Best Master’s Degrees?

What Matters Most to Online Students

What The ‘Experts’ Say

While reviewing articles on best master’s degrees, I found the Forbes’ article about Best and Worst Master’s Degrees for Jobs (2016). Especially interesting are the degrees that made the “Best” list.  According to the article, the Forbes’ ranking considered pay growth through mid-career, job satisfaction, stress, meaning derived from the work, and the projected employment growth of jobs associates with each degree. The number one best master’s degree for jobs is Biostatistics.

How common is the Master’s in Biostatistics?

Per the National Center for Education Statistics, there were only 646 master’s degrees reported in Biostatistics in 2015. For comparison sake, there were 108,493 MBAs reported the same year.

Columbia University, University of Michigan, Boston University, and Harvard University were the top producers of these degrees. Each of these universities granted more than thirty degrees that year. There were 56 total universities that reported awarding master’s degrees in Biostatistics. Most awarded a very small number of degrees (11.5 degrees per university, on average).

Is It Right For You?

What exactly is Biostatistics? The mid-career salary of $108,000 sounds impressive! So, I went to Columbia University’s website to learn about their Master of Biostatistics program. This program graduated the most Biostatistics master’s degree students in 2015 (fifty master’s degrees awarded).

Here’s what I learned:

  • Columbia’s website indicates that typical applicants are people with science backgrounds and/or experience in health, medicine, or science-related fields. This is important to consider, because you may have some prerequisite courses to take before you can enroll.
  • The Master of Science in Biostatistics at Columbia has five tracks (degrees) to choose from. These are: Accelerated Predoctoral Training Track, Clinical Research Methods, Patient Oriented Research, Pharmaceutical Statistics, Statistical Genetics, and Theory and Methods. You can also get a Master of Public Health in Biostatistics. I could not find the courses for these programs listed on the website, so it’s hard to know the difference between them.
  • The program website recommends that you start the application process one year in advance to allow sufficient time to compile materials and references. You must submit 3 letters of recommendation, GRE test scores, a current resume, and a 500-word personal statement.  These must be submitted by December 1st to be considered for the program that starts in the Fall of 2017. There isn’t a minimum GRE score requirement. But the ‘average scores’ of admitted students in last year’s program are provided for reference.
  • The MS in Biostatistics at Columbia costs $1,624 per credit hour (36 total credits), which is a total tuition of $58,464.

So, to recap, if I go with the ‘best’ master’s degree for jobs (according to Forbes), I’ll likely need to:

  1. take a few prerequisite courses
  2. jump over several key application hurdles (standardized testing is among the competitive entry requirements)
  3. pay upwards of $60,000

This program may be too difficult to enter and is pricey. So just to be sure I apply to the right programs for me, I better look at other programs too.

Finding one program’s details = one hour of your precious time

It took me about an hour to gather the information on the program at Columbia University from the website. Now, how long would it take to gather information for the remaining 50+ programs that offer this degree? And, importantly, which of these programs is online for working students who need to keep working to pay bills?

A quick google search indicates online master’s in Biostatistics programs at University of Florida (new in the Fall 2017) and Texas A&M University College Station.  A quick review of the available online program details in the Online Degree Database indicates that there are at least seven online Master of Public Health degrees with concentrations in Biostatistics. These are Johns Hopkins University, Loma Linda University, University of Memphis, University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of North Texas Health Science Center, Texas A&M University, and University of Southern California.

Gathering all of the details for these programs takes a full work-day’s effort…

There is a better way

Lists of best and worst master’s degrees from notable organizations (like Forbes) are helpful if you’re a prospective student.  But these lists are based on only a few considerations and data points.  It takes a lot of effort and careful thought to pick the right field for master’s study. Forbes only considers a handful of programs in their limited analysis. See my earlier blog posts for more ideas and a richer discussion on how to approach finding the right field of study for you.

Once you’ve decided on the best field of study, the Online Degree Database has all the information you need to create your short list of potential programs. Search for the degree types that are most relevant to you and download your Free Report.

Use our interactive tool to select program characteristics such as total tuition, delivery modality (100% online or low residency), admissions requirements, location, and more. Then download your free report which gives you the university name, degree name, and links to the program’s website so you can continue your search on the programs that fit your criteria.

Using the Online Degree Database is the smart way to go when shopping for the right online master’s degree.  It’s like using Carfax before buying your used car, or joining Angie’s List to find a reputable contractor for major home improvements!

Check out our Free Reports today!


How to Research Online Master’s Degrees

Online Degree Characteristic

If you are thinking about getting an online master’s degree, here are some things to keep in mind as you begin your research for the right program.

Looking for the right degree program is very important because this is the first step toward building your new career, advancing in your current career, or fulfilling your life goal of completing a graduate degree.

