Online Master’s Degree Programs

As an academic degree that demonstrates expertise in an area of professional practice or study, a master's degree is usually pursued by students who wish to master a particular discipline beyond an undergraduate degree. The two main master's degree titles offered are a Master of Art or a Master of Science degree, although there are several more available, such as the Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Engineering (M.Eng), or Master of Fine Arts (MFA). By earning a master's degree, you can seek higher level jobs or pursue higher degrees. Master's degrees are sometimes even required for some more advanced job positions. For example, in order to teach at the postsecondary level, you must have a master's degree in the subject. In addition, to be accepted to many doctorate programs, you must usually have a master's degree. According to Kathryn Yockey, who earned a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling from Capella University, a master's degree exhibits proficiency and potential, and can improve your employment chances. "The counselor I interned with said to me that he was impressed at how much I had learned at the school," Yockey said.

What Is Required of Online Master's Students?

Most online master's degree programs will require a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in order to be accepted. In most instances, an applicant's bachelor's degree can be in a subject other than the master's degree, but in more rigorous disciplines like engineering, experience with the subject matter is crucial prior to pursuing the master's degree. Some online programs may require a few years of workplace experience in the subject, while others may expect applicants to pass an entrance exam such as the GRE. However, this is not always the case. "Capella did not have any entrance exam for [acceptance into] graduate school," Yockey said. "All I had to do was apply and get in all [of my] admissions paperwork."

Not having to worry about the burden of entrance exams is part of the reason why many students seek graduate programs online. Furthermore, some graduate studies are easier to find via distance learning. "Finding a program as specific as I was looking for would have been impossible without the Internet," said Nathan Mirdamadi, a graduate of the Master of Science in Food Safety offered online through Michigan State University. Also, pursuing a master's degree program online has its benefits for working professionals who wish to increase their education and advance their careers without compromising their schedules. Several online master's degree programs allow students to attend class and complete assignments on their own time. Online master's degree programs are typically more convenient and more interactive than traditional classes as well. As Yockey emphasized about her own experience, "I wanted to go to school online because … I didn't want to sit in a classroom at a specific time. I wanted to be able to work more at my own pace."

What Is the Online Environment Like?

Courses at the master's degree level differ from undergraduate level courses because they are more concentrated in a specific area of study. Students may find that their course load involves fewer courses, with most classes occurring only once or twice a week. But assignments may take an entire semester to complete, or consist of weekly projects that require more research, study, or practice than they would at the undergraduate level. According to Jim Bradford, another graduate of Michigan State University's Master of Science in Food Safety program, weekly assignments are usually due at the same time every week. "You always knew when your assignments were due," he said, "and since I travelled a lot, I was able to do a lot of the reading and researching during the evenings." Additionally, course materials in master's degree courses are usually more advanced and in many instances will require work in a studio, lab, or other practical setting.

I wanted to go to school online because … I didn't want to sit in a classroom at a specific time. I wanted to be able to work more at my own pace.

Kathryn YockeyAlumnus of Capella University

Some of the common facets of master's degree programs include the completion of a thesis, which must be passed prior to graduation, as well as attendance at course seminars or residencies. Although the majority of classes are offered over the Internet, some online master's degree programs include residencies as part of their programs. For example, Michigan State University's food safety graduate program requires student s to attend 11 hours of classes on campus at the start of their program. Additionally, thesis candidates will have their theses reviewed by members of a committee, with whom students can interact via e-mail, chat room, or telephone.

"Professors would help you along the way with thesis," said Bradford. "I never had any problem getting professors on the phone, and each one of us had a campus advisor who helped us with our projects which helped them down to doable." Because of this, most graduates of online master's degree programs have stayed in touch with their thesis committees and other professors, and go on to use them for recommendation letters or as references as they plan the next step in their careers.

How Does Earning a Master's Degree Online Impact Your Future?

Many graduates of master's degree programs offered online will attest that online classes compel students to participate in discussions and practice their writing skills, which can also be said of most traditional master degree programs. This, of course, is dependent on the degree program and its professors, but either way, the graduate school experience can be just as enriching online as it would be on campus. Most students are able to get more out of their education due to the wide possibilities online communication offers. "For our international food law class, we had lectures from an expert in each subject area and they were from all over the world," Bradford said. "You can't assemble that kind of expertise on campus. I am a big fan of distance education."

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