Most Affordable Online Master's Programs

By the OnlineU team | Updated 4/13/2021

A master's degree can open up opportunities for higher pay and career advancement, and online learning is a flexible way to earn a master's degree while working or caring for family. The cost of graduate school can feel daunting, so we've ranked the 25 most affordable schools for earning an online master's degree. Each of these accredited colleges has an annual tuition rate under $5,500. To learn about our process for ranking colleges, view our methodology.

This resource also discusses popular subjects for master's students, the best affordable schools for pursuing a master's degree, and information on choosing an affordable program and which factors are important in that choice.


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Most Affordable Online Colleges For Master's Programs

All tuition numbers were manually collected and verified
Rank School Locations Annual Tuition
# 1 #1 Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta (GA) $2,700
# 2 #2 Eastern Illinois University Charleston (IL) $3,438
# 3 #3 Midway University Midway (KY) $3,750
# 4 #4 American College of Education Chicago (IL) $3,760
# 5 #5 Augusta University Augusta (GA) $4,140
# 6 #6 Marquette University Milwaukee (WI) $4,286
# 7 #7 Northeastern State University Tahlequah (OK) $4,428
# 8 #8 Fort Hays State University Hays (KS) $4,478
# 9 #9 Campbellsville University Campbellsville (KY) $4,485
# 10 #10 Columbus State University Columbus (GA) $4,515
# 11 #11 University of Arkansas Fayetteville (AR) $4,558
# 12 #12 California Coast University Santa Ana (CA) $4,600
# 13 #13 Missouri State University Springfield (MO) $4,635
# 14 #14 University of Central Arkansas Conway (AR) $4,875
# 15 #15 University of the Cumberlands Williamsburg (KY) $5,040
# 16 #16 Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville Edwardsville (IL) $5,097
# 17 (tie) #17 (tie) Graceland University Lamoni (IA) $5,100
# 17 (tie) #17 (tie) Union College - KY Barbourville (KY) $5,100
# 19 #19 Amberton University Garland (TX) $5,130
# 20 #20 Georgia College & State University Milledgeville (GA) $5,184
# 21 #21 Dordt University Sioux Center (IA) $5,250
# 22 #22 Valdosta State University Valdosta (GA) $5,274
# 23 #23 Midwestern State University Wichita Falls (TX) $5,427
# 24 #24 University of New Orleans New Orleans (LA) $5,437
# 25 #25 The University of Texas at Arlington Arlington (TX) $5,467

Most Popular Subjects for Online Master's Degrees

Computer Science
# 1 Georgia Institute of Technology
Annual tuition: $2,550
# 2 Georgia Southwestern State University
Annual tuition: $3,855
# 3 The University of West Florida
Annual tuition: $4,250
Data Science
# 1 Middle Georgia State University
Annual tuition: $3,825
# 2 Georgia Institute of Technology
Annual tuition: $4,125
# 3 The University of West Florida
Annual tuition: $4,250
MBA
# 1 Georgia Southwestern State University
Annual tuition: $3,855
# 2 Valdosta State University
Annual tuition: $4,395
# 3 California Coast University
Annual tuition: $4,485
MSW
# 1 Saint Leo University Online
Annual tuition: $5,610
# 2 University of Missouri
Annual tuition: $7,720
# 3 West Virginia University
Annual tuition: $9,594
Nurse Practitioner (NP)
# 1 University of Southern Indiana
Annual tuition: $5,105
# 2 Middle Georgia State University
Annual tuition: $5,610
# 3 Stephen F. Austin State University
Annual tuition: $6,060
Speech Pathology
# 1 Tennessee State University
Annual tuition: $4,068
# 2 University of Northern Colorado
Annual tuition: $12,600
# 2 University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Annual tuition: $12,600

Best Affordable Online Colleges for Master's Programs

All Annual Tuitions Under $16,000, High Salary Scores

For some students, picking a cost-effective master's program means considering not only upfront tuition costs, but also post-graduation earning potential. To help students make an informed decision, we combined those two factors to create this list of the best affordable online colleges for master's degrees. Schools are ranked by Salary Score, which measures alumni earnings one year after graduation. Because master's graduates tend to earn different salaries based on their area of study, we compared like programs across schools and then compiled the data for all programs at a single school to find its Salary Score.

