Best Online Graduate Schools 2021

| Staff

Best Online Graduate Schools 2021
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Graduate studies allow learners to keep up with technology and find practical applications in the workplace. According to data from the 2018 U.S. Census Bureau, 13.1% of Americans age 25 and older have an advanced degree, compared to 8.6% in 2000.

Best Online Graduate Schools Badge

Completing a graduate program bestows many benefits, which contributes to the rising number of graduate degree-holders. Colleges and universities are also increasingly offering online graduate programs, which attract professionals who wish to pursue a postgraduate degree without leaving their full-time jobs.

Admission requirements for master’s programs vary among schools and programs. Most institutions and programs require applicants to hold an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. Other typical admission requirements include recent scores from a graduate entrance exam like the GRE or the GMAT, professional experience, and a minimum GPA.

Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Accredited Online College Programs

These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online graduate degree programs.
Figuring out where to apply? Consider one of these online Master’s or PhD programs.

What Are the Goals of a Graduate Degree?

Graduate programs allow enrollees to deepen their knowledge and enhance their skills in their chosen professional field. With more schools offering online graduate programs in addition to traditional on-campus options, most students can now earn a master’s degree while working full time.

Employers know the rigor of an accredited master’s program and often seek master’s-trained applicants for leadership and managerial positions. Job candidates with a master’s degree stand out in competitive professional arenas.

What Are the Benefits of a Graduate Degree?

Although graduate programs usually require a significant investment of time and money, they also bring many benefits. See below for just a few upsides to earning a graduate degree.

Increase Income Potential
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that master’s degree-holders earn higher median weekly salaries than bachelor’s or associate degree-holders ($1,497 versus $1,248 and $887, respectively)
Lower Unemployment Risk
Professionals with a master’s degree enjoy lower unemployment levels (2%) compared to workers with a bachelor’s (2.2%) or associate degree (2.7%).
Meet Job Requirements
Many colleges and universities require professors to hold at least a master’s degree in their field to be considered for teaching or tenure-track positions.
Expand Knowledge
A master’s program allows enrollees to broaden their knowledge and improve their skills in their field.
Prepare for Doctoral Studies
Most doctoral programs require candidates to hold a master’s degree. Research and academic writing coursework at the master’s level provide an excellent foundation for doctoral work.

What Are the Types of Graduate Degrees?

Graduate degrees refer to academic programs beyond a bachelor’s degree. Master’s programs typically require 30-36 credits, or 1-2 additional years of study and training, beyond a bachelor’s. Doctorates often require an additional 3-5 years beyond a master’s degree, usually 60-90 credits.

Completion requirements for master’s programs vary. Some programs require students to write a thesis, pass a comprehensive exam, or complete a capstone project. Master’s programs may also include an internship or practicum component that allows students to apply classroom knowledge in the workplace.

Requirements for a doctorate often depend on the degree type. A doctor of philosophy degree prepares candidates for research or academia-related work, so most require students to complete and orally defend a dissertation. Practice-oriented doctorates, such as a doctor of nursing practice or doctor of social work, often require candidates to complete a research-based project or working paper instead of a dissertation.

Master’s and doctoral programs provide ample opportunities for enrollees to engage in graduate-level research and academic writing. Most programs also offer leadership courses since postgraduate degrees often qualify graduates for top-level positions in academia, government agencies, private companies, and international organizations.

Accreditation for a Graduate Program

Colleges and universities throughout the United States voluntarily seek out accreditation as a way of signaling their commitment to providing quality education. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) act as overseers of the accreditation process. The process entails representatives of an accrediting agency recognized by ED and CHEA assessing a school’s academic offerings and institutional soundness according to established standards.

Degree-focused nonprofit institutions typically seek regional accreditation. Vocational and sectarian for-profit schools seek national accreditation. Regional accrediting agencies usually adhere to more rigorous standards than national accreditors, which is why regional accreditation is viewed as the more prestigious designation.

ED and CHEA also oversee accreditors that assess specific programs. For instance, the Council on Social Work Education accredits social work programs at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. Since not all graduate programs have specific accreditors, prospective students should enroll in a program offered by an accredited institution.


