What is an online master’s degree like?

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By earning an online engineering degree, students can acquire valuable, widely recognized professional credentials much more conveniently than they could through a traditional on-campus program. The overall quality and flexibility of today’s online graduate degree programs have made them pivotal to the educational aspirations of millions.

According to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, almost 6 million individuals took at least one distance learning course as of fall 2015, representing 29.8 percent of all enrolled postsecondary students. Moreover, 2.8 million of that cohort—or 15.4 percent of all enrolled students—took such classes exclusively.

What can students expect from an online degree, especially ones that are 100 percent internet-based? Such a format might seem daunting at first, but it pays dividends for working professionals and others who need flexibility in setting their schedules. Plus, the degree is identical to an on-campus one, so there’s no discrepancy in quality or repute. Let’s look at some common questions new students have about online learning and pursuing a master’s degree at the University of California, Riverside (UCR).

What classes will I be able to take in the online master’s degree program?

UCR has been recognized for excellence in physical sciences and engineering is accredited through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. The online Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) program at UCR features a common set of courses for all students that helps them develop a balanced set of technical and managerial skills. Accordingly, they are well-positioned to become leaders in the industry after graduation and gain greater exposure to key topics in engineering than they would in a comparable Master of Engineering Management track.

Beyond the core, the latter will vary based on which of the six specializations a student selects. The current options include:

• Bioengineering
• Data Science
• Electrical Engineering
• Environmental Engineering
• Mechanical Engineering
• Nanotechnology Engineering
• Chemical Engineering

Meanwhile, the core of the online graduate degree programs consists of four classes:

Engineering in the Global Environment: A survey of some of the key soft skills integral to modern engineering, including how to collaborate with remote colleagues and facilitate effective teamwork.
Introduction to Systems Engineering: A look at the designs and common uses of major engineering systems, with the goal of building hard skills (i.e., technical competencies) to complement the soft skills discussed above.
Principles of Engineering Management: A deep dive into the administrative and managerial principles that engineering leaders need to have to organize and direct groups under their supervision.
Technology Innovation and Strategy for Engineers: An examination of the concept of innovation and how it affects the development of new engineering technologies; case studies focus on how real organizations have managed innovation.

Overall, the UCR master’s degree program offers flexibility not only in the learning format but in the courses students can take. Beyond the four requirements and the capstone project, course offerings vary based on specialty and offer advanced instruction in each of the six concentrations. For example, data science concentrators will explore concepts such as machine learning and the R programming language—just as they would if they were enrolled in a comparable on-campus program.

Will I ever need to set foot in a classroom?

No. Pioneering online master’s degree programs, like that at UCR, are 100 percent internet-based, meaning there are no commutes, required residencies, or in-class sessions.

Accordingly, online graduate degree programs help students reduce a variety of costs, including:


Since the coursework can be completed from any internet-connected device, students can cut back on one of the biggest indirect costs of graduate education, namely all the driving and parking (or bus/train riding) required if they live far from campus.


Getting a room or apartment near/on a university campus can be a substantial cost; students are often at the mercy of the local real estate market. With an online engineering degree, you can do everything from the comfort of the home you already occupy.

Class materials

These costs are not usually on par with the other two in this list, but they can be considerable nonetheless due to textbook purchases/rentals along with trips to the library to make copies. Many online courses provide digital materials that are less expensive and easier to manage.
How quickly can I complete my online engineering degree?

Time is of the essence for graduate-degree seekers, many of whom are looking to advance their careers and tend to other professional and personal commitments. According to U.S. News and World Report, the most frequent duration for new students in an online engineering program is three years, although the most common target is only two years.

At UCR, completion is possible in as little as 13 months, which is ideal for professionals looking to earn a widely recognized, rigorous credential in a compressed timeline. The flexible online format allows students to work at their preferred times of day and accommodate busy schedules en route to completing all requirements.

Will my master’s degree prepare me for the advanced engineering careers I want?

For engineers, a master’s degree is a potentially powerful differentiator when seeking employment and career advancement. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has singled out a handful of fields in which master’s degrees clearly pay off, including the science technology engineering and math (STEM) professions.

Within STEM, mechanical engineers with master’s degrees can earn between 9 percent and 13 percent more than their counterparts with only bachelor’s degrees, according to the BLS. The gap is even greater (33 percent) for statisticians and other math-related professions, an analogous group to data scientists.

How can I get started on the track toward an online engineering degree?

Take a look at the UCR program page for top-level information on admissions requirements. There you can also find testimonials from students and a form for submitting some basic information to receive our free brochure, which contains more details.

Recommended Readings:

5 Engineering Career Paths of the Future
Top Jobs for Engineering Grads


Should I get a master’s degree?
How Long It Takes to Earn an Online Master’s Degree
Fast Facts