How to Determine the Best Online Master’s Degree

In the past 40 years, the U.S. Department of Education found the demand for master’s degrees across the United States has grown greatly, with a majority conferred in business and education.

Graduate degrees have almost become a necessity to succeed in many of today’s jobs. For many students, it’s not a matter of if they will get a master’s degree. The question has become how. The proliferation of online education opportunities has made the matter of how to choose the best online master’s degree program much easier for working adults with outside responsibilities.

A national survey found U.S. adults who have postgraduate degrees are more likely to learn or do something interesting every day. A separate poll found students who complete at least half of their coursework online feel as though they are succeeding in their careers and lives. Experts have found postgraduate programs with online components serve students well.

How to Determine the Best Online Master's Degree in 3 Steps Infographic

Choosing the Right Graduate Degree

Researchers have found a surge in the number of graduate degrees conferred due to a sharp increase in program options, so carefully analyzing the available degrees and how they will impact career choices is crucial.

The National Center for Education Statistics, a research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, found the following trends in postgraduate education:

  • Business degrees (including the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree) have had the most significant number of graduates since the early 1970s and remain a favorite among those seeking upper-level degrees. In the 2014-2015 academic year, postgraduate business degrees accounted for 24%, or 185,000, of all master’s degrees conferred.
  • Education degrees continue to be the other top master’s degree. In the 2014-2015 academic year, 14%, or 103,000, of all graduate degrees were in education.
  • Master’s degrees in healthcare, including nursing, had a significant increase from academic year 2004-2005 to 2014-2015. In the 10-year period, the number of healthcare master’s degrees jumped from 46,700 to 103,000, representing a 120% increase.
  • Computer and information science degrees have increased from 1,588 graduate degrees conferred in the 1970-1971 academic year to 31,474 in the 2014-2015 academic year, representing a nearly 1,900 percent increase in the 44-year period.

It is clear postgraduate education has surged in popularity. From 1970 to 2014, the number of graduate degrees awarded in the United States increased by 222%.

With the trend to business and education postgraduate degrees, many students may feel compelled to follow the popular choices. But with so many up-and-coming fields, it is essential to find the best online master’s degree and programs to suit individual needs.

Steps to Choosing the Best Master’s Degree Program

In deciding how to proceed with a graduate program, students need to consider factors that may impact both their personal and professional lives. Experts recommend students do their homework before taking a deep dive into postgraduate work. The research should include the following:

Define a Career Path

Professionals look to master’s degrees to boost or redirect career opportunities, increase earnings, and enhance job satisfaction. For many people, however, finding the right path to a postgraduate degree can be challenging. Experts suggest prospective students examine their talents and ultimate goals before choosing a field of study.

Find the Right Postgraduate Program

With so many colleges and universities offering such a wide variety of programs, prospective students can easily become overwhelmed. Finding the right program is more than looking for the closest school. Technology has changed education, making it more accessible and convenient than ever. Students are no longer limited to their geographic areas for studies. Instead, many students prefer to reach across the state or country through online learning.

Look for Accreditation

Accreditation is a voluntary review of academic programs to ensure postgraduate institutions follow established and uniform standards and goals. The accredited universities and colleges also must have the resources to continue to meet the high standards.

The best way to distinguish a quality education is to look for a stamp of approval from an accrediting agency. The leading traditional and online educational programs are accredited.

The U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) College Navigator tool allows students to research higher learning programs to determine accreditation and review vital statistics that include enrollment numbers, graduation rates, and student-loan default rates.

Review Credits and Curriculum

Before enrolling in any master’s program, prospective students should review their undergraduate transcripts and speak with a graduate advisor to ensure all eligible credits will appropriately transfer.

At the same time, students should review the coursework and curriculum for the chosen master’s program to determine if they sensibly fit within the parameters of the degree.

Evaluate Online Offerings and Programs

The best online master’s programs have a wide variety of offerings, clear coursework, high standards, and robust graduation rates. Prospective students should speak to current and former students to determine if the coursework provides appropriate preparation for employment and opportunities to enter into or advance in the chosen career path.

Why Choose Online?

Gone are the days when online courses are considered “easy A’s” or a way out of a challenging class. Online classes are as rigorous as their traditional counterparts. A growing body of research indicates online programs provide personal and professional advantages, particularly for those who would ordinarily have a hard time attaining educational goals.

“Online education offers many students an organized, accessible, and affordable opportunity to develop and possibly excel in their field,” said Brandon Rigoni, PhD, Gallup News associate director for selection and development.

Researchers have found online education has several other advantages over traditional on-campus learning, including:


Online students do not typically have to worry about fitting fixed class schedules into professional obligations and family responsibilities. Online coursework is largely flexible, often provided in asynchronous formats that let students finish classwork on their own time within provided time frames.


Online programs allow students to complete coursework from anywhere at any time with their own devices. Programs are designed so students can access course resources, such as lectures, seminars, and documents, at any time.


In some cases, online coursework tuition is less expensive than tuition for traditional programs, opening learning opportunities to a broader variety of students. Students who take courses online also save on the hidden costs of education, including gas, parking, and on-campus room and board.

Maryville University’s online master’s degree programs are designed for student success with an eye on career advancement. Contact Maryville University to learn more about the university’s online program offerings that allow working adults to earn advanced degrees.


Bay View Analytics – Higher Education Reports

Gallup – U,S, Postgraduates Have Edge in Lifelong Learning

Gallup – Execs: Don’t Discount the Value of an Online University Degree

National Center for Education Statistics

National Center for Education Statistics – Graduate Degree Fields

U.S. Department of Education – Accreditation in the United States

National Center for Education Statistics – College Navigator

Online Learning Consortium – Babson Study: Distance Education Enrollment Growth Continues, But at Slowest Rate Ever

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