"I was fairly certain I wanted to leave the workforce and go to a full-time MBA program, so I was looking at your traditional top 20 schools," Millon, then a strategy engineer at Lockheed Martin and now a manager with McMaster-Carr, an industrial supply company in Los Angeles, told U.S. News last year.
Millon ultimately opted for a nontraditional program after a coworker suggested Duke's Cross Continent MBA program, a hybrid of online courses and six two-week residencies in places such as Shanghai and Dubai.
That global experience, and the networking skills required to collaborate with classmates in different time zones and hemispheres, can come in especially handy for students working for an international corporation.
Online programs also help eliminate the lag time between classroom concept and workplace application. Licensed nurses pursuing a master's in their field can quickly see how well new patient care techniques work in practice, and business students studying new finance concepts can test them out almost immediately.
"I was able to take the learnings from a specific course, and immediately turn that into a competitive advantage at work," Macias, the Washington State University MBA grad, says about his statistics class. "Other teams were asking me to do regression analysis and help with regression testing statistics ... Once I was able to show them what I was doing, I became instantly a much more valuable commodity."
So valuable, in fact, that he was promoted in November 2012, a month before collecting his degree.
But you don't need to work for a multinational corporation to benefit from the online degree format. Dalene Erickson, a daycare provider, earned her master's in early childhood education from the University of North Dakota without leaving her home or business in Maryland.
"It was online or nothing," Erickson told U.S. News last year, adding that her coursework started paying off right away. As word spread of her educational pursuits, the daycare operation's wait list lengthened.
[Avoid these 10 mistakes online students make.]
While the parents of Erickson's charges seem indifferent to whether she earned her master's online or on campus, some employers are still leery of the quality of online degree programs.
But that perception is gradually changing as more marquee names venture into the online learning arena, experts say. Macias says his own employer had no issue with his online degree, as long as it was from an accredited program.
"I don't feel like in 15 years it's going to be as big of a deal as it may have been 5 years ago, or even is today," Macias says. "But I think [as] the graduates of these [online programs], we have to prove that theory out."
This story is excerpted from the U.S. News Best Graduate Schools 2014 guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings, and data.