By GSH Staff
In this article, we present the top online master's programs.
As distance education becomes more popular, it's no surprise that so many schools now offer graduate degrees online. Students pursuing master's degrees often differ from typical undergraduate learners in that they have full-time jobs, family commitments, and other obligations. While this is certainly not always the case, master's degree students nonetheless can benefit from online courses that put more flexibility into their daily lives. Online colleges also allow students to apply to the very best programs available, even if the top schools aren't in their immediate vicinity. In addition, online programs often come with lower price tags than traditional universities, giving applicants just one more reason to go with distance education.
Methodology for Ranking the Best Online Master's Programs 2015
For this article, we aimed to create a ranking of the top ten best online master's degree programs. We primarily looked for schools that offer a rich variety of programs, covering everything from business to psychology at the graduate level. We first collected a list of all eligible, accredited online schools and ended up with a selection of more than 400! We then scored all these colleges in the following areas:
Tuition: We looked at average tuition rates for schools' graduate programs, as reported by College Navigator. Tuition only takes into account approximate annual course credit costs, and does not consider additional fees. It also does not take into account scholarships, financial aid, special online course discounts, or adjusted costs for students going part time. For public schools, we used an average of their in-state and out-of-state rates. As affordability was not the primary consideration in our ranking, we only counted this category as 16% of the total ranking.
Number of Programs: For this category, we simply counted the total number of degrees each school offers. This means that if a school offers five different versions of an MBA degree, we counted each of those programs separately. This also means that degrees with several concentration options may have been counted separately if the subtopics were sufficiently different. We weighted this category 42% of the overall ranking.
Number of Subjects: The aim of this category was to distinguish schools with a large number of separate degrees from schools that offer a wide breadth of subjects. For example, a school that focuses primarily on education might offer 15 different M.Ed. degrees, but they all cover the same subject area. Instead of counting individual degrees, we looked at different subjects – like business, education, psychology, natural sciences, agriculture, and religion – and scored schools based on the range of topics they cover. We weighted this category 42% as well.
Ultimately, our aim was to distinguish the schools that offer both a large number of degrees overall and a large number of different subjects, ensuring that students who attend these colleges enjoy a deep, comprehensive educational experience. The tuition factor slightly adjusted the ranking to favor more affordable schools, but was not significant enough to automatically disqualify more expensive online options.
10. North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina
North Carolina State University is a strong research school with core strengths in science, technology, engineering, and education. The university has a total of 45 online master's programs that span across more than twenty diverse subjects. Originally an agricultural school, NCSU now offers degrees in areas ranging from Animal Science to Nano-engineering to Textile Chemistry. Distance education students go through a virtual orientation and have the option to take their exams in person near their homes through remote proctoring services. Due to education regulations, NCSU's top online master's degrees are available in every state except Minnesota.
Tuition: $7,623/yr (In-state) $21,311/yr (Out-of-state)
9. University of Massachusetts
The University of Massachusetts guarantees that the academic standards and faculty of its online graduate programs are just as rigorous and high quality as its on-campus degrees. The university offers 33 different master's programs in 22 subjects, including Design and Historic Preservation, Plant and Soil Sciences, and Labor Studies. These best online master's degrees are available to students across the United States, excluding Alabama, Arkansas, and Kansas. UMass also provides services for veteran and reserve military students, in accordance with the Post 9/11 and Montgomery GI Bills.
Tuition: $14,051/yr (In-state) $21,348/yr (Out-of-state)
8. Auburn University
Auburn University stands out in its position as a land, sea, and space grant university. Auburn provides 41 of the best online master's degree programs available in more than two-dozen different subjects, focusing on agriculture, architecture, business, education, engineering, and the human sciences. In 2015, U.S. News recognized both the Engineering and Business departments on its list of Best Online Programs. In addition to more traditional degrees, the university also offers unique online programs in such topics as Turfgrass Management, Real Estate Development, Agriscience Education, and Hotel and Restaurant Management. Auburn also has a strong English learning program, making it a good option for international students seeking an American education.