By seeking an online graduate degree, you are expanding your choice for the right program to all available online programs in the U.S.

  • This gives you greater control over what you pay, what you learn, and your overall student experience and outcomes
  • If overall cost, quality of the program, and no set class meeting times are important to you, don’t confine yourself to picking a program from only among universities close to where you live

There are thousands of online graduate programs in the market today. The higher education industry is a multi-billion-dollar business that has flooded the market with advertising messages for online master’s degree programs.

  • Carefully sorting through all of this information as you shop could take weeks or even months of your time

The Gallup-Purdue Index survey of students tells us that only half of college graduates strongly agree that their university education was worth the cost.  The survey also found only a loose correlation between universities’ U.S. News & World Report rankings and perceptions among their recent graduates that their education was worth the cost.  As a prospective student, you should expect more from your education.  It is one of the single biggest investments in your future that you will ever make.

Finding the right program for you will take significant effort, and you want to be sure you get it right.  Students pay anywhere from $7,000 to $145,000 for a master’s degree, depending on the type of degree and the institution they choose.  Taking a few minutes now to think through what’s most important to you about a degree program is well worth the time!

The Online Degree Database is the only complete and independent source of online degree information available in the market today.  We gather the details of all the most popular master’s degree programs in the United States so you can search by the exact criteria that’s right for you.  You can select online graduate degree programs by degree type (MBA, MHA, MSW, MSN, etc.), total tuition, Professional Accreditation, location, and much more.

Let the Online Degree Database help you start your online master’s degree program shopping today!

Assessing Reputation of Online Master’s Degrees

Business Degree Assessments

How Reputation Impacts Student Program Selection

Research with online students indicates that the reputation of a university is important to them when they are looking at possible online master’s degree programs.  But just how important is it and what does it actually mean from a student’s point of view?

Perceived reputation is second in importance only to tuition and fees.

In 2013, research with online students[1] indicated that overall reputation of the university was the most important factor to them when selecting an online program. By 2015, however, the importance of reputation slipped to the number two spot, just below tuition and fees.

Gathering objective information about tuition is relatively easy; however, assessing the reputation of a university or online master’s degree program is not.

So in a follow-up question, when online students were asked “What factors are important to you in deciding if a university has a good reputation (choose up to three)”, their top three responses were:

  1. Accreditation
  2. Recognized in my field as a high quality institution
  3. Recommendations of friends, colleagues, and relatives

So aside from passing the accreditation hurdle, the next most important reputation factors are based on academic reputation and word-of-mouth recommendations. Surprisingly, the U.S. News & World Report rankings were the fifth most important factor in evaluating reputation for online students. Only 20% of respondents said they used these rankings in their decision-making process.

What, more specifically, is reputation and how can you objectively measure it when you are trying to find the best online master’s degree program?

Here’s how defines reputation: “the estimation in which a person or thing is held, especially by the community or the public generally”.  Reputation is a fuzzy and difficult thing to quantify by its very definition. But if it is an important factor to consider when selecting an online master’s degree program, how can you gather objective information about it?

I’ve adapted some ideas from an article that was written to help employees manage their personal reputation.  These align well with the characteristics of an online master’s degree program that has earned both the academic reputation and word-of-mouth recommendations that prospective students seek.

Ten Questions to Identify a Highly Reputable Master’s Degree Program

  1. Do they do what they say they’ll do? Every time, every person, every request?
  2. Do they go out of their way to help YOU reach your goals? Do they have a mindset that they exist to help their students?
  3. Do they try to make you look good? Do they acknowledge your accomplishments and work to help you be successful?
  4. Do they go a step beyond what’s expected? Did they say they’d follow up with you in 24 hours, but then got back to you in 12?
  5. Do they ‘look the part’? What formal awards and recognition have they earned? What is their academic reputation?
  6. Do they walk the walk? If they talk the talk, do they also walk the walk? Is the culture across the university, and within the program, focused on meeting student’s needs?
  7. Are they consistent? Do they show the same great qualities to everyone they talk to?
  8. Do they act with integrity? Would they buy the ‘product’ they are selling you?
  9. Are they engaged in their community? Do they get to know you?  Are they always available?
  10. Are they likable? Are they proud of their program? Do they like each other, within the program and across the university, and appear to enjoy their work?

Keep these questions in mind as you talk with program directors and others about their online master’s degree programs. Programs that embrace and live these behaviors deserve recommendations from their peers, students, and the community.

You deserve an excellent education from a university and degree program that exhibits most, if not all, of these behaviors toward students.  With all of the online master’s degrees available in the market today, you don’t have to settle for less.

[1] Clinefelter,
D. L., & Aslanian, C. B. (2015). Online college students 2015:
Comprehensive data on demands and preferences. Louisville, KY: The Learning House, Inc.