Question Answer
How do I find grad school programs? Prospective students should first review schools’ websites. They can then research individual departments to find available programs. For example, for graduate programs in nursing, prospective learners can check a college’s science department.
How can I go to graduate school for free? Most colleges and universities publish scholarship or fellowship information under student services. Private organizations and professional associations also offer funding opportunities.
How long are master’s programs? Master’s programs typically take 1-3 years to complete. Some schools offer online graduate programs with multiple start dates throughout the year, which may allow learners to graduate sooner.
How long do Ph.D. programs take? Most schools give doctoral students up to seven years to earn the Ph.D. However, doctoral students often graduate within 3-5 years.

Courses in a Graduate Program

Graduate programs offer many courses specific to a field of study or professional arena. For example, a graduate program in engineering features a curriculum that differs greatly from a social work program. Nevertheless, most colleges and universities require foundational courses such as those below.

  • Academic Writing

    Enrollees develop clear and concise writing skills, which are crucial in any type of graduate program, especially those that require a thesis or dissertation. Students must complete many writing requirements during a master’s or doctoral program, including term papers, research reports, and literature reviews. Graduate degree-holders can use their writing skills in any workplace setting.

  • Communication Course

    Graduate programs typically require candidates to orally defend their thesis or dissertation. Some schools also require this for candidates completing a research-based capstone project. The ability to communicate orally or in writing with another person, a group, or digitally, is a fundamental requirement in any workplace. A communication course prepares graduate degree-holders to be productive members of any professional team.

  • Computer Skills Course

    Virtually all professional settings require computer knowledge. The content and completion requirements of a computer skills course often depend on an enrollee’s field of study. Students pursuing a technical field, such as engineering, often must enroll in advanced computer classes. A graduate-level course in computer skills often familiarizes students with field-specific software.

  • Leadership Course

    Employers often seek graduate degree-holders for leadership or managerial positions. For this reason, many graduate programs offer a leadership class either as an elective or a degree requirement. Learners study organizational behavior, effective communication, human resources management, and professional ethics. Leadership courses help students develop strong leadership techniques through various teaching methods, including case studies and role playing.

  • Research Course

    All graduate programs entail some amount of research work. Most programs require students to enroll in either a quantitative or a qualitative research course, each of which counts for three credits. However, some postgraduate programs require students to enroll in both types of research coursework. Employers expect graduate degree-holders to know how to conduct extensive and meaningful research and how to apply their findings to the workplace.

How Can a Master's Student Pay for College?

Colleges and universities offering master’s programs typically provide scholarships, teaching assistance grants, and fellowships to help learners offset costs. Learners can also apply for federal financial aid by completing the FAFSA. See below for some financial aid opportunities for students interested in online graduate programs.

AAUW Career Development Grant
Who Can Apply: The American Association of University Women (AAUW) welcomes applications from women with a bachelor’s degree who plan to pursue postgraduate studies in education, health and medical sciences, or social sciences. AAUW gives primary consideration to women of color and applicants pursuing their first postgraduate credential.
Amount: $2,000-$12,000

ACHE Foster G. McGaw Graduate Student Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Applicants enrolled in a graduate program in healthcare management can apply for this scholarship from the American College of Healthcare Executives. Applicants may also be enrolled in a master’s in health administration, an MBA in healthcare administration, or a master’s in public health program. Applicants must hold full-time status and be entering their final year in the program.
Amount: $5,000

ALA Christopher J. Hoy/ERT Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Administered by the American Library Association (ALA), this scholarship accepts applications from students enrolled in an ALA-accredited master’s program in library or information science. Applicants must be American or Canadian citizens or permanent residents of the United States. ALA does not accept applications from students who have already completed more than 12 credits of their program.
Amount: $5,000

AMBUCS Scholarships for Therapists
Who Can Apply: American Business Clubs (AMBUCS) accepts applications from students pursuing an accredited graduate-level degree in hearing audiology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, or speech language pathology. Applicants must demonstrate financial need and show a strong history of community involvement. AMBUCS requires applicants to submit a one-page personal statement that includes their career objectives.
Amount: $500-$6,000

Dr. W. Wesley Eckenfelder Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a degree in the environmental field can apply for this scholarship. Some acceptable fields of study include environmental engineering, hydrogeology, and ecology. Applicants must have an undergraduate 3.0 GPA and must submit a personal essay of at least 250 words explaining their decision to focus on environmental studies.
Amount: $5,000

How Can a Ph.D. Student Pay for College?

Most universities provide doctoral students with generous funding for the length of their studies or for their program’s doctoral research phase. The U.S. government and several private organizations also provide many financial assistance programs for doctoral candidates pursuing a program of study relevant to their specific interests. Doctoral candidates can begin their search for funding with the programs listed below.