Each school featured here has a Salary Score of at least 82 (out of 100) and charges less than $16,000 per year for tuition. California State University - Dominguez Hills tops this list with a Salary Score of 92.1 and an annual tuition rate of $7,176. Touro College and Georgia Institute of Technology are close behind with scores of 91.08 and 90.25, respectively. To learn more about how we determined this ranking, view our methodology.


2021 Most Affordable Master's Degrees Badge

All tuition numbers were manually collected and verified
#1
#1
Annual Tuition: $7,176
Salary Score: 92
Annual Tuition: $7,176
Salary Score: 92
Annual Tuition: $7,176
Salary Score: 92

With an overall Salary Score of 92 for master's programs, California State University-Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) offers top-performing online master's degrees in public administration, with a Salary Score of 85, and nursing, with a Salary Score of 76. Public administration students have the option to pursue a general track or specialize in nonprofit management, public management, or criminal justice policy and administration. Nursing students can choose to specialize as a nurse educator or a clinical... nurse specialist in neonatal, pediatrics, or adult/geriatrics. CSUDH's annual tuition of $7,176 was calculated by factoring in the number of semesters per year (two) and the flat rate per semester for full-time students ($3,588).

Financial Support Overview

Online graduate students at CSUDH have access to financial support that varies based on the program. For example, the nursing program offers several scholarships and awards to graduate students. The public administration program offers online students the same per-credit rate regardless of their location. All students have the opportunity to participate in one of four payment plan options offered by the university.

Online Student Resources

  • Academic advising
  • Online library access
  • Clinical counseling
  • Career counseling

Explore programs at California State University - Dominguez Hills >>

  • Online Degrees: 15
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 92%
  • Graduation Rate: 44%
  • Acceptance Rate: 54%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 701
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 760
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: WSCUC
  • Phone #: (310) 243-3696

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Arts in Negotiation, Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding
  • Master of Public Administration
  • Master of Public Administration - Criminal Justice Policy and Administration
  • Master of Public Administration - Healthcare Policy and Administration
  • Master of Public Administration - Nonprofit Management
  • Master of Public Administration - Public Management
#2
#2

Touro College

New York (NY)
Annual Tuition: $8,500
Salary Score: 91
Annual Tuition: $8,500
Salary Score: 91
Annual Tuition: $8,500
Salary Score: 91

Touro College has a Salary Score of 91 for its master's programs. The school's highest performing online master's degrees are in the field of education, with the educational administration and supervision program earning a Salary Score of 100. Other top fields include student counseling and personnel services (99), teacher education and professional development (99), and educational/instructional media design (96). Online coursework for these programs is delivered asynchronously, allowing students... to complete assignments when convenient. Field experiences can be completed at a school or facility near the student. The annual tuition rate for an online master's degree at Touro College varies by program.

Financial Support Overview

Online graduate student aid at Touro College consists of limited need-based and merit-based scholarships awarded by program. Active duty military and veteran students are eligible for discounted tuition rates and can receive credit for prior military experience. Master's degree students can transfer up to nine credits into their programs. Tuition payment plans are also available to all students.

Online Student Resources

  • Online library access
  • Research databases
  • Financial services
  • Veteran services

Explore programs at Touro College >>

  • Online Degrees: 12
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 88%
  • Graduation Rate: 61%
  • Acceptance Rate: 74%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 25
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 496
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: MSCHE
  • Phone #: (646) 565-6000

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Arts Industrial and Organizational Psychology
  • Master of Law in Aging and Longevity Law
  • Master of Science - Advanced Placement Physician Assistant Master's Completion
  • Master of Science in Education & Special Education - Childhood Education and Special Education, Grades 1-6
  • Master of Science in Education & Special Education - Early Childhood Education and Special Education, Birth-Grade 2
  • Master of Science in Education & Special Education - Teaching Students with Disabilities, Grades 7-12
#3
#3
Annual Tuition: $2,700
Salary Score: 90
Annual Tuition: $2,700
Salary Score: 90
Annual Tuition: $2,700
Salary Score: 90

The master's degree programs at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) perform strongly overall, with a Salary Score of 90. Georgia Tech offers top-performing online master's degrees in the fields of computer and information sciences, with a Salary Score of 93 and aerospace, aeronautical and astronautical engineering, with a Salary Score of 65. The annual tuition rate for an online master's degree at Georgia Tech varies by program. One of the most affordable options is the online Master of... Science in Computer Science, which costs $180 per credit and requires 15 credits per year for full-time enrollment, resulting in an annual tuition rate of $2,700. The program was created through a partnership with AT&T and features unique opportunities such as internships, guest speakers, and job recruitment possibilities.

