Most Affordable Online Master's Programs

By the OnlineU team | Updated 11/30/2021

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, accreditation, whether an online master's degree is worth it, the cost of a master's degree, and information on choosing an affordable program.


2021 Most Affordable Master's Degrees Badge

Find an Online Degree:

ADVERTISEMENT
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

2021 Most Affordable Online Master's Program Details

#1
#1
Annual Tuition: $2,700
Annual Tuition: $2,700
Annual Tuition: $2,700

Georgia Institute of Technology, a large public research university, offers 13 master's degrees with options available in STEM and business subjects. Students with a relevant bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA can apply for either a professional master's or a master's in science in these and other areas, with the option to learn asynchronously in both full- and part-time formats. A full list of degrees, which includes fields such as cybersecurity and operations research, is below. Georgia Tech participates in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, which makes it easier for out-of-state online students to take online classes at the university.

Financial Support Overview

Georgia Tech's online degree programs are significantly cheaper than on-campus ones, and the school also offers several free online courses to students in the U.S. and abroad. Though Georgia Tech does not have payment plans, it works with employers who agree to pay for their employees' education.

Online Student Resources

  • Technical support
  • Academic advising
  • Software and tools
  • Veterans services

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
#2
#2

Eastern Illinois University

Charleston (IL)
Annual Tuition: $3,438
Annual Tuition: $3,438
Annual Tuition: $3,438

Eastern Illinois University, a medium-sized public school, offers asynchronous and hybrid learning formats for 19 online master's programs. Students can pursue their graduate degree part-time or full-time, and EIU offers multiple online programs specifically designed for working adults. In addition to master's of science degrees in various education, technology, and health fields, EIU also awards master's of arts degrees in areas such as music and history. Applicants will need a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA or higher to gain admission. A full list of degrees is below.

Financial Support Overview

EIU offers most of its online programs at in-state tuition rates. Additionally, prospective graduate students may apply for various scholarship opportunities offered by the school. For instance, EIU's Student Assistance Award provides financial support specifically for graduate students to help pay for their degree.

Online Student Resources

  • Alumni networking opportunities
  • Career counseling
  • Financial services
  • Online student community

Explore programs at Eastern Illinois University >>


  • Online Degrees: 25
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 95%
  • Graduation Rate: 53%
  • Acceptance Rate: 52%
  • Average SATs: 940 -1130
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 562
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 524
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (217) 581-5000

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Arts in Aging Studies
  • Master of Arts in Art
  • Master of Arts in Art - Art Education
  • Master of Arts in Art - Community Arts
  • Master of Arts in Communication Studies - Communication and Leadership
  • Master of Arts in English
#3
#3

Midway University

Midway (KY)
Annual Tuition: $3,750
Annual Tuition: $3,750
Annual Tuition: $3,750

A small, private school in Kentucky, Midway University offers three online master's degrees. Students can take asynchronous classes, learning at their own pace to achieve a degree in nursing, education, or business. Admissions are program specific, but typically require that applicants have a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. While students can learn fully online, they can also benefit from one-on-one faculty support. Additionally, Midway University's size ensures small faculty-student ratios.

Financial Support Overview

With several scholarships on offer, more than 90% of Midway students receive some form of financial aid. Individuals enrolled in a graduate program also pay per-credit tuition rates, which gives them better control of the cost of their education by allowing them to take classes when financially convenient. Midway applicants can use the school's Net Price Calculator to estimate their higher education costs.

Online Student Resources

  • Academic advising
  • Career counseling
  • Personal success coaches
  • Writing center

Explore programs at Midway University >>


  • Online Degrees: 10
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 100%
  • Graduation Rate: 44%
  • Acceptance Rate: 57%
  • Average SATs: 960 -1130
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 363
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 216
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (859) 846-4421

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Business Administration - Equine Management
  • Master of Business Administration - Health Care Administration
  • Master of Business Administration - Sport Management
  • Master of Business Administration - Tourism and Event Management
  • Master of Education
#4
#4
Annual Tuition: $3,760
Annual Tuition: $3,760
Annual Tuition: $3,760

American College of Education is a small, for-profit school that offers several graduate degrees. Students learn asynchronously, completing each course over a five-week period. Many of ACE's master's programs focus on education, with degrees available in areas such as literacy, early childhood education, and education leadership. Additionally, the school master's in business administration is a unique program that encourages students to address social issues. Individuals typically need a minimum 2.75 undergraduate GPA to gain admission.

Financial Support Overview

ACE awards scholarships that reduce the cost of a master's degree. Some of these are reserved for specific groups, such individuals who graduate from historically Black colleges or universities. ACE also offers various payment options. For instance, students can pay their tuition in full, by course, or in monthly installments. They may also opt-in to a payroll deduction program, which allows ACE to deduct fees from future earnings.

