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What is the Cost of an Online Master’s Degree in 2024?

Although a master’s degree is a major financial commitment, studying online can save you money. Read on to better understand the cost of an online master’s degree and learn how you can graduate with less debt.

Author: Ellery Weil

Editor: Staff Editor

If you’re ready to earn your master’s degree, there are a lot of factors you’ll need to consider before choosing a program. For example, what subject do you want to study? How will a master’s degree in that field help your career growth? When should you begin your graduate education? And should you pursue an in-person, online, or hybrid degree program?

Another topic you’ll need to consider — and arguably, one of the most important — is the cost of tuition. Did you know the average master’s degree holder in the U.S. has more than $83,000 of student debt? While this number might be surprising, there are ways you can lower your financial burden and graduate with less debt.

On easy way to lower the cost of your master’s degree is by attending an online program through an accredited school. In this guide, we break down the cost of a master’s degree, explore affordable online degree programs, and consider additional factors that can help lower your financial burden and graduate with less debt.

Factors Influencing the Cost of an Online Master’s Degree

The cost of online master’s degree programs includes tuition plus fees and supplies, and these are likely to be at the forefront of your mind when budgeting. These elements are not the only things impacting your total costs, though. Many factors can influence the cost of an online master’s degree, regardless of the subject you’re studying. Below are some considerations to bear in mind.

Factor 1: Program/Course Modality

What type of program you’re in (i.e., how you’re studying) is likely to impact your overall course costs, either directly or indirectly. Here are three types of degrees and how their costs can differ.

  • Online Programs
    The cost of online master’s degree programs is frequently more affordable than other options. Not only do you save on relocation expenses and commuting costs, even as you attend a school anywhere in the country, but you also often have more flexibility about when you take your classes and complete assignments, making it relatively easy to balance paid work with your degree.
  • Hybrid Programs
    Hybrid degree programs have many of the same advantages as online programs, like limited commuting costs and greater flexibility. However, they can be somewhat more expensive, largely due to the costs associated with periodically commuting to campus.
  • Traditional On-Campus Programs
    While it’s not a guarantee, traditional on-campus programs are generally the most expensive option. You live on campus and may incur the costs of moving to a commuting distance from your school. You also spend more time commuting, which when combined with having to potentially relocate, may make it difficult to work a paid job while you study.

A graph comparing both the average and median costs of tuition and fees between online and hybrid/traditional master’s degree programs.

Source: The National Center for Education Statistics, 2023

Factor 2: College/University Type

Different types of universities — public, private not-for-profit, and private for-profit — generally charge different rates of tuition with public universities often being the least expensive. The table below outlines the differences between these institutions, along with the average amount for student loan debt that master’s degree students graduate with.

  • Public universities like the University of Michigan are partially funded by the state they’re located in and offer lower tuition for state residents. The average cost of graduate tuition and required fees during the 2021-22 academic year for public colleges was $12,596.
  • Private, non-profitcollegesand universities like Wesleyan University are private institutions but don’t seek to make an overall profit from their students. The average cost of graduate tuition and required fees during the 2021-22 academic year for private, non-profit colleges was $29,931.
  • Private, for-profit colleges and universities like the University of Phoenix are institutions designed to make a profit off student enrollment and fees. The average cost of graduate tuition and required fees during the 2021-22 academic year for private, for-profit colleges was $14,161.

A graph depicting the average cost of graduate tuition and fees for public, private nonprofit, and private for-profit colleges between 2018-2019, 2019-2020, and 2021-2022

Source: The National Center for Education Statistics, 2023

Factor 3: Student Residency Status

Even in a fully online degree, your residency status can still affect your online master’s tuition if you go to a state school, heavily impacting your overall degree costs. Consider the following degree types and how residency can impact them.

  • Online
    Even in the case of state schools, the cost of online master’s degree programs usually involves a flat rate regardless of residency. However, some charge lower rates for in-state residents, even for online programs.
  • In-State
    At state universities, in-state students typically pay a lower — sometimes much lower — rate of tuition. This is true for nearly all on-campus and hybrid programs at state schools as well as some online ones.
  • Out-of-State
    Even as an online student, if you’re out of state (or in the case of some schools, out of region), you may be charged out-of-state rates, which can be much higher than in-state ones, and significantly increase your online master’s tuition rate.

