Is an Online Master’s Degree Worth Your Time?

It’s no secret that a master’s degree can boost your career and increase your earning power. Analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals a significant “wage premium” for master’s degree holders in virtually every profession.

The thing is, every working professional who considers earning a master’s must overcome the time crunch. You’re unbelievably busy right now, so how could you possibly fit the demands of a master’s program into your schedule?

It might not be realistic to uproot your life and return to campus, even on a part-time basis or at night school.

Need a solution? Online classes. Online learning is one of the largest and fastest-growing segments of higher education with 3.5 million students, 74% of whom are 25 or older, according to the 2016 annual survey of online college students conducted by the Learning House and Aslanian Market Research.

If they can do it, so can you.

A question that often arises once a busy professional has begun to think about pursuing an online master’s degree is: Will employers give it equal weight to a graduate degree earned by attending classes on campus?

The short answer is yes, but it depends on a few things.

What Employers Think About an Online Master’s

Human resources professionals – the gatekeepers of employee recruitment – are more likely to lend credence to a master’s degree from an institution with a respected reputation built around the traditional, on-campus model. This holds true for online degrees as well as traditional degrees.

Accreditation is, perhaps, the most significant factor for employers. A major distinction for U.S. schools is regional accreditation, which is awarded by accrediting agencies and recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Generally, an online master’s degree from a regionally accredited university is considered by most employers to be as relevant as a degree earned on campus. Most universities make no distinction between degrees earned through distance learning and those earned on campus.

Another factor is the educational experience of the hiring agent. According to a 2013 study, “The Market Value of Online Degrees as a Credible Credential,” an employer is more likely to have a favorable view of an online degree if he or she experienced online education first-hand.

The bottom line is that the “wage premium” of earning a master’s degree is a compelling reason to consider online graduate school. And distance learning is gaining greater acceptance among employers in many professional fields, particularly in healthcare.

That said, how can you justify the time commitment? How can your already-jammed schedule absorb a college workload? There are many ways to make it happen, all of which are within your control.

Make a Flexible Plan and Stick to it

Working professionals whose daily calendars already are packed might balk at taking on a college workload. Yet, in the 2016 annual survey of online college students conducted by Learning House and Aslanian Market Research, 71% of online students said the online program they participated in was worth their time. Only 3% answered “no” to that question, and 26% said it was “somewhat” worth it.

The key, as with any worthwhile career growth activity, is time management. You need a plan, and it has to take into account your work hours, your personal time and the amount of time you’ll need to commit to online lectures, reading, watching video, writing papers and communicating with professors and fellow students.

Here are a few tips to help with time management as you pursue an online master’s:

  • Make a plan and commit to it (but keep it flexible). Only you know your schedule, and it might take some serious analysis to figure out how best to use your time. Are you better served doing coursework at night? During lunch breaks? Early in the morning before work? Perhaps some combination of that will work best for you, and keep in mind that demands on your time could fluctuate from week to week or month to month.
  • Do at least a little online work every day. Committing to a daily check-in on message boards and course work will allow you to establish a routine and keep you from having to dedicate one long window of time to finish your work.
  • Plan for today, but also next year. Life has a way of throwing unexpected change at us, so take potential upheaval into account when you commit to pursuing an online master’s degree. Look ahead at the required coursework and think about where you might be a year or two from now. Are you planning to move? Start a family? Change jobs? All of these are potential factors that will affect your ability to excel in your coursework.
  • Don’t try to fake it. If you have questions about a topic or get stuck on a thorny problem, contact your professor or reach out to fellow students. Most online programs include digital “office hours” for instructors, and many include a means of communication among students. Take advantage of these human resources in the world of digital education. Don’t waste effort and time because you didn’t fully grasp a concept.
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