Once considered an afterthought –or even a place where shady outfits suckered students with shoddy programs -- online education has become an integral part of all levels of higher education.
Consider that Classesandcareers.com reports that 4.6 million students are taking at least one online class, while 96% of traditional universities now offer at least one class that’s only available online. And half of the 4,500 brick-and-mortar universities now offer online degree programs.
Or consider this list of the top 10 benefits of online education. Not only do online programs generally cost less, but they’re more convenient -- no more driving to campus and trying to find a parking spot – and they open you to a huge world of opportunities.
Live in Ohio, but that highly specialized program that interests you is only offered in Arizona? With online education, that may no longer be an issue.
[Read: Short List of 100k Jobs and Six-Figure Careers by Industry]
Online programs are especially popular for master’s degrees, where many students are already in the workforce and have to balance work-life obligations.
Here are five of the most popular online master’s degree programs.
• Nursing. A master’s in nursing can lead to a career as a nurse practitioner, a field which has an estimated employment growth of 94%, according to a study published by the American Public Health Association. The median salary for the position in 2012 was $96,460, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Saint Xavier University, Medical University of South Carolina and University of Massachusetts—Amherst are among the top online graduate nursing programs ranked by U.S. News and World Report.
• Systems analyst. Master’s programs abound for computer systems analysts, who are typically responsible for determining how a computer system serves a company’s needs and how those systems and procedures can be made more effective. The position earns a median salary $79,680, according to the BLS, with strong projected growth of 25% in the next decade.
University of Southern California, Sam Houston State University and Virginia Tech are some of U.S. News’ top-ranked programs.
• Marketing. There will always be room for more marketing professionals, who understand what makes consumers tick and how to sell them products and services. The BLS expects the number of market research analyst positions to grow 32% between 2012 and 2022 – more than three times the average growth rate for all jobs. The position paid a median salary of $60,300 in 2012.
Highly rated online graduate marketing programs can be found at Washington State University and Arizona State University, among other schools.
• Public administration. Obtaining a master’s in public administration (MPA) can lead to all sorts of careers in government, politics and political science, not to mention the executive offices in many organizations. Obviously, there are too many positions to single out one or two, but these kinds of jobs will always exist.
According to geteducated.com, some of the more affordable MPA programs include University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Fort Hays State University and the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
[Read: Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Learning]
• Speech pathology. Speech therapists work with people who have communication and swallowing disorders related to strokes, brain injury and hearing loss, among other causes. They earn a median salary of $69,870, and the BLS expects the number of positions to grow a strong 19% over the next decade.
Online master's degree in speech-language pathology are available at Idaho State University and the University of Northern Colorado, among others.