Financial Support Overview

Online students at Georgia Tech have access to a limited number of loans and scholarships that vary by program. Assistantships offer tuition discounts and stipends for graduate students who reside in the local area and are enrolled full-time in a master's degree program.

Online Student Resources

  • Academic advising
  • Women's resource center
  • Counseling
  • Remote library access

Explore programs at Georgia Institute of Technology >>

  • Online Degrees: 24
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 69%
  • Graduation Rate: 90%
  • Acceptance Rate: 23%
  • Average SATs: 1300 -1510
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 474
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 12,827
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (404) 894-2000

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering
  • Master of Science in Analytics
  • Master of Science in Analytics - Analytical Tools
  • Master of Science in Analytics - Business Analytics
  • Master of Science in Analytics - Computational Data Analytics
  • Master of Science in Computational Science & Engineering
#4
#4
Annual Tuition: $12,075
Salary Score: 88
Annual Tuition: $12,075
Salary Score: 88
Annual Tuition: $12,075
Salary Score: 88
  • Online Degrees: 22
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 86%
  • Graduation Rate: 55%
  • Acceptance Rate: 58%
  • Average SATs: 910 -1130
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 589
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 917
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: WSCUC
  • Phone #: (818) 677-1200

Online Master's Degrees

  • M.A. in Diverse Community Development Leadership
  • M.A. in Humanities
  • Master of Arts in Diverse Community Development Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Educational Administration
  • Master of Arts in Educational Therapy
  • Master of Arts in Humanities
#5
#5

Villanova University

Villanova (PA)
Annual Tuition: $12,300
Salary Score: 87
Annual Tuition: $12,300
Salary Score: 87
Annual Tuition: $12,300
Salary Score: 87
  • Online Degrees: 46
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 63%
  • Graduation Rate: 90%
  • Acceptance Rate: 36%
  • Average SATs: 1320 -1470
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 196
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 2,660
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: MSCHE
  • Phone #: (610) 519-4500

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Arts in Classical Studies
  • Master of Arts in Classical Studies - Greek/Latin
  • Master of Arts in Classical Studies - Latin
  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Business Administration - Analytics
  • Master of Business Administration - Finance
#6
#6
Annual Tuition: $12,075
Salary Score: 87
Annual Tuition: $12,075
Salary Score: 87
Annual Tuition: $12,075
Salary Score: 87
  • Online Degrees: 34
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 74%
  • Graduation Rate: 71%
  • Acceptance Rate: 81%
  • Average SATs: 1110 -1320
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 717
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,865
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (703) 993-1000

Online Master's Degrees

  • LLM in U.S. Law
  • Master of Arts in Economics
  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Business Administration: Business Analytics Certificate
  • Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction - Assistive Technology
  • Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction - ASTL - Advanced International Baccalaureate
#7
#7
Annual Tuition: $15,330
Salary Score: 86
Annual Tuition: $15,330
Salary Score: 86
Annual Tuition: $15,330
Salary Score: 86
  • Online Degrees: 24
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 57%
  • Graduation Rate: 84%
  • Acceptance Rate: 46%
  • Average SATs: 1220 -1470
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 289
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 479
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: NWCCU
  • Phone #: (206) 543-2100

Online Master's Degrees

  • Executive Master of Public Health
  • Master of Aerospace Engineering
  • Master of Aerospace Engineering - Composites
  • Master of Aerospace Engineering - Controls
  • Master of Aerospace Engineering - Fluids
  • Master of Aerospace Engineering - Structures
#8
#8

National University

La Jolla (CA)
Annual Tuition: $10,166
Salary Score: 82
Annual Tuition: $10,166
Salary Score: 82
Annual Tuition: $10,166
Salary Score: 82
  • Online Degrees: 66
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 33%
  • Graduation Rate: 29%
  • Average SATs: 750 -1170
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,849
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 4,165
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: WSCUC
  • Phone #: (800) 628-8648

