So you’re interested in going back to school to obtain a master’s degree. Perhaps you want to boost your annual salary or make yourself available for a promotion or different career opportunity. Fortunately, many master’s degree programs can be done online at an accelerated pace, ensuring you’ll be on the desired path to improvement in no time. Add these to the “pro” column.

But what about the cons? Online master’s degree programs can vary dramatically, so any “cons” are certainly worth considering. Fortunately, we’ve done much of the work for you, and below are 30 pros and cons you need to know about when it comes to getting a fast online master’s degree.

The Pros

Online Programs are Flexible


A major part of the appeal of online master’s degree programs is the flexibility. Many students pursuing an online master’s degree have families and/or a full-time job, and therefore can benefit from flexible programs which allow them to learn at their own pace.

Online Degree Programs are Convenient


Complete the day’s required lesson at any time and from anywhere — does it get any better?! For many, the convenience of pursuing an online degree far outweighs any challenges. Online master’s degree programs often allow the student to sign into “class” at any time, from the comfort of his or her own home (or even an exotic beach somewhere), and to complete coursework at the student’s own pace.

Easier Admission Process


Because colleges and universities which offer online master’s degree programs are not limited by the number of seats in a classroom, they are usually able to admit more students. This is a great opportunity for students who desire to attend a competitive institution, but who might not be admitted into the on-campus degree program for various reasons. Other institutions are set up so that prospective students need only satisfy basic requirements before being admitted.

Tons of Diversity


Because online master’s degree programs are available to anyone with internet access, classes often fill up with students from all types of backgrounds: full-time parents, grandparents, veterans, active-duty soldiers, professionals, etc. Sometimes, there are even students from different countries who register. For online students who make an effort to get to know their online classmates, the group members’ various experiences can be extremely interesting and beneficial.

Online Learning is New


Though there will likely be a learning curve as one adjusts to completing lessons and homework online, the virtual format also tends to energize students who are new to it. This new energy can be a major benefit when it comes to keeping up the momentum and motivation necessary for obtaining a fast online master’s degree.

Documented Notes


While most students pursuing an online master’s degree still find themselves taking notes during their classes, a huge benefit to a virtual platform is the digitalization of all documents. Sometimes, even entire lectures are available as a transcript.

Multi-Media Learning


The traditional college course — complete with full auditorium and a lecturing professor — is still the most popular mode of learning in higher education, despite the fact it really only caters to one type of learner. Online degree programs, however, are often more appropriate for those students who aren’t aural/auditory learners. Visual/spatial learners will find that they greatly benefit from online master’s degree programs which use video, animation, virtual classrooms, web cams, etc. as teaching and learning tools.

Online Degree Programs Generally Cost Less


In almost all cases, pursuing a master’s degree online is less expensive than pursuing a master’s degree on a traditional college campus. Even if the price per unit is higher online than it is on campus, obtaining a degree online means no housing costs, no commuting costs, no childcare costs (if applicable), and sometimes, less expensive digital textbooks. Even with the costs of a computer and internet, an online master’s degree is often much more budget-friendly than the alternative.

Working From Home Saves Thousands of Dollars Per Year


A recent study found that people who work from home have the potential to save thousands of dollars each year. This phenomenon certainly applies to students pursuing a master’s degree online, too. By working and/or studying from home, students save on gasoline required to commute to a campus, facility fees typical of most brick-and-mortar campuses, and even the splurge coffees and muffins grabbed between classes. Those muffins add up!

There’s No Classroom


For many, not having to sit through an hours-long lecture in a crowded lecture hall is a major benefit of pursuing an online master’s degree. Instead of zoning out, trying to distinguish yourself from the crowd, or just trying to find comfortable sitting and writing positions in those seats, online students can work through lessons at their own convenience, alone, and in a favorite comfortable spot.

Online Degrees Can be Completed Quickly


Since online master’s degree programs can be completed at a student’s own pace, they’re often completed at a faster rate than a traditional on-campus degree. In fact, many institutions offer an accelerated program for those ambitious students who want to complete their degree as quickly as possible. Of course, these accelerated programs aren’t for everyone, and are best for those who are extremely well organized and self-motivated.

An Online Degree Looks Exactly the Same as a Traditional Degree on a Resume


Legitimate and respected institutions offering online master’s degree programs graduate their online students with the same transcripts and diplomas as they do their “traditional” students. This means that graduates of online master’s degree programs can walk into any job interview, and be sure that their resume reflects their educational accomplishments accurately, regardless of their potential employer’s personal opinions regarding online education.

Many Ivy-League Universities Offer Online Degree Programs


Some of the most respected universities in the world — including University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, and Yale, to name but a few — offer online master’s degree programs. Despite what some may believe, online master’s degree programs can be extremely high quality, as the above mentioned programs prove.

Leads to a Higher Salary


According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, those with a master’s degree earn an average of $403,000 more over the course of a lifetime than do those who hold only a bachelor’s degree. In almost every industry those with graduate degrees are paid more than those with undergraduate degrees, making the expectation of a higher salary a major benefit to earning a fast online master’s degree.

More School Options


This is a huge benefit for students who are pursuing an online master’s degree whilst living in a rural area or even a foreign country. Those who limit themselves to brick-and-mortar college campuses are often limited to whichever school(s) are nearest, unless they are willing to move. Thanks to an ever-increasing number of online master’s degree programs, a student living anywhere can obtain a degree from any participating college or university.

