Online Master’s Degrees: Pros and Cons

Earning a master’s degree can be a big step up the ladder in your career.  The additional education can open doors to higher levels of responsibility, prestige, and pay.  But there is a cost to this education – the time and money you have to invest to get the degree.  Partially in response to this, online master’s degree programs have grown at an explosive rate over the last few years.  Those looking at furthering their education now have another option to consider.  But are online master’s degrees worth it?

There are a number of benefits to working on your master’s degree online.  The first, and most powerful, of these reasons is flexibility.  No matter how work-friendly the schedule of a brick-and-mortar degree program, it is still very rigid and unyielding compared to the vast majority of online programs.  When you throw the unpredictability of family commitments on top of work schedule, this flexibility becomes even more important to prospective students.

Another pro for the online degree program is that resources are becoming more and more available.  Even five years ago, the limited access to important resources would have been a mark against doing a master’s degree online.  The explosion of online databases of primary and secondary resources in all disciplines, often included in the tuition and fees paid for the education, has made these programs much more valuable.

Finally, there are some real costs savings in completing your degree online.  Some institutions have lower tuition rates for online programs, and others waive some fees that they charge to students at their physical schools.  In addition to this, travel or moving expenses can be avoided by online students.

Along with these benefits, there are some drawbacks to online degrees.  One of the major cons for doing an online degree is the reputation that they have in large parts of the business and academic world.  Do your homework before signing up, however, and you can avoid these negative reactions. 

There are online degree mills, and even those that seem legitimate can fall into this category.  A rule of thumb to remember is to be doubly wary of an online program that you see advertised on television and triply so of those that send you spam emails.  However, more and more respected colleges and universities are offering online degree programs, and you can list these on your resume just as you would had you taken the courses at the school’s physical location.

Another drawback to an online degree can be the amount of concentration and dedication needed.  Any master’s degree will take a large amount of both qualities, but it can take more to complete an online program.  When working toward a degree at a physical school location, there are many overt and subtle keys, none bigger than being on campus, that put the students in the education frame of mind.  When working from home or the office these keys are lacking, so the onus is on the student to make sure his dedication and commitment levels remain high enough to compete the work.

Finally, a large part of the graduate school experience involves networking and sharing ideas and knowledge.  An online program takes away some of the potential for interaction with professors, other students, and professionals in the field.  The students needs to take care to find ways to overcome this disadvantage.

Are online master’s degrees worth it?  Ultimately that decision has to be made by each student.  But by working hard at the outset to avoid disreputable institutions and setting aside a designated school-work zone at home, an online degree can lead to a more rewarding future.


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