Are certain fields more suited to online graduate degrees?

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Updated: February 13, 2024, Reading time: 7 minutes

grad schools online degrees

With the explosion of online learning in the 21st century has also come the question of whether online education is as effective as traditional face-to-face learning. Studies have come down on both sides of the issue.

According to one article, there are many negative effects of online education including a lack of accreditation and quality, little to no face-to-face interaction, more work, and the requirement of self-discipline and self-direction.

However, on the other side of the question, the many benefits of online education have also been outlined. The ability to attend a college from a distance allows students to live at home, stay in their workplace while still advancing their careers, and work at their own pace.

There is no question that online education often saves students money and time in the long run and includes some of the very best professors.

The COVID-19 Bad Rap for Online Education

covid 19 pandemic and online education

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused some understandable recoiling from online education. Frustrated parents are picking up the slack as students fail to have the same positive experiences that they had been having in person. However, distinguishing between college or higher education and K-12 education will clear up many of these negative feelings.

The obvious struggles of online education during the COVID-19 pandemic are limited mainly to the vast majority of children and young adults who had never taken an online class before 2020. For adults in college settings, online education has been growing and expanding for 20 years, and 25% of college students were already enrolled in online classes before the pandemic.

A temporary shift to online education for college students did not have the same effect on these self-motivated adults as it has had on children.

Well-established online programs and professors who teach online have been ironing out the kinks of online education for decades. For these experienced individuals, however much their personal lives have been affected by the pandemic, the reeling academic shift from in-person to online passed them by like a blip on the radar.

Not for Everyone or Everything

The remaining 75% of college students who opted for in-person education have mostly been learning well, according to data. However, the unexpected change in educational style has also left them frustrated and in some instances depressed.

Although online learning has distinct advantages, one of the necessary factors for studying online is self-discipline and motivation which isn’t always a student’s strong point.

Thankfully many colleges and universities have been able to develop safe methods to reopen their classrooms giving more and more undergraduate and graduate students the classroom experience that they were expecting in order to succeed. A growing number of students are also finding that online education suits them well.

According to an article by Scott Barsotti from Carnegie Mellon University, higher education was over-ready for a change even before the effects of COVID-19. According to the article, more students are able to engage in an online format. It says that “students who are shy about participating in class may be less shy in a video call or chat setting, for example.”

The article also points out that “students can watch and re-watch on-demand with synchronous discussion and problem-solving sessions that maximize interaction and dialogue by bringing the whole class together online at one time.” The conclusion is that the pandemic has likely permanently and positively shifted higher education to more online interaction.

Students at the graduate level are more likely to succeed in online education because they have already learned many of the skills necessary in order to do so. Time management and organization as well as completing assignments regularly have been part of their lives throughout the four years of being an undergraduate.

Valuable lessons learned during their undergraduate years have enhanced their abilities and made them more committed to successful outcomes.

The nature of graduate school also lends itself well to online study. Often geared more toward research and specialization, students at the graduate level explore the knowledge they have learned in greater detail and at a higher level which doesn’t always require in-person instruction.

This brings us to the question at issue which is: can all fields of study, especially in graduate school, withstand the current shift to online learning? Are there certain fields of graduate study that require in-person training in order to communicate the skills and knowledge necessary to earn a degree? The answer may not be a simple “yes” or “no.”


business mba

One of the most popular fields of study at the graduate level and outstripping all other fields by over 100,000 diplomas every year at the undergraduate level, business degrees are well suited to online education.

Because a Master’s in Business Administration prepares graduates for doing business in industries like healthcare, finance, and technology, students can complete coursework without hands-on, in-person training.

Graduate business degrees have boomed over the last decade because of the great job outlook and higher-than-average expected income. As a result, graduate degrees in business have expanded into almost every imaginable specialization. Most of these specializations are available online and even elite schools like Harvard have recently expanded their business schools to an online learning platform.



Online graduate degrees in education are also highly conducive to online learning. Those earning an online graduate degree in education are often already working in their field and find it convenient to attend graduate school online.

A master’s in education is also highly manageable as research, writing papers, online discussion, and pedagogical projects can all be accomplished very easily from a distance.

Fully online master’s degrees in education with concentrations such as Curriculum and Instruction, Education Policy, or Global Studies are all available online or in person. Because some schools find it helpful for students to spend time with each other and with their professors as part of the learning process, summer sessions or other in-person meetings may be demanded as part of a hybrid format.

Health Professions

health professions

Graduate degrees in health professions are also quite popular as online degrees. Although it may seem like a degree in health professions would need to be completed in person, there are actually quite a few options for those who prefer an online setting.

Healthcare graduate degrees such as Health Science and Health Education can be completed 100% online. These and related healthcare graduate degrees are mainly oriented around research, textbooks, and projects that can be completed from a distance.

Surprisingly, even a healthcare degree such as Clinical Laboratory Science can be completed 100% online since the study is oriented around the science of laboratories rather than hands-on laboratory experience.

As could be expected, not all graduate degrees in health care can be completed entirely online. Aspiring occupational therapists, nurse practitioners, or athletic trainers along with other students of some health professions will need to make at least a few visits to campus.

With the necessity of laboratory courses and hands-on training in skills such as fabrication and impressions, some healthcare graduate degrees require a certain amount of in-person training. However, many schools now offer hybrid programs in these disciplines.

Earning a Doctorate Online

On the doctoral level, earning an online degree just 10 years ago was rare. An online doctorate used to be valued on an entirely different scale than a “real” doctorate. But with schools such as Johns Hopkins, Baylor, and even Liberty University offering online doctorates at the same standard as their in-person doctorates, it is the name of the school rather than the format of delivery that now makes all the difference.

Doctorates in Education, Developmental Psychology, Nursing Practice, History, Public Administration, Communication, and many, many others are offered in an online format. The doctoral level of education is the highest level of education available and therefore is quite demanding in its rigor. Students in online doctoral programs may be expected to travel to campus on occasion even in a fully online program.

Although many doctorates are offered in an online format, most are still offered in person, and many online doctorates are hybrid and require students to come to campus a scheduled amount of times.

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