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Accountancy
  • Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology - Marriage and Family Therapist (California)
  • Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology - Professional Clinical Counselor (California)
  • Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology (California)
  • Master of Arts in Education
  • Master of Arts in Education - Advanced Teaching Practices
#9
#9
Annual Tuition: $9,147
Salary Score: 82
Annual Tuition: $9,147
Salary Score: 82
Annual Tuition: $9,147
Salary Score: 82
  • Online Degrees: 22
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 89%
  • Graduation Rate: 60%
  • Acceptance Rate: 73%
  • Average SATs: 1020 -1230
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 2,437
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,137
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: NWCCU
  • Phone #: (509) 335-3564

Online Master's Degrees

  • Executive Master of Business Administration
  • Executive Master of Business Administration - International Field Study Option
  • Master of Arts in Health Communication and Promotion
  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Business Administration - Finance
#10
#10

University of St. Thomas

Saint Paul (MN)
Annual Tuition: $9,900
Salary Score: 82
Annual Tuition: $9,900
Salary Score: 82
Annual Tuition: $9,900
Salary Score: 82
  • Online Degrees: 15
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 98%
  • Graduation Rate: 76%
  • Acceptance Rate: 84%
  • Average SATs: 1160 -1350
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 4
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 183
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (651) 962-5000

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Arts in Catholic Studies
  • Master of Arts in Special Education
  • Master of Arts in Special Education - Academic Behavioral Strategist
  • Master of Arts in Special Education - Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Master of Arts in Special Education - Developmental Disabilities
  • Master of Arts in Special Education - Early Childhood Special Education

Overview: Online Master's Degrees

The growth of online programs has students across the country considering earning their master's degree online. Many online students prefer distance learning because it's more convenient and makes it easier to fit classes into an already busy schedule. Enrolling online might give students more choices when selecting a school or program – depending on what's available in your local area, you might find a more affordable option or a program that better fits your needs online.

People go to graduate school for many different reasons. Earning a master's degree can open up new job opportunities and higher salaries. It is often required for certification or licensure in fields such as counseling or healthcare. Some people use master's programs to make a career change and gain experience in a new area of study.

What is a Master's Degree?

Master's programs are advanced degrees that allow students to focus solely on their field of study and gain skills and knowledge targeted for specific careers. Master's degrees usually include 30-40 credits, but some programs require as many as 60 credits, depending on the degree. Most master's programs take 2 years to complete, but this also depends on if students enroll full- or part-time.

Master's Degree Quick Facts
  • Average Credits: 30 - 40
  • Average Duration: 2 years

You'll need to have a bachelor's degree from an accredited university to enroll in a master's program, and many graduate schools require at least a 3.0 GPA, although some schools only ask that you earned a 2.5 or 2.75 GPA during your undergraduate studies. If you choose a master's program in a field similar to your bachelor's degree, you'll likely meet most course prerequisites. For students seeking a degree in a new field, there may be additional coursework requirements you'll need to complete prior to enrollment.

Some master's programs require applicants to submit standardized test scores along with their application. The most common ones are the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Although it's fairly common for one of these tests to be required, there are online options that do not require standardized testing in the application process.

Can You Get a Master's Degree Online?

Today's graduate students have access to thousands of online master's degree programs offered by accredited and respected universities across the country. Whether you're looking for a master's degree in computer science or social work, there are many more options available to you due to the rapid growth of online degrees.

An analysis published by the Urban Institute in 2018 found that master's degree programs have become more popular, serve a more diverse student body, and are increasingly available in an online format than they were in the past. The institute also found that online degrees are more popular with graduate students than with students earning their bachelor's degrees. Further, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more than 40% of graduate students took at least some online courses in the 2019-2020 school year, with nearly 33% enrolled exclusively in online courses.

"Online education may be particularly well suited for those who would enroll in master’s programs," wrote Kristin Blagg of the Urban Institute in her analysis, as master's students "tend to be proactive and self-directed learners."

Many online master's degrees are geared toward working adults, offering flexible schedules and a quicker path to completion. Coursework in online master's degree programs is typically similar if not identical to campus-based programs. Prerequisites for online degrees are also similar to that of in-person programs.

When choosing an online program, it's important to note that there are a few major differences between online options. One of the most significant differences is between nonprofit and for-profit schools. Nonprofit schools are generally seen as the better option, as there is a long history of predatory practices and evidence for poor student outcomes at for-profit schools overall. However, this is not always true. There are for-profit colleges that offer quality degree programs and have good reputations. It's best to do some research if you're considering a for-profit institution to ensure you'll have the support you need.

