Is Online Graduate School Right for You? Important Considerations to Keep in Mind

Is Online Graduate School Right for You? Important Considerations to Keep in Mind
If you’re looking to make a career switch, advance in your current field, or pursue a new interest, going back to school can be a great option. A graduate degree can open up doors to higher-paying job opportunities, and with the rise of online degree programs, enrolling in graduate school has never been more convenient.
Online Graduate School is becoming increasingly popular among students. The Council of Graduate Schools reported a significant rise in graduate school applications between 2011 and 2021, with 40% of graduate students exclusively enrolled in distance education courses, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Many universities now offer the same degree programs online as they do in-person, providing distance learners with access to experienced faculty and virtual classes with fellow students.
Moreover, online degrees are just as valid as traditional in-person degrees, as there is no differentiation between the two on the diploma.
Pursuing an online graduate degree allows you to keep working while studying and may even save you money on housing and campus fees. With a wide range of programs and flexible scheduling options, choosing an online graduate program can be a game-changing career move.

Discover 5 Advantages of Pursuing a Graduate Degree Online

Online learning can provide opportunities for students who may be constrained by factors such as time, finances, or geographical location, and who may not have had the chance to pursue further education otherwise. Here are a few advantages of enrolling in an online graduate program.

Greater Selection of Schools and Programs to Choose From

Online education has made it easier than ever to pursue graduate studies, allowing students to avoid the disruption of their daily lives. Online graduate programs offer a wide range of options to choose from, allowing students to find the program that best fits their interests and career aspirations.
For example, Purdue University offers a variety of online master’s degree programs in areas such as finance, criminal justice, education, and psychology, with several concentration options available.
Similarly, New York University provides online and hybrid learning opportunities in areas such as journalism, taxation, cybersecurity, and health administration.
While some programs are entirely online, others such as the quantitative management degree require in-person instruction and networking opportunities.
However, it’s worth noting that STEM programs typically require hands-on laboratory experience, which may need to be completed on campus.
Regardless of the program, students should always research the curriculum and ensure that the online graduate school they choose is institutionally accredited, which ensures that the program meets the quality standards set forth by a third-party accrediting organization.

Scheduling Flexibility

To accommodate the busy schedules of students with work and family responsibilities, many colleges offer online degree programs. One of the advantages of online learning is that programs typically admit new students on a rolling basis throughout the year, providing more flexibility than traditional fall admission cycles.
When choosing an online program, it’s important to consider whether you prefer asynchronous or synchronous courses. Synchronous classes are held at a specific time and all students participate at the same time, similar to in-person classes. Asynchronous courses have due dates for assignments, but students can complete the lessons on their own schedule.
Some programs offer a mix of both synchronous and asynchronous courses. For example, Harvard’s online master’s in education includes scheduled meetings and classes during the week, while students complete other elements like homework and discussion posts on their own time. Johns Hopkins University offers options for online, hybrid, and fully synchronous “Virtual Live” classes, while NYU’s MS in professional writing is entirely asynchronous.
If you value real-time interactions with your professors and peers, synchronous courses may be the better fit. However, if your schedule is unpredictable or hectic, asynchronous coursework could be a great option.

Benefits of Earning a Master’s Degree Online

Earning a master’s degree online offers many benefits, including the ability to work at your own pace while working full time. Online programs usually provide details about the workload you can expect. Many master’s degrees can be completed within two years, with some programs recommending students allocate 15-20 hours per week.

The University of Washington offers an example of a fully online program in infrastructure planning and management, which can be completed part-time in two years. This program estimates three hours of work per unit, with students taking two three-unit classes at a time, totaling about 18 hours per week, depending on their study style.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Earning a graduate degree can help professionals who feel stuck or unhappy in their current field advance their career. In addition, individuals with advanced degrees have access to more job opportunities and higher salaries.

According to a study by the NCES, in 2020, full-time young professionals with a master’s degree earned 17% more than those with only a bachelor’s degree. The median wage for 25- to 34-year-old graduate degree holders was $69,700, while bachelor’s degree holders earned $59,600, and high school graduates earned $36,600.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts significant growth in jobs requiring a graduate degree over the next 10 years, with 13.6% growth expected from 2021 to 2031. This rate is much higher than the projected 5% growth for all jobs nationwide.

Additionally, workers with a master’s, professional, or doctoral degree have lower unemployment rates, according to the BLS.

Developing Time Management Skills

Efficient time management is crucial for achieving professional success. As a student, it is essential to prioritize your education by effectively managing your time and accommodating classwork in your busy schedule.
Despite the convenience of fully online programs, students must allocate time every day to study.
The ability to balance various responsibilities and overcome procrastination is vital for academic success. Although mastering this balance may present challenges initially, with time, you can acquire valuable time management skills that can also benefit you beyond the classroom setting.

Deciding on Attending Graduate School Online

Enrolling in an Online Graduate School program can be a smart choice for those seeking advanced education, especially for those who are unable to attend a traditional classroom.

With the flexibility to study at your own pace and the convenience of remote learning, pursuing an online graduate degree can be an excellent option. However, it’s important to carefully evaluate whether it’s the right fit for you.

Conduct thorough research on the programs you’re interested in, and make sure you understand the program’s expectations. Contact program advisors for more information if needed.

Keep in mind that online graduate programs require a significant time commitment and are often more intense than traditional programs. Meeting deadlines and completing assignments on time is essential. Before making a final decision, consider the following factors:

What are your career goals?

Is the degree you wish to earn available online?
Is the institution you wish to attend accredited?
Do you prefer learning at your own pace or structured times?
Is the program part-time or full-time?
Do you have adequate time in your schedule to complete the coursework?
What is your budget for tuition, and what financial aid options are available to you? (Refer to our guide on how to pay for grad school for more information)
Does the program offer opportunities for professional networking?

Tips for Preparing to Attend an Online Graduate Program

Congratulations on being accepted into a graduate program that aligns with your career goals. Before your first day of online classes, it’s essential to prepare. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Set Up Your Workspace

Since you’ll be spending a lot of time at your computer, create a comfortable and enjoyable workspace. Keep clutter to a minimum, and remember the importance of ergonomic design. A tidy, quiet workspace helps you concentrate on your studies.

Organize Your Schedule

Scheduling is one of the most challenging aspects of returning to school. Adding 15 to 20 hours of coursework on top of work and family obligations can be difficult, but it’s only for a limited time.

To stay on track, set a dedicated time each day to study. Review upcoming assignments each week and work ahead as much as possible. Don’t forget to schedule some time for fun and relaxation too.

Ensure You Have the Right Equipment

A computer and internet access are necessary for online classes. If your program requires interaction with professors and peers, ensure that your laptop has audio and video capabilities.

If you’re studying in a noisy environment, consider investing in noise-canceling headphones. Helpful home office products like a standing desk, power strip, or webcam can make studying more enjoyable.

Check Your Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is critical for online learning. Ensure that your workspace’s Wi-Fi is fast enough by performing a speed check. Slow Wi-Fi can cause your videos and virtual lessons to lag. If you don’t have access to fast Wi-Fi, consider studying at the library.

Familiarize Yourself With the Learning Platform

Many universities use online platforms like Canvas to facilitate online learning. Familiarize yourself with the platform before classes begin, and make sure you can log in and find the necessary information.

Learn About Available Resources

Reputable universities provide resources for online learners, but they might be different from in-person services. Check your school’s website or speak with the admissions office to learn about online counseling, academic resources, and an online writing center. If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask your program faculty.

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