Online graduate programs offer a more flexible and, sometimes, more affordable path to a graduate degree than traditional, in-person programs. You can earn either a Master’s or a PhD from fully online schools or accredited programs offered by some of the most well-known and prestigious colleges in the US or universities in Canada. Online graduate programs are also a viable alternative if you’re a non-traditional student and haven’t been in school for a long time. The range of fields and subjects is extensive; you can get a graduate degree in anything from computer science and security studies to social work and city planning. This article will list a few of the best online graduate programs in the US and Canada, whether online graduate programs are worth it, and what you need to get in. 

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Online Graduate Programs in the US – Master's Degree Online Graduate Programs in the US – PhD Online Graduate Programs in Canada – Master’s Pros and Cons of Online Graduate Programs How to Get into Online Graduate Programs FAQs

Online Graduate Programs in the US – Master's Degree

Arts & Humanities

1. MFA in Creative Writing – Drexel University

Degree Requirement: Bachelor’s 

Tuition: $691/credit

Length: 1 year

The MFA in Creative Writing from Drexel University is one of hundreds of fully online programs offered by the school located in Philadelphia. One of the biggest advantages of taking the MFA online is the savings; tuition for the online program is 50% less than in-person classes. But even with that savings you can still apply for financial aid either from the school or from federal loans. The program is split in between four terms and lasts for only one year. You have to submit various application documents including a personal statement, a portfolio and a graduate school resume, but you don’t need GRE scores or any other standardized test scores.

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2. Master of Arts in Criminal Justice – John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Degree Required: Bachelor’s  

Tuition: $5,545/semester (in-state); $855/credit (out-of-state)

Length: 2 years (full-time)

The City University of New York John Jay College of Criminal Justice ranks high on best graduate schools for the social sciences and is also considered one of the country’s leading authorities on criminology. The MA in Criminal Justice is one the college’s five online graduate programs, although you can also take all five programs in-person. Because it is a highly regarded school, the college is not among the easiest programs to get into. It requires a minimum 3.0 GPA, completion of a few prerequisite courses, and a research proposal. You also have to submit two letters of recommendation, but even if you don’t have a minimum GPA, the school will help you find ways for how to get into graduate school with a low GPA.

3. Master of Liberal Arts – University of Chicago

Degree Required: Bachelor’s  

Tuition: $36,450 (full-time)

Length: 1 year (full-time)

The Master of Liberal Arts degree from the University of Chicago is aimed at professional-level students who probably have a graduate degree, but who want to expand on their knowledge base of subjects such as ethics, and leadership. This is one of many graduate programs that don’t require GRE scores nor does it accept them as optional, so if you haven’t taken the test or don’t want to, then this program is a viable option. The application process requires a lot of written material, more than metrics, although you do have to submit an unofficial transcript. Among the materials you have to submit are a graduate school resume or CV, a five-page writing sample, a research interest statement and two letters of recommendation.

4. Masters of Arts in Economics – University of Missouri-Columbia

Degree Required: Bachelor’s  

Tuition: $15,000 (full-time)

Length: 2 years (full-time)

This fully accredited program offers you a master’s degree in Economics in only two years, and delivered fully online. There are no in-person requirements, and you can apply, enroll and take classes without ever having to go on campus. Your residency status does not affect your tuition, as all online students pay the same amount. The online program is also less than the in-person tuition for the same degree, as you won’t have to spend on added costs such as housing, transportation, and other living expenses. The application requirements are also different. You need to know how to study for the GRE, as all in-person applicants must have a minimum GRE score of 146 for Verbal Reasoning and 155 for the Qualitative Reasoning GRE section, but if you apply online, you do not have to take or submit GRE scores.

5. Master of Liberal Arts in History – Harvard University

Degree Required: Bachelor’s  

Tuition: $32,200–$38,640 (depending on # of credits)

Length: 2 years (full-time)

A master’s degree from Harvard University is one the main draws of taking this online graduate program that can be completed from anywhere, although one course must be done in-person at Harvard. This program comes with a lot of customization options. You can choose to take as many or as few credits per semester, and choose from a thesis or non-thesis track, if you’re not sure how to write a master’s thesis proposal. The length of the program also depends on you. You have a maximum of five years to complete the degree requirements, but you can choose from any of Harvard’s three semester (fall, winter, summer) to take your classes, which can be a little as one or two classes per semester.