"Online education may be particularly well suited for those who would enroll in master’s programs," wrote Kristin Blagg of the Urban Institute in her analysis, as master's students "tend to be proactive and self-directed learners."

Accreditation

Accreditation is one of the most important things to look for when considering an online master's degree, and means both a school and a degree program have been evaluated by an accrediting body and meet universal standards of academic quality. Schools must be accredited to receive federal funding and to allow students to use federal and state financial aid to pay for their education.

For students, choosing an accredited program ensures their degree will be seen as legitimate by employers, colleagues, and other schools. Here are some of the other benefits of accreditation for students:

  • You'll be able to use any financial aid you qualify for to cover the cost of your education
  • Most schools will only accept transfer credits from an accredited college or university
  • Your degree will meet educational requirements to get into a doctoral program or post-master's certificate program
  • Accreditation is usually a requirement for certification and licensure

At OnlineU, we only display accredited schools to ensure students are directed to quality education options. All of the schools on our site have been vetted by an official accrediting agency. We display accreditation information under our rankings list on a page, as shown below, so you have access to all the information you need to weigh your options.

There are a few different types of accreditation your school can have.

Regional accreditation is what most nonprofit colleges and universities have, and it means a school has been evaluated by the accrediting body for the specific area it's located in. If you are pursuing a master's degree through a graduate program at a college or university, your school should have regional accreditation.

National accreditation is typically focused on a certain area of expertise rather than a geographical region. If you choose an online master's degree, your school may be accredited by the Distance Education Accreditation Commission, which evaluates online and other distance learning programs.

Programmatic accreditation, sometimes referred to as specialized or professional accreditation, is conducted by organizations that focus on a specific area of study. Schools themselves should have either national or regional accreditation, and individual degree programs or departments within the school will often have accreditation in their field of study as well.

Are Online Master's Degrees Respected?

Many people are concerned their online degree won't be taken seriously or will be seen as a low-quality alternative to a traditional degree. This stigma has roots in a history wherein low-quality for-profit colleges and diploma mills had a significant foothold in online education. However, online learning has grown rapidly in the past decade, and even the most prestigious universities like Harvard University and Dartmouth College offer online master's degrees today.

What matters most when choosing a degree that will be respected is whether or not a school is accredited, the reputation of the school itself, and the quality of the program.

Online degrees are much more widely respected now than they were in the past, and the switch to online learning during COVID-19 will likely accelerate this shift in public perception. Today's online students take the same classes and earn the same degree as their on-campus counterparts. Many schools offer both online and in-person programs, and the degree earned looks exactly the same regardless of what delivery method students choose. Most employers won't know your degree was earned online if you don't disclose that information.

What matters most when choosing a degree that will be respected is whether or not a school is accredited, the reputation of the school itself, and the quality of the program. If you earn a degree from an accredited institution, your credential will be equally valid if it was earned online or in person. Earning a degree or diploma from an accredited institution is typically necessary to getting licensed or certified in fields that require licensure, transferring credits to another institution, applying to a master's or doctoral program, and seeking employment that requires a degree. Your education likely will not be very useful to you if you attend a school that isn't accredited.

If you're still concerned employers won't respect your online master's degree, here are some things you can keep in mind when choosing a program:

  • Accreditation is a universal mark of academic quality and is often seen as the benchmark for whether or not a degree is seen as legitimate.
  • Earning an online degree from a school that also has a physical campus means employers won't know your degree was earned online. Many well-known schools offer online degrees in addition to campus-based programs.
  • Nonprofit colleges and universities are often held in higher esteem than for-profit colleges. This is not an overall rule, as there are some for-profit schools that offer quality programs. For example, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) earned her Ph.D. in human services online from for-profit Capella University in 2015.
  • You'll likely have an opportunity to discuss your motivations for enrolling online when interviewing for a job. The ability to balance school on top of work and other responsibilities is typically seen as an asset by employers, and you'll be able to explain why online education was the best choice for you.

Is It Worth Getting an Online Master's Degree?

