Are Online Master’s Degrees Worth It? 6 Factors for Healthcare Management Students To Consider

Healthcare management professionals may want to know if an online master’s degree is worth it — explore six factors potential graduate students should consider


Advancements in technology and a growing need to provide flexible, affordable education have contributed to a rise in online learning options. Around 80% of students feel that online learning experiences are equal to or better than classroom experiences, according to a 2020 Wiley Education Services survey of online college students. Healthcare leadership is one area of advanced online study attracting a growing number of ambitious students.

When considering whether an online master’s degree is worth it for healthcare management career advancement, students should consider the benefits of an online program, the degree requirements, and whether the degree program will fit in with their career goals. 

Benefits of a healthcare management degree

When deciding whether to pursue an advanced education, prospective students should consider the many benefits of a healthcare management degree that graduates may enjoy as a result of their specific education and training. These can include:

Greater depth of knowledge               

Undergraduate healthcare management degree programs provide students with relevant information for leading healthcare organizations. But master’s degree programs in healthcare management offer graduates an in-depth study of healthcare business practices. 

Courses in these areas prepare graduates to jump into organizations with the skills and knowledge they need to lead. 

Career advancement opportunities

New positions open up each year in the rapidly growing medical industry. With more healthcare facilities comes a need for healthcare managers. Earning a master's degree can equip graduates with a deep understanding of healthcare management principles and allow them to hone their leadership skills, which can lead to career advancement and positions of authority.

More employment options  

With a master's degree in healthcare management, graduates can gain expertise that gives them a competitive edge in the job market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical and health services managers primarily work in the following environments and industries:

  • Hospitals: 33% of employment
  • Physicians offices: 12%
  • Nursing and residential care centers: 10%
  • Government: 9%
  • Outpatient care: 7%

Master's degree holders are often equipped with a transferable set of skills, which can mean more flexibility when they choose where they want to work. For example, a graduate may work at a local clinic for a period of time and then pivot to a major health network, or vice versa. 

Health management salary and job growth   

Pursuing a healthcare management master’s degree costs time and money, but many prospective students take into account their expected wages with an advanced degree. The BLS reports that the median annual salary for medical and health services managers was $104,280 as of May 2020.

Healthcare is a rapidly growing field with a strong need for competent managers. As the population swells and advancements continue in wearable health technologies, artificial intelligence, and data science, healthcare managers should continue to be in high demand. 

The U.S. healthcare industry is already massive. According to a 2020 report by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, healthcare spending accounted for over 19.7% of U.S. GDP ($4.1 trillion) in 2020. According to the same report, U.S. healthcare spending increased at a much faster rate than expected — 9.7% between 2019 and 2020, exceeding the 4.3% projected increase — largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The BLS projects a robust job growth of 32% between 2020 and 2030 for medical and health services managers due to factors including rising healthcare spending, the aging of the U.S. population, and the high retirement rate among existing healthcare professionals. Graduates with a master’s degree in healthcare management are likely to have an advantage over job candidates without advanced degrees.

Graduate healthcare management degree requirements and characteristics

Students examining the value of an online master’s degree should review the requirements for the healthcare management degree programs they are interested in pursuing. These often include holding a bachelor’s degree, having the minimum required GPA, and providing other relevant test scores or documents.

Education Prerequisites

Graduate-level healthcare management programs require prospective students to have a bachelor’s degree before they can be considered for admission. While the undergraduate education doesn’t need to be in a specific area of study, earning a bachelor’s degree in healthcare management or a related field (such as nursing or biology) can help prepare students for graduate coursework.

Application requirements    

Applicants to master’s in healthcare management degree programs must meet the basic requirements. These vary by school and program, but common requirements for admission to a master’s degree program in healthcare management include:

  • Minimum cumulative GPA (often 3.0 or higher)
  • GRE scores or other standardized test scores
  • Resume or curriculum vitae
  • Personal statement
  • Official transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation

Master's in healthcare administration programs may prioritize applicants with previous experience in healthcare or healthcare business.

Program duration    

Potential students should also examine the length of a program. A typical online graduate degree program in healthcare management (such as a Master of Business Administration in Healthcare) may last anywhere from 18 to 30 months. However, program lengths can vary based on specific schedules.

