The first step in determining if you should attend graduate school online is to determine whether graduate school is even necessary to reach your career goals. Graduate school is a big commitment that warrants considerable research before you invest your time and money. If you have completed your undergraduate studies and you know that you want to pursue a certain discipline in greater depth, take the time to research the requirements to secure jobs in that field. In some disciplines, candidates with relevant experience or a unique skill set are in greater demand than those with a master’s degree. As you perform this research, take advantage of both general and discipline-specific job boards to find out what employers are looking for in top candidates.
You should also research the difference in salary for professionals with a graduate degree in your field, as the salary jump varies considerably by field. For example, business professionals who earn an MBA enjoy a greater increase in salary than professionals in the humanities who obtain a graduate degree in their respective field. By performing field-specific research, you will avoid accruing debt with little or no promise of a boost in income after graduation.
The following list of questions summarizes the factors you’ll need to consider before diving into graduate studies:
Once you have decided to pursue a graduate degree, you need to decide what type of program is best for you. Online graduate programs are becoming increasingly popular and are an ideal option for many students. Before you make the decision to earn your graduate degree online, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Is online graduate study even an option in my discipline?
While online education is growing rapidly, there are still some degrees available only at traditional campus-based schools, so do your research to determine if an online graduate degree exists in your subject. Also, beware of programs that are advertised as “online,” as many of these programs also require some level of on-campus study or practicum requirements.
2. Is an online degree well received in my field?
If you do find online programs in your field, contact the schools that confer these degrees to determine whether your degree will specify that you studied online. If this is the case, do your research to get a sense of how an online degree is perceived by professionals in your field. Take advantage of professional associations in order to ask experienced professionals if they would hire someone with an online degree. Also, ask the schools for specific data on outcomes for graduates of their online programs.
3. Am I an independent learner with strong organization and planning skills?
Online graduate school students should be able to study and complete their schoolwork independently. Since you will not have direct face-to-face interaction with your instructors and peers, you need to feel confident that you can grasp course material through self-study. Part of being an independent learner is having strong reading skills, since you will be reading not only the required text but also course lectures and additional materials. One of the challenges unique to online study is that you will be expected to complete your work independently without regular prompting from professors to hold you accountable. You will have to organize your work and break the material down into manageable segments in order to avoid getting behind.
4. Do I have strong computational skills?
To attend a graduate degree program online, you need to have a working knowledge of computers. You should know how to operate various computer programs for word processing, as well as spreadsheet software to organize statistical data in a meaningful way for research projects. Because graduate study involves intensive research, you should also be well versed in online research strategies in order to efficiently locate quality data from primary sources.
Despite the lack of regular contact with professors in online education, online degree programs typically cost the same as traditional on-campus degree programs, so you should not make your decision to enroll in online classes based on program costs. Be cautious of degree programs that are marketed as being significantly less expensive than on-campus programs. Research the reputation and curricular quality of these programs before enrolling, as the only saving associated with most online programs is due to the elimination of commuting costs.
Along with tuition expenses, you will be required to purchase textbooks, regardless of whether you study online or on campus. If you study online, you can anticipate paying for high-speed Internet access and a personal computer, whereas on-campus students can use the resources that are provided by the school. You may also need to purchase special software or programs for your computer to complete your schoolwork, as well as up-to-date antivirus software to protect your computer and your research, so keep all these expenses in mind when deciding whether to study online.