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Best Online Master's Degrees in STEM

Oct 20, 2021

What Is an Online Master's Degree in STEM?

STEM stands for science, math, engineering, and technology. It is an interdisciplinary method of education where topics from each subject are combined in order to produce a well-rounded education that's grounded in research, problem-solving, and technical skills. Online master's degrees in STEM allow students to study a chosen STEM field in-depth and prepare for a new career or to advance in their current one. Most graduate STEM degrees are Master of Science programs. There are also master's degrees in STEM education (usually a Master of Education or a Master of Arts degree) but these are teaching degrees that instruct students on how to teach K-12 through STEM educational methods. It is not to be confused with STEM degrees that instruct students on a specific STEM career or discipline.

Why Should I Get an Online Master's Degree in a STEM Field?

If you have an interest in a STEM field, then an online master's degree in STEM may be right for you. While many STEM careers are achievable with a bachelor's degree, a master's degree can open the door to more job responsibilities, higher pay, or broader career opportunities. Some STEM careers even require a master's degree, such as epidemiologists, mathematicians, and statisticians. Additionally, an online degree can provide flexibility so if you are working full-time or have other commitments, you can still manage to study in the free time that you do have; traditional degree programs usually don't offer that kind of flexibility.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Master's Degree in a STEM Program Online?

Online STEM programs are typically structured a little differently than traditional master's programs because they do not need to follow a strict schedule. For example, a traditional degree on campus would meet 3 times a week at the same time for a semester, while an online degree might be asynchronous, meaning students do not meet, study, or learn together at the same time. Because of this, a more flexible format can be followed. Some online degree programs, for example, offer one course every month. Master's degree programs usually require around 34-45 credits; If studying full-time, online master's degrees can be completed in as few as 15 months or up to 3 years.

Choosing an Online STEM Master's Program

Choosing the right program can be overwhelming, but there are a few things you can do to make the process a little bit easier. First, think about your career goals, academic interests, and what you can afford. Questions you might want to ask yourself include:

  • What career can I see myself in and what degree do I need to achieve it?
  • What classes am I interested in outside of my degree requirements?
  • With or without financial aid, what amount of tuition can I afford?
  • Will I receive the same attention from professors online as I would on campus?
  • Do I have the proper technology/software for online learning, and if not, will it be provided for me?

You can search for programs using the National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator. This search tool allows you to find programs based on location, degree level, programs offered, and tuition rates, among other criteria. Once you've narrowed down some programs, you can contact an academic advisor from each school. They can answer any questions you may have about enrollment, classes that are offered, extracurricular opportunities, and more. If you're wondering about success after graduation, many colleges have alumni associations that allow you to get in contact with a graduate from the school.

Curriculum for Online Master's Degree Programs in STEM

Since there are many types of STEM degrees, from computer science and biology to mechanical engineering and statistics, there is a broad array of courses. The curriculum for master's degree programs also differs from undergraduate degrees. While all undergraduate students take general education courses regardless of their major, master's degree courses typically only focus on the degree subject. So, for example, a master's degree in cybersecurity would only require courses related to that subject, along with electives, if the school allows them. Some programs may require laboratory classes, capstone projects, and internships.

Science Classes for Online Master's Students

The variety in the different types of sciences means there's diversity in the science degrees and courses students can take, from natural and life sciences such as biology, physics, animal sciences, agriculture, botany, chemistry, and crop science, to health and human science. Usually, students in a degree program from one type of science will take few or no courses from another type of science; so for example, a biology student may still take one or two chemistry courses, but most of their courses will be biology-related.

A few science classes can include:

  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Marine biology and ecology
  • Inorganic chemistry
  • Physical chemistry
  • Geology
  • Plant biochemistry
  • Animal production

Technology Classes for Online Master's Students

Technology degree programs mostly have classes that are centered around computers and software; depending on the program, students will focus more on one type of technology than another. For example, a computer science major may take classes on computer operating systems as a whole and how they're designed while a cybersecurity major may take classes on digital forensics, network defense, and cyberlaw, which are all specifically related to cybersecurity. There may be some overlap in the curriculum if a student chooses to specialize in a concentration; for example, majoring in information technology with a concentration in data analytics.