STEM Programs

1. MS in Chemical Engineering – Stanford University

Degree Required: Bachelor’s (preferably in a related field)

Tuition: $1456/credit

Length: 2 years

Stanford University offers hundreds of online options reflective of its numerous, in-person course offerings. You can find an online graduate program offered by each of the school’s seven different graduate schools ranging from the School of Sustainability and School of Engineering to the School of Humanities. The MS in Chemical Engineering is one of the STEM-related programs you can apply to, but there are graduate level programs for civil and environmental, or electrical engineering, as well. You have to submit a personal statement, a graduate school statement of purpose, three different grad school letters of recommendation and submit GRE scores to be considered.

2. Master of Engineering in Systems Engineering – Cornell University

Degree Required: Bachelor’s (preferably in a related field)

Tuition: $65,204/year

Length: 1 year (full-time); 2 years (part-time)

The Master in Systems Engineering is only one of the few online graduate programs Cornell University has created, although there are plans for many more. The tuition is the same as the in-person program, but so is the fact that you do not need to take the GRE or submit any GRE scores. You can choose your level of commitment for your program and choose to take it either full-time or part-time, the latter of which will take longer. However, this program is unique because it requires that you have professional-level experience (one year) to be eligible to apply. You must also have completed a set of prerequisites and have gotten a grade of B or higher to be eligible.

3. Master of Science in Civil Engineering – University of Colorado-Boulder

Degree Required: Bachelors in Engineering required

Tuition: $667/credit (in-state); $780/credit (out-of-state)

Length: 2 years (full-time)

The University of Colorado hosts two different online graduate programs for civil engineering, with the other program being for applicants new to field and without a bachelor’s degree in engineering. This program is aimed at those with an engineering degree and features two distinct specializations that can help guide you on how to transition from academia to industry. The specializations are in Construction Engineering or Geomatics, which are both in-demand fields and will ensure you have marketable skills when you graduate. The application process is also fully online. You should know how to write a CV for grad school, since you must submit one, along with your most recent GRE scores.

Medicine and Health

1. Master of Public Health in Population and Health Sciences

Degree Required: Bachelor’s  

Tuition: $1,037/credit (in-state); $1,144/credit (out-of-state)

Length: 2 years (full-time)

The Master of Public Health in Population and Health Sciences from the University of Michigan is fully online, but your classes will be delivered via the online learning platform, Coursera. Your degree will still be from the University of Michigan and your tuition will also be paid directly to the university. The degree is offered through the School of Public Health and combines the essential knowledge any public health researcher will need to develop such as learning about data analysis, statistics and population health. The degree is excellent preparation to enter medical school, or any healthcare profession that deals directly with public health, population health and healthcare policymaking.

Online Graduate Programs in the US – PhD

1. PhD Human and Environmental Sciences – University of Missouri-Columbia

Degree Required: Bachelor’s  

Tuition: $36,000

Length: 5 years (full-time)

One of only four doctorate-level programs offered fully online by the University of Missouri-Columbia, this degree is offered within the field of Architectural Studies, and has only one in-person component (a summer workshop), which is optional. You must complete a dissertation for this program, as it is not a PhD without dissertation program. You do not have to submit any GRE scores nor will they be accepted, have to complete a series of

Online Graduate Programs in Canada – Master’s

1. Masters of Education – University of Ottawa

Degree Required: Bachelor’s  

Tuition: $2,554/semester (in-province); $2,816/semester (out-of-province); $11,101/semester (international)

Length: 1 year (full-time); 2-4 years (part-time)

This fully online graduate program at the University of Ottawa is one of several combinations that you can choose from, including two in-person master of education degrees, along with a hybrid of online and in-person instruction. You can take instruction in either English or French. You can choose to take the program in either synchronous or asynchronous formats, the latter meaning you don’t have to “attend” any online lectures or seminars in real-time, but rather study at your own pace and review the necessary materials when it's convenient for you. The synchronous pathway is the opposite, but you can finish your degree requirements faster this way, as it mimics the path of an in-person degree-seeker. You have to have completed a bachelor’s degree previously, and also have a minimum GPA of 3.0.

2. Master of Environment and Business – University of Waterloo

Degree Required: Bachelor’s  

Tuition: $3,272/per course

Length: 1 year (full-time); 2-4 years (part-time)

This program has several customization options and learning formats, but it will take only one year to complete the degree requirements, if you choose to attend full-time. The fact that you can save anywhere between $11,400-$22,800 is also an important consideration, as that is the range you can expect to pay to live in housing alone, if you choose to complete your degree in person. The University of Waterloo is increasing its online graduate program offerings, but, currently, it only offers nine master-level programs online, which range in fields from Social Work and Education to Public Health and Sustainability. This program is best-suited for working professionals who want to upgrade their current degree or want to expand further into the emerging field of sustainability advisors and consultants.