There are many benefits to earning a master's degree. The advanced credential can open up new job opportunities, help you make a career change, qualify you for certification or licensure in your field, and help you earn a higher salary. However, it is a significant financial investment and takes hard work, dedication, and time to achieve. Many people struggle with the decision to enroll in a campus-based master's program because it often means they have to take time off work and either move to a new city to pursue their chosen program or be limited to the options available in their area.

Graduate students are more likely to choose an online degree, in part because they often have specific professional goals and can clearly identify how their master's degree will help them achieve those goals. The growth of online learning has opened up many opportunities for graduate students – it's now much easier to find an online degree you can fit in around your work schedule, and you can enroll in the program you really want without uprooting and moving to a new city. These added benefits that come with online learning might make it more worth it for students who are on the fence about enrolling.

Here are some other things to consider when weighing your options for graduate school:

Return on Investment

The cost of your degree vs. your potential salary growth: It's critical that students know how graduate school will impact them financially, both in terms of how much their degree will cost and how much they can expect to earn after they graduate. If you're not going to make much more money with your degree, you'll likely be shouldering a heavier burden in terms of student loan debt. Finding an affordable master's degree program can help lower the cost of your education, but you should still check median salaries in your professional field for those who have master's degrees to get a better idea of your financial future after graduation.

Industry Standards

For some industries, such as higher education, counseling, and social work, a master's degree is a standard requirement for many positions. For others, such as communications, healthcare, and construction, there are more job opportunities available with a lower level of education. Whether or not a master's degree will benefit you will depend on the field you work in and if a graduate degree is standard for your field.

Personal and Professional Aspirations

A master's degree is sometimes necessary for certification or licensure, or to apply for a doctoral program. Master's degrees can also help you make a career change – earning a degree in another field can better prepare you for a role in a new industry, or give you a unique skill set when paired with your undergraduate degree.

Academic Opportunities

This last consideration can also play a big role in deciding if you want to go to graduate school. Depending on what program you choose, you could have the opportunity to do critical research in your field or participate in an internship or fellowship you might not have access to otherwise.

Are Online Master's Degrees Cheaper?

The cost of a master's degree varies depending on what type of degree you earn, how long your program is, what school you attend, whether you live in-state or out-of-state, and other factors. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), average graduate school tuition and fees schools range from $12,000 for in-state students at public schools to $27,350 for students at private nonprofit colleges. However, total costs for a master's program at the most prestigious schools can be more than $200,000.

While keeping these numbers in mind might be helpful, you should note that the NCES does not provide online-specific tuition data, so the cost of your online program may be significantly different from these numbers. In addition, NCES uses a single tuition rate for all master's programs, but the cost per credit can vary significantly across programs. For example, take our #3 best affordable school for a master's degree. At Georgia Institute of Technology, cost per credit varies from $180 for a computer science program to $1,100 for an aerospace engineering degree. While we also publish a broad list of master's degrees that uses a single tuition, we have pages for 80 individual master's subjects that use tuition rates for that specific subject.

Georgia Tech: Cost Per Credit Differences
Aerospace Engineering: $1,100
Analytics: $275
Cybersecurity: $310
Computer science: $180
Manufacturing Leadership: $1,000

Generally speaking, whether or not an online master's degree will be cheaper than an on-campus program will depend on what options you have available to you in your local area. Given how many affordable master's programs are available online, it's highly likely that there is an online option that will cost less than campus-based programs near you.

How Much Does It Cost to Get Your Master's Online?

Of the schools we researched in order to rank the most affordable online master's degrees, the median annual tuition rate is $10,448 at public colleges and $11,475 at private universities. Eastern Illinois University, the top-ranked most affordable school for online master's degrees, has an annual tuition of $3,438 and California State University-Dominguez Hills, the #1 best affordable school, has an annual tuition rate of $7,176.

Online graduate students can often avoid paying many campus-based fees, such as activity and recreation fees. However, there may be distance education or technology fees that online students incur instead.

Of the schools we researched in order to rank the most affordable online master's degrees, the median annual tuition rate is $10,448 at public colleges and $11,475 at private universities.

It's also important to note that the cost of your online education will depend on whether or not you qualify for grants, scholarships, and other funding sources. While it can be more difficult for graduate students to get financial aid to help cover the cost of their education, there are many grants and scholarships available to graduate students who take the time to apply for them.

