Earning a Master's in Healthcare Administration Online

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for medical and health service managers is projected to grow by 20% through 2026, nearly three times the national average for all jobs. In addition to strong growth prospects, the medical administration field offers exceptional salaries. In 2017, the median healthcare executive earned $98,350, or roughly $60,000 more than the median pay for all occupations.

To enter and advance within this growing and lucrative field, you need a master's degree. This page offers an overview of earning a master's in healthcare administration online, including information on coursework, financial aid, and potential career paths.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Healthcare Administration?

Many students pursue a master's in healthcare administration (MHA) directly after graduating from college. Increasingly, hospitals and health organizations prefer to hire candidates with an advanced degree, making an MHA key to finding work as a healthcare executive.

Others may return to graduate school after several years of working as a health information technician, financial analyst, or other entry-level or mid-level job in healthcare administration. For these students, an online MHA positions them for leadership roles.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Healthcare Administration?

Pursuing Specialization

Online MHA programs allow students to specialize in a variety of fields through concentrations and electives. For example, if you hope to lead a cancer research organization, you may complete coursework in oncological administration and emerging medical technologies. Students who hope to work for a government agency may study subjects like healthcare policy, fiscal management, and healthcare delivery systems.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Graduates of MHA online programs enjoy strong job prospects and earnings potential. The BLS anticipates that most healthcare administration positions will require an advanced degree or extensive experience. According to Georgetown University'sCenter on Education and the Workforce, healthcare administrators with a master's degree earned roughly $25,000 more per year than those with only a bachelor's.

Online Learning Technology

Students who attend MHA programs online become familiar with technologies that can benefit them throughout their career. For example, the executive director of an international nonprofit may need to employ digital collaboration tools, like those used in an online course, to communicate and collaborate with their team.

Prerequisites for Online Healthcare Administration Programs

Admission requirements for online master's in healthcare administration programs vary, but several common prerequisites appear below. Contact each school for more specific information.

    • Work Experience: As they often cater to recent college graduates, online MHA programs typically do not require applicants to possess work experience. However, service in healthcare or a closely related field, even as a volunteer or intern, can improve your odds of admission.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Many graduate schools require applicants to submit results from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Although programs usually do not set minimum scores, you may consider retaking the exam if you score lower than 150 on the verbal or quantitative reasoning sections or lower than 3 on the analytical writing section. GRE scores remain valid for five years.
    • Coursework: To earn your master's in healthcare administration, you need a bachelor's degree. If you did not major in healthcare or public administration, you may need to take foundational coursework in economics, statistics, and health policy. Most schools also require applicants to maintain a minimum GPA during their undergraduate studies, usually around 2.5 or 3.0.
    • Recommendations: Plan to submit up to three letters of recommendation from former teachers, employers, or volunteer leaders. Find individuals who can speak to your academic and professional accomplishments and to your potential as a healthcare leader. Give your recommenders at least two months to write your letter.
    • Essays: You may need to write a brief essay outlining your qualifications and why you want to earn a master's in healthcare administration online. Your essay typically should not exceed 1,000 words in length. Consider asking a friend or colleague to review your essay prior to submitting your application.
    • Interviews: Generally, online programs do not require prospective students to participate in an admissions interview. However, if a school requests an interview, use it as an opportunity to highlight your strengths and provide context to weaknesses in your application, such as a low undergraduate GPA.
    • International Students: International applicants must meet the same admission requirements as national applicants. You may also need to demonstrate English proficiency by submitting results from the Test of English as a Foreign Language or a similar exam. Make sure your chosen graduate school recognizes the accreditation of your undergraduate program.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Healthcare Administration?

The median medical and health service manager earned $98,350 in 2017. The lowest 10% of earners made less than $58,350 that year, while the highest 10% of healthcare executives commanded salaries in excess of $176,000.

Generally, healthcare professionals with more experience and education receive higher pay. In addition, professionals working at larger hospitals and government agencies made more than employees at physicians' offices and nursing or residential facilities.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Healthcare Administration Graduates

Careers Stats Description

Medical and Health Services Managers

Median Pay: $98,350

Job Growth: 20%

Medical and health services managers oversee the administrative functions of hospitals, health centers, and physicians' offices. Some may specialize in a clinical area, such as oncology or gerontology. They must create and adhere to budgets, hire and train staff, and ensure legal and regulatory compliance.

Administrative Services Managers

Median Pay: $94,020

Job Growth: 10%

Administrative services managers perform many of the same professional functions as medical and health services managers, though they work in unrelated industries. For example, an administrative service manager employed at a financial company may direct that firm's health insurance program, benefitting from the healthy policy coursework they took during their graduate program.

