An online master's degree is a form of academic degree, which can be taken either online or at a campus-based university, without having to actually attend college on campus. The main difference between an online master degree and one taken in a campus setting is the degree is not typically accompanied by a student's degree (normally, a bachelor's or higher) in order to earn his or her master's.
However, this does not mean that distance learning degrees cannot offer any advantages or are inferior to traditional degree-granting programs. There are several different factors that you must consider when choosing a university for your online Masters program, as well as a few key things to consider when considering what your particular situation is going to be.
First, make sure that the online master's program you decide to go with is accredited by a recognized institution. The most commonly accepted accreditation standards are from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAP) and the Council for Higher Education (CHEA). This accreditation should be easily available for you in your own state, and even the national level (the CHEA has regional offices in all 50 states).
Second, always make sure that the university offering your online master's program offers the type of coursework you are interested in taking. As previously stated, there are numerous online masters degree types available today. It is a good idea to do some research into what types of coursework are offered at the specific colleges you are considering. There may be requirements for specific programs, and you will want to take time to make sure you meet these requirements prior to finalizing the college you plan to attend.
Third, be sure to check out the school's reputation. Online universities generally receive mixed reviews from past and current students, and if there are any negative comments left for the college you are considering, it may be best to reconsider. Also, the reputation of the school you are planning to enroll in may not be as good as it seems, as some have received criticism from both students and faculty members over their programs.
Fourth, find out if the school offers any courses which will supplement the online master's program you choose. Many online masters programs will require a study schedule that can only be met by studying outside of the class hours of the actual classes being taken. Some schools may also offer other courses to help fill in the gap that the normal schedule may leave between classes. These courses can include extra-curricular activities such as field work, internships, or even volunteer work that could help you better prepare yourself for your chosen program.
Fifth, the final aspect to consider is that of financial aid. Most of the top schools will require you to have a financial need in order to be eligible to take their course. This means that you must be able to show that you are unable to make other forms of payment for school without compromising your ability to pay for your online master's program. Although it is common knowledge that scholarships and loans are available, many are not provided to students who don't have enough to cover their tuition costs.
Finally, if the school you are interested in attending doesn't offer any financial aid, don't worry. Some schools may still accept grants, or even work with parents and family members to pay your tuition. If you find this doesn't work out, don't feel discouraged – in many cases, you can still pursue your education on a part-time basis while you work to pay off your existing student loans.