The Cons

More Personal Responsibility is Required


For some, this may be a pro, but either way, pursuing an online master’s degree requires more personal responsibility than the traditional college experience. Each student is responsible for creating and sticking to his or her own schedule. This means remembering to log in to each class, following along with the course material, accessing any necessary supplements, and completing and turning in all graded work. While such freedom may seem, well, freeing for some, for others it can be quite overwhelming.

Higher Dropout Rates


According to recent research, online degree programs experience a higher dropout rate than do traditional on-campus degree programs. There seem to be a number of reasons for this. Many students are surprised by how rigorous online programs are, while others find that they don’t have the self-discipline and motivation to keep up with their studies.

Not Every Degree is Well-Suited for Online Learning


A college or university may offer a certain online master’s degree, but that does not necessarily mean that particular degree program is well suited for online learning. There are just some subjects that do not lend themselves well to an online environment. Before committing to an online degree program, ask yourself if your chosen subject requires a lot of hands-on work. These types of degree programs (for example, physical therapy or chemistry) often do not translate to virtual learning and can be even more challenging than in a more traditional setting.

Just As Many Scam Programs as Legitimate Programs


Unfortunately, these days there seem to be as many illegitimate online master’s degree programs available as legitimate online master’s degree programs. As online learning has become more popular, more and more companies are offering online degrees with the hope of enticing prospective students who didn’t take the time to research. To ensure you’re enrolling in a legitimate, beneficial online master’s degree program, read up on various online degree programs on fastonlinemasters.com. Then take the time to verify the institution’s accreditation. If the school is not accredited, or if you are given options such as to pay more for a better degree title on your final certificate, it is likely worth the effort to find a different online master’s program.

Fewer Institutions From Which to Choose


Because not every academic subject is available as an online master’s degree, it can be more difficult to find the right online institution for you. If, for example, you’re hoping to study sculpture online, you’re likely going to have far more of a challenge finding a suitable, accredited online master’s degree program than someone wishing to pursue education, or even sculpture at a traditional college campus.

Classes Fill Up Quickly


Online classes may have more spaces available than a traditional classroom has seats, but thanks to an easier admission process and the inherent flexibility of online degree programs, these spaces fill up quickly. It’s important that online students remain on top of their required courses, and register for classes as early as possible.

Less Structure and Discipline


As humans, we tend to thrive on structure, discipline, and routine. Having a place to be and a time to be there helps us to remain focused, motivated, and productive. Online master’s degree programs, however, are flexible — a huge benefit for those who are already extremely motivated, but a potential con for those who need structure.

Technology Issues


Technology has moved the world forward in wonderful ways, but as we all know, it also has a tendency to experience glitches and other bugs whenever we need it most. Online master’s degree programs tend to be flexible, with classes available to students 24/7, but experiencing technical difficulties still presents major challenges.

There’s a Learning Curve


Most people who choose to pursue an online master’s degree are new to virtual education. Therefore, it’s important for prospective online students to understand there will likely be a learning curve. Signing into classes and working through a lesson is different than sitting and listening to a lecture, while completing homework digitally sometimes requires more steps than writing something on a piece of paper.

Less Personal Interaction


Students who are extroverts, or those who need personal interaction with their teachers and classmates to learn, often find online learning to be difficult. Some students find they don’t feel as accountable because they don’t have a teacher standing in front of them, while still others feel lonely. Successful students will keep in contact with their classmates and instructors via e-mail or chat feature so that they continue to remember they’re not pursuing their degree alone.

No Instant Access to Questions and Answers


Of course, the flip side to the above pro is the con of not having immediate access to questions and answers. In a classroom setting, getting a question answered is as simple as raising your hand and stating your query. But when participating in an online master’s degree program, getting a question answered often involves emailing the instructor or searching through supplementary material on your own.

Fewer Networking Opportunities


In some fields, the networking opportunities acquired throughout college are just as valuable as the actually knowledge gained. This advantage, however, is practically nonexistent in most online degree programs, as classmates are often located on the other side of the country, or even the world.

Difficult to Transfer Credits


In some (though fortunately, not all) cases, it can be difficult to transfer credits from one institution to an online degree program. For those who are finishing a degree at the same place they started, this is not likely to cause a problem. However, for those who are pursuing their degree again after a break of a few years, or for those who are considering a new program part way through, it is imperative to research which institutions will allow the transfer of credits.

Lack of Understanding About What an Online Program Is


As with all new things, there is still a sort of stigma when it comes to learning online. A large population tends to believe that online degree programs are less rigorous and make cheating easier and that they attract lazier and/or more difficult students. Another common assumption is that online graduates have to go to great lengths to convince their employer they hold a legitimate degree. Of course, none of these things are true at all, though that doesn’t stop some of the stigma. In truth, accredited online degree programs are as legitimate as traditional degree programs, modern technology has made cheating practically impossible, and most online students are incredibly motivated and self-disciplined in order to keep up with the challenging programs.

No On-Site Facilities


Brick-and-mortar campuses offer students the benefit of on-site facilities such as tutors, computer labs, libraries, and advisors. Students thinking about pursuing a fast online master’s degree should take into consideration the fact that these things are unavailable to most online students. Advisors must be reached via phone, chat, or email; tutors need to be found privately; and if a trip to the library becomes necessary, students are limited to their local branch.