Social and Community Service Managers

Median Pay: $64,100

Job Growth: 18%

Social and community service managers lead nonprofit organizations and government agencies, many of which operate in health-adjacent fields. For instance, the executive director of a youth organization may need an understanding of health advocacy to help program participants design a campaign to reduce tobacco use in their community.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nontraditional Careers for Healthcare Administration Graduates

The best online MHA programs prepare students for a variety of career paths. For example, graduate-level coursework in health information systems may prepare you for more general roles in information technology management. Read about four nontraditional careers for MHA graduates below.

Career Stats Description

Insurance Underwriters

Median Pay: $69,760

Job Growth: -5%

Insurance underwriters analyze data to determine whether to provide insurance to an applicant and at what cost. Within the field of medical insurance, professionals need a deep understanding of medical conditions and treatments. They also need the ability to navigate complex patient data systems.

Skills Overlapped: Data analysis, risk management, and organizational skills

Compensation and Benefits Managers

Median Pay: $119,120

Job Growth: 5%

Compensation and benefits managers design and administer programs that companies use to pay and provide services to employees. To create a health insurance program, for example, compensation and benefits managers must work closely with healthcare organizations, insurance organizations, and labor groups.

Skills Overlapped: Decision-making, negotiation, and communication skills

Computer and Information Systems Managers

Median Pay: $139,220

Job Growth: 12%

Computer and information systems managers direct the computer-related activities of an organization. Students who pursue an MHA online often take coursework in healthcare informatics and information technology management, developing foundational expertise that qualifies them for more general IT roles.

Skills Overlapped: Programming, data warehousing, and leadership skills

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Paying for an Online Master's in Healthcare Administration

The cost of earning an online master's in healthcare administration varies by school. Graduate programs at public universities, for instance, often cost considerably less than programs at private institutions, especially if you qualify for in-state tuition discounts.

When looking for ways to finance your degree, start by completing the FAFSA form. The FAFSA determines your eligibility for state and federal forms of financial support, including grants, work-study positions, and low-interest or forgivable student loans.

Scholarships for Online Healthcare Administration Master's Students

In addition to state and federal aid, you can apply for private scholarships. Many organizations provide awards to students preparing for careers in a specific field, such as healthcare administration. To improve your odds of selection, look for scholarship programs that serve students from your region or background.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Healthcare Administration Program

Online MHA programs usually consist of about 60 credits, allowing full-time students to earn their degree in about two years. In your first year, expect to take foundational coursework in areas like health policy, financial management, and information technology.

In your second year, you can personalize your learning through a formal concentration or elective classes. For example, you may choose to specialize in international health issues to work for an organization like Doctors without Borders. Some programs require students to complete a capstone project or write a research-based thesis in their second year.

Major Milestones

  1. Admission

    After earning admission to an MHA program, contact your school's financial aid office to learn about financial aid opportunities. You should also contact your faculty adviser to discuss what classes to take in your first semester.

  2. Completing Foundational Coursework

    The courses you take during the first year of your graduate program lay the groundwork for more advanced subjects in your second year. If you did not major in healthcare administration or a related field as an undergraduate, you may need to take classes in economics and statistics.

  3. Completing Concentration or Elective Coursework

    In your second year, you can take courses that match your personal and professional interests. For example, if you hope to start a health nonprofit organization, you may choose to take classes in social entrepreneurship and grant writing.

  4. Completing Capstone Project

    Many programs require students to complete a capstone project in order to apply their learning to a real-world healthcare administration issue. If you study online, contact your program administrator to learn about local capstone partner organizations.

  5. Completing Thesis

    Some students, especially those planning to pursue doctoral-level education, may choose to follow a thesis track. These students must conduct original research or analyze multiple studies related to healthcare administration and present their findings before a faculty committee.

  6. Meeting Final Graduation Requirements

    Contact your school's registrar to make sure you meet your program's academic requirements. The registrar can inform you of any outstanding requirements or payments. You can also join your school's alumni list to begin building your professional network.

Coursework

The classes you take while pursuing an online MHA may vary based on your background and career plans. The list below includes five courses commonly offered in these programs.

Principles of Population Health in Healthcare Administration

An understanding of population health allows healthcare administrators to design preventive services for individuals and communities. This course introduces students to the basics of analyzing health data and addressing issues of special populations.

Law, Ethics, and Policy in Healthcare Administration

Healthcare executives need an intimate understanding of the laws and regulations that shape their work. For example, students in this class review the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and its effects on healthcare delivery and patient interaction.

Healthcare Financial Management and Economics

This class provides an overview of accounting and finance within a healthcare setting. Topics covered include variance analysis, capital budgeting, and business planning.

