Online Graduate School
Many students are taking advantage of online graduate schools to obtain a Master’s or Ph.D. degree due to the convenience and flexibility afforded by online classes. Several requirements are necessary before enrolling in an online graduate program, such as providing the school’s admissions department with evidence of already earning a bachelor’s degree and a copy of the student’s transcript detailing GPA scores. Most graduate programs require students maintain high grades, especially in classes outlining their field of study. For example, a math major with a Bachelor of Arts degree in math wanting to pursue a Master’s in Mathematics should have earned A’s and B’s in all of his or her math-oriented undergraduate courses. In addition, online graduate schools will want to see letters of recommendation by undergraduate professors who have worked with the student as well as GRE (Graduate Record Examination) score and possibly GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) scores.
Developed by the Educational Testing Service, the GRE is designed to test a potential graduate student’s critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing and verbal reasoning skills in order to determine whether they are good candidates to complete a graduate program. Level of importance given to a GRE test result varies among universities in the U.S., with some considering it a formality while other college graduate programs placing great emphasis on the outcome of a student’s GRE score.
Students wishing to enter a graduate business program will take the GMAT, a standardized examination testing a student’s mathematical and English abilities. This computerized exam is available to take throughout the year at special testing centers or, as a paper-based examination, twice a year. Cost of a GMAT is $250 in the U.S.
Graduate Studies Curriculum
Graduate students in most programs spend much of their time performing research and writing their dissertation or thesis while also attending classes and completing assignments as given by instructors. A thesis is an extensive research/critical analysis paper written by the student that defends a hypothesis formulated by the student. All coursework involved in obtaining a Master’s or Ph.D. degree concerns the student’s field of study and does not include any general education classes.
Completion of a thesis is required to obtain a graduate degree. In addition, students will be subjected to an oral examination given by the college’s examination committee, which is usually comprised of the program’s chairpersons and/or several professors. The student is asked to defend his or her hypothesis as stated in the dissertation in response to questions asked by the examination committee. If the student provides satisfactory evidence to the committee that he or she has provided a significant contribution to the selected field of study and exhibits exceptional knowledge of that field, the committee will then grant the student a Master’s or Ph.D. degree.
One way online graduate schools differ from brick-and-mortar graduate schools is that graduate students who physically attend university graduate programs generally work as teaching assistants and/or tutors as part of their program requirement. Since students taking online graduate classes cannot participate in this activity, online graduate schools may ask that students perform additional work to receive credit for this aspect of the graduate program process.
After earning a Master’s degree, students are qualified to pursue a doctorate, or Ph.D. degree, which earns them the title of “Dr.” upon successfully completing the program. Most doctorate programs require students take a “Qualifying Examination” to determine candidacy for the program by testing the student’s grasp of the their field of study. Sometimes these exams are called “orals” if the university chooses a dissertation committee to give the exam. Students must pass this exam in order to continue with the doctoral research necessary to earn a Ph.D.
The time it takes for a student to complete a Ph.D. Program is usually more than three years, depending on how long it takes for the student to complete the dissertation. Fields of study are highly influential in regards to the length of time needed to finish this comprehensive research project. For example, a student majoring in psychologist but specializing in neuroscience may decide to conduct a complicated laboratory experiment involving a primate’s neocortex that may require a year or more of research before writing could actually commence. Alternatively, a history major wanting to earn a Ph.D. in Civil War history may chose to speculate on what would have happened in the years following the war if Lincoln had not been shot. Such a thesis would necessitate hours of research and writing but take much less time than a psychology research dissertation.
Available Online Graduate Programs
Students can earn online graduate degrees in a variety of disciplines that includes:
- Computer Science and Technology
- Healthcare (nursing and nursing management)
- Educational Studies
- Earth Sciences (geology, climate)
- Criminal Justice and Law Degrees
- Liberal Arts (English, history, communications)
- Life Sciences (ecology, conservation, biology)
- Business Administration
- Behavioral/Social Sciences (psychology, sociology)
Examples of Online Graduate Programs
- Boise State University—Master of Science in Educational Technology, Online Teaching or Technology Integration
- Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies—Master of Science in Nursing/Family Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Midwifery or Nursing Education
- Oregon State University Online – Master of Science in Science and Mathematics Education, Master’s in Fisheries and Wildlife Administration or Master of Natural Resources
- Baker Online College—Doctor of Business Administration, Master’s in Industrial and Organizational Psychology or Master’s of Business Administration
- Post University Online—Master of Science in Human Services, Master of Public Administration or Master of Science in Organizational Performance
- Cincinnati University Online—Master’s in Health Administration or Master’s in Criminal Justice
Financial Aid for Graduate Programs
While Pell Grants are available to students enrolled in undergraduate courses earning Associates or Bachelor’s degrees, they are not provided for graduate students. Instead, eligible graduate students may find alternative financial assistance in the form of Federal Stafford Loan and Federal Graduate PLUS Loan programs. Interest rates are much lower on federal financial aid loans than rates for private loans and payment is deferred until a student graduates from the program. Once a student is officially admitted into a graduate program, he or she fills out a FAFSA (Freed Application for Federal Student Aid), the same form that was used to obtain a Pell Grant for undergraduate courses. Graduate students should remember that Federal Graduate PLUS loans need repaid, unlike Pell Grants.
Alternate forms of financial aid for graduate students include applying for scholarships offered by their school and by many organizations established in the U.S. Most of these scholarship are slanted toward a specific field of study, such as the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) Scholarship for journalists, the Applegate Jackson Parks Future Teacher Scholarship education graduate students and the Licensed Mental Health Services Provider Education Program (LMHSPEP) for social workers obtaining their Master’s degree.
Cost for earning a Master’s degree can exceed $30,000 for a two or three year program. Doctorate programs that take more than three years to complete could run even more. Students electing to pursue masters degrees should research their selected employment field to determine whether participating in a continuing education program that culminates in an advanced degree is worth the time and money. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides excellent resources detailing the projected outlook for all job titles and corresponding degrees over the next ten to 15 years.