A few technology classes can include:

  • Data analytics
  • Data foundations
  • Applied machine learning
  • Network assessment and defense
  • Information assurance
  • Technical communication
  • Operating systems

Engineering Classes for Online Master's Students

There are many types of engineering, from mechanical and electrical to chemical and biomedical. The major a student chooses determines most of the engineering courses they will take. Many programs require a capstone or research project towards the end to culminate the student's knowledge and skills. Courses in mechanical engineering can include:

  • Heat transfer
  • Thermal mechanics
  • Robotics
  • Industrial artificial intelligence
  • Linear systems

Courses in electrical engineering can include:

  • Computer architecture
  • Computer networks
  • Digital signal processing
  • Electrical power engineering
  • Nanostructures

Chemical engineering courses can include:

  • Chemical engineering thermodynamics
  • Chemical reaction engineering
  • Transport processes or transport phenomena

Math Classes for Online Master's Students

The selection for mathematics master's degrees is limited compared to other STEM fields, so the curriculum doesn't vary as much. Two of the most common degrees in this field are mathematics and statistics. Mathematics master's degree courses can include:

  • Topology
  • Mathematical modeling
  • Commutative algebra
  • Applied linear algebra
  • Combinatorics
  • Real and complex variables

Statistics master's degree courses can include:

  • Applied statistical methods
  • Statistical learning
  • Statistical processes
  • Theory of probability

Math courses such as algebra, geometry, and calculus may be in the curriculum for other types of STEM degrees but this is more common in undergraduate programs than in master's programs.

Common Undergraduate Degrees for STEM

Pursuing the right undergraduate degree to be admitted into a STEM graduate program can depend on each school. Some schools have more open admissions requirements for their master's degree programs than others; some only require a bachelor's degree while others require a bachelor's degree from a specific subject.

However, if you have not yet earned an undergraduate degree and your goal is to earn a graduate degree in STEM and/or work in a STEM field, then it may be a good idea to pursue an undergraduate STEM degree that is related to the graduate degree you want to pursue. So, for example, a bachelor's degree in mathematics would be suitable for entry into a master's degree in mathematics, or a bachelor's degree in computer science would be suitable for entry into a master's degree in computer science, information technology, cybersecurity, or another technical field.

Since STEM degrees are interdisciplinary, many undergraduate degrees in STEM fields could prepare you for entry into the STEM master's programs of your choice. It's always best to check the requirements for each school.

Post-Graduate Options After Completing an Online Master's in STEM

After completing an online master's in STEM, students may wish to pursue further study. Doctoral degrees can allow students to study a subject in-depth as well as conduct original research on a topic of their choosing; this can lead to top positions or contributions of knowledge in the field. STEM graduates may wish to pursue doctoral degrees in areas where their skills and knowledge can benefit, such as accounting, computer science, management information systems, and public health.

Or, if they want to learn about a new topic or enhance their skills without committing to a degree program, students can pursue graduate certificates. Graduate certificates are typically for master's students or master's graduates and teach short yet robust courses related to a specific subject. This can allow them to learn new skills in a short amount of time that will make them more marketable for other jobs. An example would be a graduate certificate in accounting; course topics may include taxation, auditing, and financial reporting, all designed to give students the necessary knowledge and skills for a career in a shorter amount of time.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's Degree in STEM?

The choices for STEM careers with a master's degree are broad. Many STEM careers require just a bachelor's for entry, though a master's degree can often qualify applicants for higher positions with more responsibility. The demand for individuals in STEM careers is great and consistently growing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in STEM occupations is projected to grow by 8% from 2019-2029. For comparison, non-STEM occupations are projected to grow by just 3.4%. The BLS also states that the median annual pay for individuals in STEM careers is $89,780 as of 2020, compared to $40,020 for non-STEM occupations.

STEM careers are included in several industries, from technology and research to medicine and the military. Just a few of the many STEM careers, and their salaries include:

STEM Career Median Annual Wage (2020)*
Mathematician $110,860
Civil engineering technologists and technicians $54,080
Health information technologists $44,090
Plant and soil scientists $66,120
Epidemiologists $74,560
Statisticians $92,270

Career Opportunities for Science Graduates

Science involves a lot of research, but that doesn't mean that you have to sit in a laboratory all day; there are plenty of hands-on science careers to choose from that offer an exciting work environment. Zoologists and wildlife biologists, for example, split their time between offices, laboratories, and the outdoors. Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and the habitats they live in, as well as the ecosystem overall. Their work consists of research and controlled scientific experiments to observe and study animal behavior, characteristics, interactions with their natural habitats, and the impact that humans have on animals and their habitats. Much of their work largely depends on the types of species they study and what their goal is. For example, some zoologists and wildlife biologists spend their time observing animals and habitats to understand their behavior while others track animals in order to monitor and manage them so that the animals can live in their habitats unharmed.

Zoologists mostly focus on studying types of animals as a whole, such as marine mammals or birds, while wildlife biologists mostly focus on studying specific ecosystems and animal populations; however, many of their job duties overlap. Zoologists and wildlife biologists need at least a bachelor's degree in zoology, wildlife biology, ecology, or general biology with courses in zoology and wildlife biology. However, many positions, particularly higher-level investigative ones that involve scientific work, require a master's degree. Independent research and teaching positions require a doctorate.