AICPA Fellowship for Minority Doctoral Students
Who Can Apply: The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants accepts applications from minority students pursuing an accredited doctoral program in accounting. Applicants need a master’s in accounting or must have a minimum of three years of full-time professional experience in the field. Applicants who do not yet hold a CPA license must pursue licensure if they receive the fellowship.
Amount: $12,000

American Psychological Association Fellowship Programs
Who Can Apply: Funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and administered by the APA, this fellowship welcomes applications from mental health practitioners enrolled in a doctoral program. Recipients must commit to provide two years of service in a counseling profession that focuses on the healthcare needs of ethnic minority communities.
Amount: Varies

Charles Koch Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship
Who Can Apply: Doctoral candidates engaged in research in one of the foundation’s focus areas can apply for this graduate fellowship. Acceptable research areas include toleration and free speech, criminal justice reform, international relations, and U.S. fiscal policy. Applicants must submit a writing sample of no more than 25 pages and a statement of their short- and long-term career goals.
Amount: Varies

DOE Computational Science Graduate Fellowship
Who Can Apply: Doctoral students enrolled in a program in a high-performance computing field can apply for this fellowship opportunity. Accepted study areas include scientific data management and engineering, physics-constrained machine learning, domain-specific languages, and programming models and abstractions for heterogeneous computing. The program provides funding for four years.
Amount: Full tuition and fees, plus yearly stipend of $38,000 and $1,000 professional development allowance

U.S. Department of Defense National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship
Who Can Apply: Applicants must be pursuing a doctorate in fields beneficial to national security, including aeronautics, bioscience, oceanography, and mathematical science and engineering. Funding covers the first three years of enrollment in a doctoral program. Applicants must hold U.S. citizenship and be enrolled at an accredited college or university.
Amount: $30,000, plus health insurance of up to $1,000

Best Online Graduate Schools 2021

  1. University of Florida

    Gainesville, FL



    The University of Florida's online graduate programs include seven doctoral and 84 master's degrees. The school's doctoral programs include a doctor of nursing practice and a doctor of philosophy in Latin and Roman studies. The College of Education also offers doctor of education degrees in educational leadership; higher education administration; teachers, schools, and society; and educational technology.

    The master's programs cover multiple academic fields, including applied physiology and kinesiology, business administration, industrial and systems engineering, and pharmaceutical sciences. Online enrollees can access LinkedIn Learning library resources for tutorials and general courses in software skills development.

    The Office of Graduate Diversity Initiatives actively recruits graduate students from traditionally underrepresented ethnic groups as well as first-generation and low-income enrollees. The office offers social, academic, and financial support to improve retention and completion rates for this group of students.

    The University of Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  2. Heritage Christian University

    Florence, AL



    Heritage Christian University in Florence, Alabama, currently offers three online graduate programs. The school's master of arts in Christian scriptures and master of ministry programs each comprise 36 credits. Students who enroll in the ministry program can focus on ministerial counseling, homiletics, biblical studies, or history of biblical interpretation and theology. The master's in Christian scriptures requires a thesis for completion.

    The school's online master of divinity program prepares students for leadership roles in congregations and comprises 75 credits. Enrollees must complete a six-credit practicum to graduate from the program.

    Students can access class materials, course lectures, and supplemental notes and presentations online at any time. The school offers all required coursework digitally; however, online students must come to campus the week before classes begin for introductory sessions and again at the end of their program for graduation exercises.

    Heritage Christian University is accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education.

  3. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Chapel Hill, NC



    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers online master's programs across eight academic areas, including pharmacy, media and journalism, allied health, and information and library sciences.

    Offered through the Kenan-Flagler Business School, the online MBA follows a cohort model of education and features four start dates throughout the year. The program offers concentrations in data analytics and decision-making, entrepreneurship, finance, marketing, and strategy and consulting. Students must attend two immersive experiences in various international locations where they explore business conditions, challenges, and solutions.

    The School of Government at UNC offers an online master's in public administration accredited by the Network of Schools on Public Policy, Affairs and Administration.

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  4. University of South Florida-Main Campus

    Tampa, FL



    USF offers online graduate programs in 11 fields of study, including medicine, public health, behavioral and community sciences, and engineering. The College of Education offers several postgraduate programs, including a doctor of philosophy in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in career and technical workforce education.

