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Universities with Online Masters Degrees: How to Choose

Learn about important considerations when selecting an online master's degree. Get an overview of common program types, career potential with the degrees, and the online courses offered for their respective fields of study.

Earning a master's degree online usually depends on the area of study. There may be specific requirements for occasional campus attendance, and some programs are much more widely available than others.

How to Select a University Offering an Online Master's Degree

Students considering online master's degree schools must make their decision based on several key factors. Some programs are offered entirely online, while others require an on-campus component, such as a residency or clinical component. Accreditation must be considered to make sure the curriculum is just as sound online, and then the technical requirements of such an online offering must be met.

Accreditation

Prospective graduate students should find out whether or not an online program is accredited by a national, regional or field-specific accrediting agency. Because accredited programs must meet standards such as curriculum guidelines, an agency's seal of approval helps to ensure an online program's overall ability to prepare students for a career in the field.

Curriculum

Students may also want to find online degrees that offer the same curriculum as on-campus programs. Often, these courses are taught by the same faculty. Some programs even pride themselves on their instructors' training in online instructional methods.

Technical Requirements and Course Delivery Methods

Most online programs require multimedia basics such as sound cards and Internet access. Course delivery methods may determine additional technical requirements. Students in virtual classrooms, for example, need video or videoconferencing software.

On-Campus Requirements

Many programs require students to complete on-campus labs, proctored exams, internships or clinical rotations. The frequency of these requirements varies from program to program. Students should consider which programs are manageable under their current time and travel constraints. In some cases, students already employed in their field of study can complete these requirements while on the job. However, some internship requirements must be met at off-campus locations, such as hospitals or secondary school classrooms.

List of Common Online Master's Degree Programs

Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction

The M.Ed. program is for teachers and administrators who want to learn how to design and adapt a classroom's instructional units to better meet students' learning needs. The focus ranges from adult education to children's literature and elementary education. Many programs can be completed entirely online. Due to the collaborative nature of graduate education programs, self-study and online discussion make up the core of online coursework. Course topics often include:

  • Teaching and learning in diverse classrooms
  • Theories and trends in curriculum and instruction
  • Educational research
  • Teachers' roles in a democratic society

Master of Business Administration

Because online MBA programs are designed for working professionals, a variety of online formats are available. Residency experiences or weekend campus visits may be required at the end of each 4- or 8-week term. Through e-mail correspondences and video chats, students discuss topics such as:

  • Accounting and economics
  • Leadership and management skills
  • Marketing strategy and analysis
  • Human resources
  • Business communication

Master of Engineering in Systems Engineering

An online master's degree in engineering can take as little as two years to complete. Programs that require capstone projects can take up to five years. Graduates can find jobs in the electrical, aerospace, mechanical and computer engineering fields. Courses can be taken entirely online or complemented with classes in-person. This interdisciplinary degree program contains courses in:

  • Risk analysis
  • Project management
  • Systems engineering processes
  • Information technology

Master of Science in Nursing

Program coursework for an MSN varies depending on the nursing specialties available. Because many MSN students are already employed as nurses, course material is often delivered asynchronously, allowing them to work at their own pace. Students may also complete clinical practicums on-the-job; however, some additional travel to local hospitals or doctor's offices may also be required. Online adult and family nurse practitioner, nurse educator and administration programs require core coursework in:

  • Nursing informatics
  • Research methods
  • Assessment measures
  • Pathophysiology

Schools with Online Master's Degrees

The University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School is home to 2017's top-ranked online Master of Business Administration program. Classes are live, with no more than 15 students per professor. The 66 credits required can be finished in 18 to 36 months, and the eight specialization concentrations include corporate finance, marketing, sustainable enterprise, and investment management.

Penn State's World Campus offers a Master of Science in Nursing. Designed for existing nurses, the program contains two concentration options: Nurse Administrator, focusing on leadership, and Nurse Educator, with an emphasis on teaching and learning principles. Graduate certificates in each concentration are also available. All students entering this program must be registered nurses with an existing bachelor's degree in the subject.

The John Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering offers two formats, online and hybrid, for its Master of Science in Systems Engineering and Master of Science in Engineering in Systems Engineering. Online courses contain exclusive content not found in a classroom setting while utilizing the same resources found on John Hopkins' campus.

Master's degrees that are earned online can be found in many different subjects, and depending on the content, may require live attendance in synchronous meetings for classes.

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