Tuition: $8,586/yr (In-state) $25,758/yr (Out-of-state)
7. American Public University
Charles Town, West Virginia
American Public University in a low-cost, entirely online university with a wide variety of graduate programs in nearly 30 different subject areas. APU's status as a virtual school means that its programs are completely tailored to online students. Classes start every month and run in 8-week and 16-week terms to increase flexibility for students. Total, students can choose from one of 34 different graduate programs in areas such as Military History, Transportation and Logistics Management, and Space Studies. All master's degrees require a thesis, capstone course, or practicum before students can graduate, while dual-degree options allow especially driven learners to complete two degrees on a accelerated schedule.
6. Walden University
Walden University is an online university that offers 40 graduate programs in nearly as many different areas of study, with the same tuition rate for all students regardless of where they live. Walden's top online master's degrees are designed to be flexible in order to fit students' busy lives – a popular selling point for older enrollees who work full time. The available programs cover everything from Public Policy and Addiction Counseling to Instructional Design and Technology to Forensic Psychology. Walden also offers a thorough list of student support services, including personal advisors, technical assistance, skill refresher courses, and career services.
5. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the #11 public university in the United States, due in part to its vast size; U of I provides 45 online master's degrees in more than 35 different subjects. The university's best online master's degree programs include Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, Diversity and Equity in Education, Translation and Interpretation, and Crop Sciences. Online students have access to library, career, and disability services, and military members receive additional benefits. Veterans and active military alike can receive tuition help through the Illinois Veterans Grant or the Illinois National Guard Grant, as well as through multiple specialized scholarships.
Tuition: $14,761/yr (In-state) $27,435/yr (Out-of-state)
4. University of New Hampshire
Durham, New Hampshire
The University of New Hampshire is a land, sea, and space grant research university with a strong distance education program. The university has an incredible 109 master's degrees to choose from in over 30 subjects, a clear indication that its educational options offer both breadth and depth. The three most popular online graduate degrees are Business Administration, Educational Studies, and Social Work, although UNH offers many more unique programs as well. Students can complete any of the top three degrees – all of which have earned recognition for their academic excellence – in just two to three years. Online learners can accelerate their studies through condensed courses in January and during the summer term, earning four credits or more in just three weeks.
Tuition: $13,500/yr (In-state) $26,460/yr (Out-of-state)
3. Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon University is a Christian school with an emphasis on faith and community outreach. The main campus is located in Arizona, but the university charges the same affordable tuition for online courses regardless of students' residency. GCU offers 57 graduate degrees in about half as many areas of study, such as Leadership, Nursing, Christian Studies, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Psychology. Resources for distance students include student success webinars and online tutoring through ThinkingStorm and the Center for Learning and Advancement. GCU also has special resources and financial aid for military and Native American students.
2. Nova Southeastern University
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Nova Southeastern University is a not-for-profit institution that emphasizes both research and scholarship; faculty and motivated students are currently pursuing research across the Healthcare, Biotechnology, Marine Biology, and Social Science fields. Online graduate degrees are available in more than thirty different topic areas with a total of more than 60 individual programs, including Biomedical Informatics, Employment Law, Disaster and Emergency Preparedness, Marine and Coastal Studies, and Speech Language Pathology, among others. Students in Maryland, Iowa, and Texas should be aware that their may be certain restrictions on their enrollment in a few of the master's degrees. On the plus side, NSU's affordable online programs cost the same for all students regardless of their state residency.
1. Liberty University
Liberty University is the largest nonprofit university in the country and the largest Christian university anywhere in the world. Liberty has an astounding 137 graduate programs covering 30 areas of study. These programs include Christian Ministry, Divinity, Ethnomusicology, Exercise Science, Religion, Sports Management, and many other unique degrees. The university's online education program has been in place since 1985, and provides useful resources such as an online library, writing center, tutoring, advising, and even online social communities. Liberty is also extremely welcoming to military students. Tuition vouchers, discounts, and credit for military training help veterans and active duty students take advantage of Liberty's top online master's degrees.
Click here for a high resolution version of the award badge, which you are free to use in your publications. This concludes our ranking of the top 10 best online master's programs for 2015.