Healthcare Informatics and Technology Management

Students in this course develop skills and knowledge in navigating health information management systems, analyzing patient data to personalize treatments, and using social media to improve community health.

Healthcare Operations Management

This course examines a variety of operational issues in healthcare management, including supply chain maintenance, project management, and employee scheduling. Students learn how to use quantitative tools and systems frameworks to improve performance outcomes.

Degree Timelines

Many online programs allow students to set the pace of their learning. Part-time students can more easily balance their education with work or family responsibilities than full-time students, while students on an accelerated track can earn their degree faster than traditional students.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description

Part-Time

4 years

Part-time students usually take about two classes, or roughly six credits, each semester. In asynchronous online programs, part-time students can watch lectures, complete assignments, and take exams on their own schedule. Part-time students may end up paying more, however, as tuition often rises each year.

Full-Time

2 years

Full-time students take four classes, or 12 credits, each semester. As these students typically do not have a job or substantial outside responsibilities, they can also take advantage of experiential and extracurricular learning opportunities, like supporting a faculty member's research, joining a student organization, or participating in a voluntary seminar series.

Accelerated

1 year

Accelerated tracks allow students to advance through a program as soon as they demonstrate mastery of the material. Some programs allow students to receive credit for work experience or test out of certain subjects. While appealing to working professionals, self-paced programs offer substantially less structure and support than cohort-based programs.

Licenses and Certifications

Medical and health services managers generally do not need a license to practice, though this depends on the scope of their responsibilities. Professionals who serve in administrative and clinical roles may need state licensure and board approval.

Some healthcare executives seek voluntary certification to demonstrate expertise in an area, like healthcare informatics. Others may apply for a professional credential to receive a promotion or negotiate a higher salary.

    • Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems: The CPHIMS credential signals credibility and a commitment to professional development. To become certified, candidates must pass an exam consisting of 115 multiple-choice questions in three major content areas. The exam costs $245.
    • Certified Professional in Healthcare Risk Management: To receive CPHRM certification, candidates must pass an exam covering subjects like healthcare operations, claims and litigation, and risk financing. They must also meet minimum education and experience requirements and pay a $275 exam fee. The credential requires biannual renewal at a cost of $135.
    • Certified Revenue Cycle Specialist: The American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management administers this certification program. While the association offers multiple certification tiers, all candidates must begin at the revenue cycle specialist level. Applicants must pass an exam covering subjects like denial management and account resolution. The exam costs $100.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Joining a professional organization can help you advance your career. Many of these groups organize regional and national events, allowing you to network with colleagues and learn about professional opportunities. Some may offer online or in-person training programs, share career advice from experienced healthcare executives, or host resources on subjects like maintaining patient privacy and negotiating with labor unions. The list below includes five prominent professional organizations in this field.

  • American College of Healthcare Executives: For more than 85 years, ACHE has worked to advance the professional interests of healthcare management professionals. The organization hosts a learning center to share the latest in healthcare administration research and a career center to provide tips on shaping your personal brand and developing your professional network.
  • Medical Group Management Association: MGMA primarily serves to create opportunities for networking and collaboration among executives in the healthcare industry. Members can access a shared data center, job listings, and a weekly news briefing.
  • American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management: AAHAM represents revenue cycle professionals, or those working to manage and collect patient revenue. In addition to formal certification programs, the association hosts an annual conference and administers a listserv with news and job opportunities.
  • American College of Healthcare Administrators: Though open to all healthcare administrators, ACHA primarily serves professionals working in post-acute and aging services leadership. It offers a mentoring program, student scholarships, free webinars, and paid certification programs.
  • Healthcare Financial Management Association: HFMA represents more than 38,000 financial professionals working in healthcare. It provides online professional development opportunities to its members, publishes a newsletter and podcast, and advertises national job openings.
  • Federal Student Aid: In addition to grants and loans, the Office of Federal Student Aid offers advice on finding private scholarships, tips on applying to school, and guidance for repaying student loans.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab: Healthcare students and professionals must know how to write well to succeed. The Purdue OWL is a comprehensive writing resource with step-by-step instructions on properly citing research and crafting cover letters.
  • National Center for Healthcare Leadership: NCHL works to improve leadership in the healthcare industry. Students can apply for administrative fellowships, and healthcare executives can join leadership excellence networks to collaborate on problems of practice.
  • Health Resources and Services Administration: An agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, HSRA offers resources on rural health, HIV research, and drug pricing. It also administers scholarship and loan repayment programs.
  • American Hospital Association: AHA represents more than 5,000 hospitals and care centers throughout the United States. Its Health Career Center allows you to search for jobs, read industry-specific career advice, and connect with recruiters and potential mentors.