Funding an Online Master's Program

While bachelor's degree students typically get more financial aid from federal grants and loans than graduate students do, there is funding available to help cover the cost of a master's degree. The first place to check for financial aid opportunities should be your school's financial aid website. There, any institutional grants, scholarships, fellowships, and other funding opportunities should be listed. After you've exhausted this resource, you can look for external funding sources to help cover tuition and other costs. Students should always rely on gift aid they don't have to pay back before turning to student loans to make up the difference.

Here is a breakdown of the financial aid opportunities that may be available to online grad students:

Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships and grants can be offered by schools, nonprofits, private organizations, federal and state governments, and other entities. Grants are typically need-based, while scholarships can be need- or merit-based. Filling out the FAFSA may qualify you for some federal, state, and school grants and scholarships. Others will require a separate application. There may be specific scholarships or research grants available to you based on your field of study, your financial need, or a specific demographic you fit into.

Fellowships

Fellowships are typically awarded based on academic achievement and can be awarded internally by your school or department, or from an external source such as government agencies, nonprofits, or private organizations. Fellowships can be competitive and typically have early application deadlines. There are fellowships available for specific fields of study, to increase diversity in a given area, to fund research on certain topics, for academic excellence, and many other reasons.

Work-study

The Federal Work-Study Program is based on financial need and allows students to work part-time on campus or with a private nonprofit or public agency. The work-study program provides funding to schools and other organizations to hire eligible students, and those who participate in the program earn a paycheck just like any other job. It can be harder to find a work-study position as an online student, but some online schools partner with organizations or provide remote and in-person work-study positions for students at campus locations across the country. If you qualify for work-study funding, contact your school to find out what options are available to you.

Employer Tuition Assistance

One of the most underutilized sources of funding is education benefits offered by employers. The Society of Human Resources Management found that more than half of employers offer education funding in their 2019 report on employee benefits. Schools with a wide selection of online options also often partner with companies to provide education and training options.

Choosing the Right Online Master's Program

Making the decision to enroll in an online master's degree program is an exciting first step, but it's easy to get overwhelmed once you realize how many options are available to you. Some master's programs have been quickly and naturally adapted for the online space, and are more popular with distance learners. For other programs, you may have to do some research to find one that best meets your professional needs. Some of the most popular programs for online graduate students include accounting, counseling, psychology, social work, criminal justice, public administration, healthcare administration, and MBA programs.

You might think about this decision in two ways: choosing a degree that will help you advance in your current field, or choosing a new area of study that allows you to make a career switch or approach your field from a new perspective. Many people choose to get an MBA or a master's in a business-related field to gain administrative experience and leadership skills they can apply in their current field. Others pursue a master's in education to become certified as a teacher.

Once you've landed on a field of study and have a clear idea of your professional goals, take some time to research what programs are out there. There are a few factors to consider, including:

  • Does a school offer a general master's degree in a field, or is there more than one option and multiple concentrations available?
  • Will a Master of Arts or Master of Science will be better for your professional goals?
  • What degree concentrations are available in your chosen field?
  • Will you need to complete an in-person component such as an internship, residency, or clinical hours?
  • What kind of online program will best fit your learning style?

The table below will help you understand a few of the options available to you.

Popular Program Length Common Prerequisites Common Career Paths Median Annual Earnings
Accounting
1 - 2 years
  • GMAT or GRE scores
  • Bachelor's degree in related field OR additional accounting prerequisite classes if degree is unrelated
  • Public accountant
  • Management accountant
  • Auditor
Meets education requirements for the CPA exam
$71,550 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
Counseling
2 - 2.5 years
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Related professional or academic experience preferred
  • Mental health counselor
  • Substance abuse counseling
  • School counselor
Necessary for licensure in most cases
$46,240 to $57,040, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
MBA
1.5 - 2 years
  • GMAT or GRE scores
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Professional experience sometimes required
  • Business analyst
  • Management consultant
  • Operations management
$89,612 according to PayScale
Nursing
1 - 3 years
  • Bachelor's degree
  • RN license and one year of experience for most programs
  • Additional prerequisite courses for those with no nursing education
  • Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
$95,485 according to PayScale
Public Health
2 years
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Prerequisite courses in science and math
  • GRE scores for some programs
  • Healthcare administrator
  • Epidemiologist
  • Health educator
$65,064 according to PayScale

How Affordable is an Online Master's Degree?