School Spotlight: Low Cost Per Credit Online Master’s Programs

As you consider your online master’s tuition, look at how top schools like the ones highlighted below compare. While everyone’s definition of “best” differs, these schools provide notable examples of academic rigor, flexibility, ease of online classwork, and diverse course offerings, and their prices per credit are relatively affordable. Check them out to get you started on your program search.

With more than 51 online master’s degree programs, Arizona State University’s online campus contains a robust and affordable online master’s degree catalog. What’s more, ASU offers a flat cost per credit rate of $565 for most online master’s programs, although additional student fees vary based on the field of study.

While ASU’s online degree program costs align closely with its on-campus programs, the school offers payment plans that allow students to spread out their tuition costs over time. ASU also offers financial aid counseling and scholarship opportunities for online students. Below, we highlight some popular online master’s degree programs offered by ASU, along with anticipated tuition costs (not including additional fees) based on its online tuition calculator.

Online Master’s Programs at ASU Cost/Credit No. of Credits Est. Tuition
MA in Communication $565 30 $16,950
MS in Mechanical Engineering $565 30 $16,950
Master of Architecture (MArch) $565 48 $27,120

Indiana University at Bloomington is the flagship institution of the Indiana public university system. They have a physical campus in Bloomington, Indiana that offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees. They also offer a large array of fully online and hybrid graduate degrees, including 60 different online master’s degree programs with Master of Arts (MA), Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Science (MS), and more.

As a state institution, IU Bloomington’s online programs have a reduced tuition rate for Indiana residents on some of their programs, though out-of-state tuition remains relatively low, and many degrees are offered at a flat rate regardless of residency status.

In addition to more affordable online tuition, IU Bloomington has a finance office that handles its course refund policies, which vary depending on where you reside. Further, all admitted online students are encouraged to submit the IU General Scholarship Application, which opens each fall and allows them to be considered for a broad range of IU scholarships.

Online Master’s Programs at IU-Bloomington Cost/Credit No. of Credits Est. Tuition
MA in English $350 (resident)

$490 (non-resident)

36 $12,600 (resident)

$17,640 (non-resident)

Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) $492.50 39 $19,207.50
MS in Finance $850 30 $25,500

Johns Hopkins University is a highly prestigious private university with a main campus in Baltimore, Maryland. It’s particularly well-known for programs in the sciences but offers a wide range of fully and partially online master’s programs in a variety of subjects. Many of these programs are fully online, but some require hands-on work at a field site or, like the Civil Engineering program, a campus visit.

As a private institution, Hopkins is significantly more expensive than many state schools, even for its online programs that are charged the same rate as in-person degrees. However, they have a highly involved financial aid office and can work with you as an online student to help you apply for aid with no deadlines for aid applications, so you can contact them at any time.

Online Master’s Programs at JHU Cost/Credit No. of Credits Est. Tuition
MS in Applied Economics $1,800 30 $54,000
MA in Cultural Heritage Management $2,094 39 $62,820
Master of Civil Engineering $2,094 30 $62,820

A long-standing expert in distance learning, the University of Maryland Global Campus is the online and distance-learning arm of the University of Maryland state university system. As a public institution, it offers reduced tuition for Maryland residents but also strives to keep out-of-state tuition relatively affordable for all its online graduate programs.

The university’s online programs contain a wide range of largely career-focused master’s programs, including fully online programs in business and finance, information technology, healthcare administration, and more. As a distance-learning institution, most graduate programs at UMGC are 100% online.

In addition to efforts to keep tuition affordable, UMGC offers a variety of scholarship opportunities for graduate students. These include both need- and merit-based programs as well as specialized grants and funds for students in special circumstances, such as military veterans and military spouses, students in foster care, and more.

Online Master’s Programs at UMGC Cost/Credit No. of Credits Est. Tuition
MS in Accounting and Financial Management $524 (resident)

$659 (non-resident)

36 $18,864 (resident)

$23,724 (non-resident)

Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) $524 (resident)

$659 (non-resident)

42 $22,008 (resident) $27,678 (non-resident)
MA Teaching $524 (resident)

$659 (non-resident)

30 $15,720 (resident) $19,770 (non-resident)

The City University of New York (CUNY) is a public university system based in New York City. Unlike many public universities, online master’s degrees from the CUNY system are listed together on CUNY’s online database of degrees regardless of which CUNY school the degree is from. Altogether, there are over 40 different online master’s degrees available from the CUNY system, ranging from MA to MBA to Master of Public Health (MPH), from multiple CUNY colleges and universities.

