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What is a master’s degree?

A master’s degree is earned through completion of a graduate program beyond a bachelor’s degree. Through work to earn a master’s degree, students gain expertise in an academic discipline through intensive coursework and the preparation of a culminating project or thesis. Master’s degrees are awarded in most disciplines and at a variety of institutions, including public, private and online schools. Those pursuing a master’s degree should have strong commitment, a specific academic direction they wish to pursue for their degree, and an understanding of how the degree will benefit their future.

What degrees must a student have to pursue a master’s degree?

In order to pursue a master’s degree, a student must complete an undergraduate Bachelor degree. Some universities offer a Bachelor/Master combination degree, which is typically a 5-6 year program.

How long does it take to complete a master’s degree?

Traditional master’s degrees take 2 years to complete, with the first year focused on classwork and the second working on advanced research and a final project. Nontraditional programs offer flexible schedules, longer or shorter completion times, and a variety of culmination requirements, including testing and creative projects. Students should carefully determine the program that fits both their schedule as well as their future career prospects when choosing a master’s degree program.

How much does a master’s degree cost?

Master’s degree programs come in a wide variety of formats, which carry different costs. Experts suggest that students should take less money in student loans than they will earn in their first year of working post-degree. Students should have a strong understanding of what jobs their master’s degree will produce and how much total cost they will incur, including living expenses. Public and online institutions can offer cost-effective programs for most master’s degrees. While private schools retain higher costs, they may offer a variety of programs particular to a student’s needs, smaller class sizes, or other amenities.

Those pursuing a master’s degree who can afford to attend school full-time and take out loans to pay for tuition and supplies should consider a smaller private institution or a public school with a full time program. For those who cannot afford both school and living expenses should consider online schools or a program with flexibility. Most online programs allow students to work concurrently with coursework, allowing them to advance careers and not take out loans for living expenses.

What are some popular master’s degrees?

Some of the most popular master’s degree programs include:

Master of Business Administration: The MBA is a versatile degree that gives a student a strong basis in all areas of business, while allowing them to focus their studies in a particular area of interest. While most MBA degrees offer lucrative career advances, finance concentrations offer particularly good potential. Some concentrations include:

  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Management
  • Accounting
  • Health Care
  • Entrepreneurship

Master of Engineering: Most engineering careers require the knowledge obtained in a master’s degree in order to continue advancement. A variety of concentrations exist, with computer and software being the most popular and having the best long-term job prospects. Other master’s in engineering focuses include:

  • Aeronautics
  • Geotechnical
  • Structural
  • Civil
  • Biomedical
  • Electronic
  • Mechanical

Master of Education: Earning a master’s in education or a master’s in teaching is required by most states to earn a permanent teaching credential. To sway costs, many school districts assist teachers with tuition, or offer programming locally. Some concentrations include:

  • Elementary Education (K-5)
  • Middle School Education (5-8)
  • High School Education (9-12)
  • ESL
  • Math
  • Science

Master of Nursing: Nurses require constant continuing education credits to keep active licenses, so many earn a master’s degree in the process. Graduates of nursing master’s degrees can hold positions with great autonomy and far higher pay ranges. Master’s degrees in nursing include:

  • Nursing Management
  • Health Systems Leadership
  • Nursing Education
  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Nursing Informatics

Master in Finance: Job prospects in this field are expected to grow significantly over the next decade, and positions are generally stable. Popular concentrations for master’s in finance include:

  • Actuarial Services
  • Investment
  • Banking
  • Finance Education
  • Statistics

What are some things a student should look for in a master’s degree program?

Students should take many different factors into consideration when choosing a master’s degree program, including:

  • Cost
  • Program Goals: What is the mission statement? Does the program focus on academic work or real-life applications?
  • Faculty: Who teaches the courses? What kind of contacts will you make in the program?
  • Accreditation: Where is the school/program accredited through?

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Angella Barnaby

"One of the things that most impresses me about Kaplan University is its commitment to providing online students with resources to help us succeed. My academic advising team calls me every week to check on my academic progress and make sure everything is going smoothly. They have fully supported me whenever any issues have come up, whether the problem is financial, technical or academic in nature."


April Topping

"Students in a graduate nursing program need to make sure they know what they want. If your goal is to work at the bedside full time, then a masters degree in nursing is probably not the right choice because it trains you to be an administrator. But if they want to get behind the scenes and into management, they will learn those skills through a masters degree in nursing."


Calsey Hoefler

"I would recommend that students who are going to get a masters in clinical psychology invest time into researching different programs. They should especially pay attention to price."


Cheryl Goodman

"When I discovered that I could earn an online graduate degree in healthcare after 22 years of nursing, it seemed like a door was opening for me."


Frank Milson

"If you are a younger student or just out of high school, I think that you should take the opportunity to attend a brick-and-mortar school. When you are young, you have much more time to get the full school experience, and nothing can substitute for that."


Janet Jones

"I didn’t like the idea of sitting in a lecture hall, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and get my masters degree in healthcare administration online."


Jennifer Carriere

"I think that employers actually consider how much dedication and commitment it takes to get an online degree, rather than simply looking down on the degree because it isn’t from a brick-and-mortar school."


John Donovan

"It is easier to lose interest when you study online, and you have to realize that if you make it halfway through an online program and stop, you’ve spent quite a bit of money without a whole lot to show for it."


Michelle Jelliff

"I would recommend to other students that they find a mentor before enrolling in an online program."


Patricia Blasius

"I felt like my facilitators were all very knowledgeable in their fields. They were all teaching professionals, which I appreciated because they were able to provide our classes with concrete examples of the ways that the concepts we were learning could be applied in the real world."


Roderick Arthur

"I think that the biggest weakness to online learning is not having face-to-face interaction with your instructors, because nothing can substitute for it."


Stacee Proper

"I would not do anything differently in pursuing a masters degree online, but I wish I had known how difficult it would be. I have gained essential skills of discipline and time management during the time I spent acquiring my degree."


Stephanie Mabry

"I consider my instructors to be the biggest strength of Kaplan University. They were professionals who worked in healthcare administration and possessed advanced knowledge of the field. Many of them were either healthcare executives or people who had earned doctoral degrees in healthcare administration. With that level of world knowledge, class discussion centered on real-life scenarios."


Susan Banks

"I didn’t know my online professors on a very personal basis, which isn’t to say they were cold to their students. Online schooling is just a different setting, and the atmosphere is businesslike. Even so, several of my professors told me that they would provide me with letters of recommendation when I started my job search."


Tiffany Allmandinger

"I chose to get my degree from Purdue University because I liked the breadth, depth, and number of classes they offer."


Tom Baker

"Make sure that you stay on task in your online classes. As soon as a question arises, contact your professor immediately. Don’t be afraid to ask questions."