There are a few factors that go into how affordable a master's degree will be. The biggest variable is tuition at individual schools. Some schools offer very affordable tuition, while others, such as Harvard University or Columbia University, are more prestigious and have significantly higher tuition rates. As a general rule, public universities are more affordable than private ones. You'll also likely pay less at a public school in your state, although many schools offer flat tuition rates for online students regardless of where they live.

The other component of affordability is the length of a program. Schools typically charge per credit, and programs with more credit requirements will take longer and be more expensive. Degrees that have an internship or practicum requirement also can cost more, depending on if your program requires you to pay for additional credits to count your practicum hours toward your degree. Choosing a master's degree related to your undergraduate field of study may help cut costs, as you'll likely have completed the prerequisites necessary for a master's program.

As a general rule, public universities are more affordable than private ones. You'll also likely pay less at a public school in your state, although many schools offer flat tuition rates for online students regardless of where they live.

Generally speaking, degrees that require clinical hours or other hands-on learning components may be more expensive due to the additional credits needed to meet graduation requirements. That can include clinical degrees in areas such as counseling, nursing, or psychology, and teacher preparation programs that require student teaching hours. These degrees could also cost more indirectly – if your program requires you to complete unpaid work hours in your field, you'll have less time to work at a paid position to help cover tuition and living expenses. Aside from these guidelines, the cost of a master's degree and the number of credits required will vary significantly by institution.

Which Master's Degree is Most in Demand?

While some master's degrees are always in high demand, others may become more sought after by employers as they look for candidates to fill positions in the country's fastest-growing occupations over the next decade. The following is a list of in-demand master's degrees based on positions projected to grow rapidly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2019-2029.

Nursing

  • Median annual salary: $109,910 for nurse practitioners
  • Job prospects: 52% through 2029

A Master's of Science in Nursing is necessary to become a nurse practitioner, one of the fastest-growing jobs in the country. For registered nurses, an RN to MSN program will allow you to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master of Science in Nursing in one program. There are also BSN to MSN programs available, and direct-entry or master's entry programs for those who have a bachelor's degree in a different field.

Learn more about online MSN programs.

Statistics, Economics, or Mathematics

  • Median Annual Salary: $91,160 for statisticians
  • Job Prospects: 35% through 2029

An advanced degree in any of these fields can lead to a role as a statistician. Professionals in this field use mathematical problem-solving skills and perform data analysis for government agencies or private research companies. Even if you aren't pursuing a role in statistics, these degrees can also be useful in the rapidly growing tech industry.

Learn more about online economics or mathematics master's degrees.

Public Health Administration

  • Median Annual Salary: $100,980 for medical health and service managers
  • Job Prospects: 32% through 2029

Medical health and services managers work in a variety of healthcare administration settings, and a master's degree in public health administration, health management, or a related field is typically necessary for the position. Alternatively, an MBA with a focus on health administration can also prepare you for the role. The job outlook is very high due to a projected increase in the need for healthcare services as the Baby Boomer population ages.

Learn more about online MPH programs.

Business Administration

  • Median Annual Salary: $84,810 for operations research analysts
  • Job Prospects: 25% through 2029

Known for its versatility and the significant salary boost graduates often see, an MBA program can open the door to many positions in finance, business, and related industries. Earning an MBA can also help you get a job as an operations research analyst. Although a bachelor's degree is the only qualification necessary to enter the field and work your way up, some employers prefer to hire those with master's degrees. An MBA will likely qualify you for more advanced positions and a higher salary in the field as well.

Learn more about online MBAs.

Data Science or Computer Science

  • Median Annual Salary: $94,280 for data scientists
  • Job Prospects: 31% through 2029

Tech is primarily a skills-based industry, and professionals looking to advance their career or gain a foothold in this expanding field can gain hands-on experience in a master's program. While the need for data scientists is projected to grow significantly over the next decade, each of these degrees will be applicable to other roles in the industry as well.

Learn more about online data science or computer science master's degrees.

Counseling

  • Median Annual Salary: $46,240 for mental health counselors
  • Job Prospects: 25% through 2029

Earning a master's in counseling can open the door to careers in mental health, school and career counseling, substance abuse counseling, marriage and family therapy, and other professional opportunities in the field. Professionals in this field can work for hospitals, rehabilitation centers, government agencies, or open their own private practice.

Learn more about online counseling master's degrees.