What master's degree should I get?

October 07, 2021 · 11 min read · By ASU Online
Learn how to choose the right master's degree for you and what makes ASU Online so popular for graduate students.

You already know you want to return to the world of higher education and earn a master’s degree. That’s a big step, one that can help you advance on your professional path and build valuable new knowledge and abilities. But which master’s degree should you get?

While that’s a question only you can answer, we’ll support you as you decide by sharing:

  • Guidance for selecting a university and grad program that is accredited, established, academically challenging and personally and professionally rewarding.
  • Information about popular degrees.
  • Tips that give you valuable context for making your choice.

First, let’s look at how to choose a degree that can support your professional goals, whether you want to stay on your current path or move into an entirely different field.


Why should you pursue a master’s degree?

To earn a master’s degree from an accredited institution, you must complete a challenging program led by experienced faculty. This achievement can help you stand out to potential employers by demonstrating your knowledge and abilities. It also may help you advance your career.

In terms of employment, the value of a master’s degree from Arizona State University is clear. For the 2019-20 graduating class, 87% of ASU graduate students who indicated they were looking for work were employed, started their own business or received at least one job offer within six months of graduation.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows your earning potential can rise with a master’s degree as well. Professionals with a bachelor’s degree had median weekly earnings of $1,305 in 2020, while the same figure for those holding master’s degrees was $1,545. More specific research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers highlighted two degree types, focusing on the substantial differences in earning potential between professionals with bachelor’s and master’s degrees related to them:

  • In the field of business administration, the average starting salary for an employee with a related bachelor’s degree is $57,133. The average beginning salary for a staff member with a Master of Business Administration is $84,580.
  • In occupations related to computer science, professionals with relevant bachelor’s degrees earn an average starting salary of $68,103. Meanwhile, workers with a related master’s degree have an average beginning salary of $82,275.

Career progression is another factor to keep in mind. An advanced education is often a requirement for higher-level roles in many industries. You might also need to develop work experience or specific professional competencies, but a master’s degree can make you a more attractive candidate for important roles in your field.


When should you get a master’s degree?

Some students begin earning their master’s degree as they complete their bachelor’s degree in accelerated or 4+1 programs, after having applied in the third year of their undergraduate experience. Others go for an advanced degree right after they finish their undergraduate studies. You could also spend years in the workforce, parenting, traveling and following any number of other paths before returning to school.

There’s no right time to earn a master’s degree. You need to decide for yourself when you’re ready to start the next stage of your journey as a student.


Aligning your bachelor’s and master’s degrees

How can you find the most relevant program for you? Consider building on your bachelor’s degree with the advanced knowledge and abilities that come from a related master’s program.

A bachelor’s degree demonstrates a certain level of competency related to your chosen field. It can also serve as a foundation that can underpin success in graduate school.

On a practical level, a related bachelor’s degree can make it easier for you to fulfill application requirements and get used to the academic rigor of a master’s program. You’ll already possess valuable context that can make it easier to understand, process and apply the new information you learn as a master’s student.

If your career and undergraduate degree align, and you’re confident you want to continue on a related professional path, start by reviewing relevant advanced degree options. Our complete list of online graduate programs is a great place to start. You can quickly narrow down your choices by filtering the list, based on specific areas of interest, to find the most relevant possibilities.

If you’re a business school graduate, for example, you might consider continuing on that path. If you hold an undergraduate degree in psychology, you could earn an advanced degree in that field.

An ASU Online student poses on a balcony on an ASU downtown campus building.

Opportunities to change your career path

Finding a more satisfying role, along with related opportunities for advancement, is a common career goal. A master’s degree can be an opportunity to change fields and acquire the talents required for success in a new position.

While some graduate programs require students to have specific undergraduate degrees, others accept a much broader range of applicants. As long as you hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university and meet other basic requirements, you can apply to programs such as the Master of Science in biomimicry and the Master of Arts in communication, among many others.

You’ll need to define your interests, identify programs that relate to them and then weigh your options. Keep in mind that you have many potential paths available to you. You have the power to make choices that may transform your career.


The importance of accreditation and academic rigor for a master’s degree

When it comes to earning a master’s degree, finding the right university is just as important as finding the right program.

There are a few considerations you need to keep in mind to ensure you can access the benefits of a graduate degree. Find a leading university that doesn’t only address the basic needs of graduate-level education, but can also offer a truly exceptional learning environment.


University accreditation

In the simplest terms, accreditation ensures colleges and universities “meet acceptable levels of quality,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

When you complete a graduate program through an accredited institution, you can count on the quality of your degree. Potential employers, colleagues and other academic institutions will recognize your achievements and the knowledge and talents you’ve developed.

If you attend an unaccredited institution to earn a graduate degree, you may not be able to rely on that benefit.

ASU Online is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), an established and recognized accreditor for colleges and universities.


Is an online master’s degree respected?

Yes! An online master’s degree from an accredited institution is just as valuable and useful as the same one earned on campus.

ASU Online’s graduate programs feature the same rigorous curriculum and are taught by the same faculty as our on-campus programs. Your diploma will list the institution as Arizona State University, same as it does for on-campus programs, and will not note that it’s an online degree.