3. Master of Counselling – Athabasca University

Degree Required: Bachelor’s or completion of prerequisites w/work experience

Tuition: $3,272/per course

Length: 3-3.5 years (full-time); 3-7 years (part-time)

This is only one online graduate program available from Athabasca University, which is a fully online school and also offers undergraduate and doctorate-level programs. Athabasca University and all of its course offerings are fully-accredited in both Canada and the US, so your degree will be recognized as it would from any of the other Canadian universities. You do not even require a full bachelor’s degree to apply, although it is recommended. If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, you can still apply if you have completed the academic prerequisites with a grade of B or higher, and have a combined three years of professional experience in counselling or a similar field.

4. International Masters for Health Leadership – McGill University

Degree Required: Bachelor’s

Tuition: $55,000 - $58,000

Length: 15 months

This online graduate program is currently McGill University’s only fully online degree program, as it only offers graduate certificate programs, and a few undergraduate degrees in fully online formats. Although much of your 15-month program will be delivered online, you are required to reside in Montreal for up to two weeks, at the end, to present your capstone project, help assess projects from other students, and receive instruction from faculty. There are few admissions requirements other than having to submit an unofficial transcript and having at least a bachelor’s degree.

5. Master of Science Health Informatics – University of Victoria

Degree Required: Bachelor’s

Tuition: $5,221 full-program (Canadian students); $5,964 full-program (international) 

Length: 2-5 years

This online graduate degree program is offered in two streams:

  • Online courses/w two in-person courses
  • Online courses/w 1-week in-person seminar

The fully online program requires you to spend at least a few weeks completing an in-person workshop, but afterward, the program reverts back to fully online. This program is aimed at working professionals, especially those working in healthcare in non-healthcare provider roles (technicians, public health analysts, hospital administrators, etc.) You can choose to learn at your own pace, but the program has a maximum five-year limit to complete the degree requirements. You must also complete a thesis or research project as part of the degree requirements, so it's important that you know how to prepare for a thesis defense, as it is mandatory to earn your degree.

Pros and Cons of Online Graduate Programs

Pros of Online Graduate Programs

1. More Flexibility

Even though many universities in the US and Canada offer flexible schedules for some of their graduate programs (full-time vs. part-time), a fully online graduate program offers even more flexibility. A fully online graduate program saves on time and money. It also gives you more peace-of-mind in deciding when and where to study. Depending on the program, you may be able to take classes asynchronously (meaning whenever you want, through recorded material or doing the readings for that week), although some of the programs listed above do have synchronous classes where you have to log-on and sit through a virtual lecture. Whatever the case, you have more freedom in an online graduate program to prioritize, especially if you work full-time or have a family.

2. Much More Affordable

One thing to remember about online graduate programs is that they often charge the same in tuition as in-person programs. But, of course, what makes them affordable is the savings you’ll incur by taking an online graduate program over an in-person program; savings like not having to pay for housing on-campus, meal plans, transportation costs, text books, and any of the other costs associated with taking in-person classes. At some universities, you will also be eligible for any financial aid or other types of assistance, regardless of whether you are taking in-person or online courses.

3. International and Mature Student-Friendly

Online graduate programs are also more attractive to students who have not been in school for a while as well as international students. If you’re an international student, you can access the same high-quality education from highly-ranked, accredited schools and universities, without having to go through the hassle of figuring out how to pay for grad school, applying for visas, and paying all the costs related to traveling to another country to study. If you’re a mature student, you may be able to use your relevant work experience as proof of your fitness for the program, if you have not been enrolled in formal education for some time. In fact, some online graduate programs either require or prefer you have professional work experience, if you are not a traditional undergraduate.

Cons of Online Graduate Programs

1. Limited Availability

While many graduate schools have started to offer online graduate programs, there are many that still do not. To be sure, many graduate schools in the US and Canada accelerated the process of offering online graduate programs ever since the pandemic, but graduate degrees in traditional programs, such as the natural sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities, are still done largely in-person, even though there are many more online law schools now than previous. If you want to advance to the PhD-level, then you might be better off taking your master degree in-person, especially if you want to continue at the same school. But if you want to earn a degree in a specific field or specialty related to your career (social work, sustainability, informatics, etc.) and want to gain a competitive edge in the labor market a one-year master degree taken online might be better.

2. No Structure to Guide You 

You have much more freedom and autonomy with online graduate programs, but that also means you have to be more disciplined and focused than you would be if you were on-campus. One positive to taking classes in-person is that you are forced to attend a class or lecture, which gives you structure. But if you are taking an online graduate program, you may find yourself procrastinating more and not keeping on top of a schedule, as you feel you have more time to do what you want. If you decide to take an online graduate program, make a schedule and treat it as if you would an in-person class so you don’t fall behind.

