No matter what you want to study, you can get pretty much any degree online these days. (And, thanks to the pandemic, even students in traditional master’s programs have found themselves obliged to take classes online.)
But is it worth it to go back to school for a master’s online? Often, an online master’s will cost just as much as a traditional program, but you can still get a quality education and plenty of networking opportunities. Employers won’t know you earned your degree online unless you tell them.
Whether you choose to go to a traditional, brick-and-mortar program, or attend classes online, you’ll have tuition bills to pay. The cost of an online program may not be much lower than that of a traditional program, but you’ll at least save on incidental costs, like moving to be closer to campus, parking and transportation, and even campus meal plans.
Many students manage the cost of an online graduate education by seeking out scholarships or graduate assistant positions. If your company offers tuition reimbursement, you could use it to defray the cost of your degree. You can also take out student loans to finance your graduate education — but before you go into debt, make sure you’re going to earn enough afterward to justify it.
The primary benefit of most online master’s programs is that you can take classes on your own schedule, from wherever you have an internet connection. You can do coursework on the weekends or at night after working your full-time job. Most popular online master’s programs offer asynchronous classes, which means you can review the recorded lecture and other course materials on your own time. That can make earning a master’s degree much more feasible if you have a full-time job, bills to pay, and a family to consider.
Do you get the same education from online courses as you get from traditional programs? Yes — although you might have to be more self-disciplined to succeed in online classes, you’ll have access to the same top-notch professors as students in traditional programs, and you’ll take the same courses that students on campus take. You’ll have even more access to a better education if you choose an online degree, because you can take your classes at pretty much any school if you can take them from home. You can seek out professors you admire at some of the world’s most prestigious universities, and earn a brand-name master’s degree without leaving home.
Nor is there any need to miss out on mentoring and networking opportunities. You might have to make more of an effort to attend synchronous online study groups and keep lines of communication open with your cohort, not to mention taking advantage of professors’ virtual office hours. Many online master’s degree programs offer students the opportunity to network via on-campus events or residency requirements that bring students together on campus for a few weeks of seminars a year.
Employers don’t usually mind if you earned your degree online, as long as you got it from an accredited program — and the better the school, the less likely they are to be concerned. And you don’t necessarily have to tell them that you took your classes online, unless they ask. If they do ask, emphasize the time management skills and self-discipline that allowed you to succeed in an online program (while working, if you did so).
Employers might be curious about how you overcame the challenges inherent in distance learning to forge effective mentorship relationships with professors and collaborate with other students. To fully benefit from networking and mentorship opportunities, you’ll want to try and replicate the same opportunities for interaction in your online program as you might have on campus. That could mean anything from online study groups to membership in a group chat, to happy hour drinks over Zoom or in-person meetups with your cohort. You may not be able to participate in every group or event, but finding ways to work together with your classmates will give you something to talk about in interviews later.
An online master’s degree can be well worth the time and money, especially if it’s one that will boost your earning potential after graduation. With strong time management skills and self-discipline, you can earn your master’s degree on your own schedule, and take your career to the next level.