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5 Components of a Good Online Master’s Degree

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The cost of higher education continues to rise annually, making it more difficult for motivated students to pursue their academic goals. Fortunately, there are alternatives to traditional degree-granting institutions when it comes to completing your master’s degree. With advances in technology, it is now possible to obtain your graduate degree through an online program that may be more cost-effective and compatible with a full-time work schedule. However, it is important to choose your online master’s degree program judiciously as your experience will have a profound impact on your future.

1. Accreditation

Online degree programs have been plagued with a less-than favorable reputation due to some colleges that over-promise and under-deliver. Accreditation ensures that the programs offered have been vetted by a reputable agency and that they meet or exceed standards of quality. Proper accreditation by an authorized group ensures that credits earned are transferable to similar institutions, and the master’s degree will be recognized by employers and post-graduate universities should you intend to pursue a doctorate. To verify if the college you are considering is properly accredited, look up the source of accreditation, which should be an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

2. Specialization

One of the advantages of opting for an online master’s program is that you have more college choices since you are not limited by location. As such, you can focus on the program that specializes in your field with a stellar record of outstanding alumni. These programs will offer courses handled by professors who are recognized in the field, giving you an opportunity to interface with experts in your chosen specialization.

3. Faculty-student and Peer Interactions

The format of the courses should allow for various forms of interaction between students and the teaching staff while promoting peer-to-peer interaction in virtual classrooms. Faculty-student interaction can come in the form of direct messaging, virtual conferencing on a real-time feed or face-to-face meetings on campus or meet-up sessions. Opportunities for interaction with fellow students should be built into the curriculum through community forum participation, group discussions using interactive platforms or physical meetings if this is a feasible option.

4. Access to Support Services

Students pursuing an online master’s degree will require that academic support services are available at all times to ensure a positive experience that will lead to successful completion of the program. Students in online degree programs are independent and highly motivated, but experts say that they will need more academic support than students in traditional campuses. In addition, the master’s program should offer some way to provide the services that non-traditional students need, including flexible consultation hours and online discussion times that account for the graduate students’ real-life workload.

Various applications and platforms allow real-time or delayed communication. Make sure that the program you choose maximizes the use of technology so that you have access to the courses wherever you happen to be. Mobile-friendly resources present many opportunities to fulfill some course work during your available hours regardless of your location.

5. Real-life Exposure Through Internships or Externships

You are pursuing your master’s to enhance your skills and knowledge in your chosen field. Real-life experience is important to pick up the details that classroom learning will not provide. Your master’s program should include an externship or internship as part of the curriculum. These modules may be self-directed or arranged by the teaching team, but the point is to make sure that by the time you receive your master’s degree, you would have some verifiable experience in your field.

Without a doubt, online courses provide opportunities for motivated students to obtain their master’s degrees. However, you must be diligent about researching the colleges to make sure that you will be earning your degree from an accredited school with a reputation for delivering relevant curriculum that will enhance your credentials, skills and knowledge.\

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