Typical courses   

Courses for graduate degree programs in this field build on the fundamentals of a bachelor’s degree in business, management, or public health — emphasizing the real-world applications of management, business ethics, and healthcare decision-making and leadership skills.

Courses may cover the following subjects:

  • Business law
  • Financial analysis
  • Healthcare consulting 
  • Healthcare decision modeling 
  • Medical ethics
  • Leadership

Online degree programs vs. traditional programs

Comparing the benefits of an in-person versus remote education is another consideration for students deciding whether an online master’s degree is worth it. Interest in remote coursework is growing: Around 7.3 million undergraduate students were enrolled in some form of online education at a degree-granting postsecondary institution in 2019, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Of these, over 3.4 million were enrolled in a fully online program. 

Benefits of pursuing a traditional program include:

  • Attending class in-person
  • Connecting with faculty, peers, and professionals from the same geographic location
  • Networking with professionals in the same geographic region as the degree-granting university

Benefits of pursuing an online degree program include:

  • Flexible courses that enable students to learn online while working a full-time job
  • University staff support specifically tailored to empowering students from a distance
  • The ability to apply to programs without being limited by geography
  • Opportunities to connect with faculty, peers, and professionals from across the country
  • Networking with professionals irrespective of geographic location

School diplomas do not state whether a student earned their specific degree online or in-person. This may help allay student worries that future employers will view online learning in a negative light. Today, employers care much more about whether a graduate has the skills they need to do their job well than the format (online or in-person) of the graduate’s degree program. 

Before deciding what type of degree to pursue, there are some other factors students should take into account.

In-person vs. remote costs

An online master’s degree program can be a great long-term investment. According to statistics provided by the Education Data Initiative, online degrees offered by public institutions tend to cost $10,776 less compared with in-person degree programs. Moreover, commuters tend to pay an average of $3,400 per year in transportation costs — costs that online students do not need to pay.

The upfront costs of a graduate degree in healthcare management depend on a number of other factors, too. Students may want to consider variations in program costs due to:

  • Whether a school is public or private
  • Whether the degree program offers in-state tuition
  • Whether the school offers scholarships or financial aid
  • Whether the program accommodates employer tuition reimbursement
  • Whether the program offers unique on-site components and/or partnerships with professional organizations
  • Whether the program requires residencies, clerkships, or other placement initiatives that may add to the total cost of earning a degree

Earning a healthcare management degree online rather than in-person may help a student save on transportation costs and campus fees.

Cohort-based learning

Fully online master’s programs are not inherently impersonal. Students can engage in cohort-based learning, giving them the opportunity to discuss and collaborate on the coursework or subject with other students. 

Through online discussions, carefully designed assignments, and group projects, students in the same online cohort can learn from their peers’ experiences and interpretations of class material. For example, a student with experience managing a small mobile health clinic in a rural area may have a lot to teach a classmate with experience working as an intern at an urban primary care physician’s office. 

Cohort-based learning involves creating educational opportunities for students to engage with and learn from each other. This enables students to network with peers, providing a professional foundation that could serve students long after graduation. 

High-quality online programs draw talented healthcare professionals looking to advance their careers. In well-designed online courses, students will be encouraged to network and learn from other resourceful professionals working in healthcare.

How to find online degrees that are worth it

Deciding whether an online graduate program is the best option should entail ample forethought and research. Not all online degree programs are created equal, so students should take care to learn how to evaluate many different kinds of programs to determine how each school’s curriculum and resources help graduates meet their career goals. 

Choose programs designed to be online

Social distancing requirements introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic forced many schools to provide online options, but not all online programs have the same levels of support and engagement. High-quality online degree programs were designed by experts to be completed online, not just hastily moved online in response to the pandemic. 

A program such as OpusVi and Northern Arizona University’s online Master of Business Administration in Healthcare is both affordable and specifically designed for the healthcare industry. Healthcare experts created this online MBA program for working healthcare professionals looking to earn an advanced degree while working full-time or maintaining other commitments. 

When selecting an online degree, prospective students may want to consider schools with a proven history in providing quality online education. 

