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Best Online Graduate Schools for Working Adults

Going back to graduate school while holding down a job is a big commitment. We evaluated online schools according seven factors. Read on to see our top picks on online grad schools for working adults.

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What Makes a Grad School Good for Working Adults?

We sought out the best schools that offer flexible, online graduate degrees. To compile our list of top schools, we evaluated colleges according to seven factors: brand awareness, program diversity, learning environment, flexibility, academics, student support, and career services.

In this section, we'll describe why we chose these factors, but if you want to jump straight to our list of top schools, just scroll down!

Brand Awareness

Choose a school with an established, well-respected brand in online education. These schools have long experience in delivering quality education and specifically understand the needs of online students as well as the challenges faced by working adults who are going back to school.

Program Diversity

We looked for schools that offer programs in both a wide variety of fields as well as at different levels. Even if you know your major before enrolling, having access to a wide variety of fields means that you explore different subjects and enroll in a wide array of electives. Choosing a school with programs at multiple levels means that you can stick with the school for throughout your graduate education. If you know you want to pursue both a master's and doctoral degree, look for schools that offer both levels in your field.

Learning Environment

Our top schools have designed learning environments that remove barriers to learning. As a working adult, you want a learning environment that is asynchronous, which means that there are no set meeting times, and that is easy to access from a variety of devices. For example, schools with mobile apps allow you to access your coursework when you're on the go or on a break at work.

Flexibility

Flexibility is key when you're balancing school with work, and online programs offer the maximum flexibility. Look for schools that allow you adjust your course load each semester or that have flexible start dates. We also prized schools that give students the opportunity to design part of their program based on their goals and prior work experience.

Academics

All of the schools on our list are accredited, which is the first thing you want to ensure when choosing a program. An accredited program has been vetted by an accreditation agency, which ensures that the school teaches a solid curriculum. Our top schools also hire professors who have actual work experience in their field. This is important because many grad programs for working adults are designed to help you advance your career. By learning from professors who have walked your path, you can get relevant instruction not found in a textbook.

Support

As an online student, you're learning from home and don't have access to traditional school support services. Therefore, it's important to look for schools that offer extensive online support services, such as 24/7 tech support or email and phone access to academic and financial advisors.

Career Services

Even if you plan to stay with your current employer, a university career services office can be a valuable asset in an uncertain economy. Job referrals and resume polishing are some benefits to look for in an online school's offerings.

Top 5 Schools

So, what are our top five graduate schools? Our top picks do well in all of our factors and have a lot of services specifically geared at students who are balancing a job as well as family responsibilities.

1. Kaplan University

Kaplan University puts faculty front and center so that you can learn from instructors who have recent real-world experience and familiarity with current marketplace knowledge and on-the-job skills. Students can access full support services, including technical support that is available by phone, email, or live chat. Kaplan makes it easy for students to access class on their own schedule. In addition to asynchronous learning, you can access class materials, discussions, and grades on your mobile device. The university offers a wide variety of master's degree programs, all of which are online. Its emphasis on online education means that it has mastered flexible education designed for busy students.

2. Northcentral University

Northcentral University is an entirely online university that offers four master's programs and seven doctoral degrees, in addition to several graduate certificates. The university's one-to-one instructional model enables online students to get direct attention from their instructors, creating a personalized learning experience. Additionally, Northcentral is fully accredited and provides students with many convenient online resources to ease the student online experience, such as accessible academic advising and an 'Ask a Researcher' feature. When it comes to establishing a personalized student experience, Northcentral stood out in terms of accessibility between its students and faculty.

3. Saint Joseph's University

Saint Joseph's University jumps out because its graduate business program was ranked 18th on U.S. News & World Report's list of top online graduate programs in 2013. In addition to business, the school offers graduate degrees in criminal justice, education, healthcare and finance. Unique offerings at Saint Joseph's include an online master's degree in business intelligence and a master's program in organization development and leadership. You'll also find a variety of graduate certificates at this university.

4. Colorado State University - Global Campus

We chose Colorado State University's Global Campus for its focus on working adults. Online classes at this university feature instructors trained specifically in distance education for adults. Courses start every four weeks, so you can choose to earn your degree when it fits your schedule. The university has a tuition guarantee program for online students, so that you won't need to worry about your tuition increasing as long as you're actively enrolled in classes and earning a degree. The university features an innovative online platform with a virtual library, virtual instructor office hours and an online help desk.

5. Strayer University

Strayer University offers students a quality graduate education that's affordable, convenient, and supportive. The university's flexible programs make it possible for you to earn a competitive graduate degree on your schedule, without interrupting your personal or professional life. Students can attend classes at times that fit their schedule, on campus or online and learn from qualified faculty who bring relevant theoretical and practical knowledge to the classroom. The university also provides comprehensive career information, job referrals, and resume assistance to help students reach their educational and career goals.

Disclosure: Some or all of the schools listed may be partners of Study.com.

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