Online Student Resources

  • Technical support
  • Career counseling
  • Software and tools
  • Veterans services

Explore programs at American College of Education >>


  • Online Degrees: 133
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 99
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 5,958
  • School Type: For-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (800) 280-0307
#5
#5

Augusta University

Augusta (GA)
Annual Tuition: $4,140
Annual Tuition: $4,140
Annual Tuition: $4,140

Students can enroll in a variety of distance learning graduate programs at Augusta University, a medium-sized public school. For instance, the school's master's of business administration can be completed fully online with options to learn both full- and part-time. The public health master's is also primarily taught online, offering concentrations in health informatics and health management. Applicants will need a bachelor's degree with a 2.75 GPA or higher to gain admission. Georgia's Board of Regents American College defines Augusta University as the state's health/sciences/medical college.

Financial Support Overview

Augusta University offers lower tuition rates for online students as compared to on-campus ones. Furthermore, semester fees are capped at 12 credits per semester for graduate programs. Augusta University has also allocated $8,803,423 of its funding from the American Rescue Plan Act for financial aid, providing eligible students with help to pay for their degree.

Online Student Resources

  • Career counseling
  • Clinical counseling
  • Testing and disability services
  • Online student club

Explore programs at Augusta University >>


  • Online Degrees: 27
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 93%
  • Graduation Rate: 40%
  • Acceptance Rate: 75%
  • Average SATs: 1020 -1205
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 133
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 348
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (706) 721-0211
#6
#6

Marquette University

Milwaukee (WI)
Annual Tuition: $4,286
Annual Tuition: $4,286
Annual Tuition: $4,286

Marquette University is a medium-sized Roman Catholic institution that offers eight online master's degrees. Admission requirements vary by subject area, but applicants with a bachelor's degree can typically apply for online programs such as the Master of Arts in Christian Doctrine, which focuses on giving students a deeper understanding of the Christian faith. Students can enroll in this program either full- or part-time, however, programs such as supply chain management, while considered fully online, may require students to attend in-person workshops on campus. Marquette has a diverse student body, including individuals from 47 states and 32 countries. It's graduate programs collectively enroll more than 3,000 students.

Financial Support Overview

Marquette University facilitates multiple federal, state, and private grants for graduate students. Most of the school's scholarship and grant programs are aimed at undergraduate students. However, graduate students can explore relevant funding opportunities by contacting Marquette University's Office of Student Financial Aid.

Online Student Resources

  • Disability services
  • Electronic journal access
  • Veterans services
  • Writing center

Explore programs at Marquette University >>


  • Online Degrees: 12
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 100%
  • Graduation Rate: 82%
  • Acceptance Rate: 89%
  • Average SATs: 1120 -1320
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 39
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 106
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
#7
#7
Annual Tuition: $4,428
Annual Tuition: $4,428
Annual Tuition: $4,428

Northeastern State University is a medium-sized public school where students can choose from more than a dozen online master's programs. Courses are provided asynchronously, with students electing to take classes either full- or part-time at their own pace. Graduate degrees are available in areas such as leadership, American studies, and science education. Applicants need a bachelor's degree, minimum 2.75 GPA, and standardized test scores to gain admission. As a Native American Non-Tribal Institution, 20% of NSU's students identify as Indigeous Peoples. Additionally, despite its size, the school offers a fairly small faculty-student ratio of 18-1 and is considered military-friendly.

Financial Support Overview

Current students at NSU can avail themselves of the school's Financial Literacy Center, which helps them make informed decisions about their finances. Furthermore, eligible graduate students can apply for remote assistantship programs that pay them to teach while in school. Prospective students can also contact NSU's financial aid office for advice on how to fill out federal and state aid forms.

Online Student Resources

  • Technical support
  • Career counseling
  • Financial services
  • Personal success coaches

Explore programs at Northeastern State University >>


  • Online Degrees: 29
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 93%
  • Graduation Rate: 33%
  • Acceptance Rate: 96%
  • Average SATs: 896 -1100
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,241
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 412
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (918) 456-5511
#8
#8
Annual Tuition: $4,478
Annual Tuition: $4,478
Annual Tuition: $4,478

Fort Hays State University is a medium-sized, public institution in the Midwest. The school's online master's degrees include more than 50 options in subjects such as business, education, and professional studies, with courses typically taking eight weeks to complete. Students need a bachelor's degree to apply, and can choose from multiple tracks in areas that include finance, web development, and reading specialist. A full list of programs is available below.

Financial Support Overview

Graduate students at FHSU can apply for various institutional awards and scholarships. For instance, the Selbe-Wood Family Scholarship offers $1,000 to master's in nursing students. Additionally, while the school does not offer in-state rates to online learners, tuition is significantly cheaper than for out-of-state, on-campus programs. Students who live close to the Kansas campus may also have the opportunity to work at FHSU to help pay for their graduate degree.