Learn common terms           

Schools may structure their online courses and degree programs in different formats. While exploring various online learning environments, students will benefit from knowing some common terms:

  • Asynchronous classes:This type of course may require students to watch recorded lectures, read texts, and complete projects on a self-paced schedule. 
  • Synchronous classes: This type of course may require students to participate in real time, sometimes in-person but often via videoconference platforms such as Zoom. 
  • Hybrid classes: This type of course may blend elements of asynchronous and synchronous classes. Some hybrid classes have an in-person component.

Understand the importance of accreditation

When selecting an online graduate degree, students should check to make sure the school has proper accreditation. Accreditation means that a program is publicly recognized by experts as viable and offering the highest level of training in a specific field.

Schools should be accredited by agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, and/or professional organizations such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). These organizations monitor curricula and degree programs for quality over time. 

Many online degree programs, and combined degree programs with a blend of campus and online elements, are fully accredited. By taking a step to check the accreditation status of an online degree program, students can make sure they choose the program that is worth their time and investment. 

6 factors that healthcare management students should consider

When it is time to choose a worthwhile online master’s degree, students should consider the following factors. 

1. Career goals

Healthcare is a diverse field with many different career opportunities in administration, management, and human resources. From healthcare staffing to patient care, some healthcare sectors include:

  • Healthcare technology
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Healthcare marketing 
  • Administration

When deciding which online master’s degree program in healthcare administration to pursue, students should think carefully about which sector of healthcare they would like to work in. 

2. Salary enhancement opportunities           

Acquiring an online master’s degree can increase a person’s potential for earnings over time. According to the BLS, professionals with master’s degrees earned a median of $1,545 per week in 2020, whereas bachelor’s degree holders earned a median of $1,305 per week.

Those with graduate degrees in healthcare management can also earn higher salaries than their counterparts with undergraduate degrees. According to PayScale, as of February 2022, the average annual salary for graduates with an MBA with a focus on healthcare administration was $84,000. Those with a bachelor’s in healthcare management, on the other hand, earned an average annual salary of $59,000. Note that salary figures can vary based on a variety of factors, such as years of experience, location, and industry.

3. Cost of education        

While online degree programs may be less expensive than their in-person counterparts, prospective students should pursue advanced education with a clear-eyed view of the costs. 

Students should consider:

  • How many months a typical student takes to complete the degree
  • What fees may be associated with the degree (matriculation fees, technology fees, etc.)
  • What additional costs may not be included in tuition (residency costs, for example)
  • What financial aid, tuition reimbursement, or scholarships may be available to offset costs

4. Customization and accessibility      

Online courses allow students to learn remotely. Students can complete assignments from anywhere and get the support they need to succeed. 

Because they cater to professionals looking to advance their careers, some online degree programs may offer a higher degree of customization compared with traditional programs. Focused elective courses, internships, and practicums may enable online students to develop a specialty.

5. Flexibility  

Online master’s degrees can be worth it for professionals who want to earn a master’s degree while working full-time. Students can take classes at their own pace, adapting their schoolwork to fit their busy schedules. 

The flexibility of an online program (for example, whether instructors offer asynchronous and synchronous course options) can enable healthcare professionals to gain additional education and training without leaving their jobs. Students should ensure that their desired programs work alongside their schedules and other commitments.

6. Admission requirements      

Finally, prospective students should consider the admission requirements for online master’s degree programs. Since requirements can vary, students should examine how their profiles align with their programs of choice. This may mean considering:

  • Whether they meet the minimum GPA requirement
  • Whether they have relevant academic or professional experience
  • Whether they have enough letters of recommendation
  • Whether they have the relevant test scores and materials

Earn a healthcare management degree online

Online healthcare management degrees can offer students more flexibility than traditional in-person degree programs, but students should do their research on the specific programs they might be interested in before applying.

Developing strong healthcare businesses starts with the right experience and education. Explore degree programs that can help you fuse leadership principles with industry knowledge to improve quality of care, such as the online Master of Business Administration in Healthcare program from Northern Arizona University (NAU) and OpusVi. 

The curriculum, designed by leading healthcare industry experts, provides a blend of lectures, direct engagement with healthcare professionals, and an applied practicum to prepare graduates for successful careers in healthcare administration. Find out more about OpusVi and NAU’s unique program today.