3. No Feedback or Personal Interactions

Many students often cite their professors, teaching assistants, and fellow classmates as among the most enjoyable parts of an in-person class, and those are the things you’ll miss, probably, if you take an online graduate program. Of course, you won’t be in total isolation, as you will still be able to communicate with professors and faculty and consult with other students, but doing so virtually is much different than doing so in real-life. If you’re the kind of student that thrives and flourishes on the in-person experience of higher education, then an online graduate program may not be best for your learning style.

How to Get into Online Graduate Programs

Have a Higher-than-Average GPA

Graduate school GPA requirements are nothing new, and they also apply to some online graduate programs, although not all. One of the motivations behind offering graduate programs online is to increase access to graduate-level education, which means schools usually drop or relax standard admissions requirements such as having a minimum GPA or having a minimum GRE score, or a GRE score, at all, for you to apply. However, many of the programs listed here do have minimum GPA requirements, and although you can still apply with a low GPA, especially if you are coming from industry and not academia, having a higher-than-average GPA will make your life easier during the admissions process.

Get Good Letters of Recommendation

Even though there are ways for how to get into graduate school without letters of recommendation, nearly all the programs listed here require at least two letters. The letter-writers can come from various fields and backgrounds, which is one difference between an in-person and online graduate programs. Depending on the program and the type of student you are (traditional, mature, or international), you may even be encouraged to get letters of recommendation from non-academic sources, such as working professionals, supervisors, or managers, as they will be valued more than letters from academic sources. Each program makes its own requirements, meaning they may make explicit reference to whom should write your letters, so be sure to familiarize yourself with them before you ask the wrong people.

Participate in Quality Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities can often be just as important for how to get into grad school than grades and reference letters. Some programs will even require you to have either work experience in a relevant field or service-oriented commitments in a related field, which will also demonstrate your passion and readiness for the program. As many of these programs can be competitive, having quality, long-term, non-academic work experience can also give you an edge when applying. But the extracurriculars do not always have to be related to your field. You can include hobbies or personal projects, sports, outdoor activities, any clubs, societies or leagues that you belong to - anything that defines who you are and what makes you different from everyone else.


1. Are online graduate programs worth it?

Online graduate programs are definitely worth it if you want a more convenient, and more affordable way to earn a graduate-level degree. If you’re taking a masters and interested in pursuing a doctorate, online graduate programs can help satisfy the degree requirement of many PhD programs. But you can also choose to stop with a master’s degree and start your career or looking for better positions armed with your new degree. 

2. What are online graduate programs?

An online graduate program is any degree-conferring program offered by an accredited university or graduate school delivered fully online. Some programs may have in-person requirements, but that depends on the program. Others have no in-person components and you can take the degree from anywhere in the world, as long as you have an internet connection. 

3. What do I need to get into online graduate programs?

The admissions requirements for online graduate programs are often the same for in-person applicants, with a few exceptions. For example, the MA in Economics from the University of Missouri requires in-person students have a minimum GRE score, but online students do not have that requirement. This is only one example, but in general, you still need to submit a personal statement, letter of interest or statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and official transcripts to get into an online graduate program. 

4. Are online graduate programs easier or harder than in-person programs?

Graduate schools that offer online graduate programs try to maintain continuity between their in-person and online programs, meaning the difficulty level and amount of work is usually the same, regardless of the delivery method. You may find online graduate programs harder, easier or the same, depending on your learning style and preferences. 

5. How much do online graduate programs cost?

Again, you might find that the differences between tuition for in-person and online graduate programs are negligible, as grad schools try to even the play field for all students. Where you will find differences is in the cost-of-attendance, which is what usually makes studying in-person so expensive. But, on average, the tuition for online graduate programs is usually the same as for their in-person equivalents only the cost-of-attendance is much lower. 

6. Should I take an online graduate program?

If you want to get a graduate degree, but are worried about the time commitment or the expense, an online graduate program might be the solution for you. It also depends on your goals. If you want to get a doctorate and go into academia as a professor or researcher getting a master’s in-person will be better for your career. But if you want a master’s degree to burnish your resume and make you a more attractive candidate in the job market, then an online graduate program gives you the ease and speed you need to reach your goals quicker. 

7. How long do online graduate programs last?

Depending on the program, your online graduate degree can be completed anywhere between 1-5 years. 

8. Which is the best online graduate program?

The best online graduate program is the one that fulfills your personal and career goals, and fits with the type of student you are (traditional, non-traditional, international). You should consider things such as cost, program length, quality of program, and recommendations from past graduates to make up your mind. 

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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