The BLS states that zoologists and wildlife biologists have a median annual wage of $66,350 as of 2020. It also states that from 2019-2029, the career is projected to grow by 4%; this is because these professionals are always needed but aren't in particularly high demand because their jobs largely depend on government funding, which can be limited.

Career Opportunities for Technology Graduates

Careers in technology do involve using computers a lot; server technology managers are just one of the many computer-related technology careers. But other technology careers can involve not just computers but research as well. Computer and information research scientists use research to develop new ways to use existing and new computing and robotics technologies. Their work spans across industries, from medicine and science to business, as well as others. Some of their typical job duties can include exploring computing problems, developing theories to address them, working with engineers to solve problems, and developing new tools, software systems, and computing languages to improve human use of computers. Computer and information research scientists can specialize in certain areas. A couple of them include programming, where new programming languages are studied and designed, and robotics, which is the development and application of machines in the physical world.

Computer and information research scientists need at least a master's degree in computer science or another related field; in some cases, a Ph.D. may be required. Depending on their specialization, these professionals may need additional knowledge in the field they specialize in; for example, one who works in biomedical applications will need to have studied biology. After gaining experience, these professionals can be promoted to computer and information systems managers.

According to the BLS, as of 2020, the median annual wage for computer and information research scientists is $126,830. The BLS also states that employment in the field is projected to grow by 15% from 2019-2029.

Career Opportunities for Engineering Graduates

The field of engineering spans across many industries and degree levels; engineering machinists, for example, only need an associate's degree but they work with many of the tools that mechanical engineers use. Graduates of an aerospace engineering master's program can become aerospace engineers who also teach at universities or work in research and development; many engineering programs have 4+1 options, where students complete a bachelor's and master's in just 5 years.

Aerospace engineers design spacecraft, missiles, aircraft, and satellites, as well as develop and perform tests for prototypes of these machines. They can specialize in designing different types of products as well as become experts in certain fields; for example, an aerospace engineer may specialize in designing commercial airplanes and as a result, develop expertise in flight mechanics. Overall, aerospace engineers typically specialize in one of two areas; aeronautical, which is aircraft technology, and astronautical, which is spacecraft technology.

Aerospace engineers may work on special projects for the government which can include national defense; in this case, they may need to pass a security clearance. Licensure and certification in this field isn't common or required, but people in more advanced positions may obtain the Professional Engineer (PE) license, which can allow them to have more independence and take on more leadership. A PE license requires graduation from an ABET-accredited program, the passing of two exams, and at least four years of relevant engineering experience. Aerospace engineers may be promoted to technical specialists, supervisors, or engineering managers.

The BLS states that aerospace engineers have a median annual wage of $118,610. It also states that employment in the field is projected to grow by 3% from 2019-2029; this is slower than the national average of 4%.

Career Opportunities for Math Graduates

There are plenty of careers that integrate math and business. One such career is an actuary. Actuaries work for insurance companies to analyze the financial cost of risks and uncertainties, such as car accidents, sickness, death, and more. Their work is a mix of math, statistics, and financial theory. Their work is especially important for the insurance industry because they help insurance companies figure out policies to help their clients minimize the costs if a risk or uncertainty ever happens. So, for example, if an insurance company wants to know if they have enough money to pay for a car accident that a client of theirs gets into, an actuary would perform research on the probability of the accident happening and the economic impact. This information is then used to develop an insurance policy that allows the client to pay the insurance company enough money so that the company can cover the costs of the event without losing money.

Actuaries work in all types of insurance, from auto to health and life. Much of their work is done on computers and they may work on teams with other financial professionals such as accountants, financial analysts, and underwriters. There are also actuaries that develop pension plans and analyze the financial risks of a company's long or short-term objectives. They can work for private businesses or in government. Actuaries need at least a bachelor's degree in math, statistics, or actuarial science; coursework in computer science, writing, and public speaking are also recommended so they can learn the technical and communicative aspects of the job.

The BLS states that actuaries have a median annual wage of $111,030 as of 2020 and a projected employment growth of 18% from 2019-2029.

What Other Types of Online Degrees in STEM Are Available?

Online master's degrees in STEM are just one of many options. Online STEM degrees are available at almost every degree level in some form, whether it's preparatory work or a specialized certificate. Many of the majors are the same, such as biology, computer science, chemical engineering, and data science. The difference is the level and depth of the curriculum. Online STEM associate degrees provide a general foundation of a topic while online STEM bachelor's degrees go more in-depth to prepare students for more careers.

