online education

The best, worst online graduate degrees for students

New infographic reveals that the most popular online graduate degrees among students are not always the best for careers.

With online learning continuing its expansion in education, graduate degree programs are no exception. But just like with on-campus programs, are there some online grad degrees that are better than others? And how can students and institutions determine which are the best and which are the worst? Is there a most popular online grad degree? Are there specific institutions that offer the best online programs?

All of this information and more is part of a new set of data presented by Online College Plan and aggregated from sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Forbes, Fortune, and multiple online degree offering sites and institutions.

Many working professionals and students are going back to school online for an advanced degree; but is it worth their time? asks Online College Plan. The data presented qualifies best versus worst online graduate degree programs based on the field’s:

  • Current mid-career salary,
  • Growth projection in the immediate future, and
  • Percent of reported low stress by students while in the program

Online College Plan begins by explaining that overall, earning a Master’s has merit, at least in terms of financial ROI. For example, the average annual salary for those with a Master’s is $68,000, compared to those with a Bachelor’s at $56,000. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many medical degrees (like nurse practitioner and physician assistant programs) will require graduate work, as opposed to simply a bachelor’s by the year 2020.

Best and Worst Online Graduate Degree Programs for Financial ROI

According to an infographic created by Online College Plan, Fortune and Forbes determined these as the best and worst online graduate degrees:

[Information presented as Master’s degree: Mid-career salary: Growth projection: Low stress]


Computer science: $125,700: 12.7%: 49%

Software engineering: $118,900: 11.9%: 51%

Information sciences: $116,100: 11.2%: 48%

Statistics: $112,000: 14%: 58%

Occupational therapy: $81,300: 16%: 30%

(Next page: Worse online graduate degrees; most popular; best institutions; infographic)


Fine arts: $46,600: 3.5%: 43%

Early childhood education: $48,700: 5.4%: 36%

English literature: $69,500: 6.2%: 33%

Social work: $59,700: 10%: 27%

Criminal justice: $63,600: 7%: 36%

Most Popular Online Graduate Degree Program

According to PayScale, an MBA is one of the most popular online graduate degrees in the U.S. However, Online College Plan notes that there are several concentrations, and some are more lucrative than others. Almost all have the potential to students in the six-figure range.

[Information presented as MBA concentration: Average mid-career salary]

Strategy: $149,000

Entrepreneurship: $139,000

Corporate finance: $138,000

Finance: $130,000

Marketing: $123,000

Information technology (IT): $123,000

International business: $121,000

The Best Colleges and Universities?

According to Online College Plan, some of the best colleges and universities for online graduate degree programs are those that offer competitive tuition as well as a high number of online programs. Institutions include:

1. North Carolina State University-Distance Education

Annual tuition: $7,623 in-state and $21,311 out-of-state

Number of graduate degree programs: 45

Most popular programs: statistics, aerospace engineering, animal science, civil engineering, computer science

2. University of Illinois Online

Annual tuition: $7,782 in-state and $27,435 out-of-state

Number of graduate degree programs: 45

Most popular programs: agricultural education, computer science, environmental studies

3. University of Missouri-Mizzou Online

Annual tuition: $8,335

Number of graduate degree programs: 44

Most popular programs: architectural studies, interactive media, nursing education, health communication

4. Liberty University Online

Annual tuition: $9,360

Number of graduate degree programs: 140

Most popular programs: MBA, communications, professional counseling, cyber security

5. University of Memphis-U of M Online

Annual tuition: online only programs are $100/credit hour

Number of graduate degree programs: 20

Most popular programs: MBA, journalism, history, public health, nursing, applied computer science


Most Lucrative Online Graduate Degree Programs
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