    Postgraduate students interested in sustainability can apply to the Patel College of Global Sustainability, which offers an online MA in the field. Students can choose from nine concentration areas, including climate change and sustainability, entrepreneurship, food sustainability and security, and sustainability tourism. Students culminate the degree with a capstone project or internship.

    University of South Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  5. North Carolina State University at Raleigh

    Raleigh, NC



    North Carolina State University at Raleigh currently offers 45 online graduate programs, including 43 master's and two doctoral degrees. The school's doctor of education in education administration and supervision consists of 54 credits and leads to superintendent licensure in North Carolina. The College of Design offers an online doctorate in design that requires one week-long, on-campus seminar every semester.

    The university also offers master's programs in fields like integrated manufacturing systems engineering, horticultural science, geospatial information science and technology, and community college teaching. Many of the online master's programs require applicants to submit results of a recent graduate entrance exam, such as the GRE or GMAT.

    Most programs allow graduate students to transfer up to 12 credits toward their degree from another accredited program or institution. However, transfer credit policies differ between programs.

    North Carolina State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  6. Indiana University-Bloomington

    Bloomington, IN



    Indiana University offers a variety of online graduate programs, including master's degrees in 16 fields of study and doctorates in public health, education, and health and health sciences. Students can pursue master's degrees in areas such as applied science, parks and recreation, public affairs and administration, and social work. Many of the university's online courses follow asynchronous delivery schedules, allowing students to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations.

    Students complete online onboarding modules prior to starting their program, which helps them register for classes, access coursework, and secure financial aid. Classes are led by the same professors who teach on-campus students. The university charges a distance education fee ($30 per credit hour) to cover the costs of instructional design and technology services associated with online courses.

    Indiana University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  7. Missouri University of Science and Technology

    Rolla, MO



    Missouri S&T offers 18 online master's programs in diverse fields of study, including aerospace engineering, industrial-organizational psychology, technical communication, and computer science. Many of the online master's programs offer a non-thesis track. Most programs give students the option of taking asynchronous or synchronous courses.

    Many of the online graduate programs at Missouri S&T require applicants to have an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. In addition, several programs require the submission of GRE or GMAT scores. Students with a graduate certificate from the university can usually transfer the certificate credits toward a master's program in a related field.

    Missouri University of Science and Technology is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  8. University of Central Florida

    Orlando, FL



    The University of Central Florida offers 37 online graduate programs, including 34 master's and three doctoral degrees. Students can pursue master's degrees in fields such as nonprofit management, digital forensics, educational leadership, and aerospace engineering. UCF also offers a doctor of nursing practice program with advanced and executive tracks. Alternatively, RNs can pursue a research-focused online doctor of philosophy in nursing degree.

    Online graduate programs typically cost less than the same on-campus degrees since the university waives certain campus-based fees for online enrollees. On average, online graduate students save about $42 per credit. Online classes are also taught by the same faculty who teach on-campus classes. Most online courses follow asynchronous delivery schedules. Degrees with internship or practicum components typically allow online students to fulfill these requirements within their geographical region.

    The University of Central Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  9. Florida International University

    Miami, FL



    Florida International University offers 47 online graduate programs, including master's degrees in curriculum and instruction, disaster management, forensic science, and higher education administration. Many of FIU's online master's programs do not include any onsite requirements.

    The Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing offers a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) online, which is the only online doctoral program currently available at the university. The DNP offers five clinical focus areas: adult-gerontology, family health, pediatric, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, and nurse anesthetist.

    Online graduate enrollees can apply to many of FIU's scholarship and fellowship opportunities. Students also enjoy access to 24/7 technical support.

    Florida International University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  10. University of Washington-Seattle Campus

    Seattle, WA



    The University of Washington offers 14 online graduate programs through its Professional and Continuing Education division. Students can pursue graduate degrees in areas such as infrastructure planning and management, library and information science, pharmaceutical bioengineering, and applied and computational mathematics.

    The M.Ed. in special education with an applied behavior analysis concentration fulfills the educational requirements for the Behavior Analyst Certification Board exam.

    UWPCE offers all required coursework for each of the degrees online; however, some programs feature onsite requirements. For example, the master's in supply chain transportation and logistics program requires online learners to attend a week-long residency at the UW campus. Programs with internship or practicum requirements usually allow online students to complete the requirement in their local area.

    University of Washington is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Accredited Online College Programs

These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online graduate degree programs.
Figuring out where to apply? Consider one of these online Master’s or PhD programs.

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Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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