Online Student Resources

  • Academic advising
  • Career counseling
  • Software and tools
  • Veterans services

Explore programs at Fort Hays State University >>


  • Online Degrees: 66
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 96%
  • Graduation Rate: 43%
  • Acceptance Rate: 89%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 4,411
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 2,453
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (785) 628-4000
#9
#9

Campbellsville University

Campbellsville (KY)
Annual Tuition: $4,485
Annual Tuition: $4,485
Annual Tuition: $4,485

This medium-sized, Baptist school offers 40 online master's programs that allow students to take classes at their own pace or study part-time. Degree options are available in fields such as healthcare, information technology, and justice studies, with students needing a minimum 2.75 undergraduate GPA to gain admission to the graduate school. The school's master's of theology and master's of divinity programs focus on the study of Christianity, preparing students for a career in ministry. Campbellsville University emphasizes faith-based education and encourages students to become Christian leaders.

Financial Support Overview

Campbellsville University offers students five- and six-month plans that allow students to pay for their degree over time. Students may also be able to lower the cost of their degree by transferring previously earned credits. Campbellsville University participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which covers up to 100% of tuition costs for veteran and active duty students.

Online Student Resources

  • Alumni networking services
  • Clinical counseling
  • Career counseling
  • Veterans services

Explore programs at Campbellsville University >>


  • Online Degrees: 71
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 94%
  • Graduation Rate: 36%
  • Acceptance Rate: 69%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 913
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 944
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (270) 789-5000 x5000
#10
#10
Annual Tuition: $4,515
Annual Tuition: $4,515
Annual Tuition: $4,515

Though it is a medium-sized public school, Columbia State University has a low student to faculty ratio of 15-1 and offers several online master's programs. Admission requirements vary by program, but applicants typically need a minimum 2.75 GPA and a bachelor's degree in a relevant area. A majority of CSU's master's programs are offered in education in both teaching and leadership tracks. Specifically, the M. Ed. Teacher Leadership degree is a unique program that trains individuals to deepen their instruction skills as well as increase their influence beyond the classroom.

Financial Support Overview

Online students at CSU pay in-state tuition rates regardless of where they live. Additionally, previous CSU graduates can apply for the CSU Alumni Scholarship, a renewable program that awards $750 every semester to students enrolled in six or more credit hours of classes. Moreover, the school's Nelnet Payment Plan allows students to enroll in a flexible, interest-free installment plan.

Online Student Resources

  • Electronic journal access
  • Financial services
  • Online student community
  • Veterans services

Explore programs at Columbus State University >>


  • Online Degrees: 32
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 92%
  • Graduation Rate: 38%
  • Acceptance Rate: 53%
  • Average SATs: 860 -1100
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 674
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 786
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (706) 507-8800

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.

Line graph split into 3 sections representing graduate students who took various degrees of online classes

"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.

School accreditation can be found in the expanded section of the ranking list items

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 #1 most affordable school for a master's degree. At Georgia Institute of Technology, the 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 use 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. Georgia Institute of Technology, the top-ranked most affordable school for online master's degrees, has an annual tuition of $2,700.

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 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
$73,560 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
$47,660 to $58,120, 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
$91,000 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
$97,000 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
$66,000 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 CareerOneStop.

Public Health Administration

  • Median annual salary: $74,560 for epidemiologists
  • Job prospects: 30% through 2030

A master’s degree in public health or a similar field can lead to a career in epidemiology. By investigating an array of public health concerns, from bioterrorism threats to infectious diseases, epidemiologists can reduce the impact of adverse health outcomes. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that the expected job growth for epidemiologists is nearly triple the U.S. average over the next decade.

Learn more about online MPH programs.

Speech-Language Pathologists

  • Median Annual Salary: $80,480
  • Job Prospects: 29% through 2030

Typically, speech-language pathologists must have a master’s degree and license to enter the field. Whether they work in a school or healthcare facility, their role is to evaluate and treat patients for communication and swallowing disorders caused by a broad spectrum of mental and physical impediments. With 15,200 new job openings each year, speech-language pathologists are in high demand.

Learn more about online speech pathology programs.

Data Science, Computer Science, or Information Technology

  • Median Annual Salary: $126,830 for computer and information research scientists
  • Job Prospects: 22% through 2030

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 computer and information research 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, computer science, or information technology master's degrees.

Curators

  • Median Annual Salary: $56,990 for curators
  • Job Prospects: 22% through 2030

Curators need a master’s degree to enter the field, but it’s also helpful to have volunteer experience at a museum or historical site. Curators are responsible for assessing whether a piece of interest should be bought and added to an organization’s collection. Then, they research and arrange the final display of exhibits for an audience. Their job growth is significantly faster than the U.S. average due to the high number of retirees expected through 2030.

Learn more about online history programs.

Counseling

  • Median Annual Salary: $51,340 for marriage and family therapists
  • Job Prospects: 16% through 2030

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.