Online Associate Degrees in STEM Fields

Online associate degrees in STEM fields are designed to give students general education on a topic to prepare them for transfer to a bachelor's degree, or they are career programs that are intended to give students the skills they need to enter their chosen field immediately upon graduation. Some associate programs can allow students to do both, depending on the subject or career field. Online STEM associate degrees range from information technology to dental hygienist. Accounting associate degrees may seem like a STEM subject because math is involved, but accounting is a business degree; however, there are STEM-designated accounting programs available at some schools. Associate degrees typically last 2 years and require around 60 credits. Examples of common degree titles are Associate of Science in Information Technology and Associate of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in STEM Fields

Online bachelor's degrees in STEM fields are designed for more in-depth study and meet the minimum education requirements for many STEM careers. There are typically more options for specializations or degree concentrations at the bachelor's level, allowing students to learn skills in specific areas as they complete their degree. A few online STEM bachelor's degrees can include accounting, economics (STEM-designated programs), and information systems. Bachelor's degrees typically last 4 years and require around 120 credits. Examples of common degree titles are Bachelor of Science in Economics and Bachelor of Science in Information Systems.

Online Doctoral Degrees in STEM Fields

Online doctoral degrees in STEM fields are designed for students to obtain the highest credentials available in their field. Usually, a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is for research and academia, while professional doctoral degrees, such as a Doctor of Public Health (DPH) or Doctor of Computer Science (D.C.Sc.), are more suitable for advancement to top-level positions in the field. A few online STEM doctoral degrees can include accounting, cybersecurity, health science, and public health. Doctor of Philosophy degrees are typically more theory- and research-based while professional degrees are typically more hands-on, but both types of degrees can integrate research and practice. Students typically need to complete a dissertation or research project.

Online Graduate Certificates in STEM Fields

Online graduate certificates in STEM fields are designed to learn specialized skills and knowledge in a concentrated yet robust format. A graduate certificate may be earned after or alongside a degree. The length of online graduate certificates varies but they are considerably shorter than degree programs since only a few classes are taken. A few online graduate certificates in STEM include accounting (STEM-designated), business analyst, forensic accounting, and public health(info). A certificate can be a great way to learn the skills needed for entering a niche area of a chosen career; for example, accounting students would pursue a certificate in forensic accounting in order to work as investigative/forensic accountants.

Professional Organizations in STEM

STEM professional organizations exist to advocate for members in their respective fields, advance the research and applications of theories and technologies, and raise awareness. Professionals can join these organizations and receive benefits such as a sense of community, networking opportunities, and more. A few professional organizations for STEM careers include:

  • Society of Women Engineers; the SWE advocates for women in the engineering and engineering technology fields. Professional members can receive benefits such as networking opportunities, educational sessions, career fairs, e-learning courses, exclusive resume reviews and job opportunities, and the opportunity to receive awards and recognition.
  • The Research Council on Mathematics Learning promotes research-based educational methods for mathematics in grades K-12. Membership is open to researchers in the mathematics and mathematics education fields and includes benefits such as a national conference, access to an exclusive journal, and the opportunity to serve in leadership positions.
  • The Ecological Society of America is a nonprofit organization of scientists that promotes and raises public awareness of the importance of ecology, increases funding for ecological science resources, and ensures ecology is appropriately used in policy decision-making regarding the environment and climate change. Membership benefits include access to six ESA publications, lower application fees for professional certification, the opportunity to collaborate with other professionals, and discounts on the annual meeting.

Financial Aid, Scholarships, & Grants for Online Master's in STEM Programs

Online students have a wide variety of financial aid options available to them. The most common is federal student aid, which can be accessed by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Federal student aid mostly consists of subsidized and unsubsidized loans, grants, and work-study programs. Outside of federal aid, there are numerous scholarships, research grants, and fellowships that online STEM master's students can apply for. They can be offered by colleges, national organizations, state and local organizations, and businesses.

Study.com's Women in STEM Scholarship is open to female associate and bachelor's degree students in STEM fields. The award is for $500.

The University of Arizona has the UArizona/NASA Space Grant Program for graduate students with a 3.2 GPA who are studying for a NASA STEM degree. The program provides a fellowship for 6 students with a $12,000 stipend as well as an award program with a $10,000 stipend.

The LabRoots Spring 2022 Scholarship is open to undergraduate and graduate students who are pursuing STEM degrees. The amount awarded is $2,000 and can be put towards research projects, travel expenses, or other expenses related to obtaining the degree. One winner will be selected based on academic merit and applications are accepted from November 1st, 2021 to January 31st, 2022.

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