offered 100% online.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$66,348

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$101,447

Salary increase:
$35,099

#15

Master’s in General Sales, Merchandising, & Related Marketing Operations

Those interested in retail sales, the movement of merchandise through the retail chain, marketing and publicity for businesses, and the potential for management in major stores and retail businesses look to this master’s degree for the knowledge they need. Graduates often find work in merchandising and purchasing, retail operations, and sales in a variety of industries, such as insurance or advertising.

Available online?
Most programs are available fully online.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$41,727

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$76,750

Salary increase:
$35,023

#16

Master’s in Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences, & Administration

Designed for licensed pharmacists, this master’s degree focuses on management and administration, guiding graduates into work with health systems, independent pharmacy chains, and other leadership roles in healthcare. The curriculum digs deep into aspects not covered in the pharmacy program, such as financial responsibilities, quality improvement, and human resources management, opening a wider range of potential careers.

Available online?
Most programs are online, but some do require a residency.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$48,682

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$83,571

Salary increase:
$34,890

#17

Master’s in Operations Research

This STEM-heavy program focuses on the higher-level knowledge necessary for moving into careers in logistics, revenue management, financial engineering, supply chain management, and more. It can also serve as a touchstone for general management and entrepreneurship. Graduates explore careers in healthcare, retail sales, insurance and risk analysis, logistics, machine learning, and much more. As with many other master’s programs, the advanced degree opens doors to management and administration, offering the potential for higher pay.

Available online?
These programs are 100% online.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$68,450

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$103,000

Salary increase:
$34,550

#18

Master’s in Engineering

This degree offers dozens of concentrations; depending upon the field, students might need a master’s for entry–level work, while others might choose it simply to advance in their field. Options in engineering include mechanical, nuclear, software, electrical, structural, construction, design, aerospace, agriculture, and so many more. In most cases, a master’s degree leads to higher pay.

Available online?
That depends. Some engineering programs work well online, while others require more hands-on classes.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$62,455

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$96,471

Salary increase:
$34,017

#19

Master’s in Medical Illustration & Informatics

Understanding the human body is a necessity for those in the medical profession; this major teaches students how to translate biomedical knowledge into a useful illustration through the use of art, animation, and graphic design. It also focuses on applying computer science, software engineering, and other technology to creating advanced database, imaging, and decision systems. The master’s degree offers the in-depth knowledge necessary to move to the top of the field.

Available online?
This degree is available 100% online.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$46,733

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$80,388

Salary increase:
$33,654

#20

Master’s in Physics

Physics is a broad umbrella field of study; under that umbrella are specializations such as engineering, acoustics, nuclear, elementary particles, plasma and high-temperature, condensed matter, and more. Given such a broad range of study, graduates might find themselves in careers such as data scientist, process engineer, optical engineer, or physics teacher. Some careers in physics require a master’s degree, such as post-secondary teaching; for others, the master’s degree will enhance knowledge and open doors to management.

Available online?
Depending upon the school, this can be fully online or hybrid, with labs required.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$39,724

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$73,100

Salary increase:
$33,376

#21

Master’s in International Business

The world is truly global, and what happens in one country affects another. The master’s in international business prepares graduates to work with operations for businesses with a presence in numerous countries, including managing supply chains, revenue, international relations, government regulations, and much more. In addition to working in international trade and commerce, graduates might also go on to become teachers, administrative service managers, or high-level executives. For the biggest bang for the buck, students can opt for an MBA in international business, thus giving them a more extensive knowledge base that is appealing to employers.

Available online?
This degree is available 100% online.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$43,014

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$76,133

Salary increase:
$33,119

#22

Master’s in Computer & Information Sciences & Support Services

These majors focus on various aspects of information technology, including general computing, computer science, and information systems and sciences. The result is a range of careers from in-depth customer service for individuals, businesses, and governments to work as a business analyst, systems manager, security analyst, teacher, and more. As with other master’s degrees in the computer science world, this one opens the door to leadership as well as imparts further knowledge that can hold graduates in good stead for promotions.

Available online?
Yes, many top schools offer 100% online master’s in information systems, master’s in information technology, and master’s in computer science.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$49,467

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$82,250

Salary increase:
$32,783

#23

Master’s in Business/Commerce

The MBA in commerce is rather difficult to find, as it is offered under a variety of names. An MBA with a concentration in economics, accounting, corporate governance, financial management, marketing, supply chain management, global supply chains, trade law, and international commercial arbitration are just a few of the potential paths. The MBA provides the strong background in business management necessary to advance in the field of commerce.

Available online?
This degree can be obtained through 100% online courses.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$41,384

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$73,542

Salary increase:
$32,157

#24

Master’s in Construction Management

The master’s in construction management is the right degree for someone who wants to work as a civil engineer, construction company executive, project manager, cost estimator, or in any capacity that requires leadership skills in the world of construction, building science, and architecture. Though some positions provide solid pay with only a bachelor’s degree, those with a masters can find niches that pay well, such as that of project engineer or field engineer.

Available online?
Yes. However, while some courses can be taken remotely, many online master’s degrees in construction management require hands-on training as well.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$61,077

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$92,950

Salary increase:
$31,873

#25

Master’s in Educational Assessment & Evaluation

A popular option for educators looking to advance their degree and level-up their career, a master’s in education assessment and evaluation can be the gateway to higher earnings and increased employment opportunities.

Available online?
Yes. These programs are well-suited to an online learning environment, though a few on-campus visits could be required.

Starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder:
$25,400

Starting salary for a master’s degree holder:
$57,250

Salary increase:
$31,850