If you want to advance past a certain point in your field, you probably need a master’s degree. But who has the time and money to drop everything and head back to the classroom every day for a couple of years?

You shouldn’t have to weigh the opportunity cost of leaving the workforce for two years against the opportunity cost of not getting a master’s degree at all. There’s a better way.

An online master’s degree program can help you balance the demands of advanced graduate study with those of working full-time in your field and raising a family. But they’re not for everyone.

You should be disciplined and intrinsically motivated in order to succeed in an online master’s program. But you’ll also need to be committed to advancing your career and growing your professional network. Here’s who should enroll in an online master’s program.

You’re a Busy, Working Adult

Online master’s programs are tailor-made to suit the needs of busy, working adults. Most programs consist of asynchronous online classes, so you don’t have to worry about logging in at the same time as everyone else every day. You can watch lectures, read course materials, and participate in discussion boards as your schedule allows.

If that means studying late at night, early in the morning, during your commute, or while you’re feeding the baby, you can do whatever works for you. Online master’s programs offer students optimum flexibility to squeeze coursework in around the edges of a packed schedule.

You Want to Take Your Career to the Next Level

You probably want a master’s degree in order to advance in your career. You’ll earn more money with a master’s degree, and in many fields, you need one in order to advance beyond a certain level — or even to enter the field at all. If you’re stalled out in your career and want to advance further, or if you want to transition into a different role within the field, a master’s degree can open doors.

You’re Self-Disciplined and Self-Motivated

If there’s one quality you’re going to need to succeed in an online master’s program, it’s self-discipline. You’ll also need to motivate yourself to a much greater extent than you would in a traditional program, because you’re not even going to have the structure of showing up to class in person every day to keep you engaged. 

You’ll need the discipline to establish good study habits, set a routine that can help you find the time to conquer coursework even during hectic times and final exams, and complete your work in a timely manner.

You’ll also need to stay motivated when times are tough, and without the peer pressure that comes from in-person class meetings, you’ll need to find that motivation within yourself — in your reasons for wanting to pursue advanced graduate study at all.

You Have a Support Network

You’ll need the support of your family and your employer in order to succeed in an online master’s degree program. At a bare minimum, you’ll need to get your family to agree not to bother you when you’re trying to study. Realistically, you’ll probably need to ask your spouse to take on more housework or parenting duties in order to make it possible for you to focus on your schoolwork.

If you’re a single parent, you might need to lean on family members, friends, or even older children to pitch in with housework, preparing an occasional meal, or helping with homework and child care while you study. Leaning on your support network can help you get through the difficult work of earning a master’s degree.

You Want to Change Careers

Maybe you’re not looking to advance in your career, but want a whole different one instead. Going back to grad school can be a way to earn the credential you need for a new career.

It’s true that you do need a bachelor’s degree in a related field for some master’s programs, but that’s not always the case. Many programs accept candidates from a wide range of backgrounds, and you can complete prerequisite courses to fill in your knowledge gaps.

Are you thinking about going back to school? An online master’s program could be for you — especially if you’re not afraid to work hard for what you want. 

Guest writers and carefully selected for Career Enlightenment. Thanks for reading!

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