How to Get a Graduate Degree Online
By Tucker Cummings
, last updated January 9, 2012
Getting a graduate degree online is preferable to attending a program at a brick and mortar school for many reasons. If the college closest to you is still hours away, an online education may be preferable simply to save on the cost of gas alone. Online coursework also offers a greater degree of flexibility, allowing you to review lectures and take exams on your own schedule. For a single parent raising young children or someone looking to go back to school while working two jobs, that flexibility is a huge advantage. If you are serious about getting a graduate degree online, here are the basics you will need to prepare for.
Researching the Best Program For Your Needs
Before narrowing down your list of prospective schools, you should first think about what sort of graduate school experience will be best for you. Some programs can be conducted entirely online, without ever having to set foot on a physical campus. On the other hand, some programs will require you to spend some time on a school’s actual campus, most often for orientation, select coursework, or capstone/thesis presentations. Traveling to the college or university for these sorts of mandatory degree requirements can get expensive, so budget accordingly.
Once you know how much time you want to spend on the physical campus, you can start narrowing down the list of programs you are interested in applying to. Ask colleagues in your desired field about where they studied, peruse the websites of universities near you, and review rankings of graduate programs. One of the most reputable rankings year after year is compiled by U.S. News and World Report, which only ranks and lists accredited programs. Their directory can be sorted by location, specific degree, or general area of interest.
As with all things, your intended career path will determine exactly what you must have achieved before you start a graduate degree program. You will need to have completed a B.A. or B.S. program prior to the start of your studies, though some graduate programs will also accept candidates who have sufficient work experience. You may also need to have taken the GRE. Make sure to review each program’s prerequisites carefully before applying. This would also be a good time to apply for scholarships and/or financial aid from the state or federal government.
The Application Process
Almost all online degree programs require you to apply online, though some schools do offer a paper application. You will need to fill in your basic contact information on the application form, as well as information regarding your educational history. Depending on the requirements of your desired program, you may also need to provide GRE scores, letters of recommendation, CV, a statement of personal intent, or portfolio. Make sure to start your application early to make sure it is completed and sent before the application deadline.
The cost of an online master's program can vary greatly. According to USAStudyGuide.com, “The cost to complete an online master's degree program at an accredited online school can range anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000. There are so many factors involved, including the reputation of a school, the popularity of the online master's degree programs offered, the quality of the teaching staff, the level of technology used in administering the online master's degree program, etc.” One of the least expensive options for online master’s degrees is Western Governors University, which charges a flat rate for courses per term, rather than charging per credit hour. The school charges $4,500 per term for nursing and MBA degree programs.
To help put those fees in perspective, a four credit hour class from the Harvard Extension School costs somewhere around $1,800, University of Phoenix online tuition averages around $700 per credit hour, and Capella’s tuition is in the $600 per credit hour range.
Time to Complete Online Graduate Programs
The time it takes to complete an online program for your graduate degree will depend on the demands of the coursework, as well as your available free time. If you choose to just take one class per semester or term, you will have fewer costs at the outset, but you will take far longer to complete your degree program. Morehead State University currently offers an entirely online English master’s degree program that can be completed in two years by a full-time student. If you are able to devote the time, you can finish most online master’s degree programs in 1-3 years. If you complete all the coursework in a satisfactory manner, you will pass your courses and earn your graduate degree online.