Selecting a challenging and rewarding master’s degree

Once you know you’re prepared, it’s in your best interest to choose a graduate program that challenges you. Classes and coursework that inspire you to think in new ways, as well as learn new information and understand how you can apply it to your career, can support positive results. 

Don’t be discouraged when you review program details and see unfamiliar topics and concepts. The purpose of education is to learn new information, as well as context around it and related skills. In the case of a graduate degree, this new knowledge can be crucial for career growth.

Popular options for master’s degrees

If you’re considering many programs but aren’t sure which direction to move in, consider these popular choices.

The following are the five most popular graduate programs offered through ASU Online, based on spring 2021 enrollment. 


  • Online Master of Arts in special education — applied behavior analysis

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a distinct, scientific approach to understanding and, in the proper contexts, modifying behavior. This type of intervention is applicable for people of all ages.

Students in the Master of Arts in special education (ABA) program study a course sequence verified by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI)®. After earning your degree, you can sit for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)® exam.

You’ll focus on building and encouraging positive, helpful behaviors and promoting learning. If you’re already a teacher, you could use these skills in your classroom. However, this degree isn’t limited to education. It can be applied to a variety of other employment sectors, such as business and health care.


  • Online Master of Social Work

Completing a Master of Social Work is required for becoming licensed in this career. This program offers a clear path for professional advancement, and it emphasizes effective and positive work with individuals, families and communities above anything else. Administration, behavioral health and community practice are a few of the key topic areas.

Along with relevant coursework, this program includes 960 hours of mandatory hands-on field education. This requirement aligns with the criteria set forth by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which provides accreditation for this program.


  • Online Master of Science in forensic psychology

Forensic psychology connects the principles of psychology with criminal and civil legal issues. Some students who earn a master’s in forensic psychology go on to complete a doctoral program to work as a licensed psychologist. Others apply the information and abilities they develop to a wide range of roles related to courts, policing and other aspects of the law, along with mental health.

If you have a background in psychology and an interest in criminal justice and mental health, this degree can support your efforts to build a rewarding career.


  • Online Master of Science in digital audience strategy

The digital world has become an extremely important part of daily life for a variety of groups and individuals. Businesses and organizations need skilled specialists to successfully build audiences and effectively engage with them online.

The Master of Science in digital audience strategy offers a highly relevant and diverse curriculum for those interested in building a career in digital marketing and engagement. The program combines a data-driven approach with a multidisciplinary, hands-on curriculum.  As a student, you’ll have the opportunity to build deep knowledge around topics like analysis of consumer interactions with digital content, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing and ethics in consumer privacy.


  • Online Master of Arts in communication

Communication is one of the most broadly relevant and widely applicable talents in the modern world. Every business, nonprofit and government agency must effectively communicate a combination of ideas, directives, suggestions, requests and information to drive growth and strategies forward.

Earning a Master of Arts in communication can position you to become a skilled communicator in many contexts. Crisis communications, negotiation and beneficial, respectful collaboration with people of different cultures, gender identities and backgrounds are important areas of emphasis. This program also empowers students to focus on communication topics of their own choosing, supporting more individualized learning. Depending on your interests and the paths you explore, as a graduate of this degree program you may pursue roles in a variety of fields in the private and public sectors, including sales, marketing, management, human resources, public relations and more.

An ASU sign on the Arizona State University campus.

ASU Online: Leading faculty and distinguished colleges

ASU Online provides enriching and engaging educational experiences that support both professional and personal growth. We’re ranked as the most innovative school in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report, and our curriculum is led by world-renowned faculty. Consider these recognitions from a selection of our colleges and schools: 

  • Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College ranks No. 1 for best online master’s in curriculum and instruction, instructional media and education administration programs and No. 3 for best online master’s in special education, according to U.S. News & World Report, 2021.
  • The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering ranks in the top 10 for best online master’s in engineering programs, according to U.S. News & World Report, 2021.
  • The Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions ranks in the top 10 for best online master’s in criminal justice and top 15 for public affairs programs, according to U.S. News & World Report, 2021. 
  • The W. P. Carey School of Business ranks in No. 1 for best online general management MBA and best online MBA programs in marketing, and ranks in the top 10 for best online MBA programs, according to U.S. News & World Report, 2021.


Faculty achievements

The accomplishments of your professors demonstrate a deep commitment to their areas of focus. You can count on a consistently high quality of education that emphasizes crucial information, new research and consideration of key issues facing students and graduates, no matter which program you select.

At ASU Online, you might be instructed by a Nobel laureate, Fulbright American Scholar, MacArthur Fellow or American Educational Research Association fellow, depending on the program. Professors are distinguished by membership or fellowship in organizations like the American Geophysical Union, American Psychological Association and National Academy of Public Administration.


The exceptional reputation of ASU Online

ASU Online is a popular option for graduate students. Our approach to online education centers on connecting you with the same curriculum and instructors as on-campus students. That leads to consistency in education and positions graduates to compete for the roles that drive their careers forward.

As a graduate student and working professional, flexibility in your education is key. Many students enroll in our programs because they can continue their careers as they build new knowledge and talents. When you enroll, you can earn a graduate degree on your terms.

Are you ready to start a graduate program offered by one of the world’s most innovative and distinguished universities? We’re here to support your efforts to build your knowledge base and advance your career.


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