While each school has its own website, tuition rates, and financial aid office, all are public institutions that strive to have affordable tuition for New York residents. Many also offer a flat rate of tuition for all students, regardless of residency status, for online graduate degree programs.

If you’re interested in a CUNY master’s online, make sure you look at your specific program website, which has detailed information on tuition rates, and how to apply for any program-specific financial aid.

Online Master’s Programs at CUNY Cost/Credit No. of Credits Est. Tuition
MS in Organizational Leadership $470 30 $14,100
MA in Criminal Justice $565 36 $20,340
MBA $879 (resident)
$1,024 (non-resident)
48 $42,213 (resident) $49,173.45
(non-resident)

Cost of Online Master’s Degrees by Program Type

Accelerated Online Master’s Programs

An accelerated online master’s allows students to earn their master’s degree in a shorter amount of time — often with programs lasting less than a year — by studying at an advanced rate with more classes and a greater time commitment per week than a traditional full-time master’s degree.

  • Pro: Graduating early means you can begin working and earning money at a master’s-level career with a potentially higher salary more quickly.
  • Con: Accelerated master’s programs are often very demanding on your time, making it harder to hold down paid work during your master’s degree studies.

High-Quality Accelerated Programs

Dual-Degree Online Master’s Programs

Dual-degree online master’s programs allow you to earn two different qualifications through a single period of study by taking classes from two (typically related or complementary fields of study) programs at the same time and graduating with two degrees.

  • Pro: Earning more qualifications through a single degree makes you eligible for more advanced jobs without paying more in tuition.
  • Con: Dual-degree online master’s programs can have relatively high tuition and generally require an intense time commitment making it difficult to work while you study.

High-Quality Dual-Degree Programs

Full-Time Online Master’s Programs

Full-time online master’s programs are the most common type of online master’s degree and expect you to study at the same level of coursework and independent study per week as a full-time on-campus student in a traditional program, though you’re a distance learning student.

  • Pro: Studying online saves you the costs associated with relocating to campus as well as potentially saving you commuting costs on top of that.
  • Con: Online master’s degree programs can still be very expensive, particularly if you’re studying at a private school, and may offer less financial aid.

High-Quality Full-Time Programs

Part-Time Online Master’s Programs

Part-time online master’s programs allow students to study with a lesser time commitment each week (and frequently at their own pace via asynchronous classes or similar) with the understanding that it takes you longer — often several years as opposed to roughly two years — to graduate from the program.

  • Pro: Studying part-time gives you less of a time burden per week, making it easier to hold a paid job while you study.
  • Con: In a part-time program, it takes you longer to graduate, so you won’t have the qualifications to earn a higher salary as quickly.

High-Quality Part-Time Programs

The Cost of a Master’s Degree by Subject

Tuition costs vary significantly depending on the type of master’s degree you’re pursuing, even between different types of master’s programs at a single university. Below are a few popular types of master’s degrees frequently offered in online formats along with average tuition rates for comparison.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

Online MBA programs prepare students to assume a leadership position in a business or organization by developing their management skills. Students can expect to learn the business side of marketing, finance, and accounting, as well as how to successfully manage people and teams. Most online universities and colleges offer MBA programs, which usually last two years.

Related Online Master’s Program Cost/Credit No. of Credits Est. Tuition

$1,051

35

$36,785

Master of Education (MEd)

Online Master of Education (MEd) programs prepare students for careers in the educational system, whether as a teacher or an administrator. Even in 100% online MEd programs there is often a practicum component, like student teaching, which some schools allow you to complete in your local community.

Related Online Master’s Program Cost/Credit No. of Credits Est. Tuition

$470 (resident)

$855 (non-resident)

36

$16,920
(resident)

$30,780
(non-resident)

Master of Science (MS)

An online Master of Science (MS) degree is usually offered in a variety of different subjects, including both natural and social sciences. Expect your MS studies, whatever the field, to emphasize testable questions and rigorous research. Most online MS programs last two years for full-time study.

Related Online Master’s Program Cost/Credit No. of Credits Est. Tuition

$945

30

$28,350

Master of Social Work (MSW)

An online Master of Social Work (MSW) degree prepares you for a career as a social worker, and many states require an MSW for social work licensure. As with an MEd, an online or hybrid MSW likely still has a practical component that you may have the chance to complete in your community.

Related Online Master’s Program Cost/Credit No. of Credits Est. Tuition

$624 (resident)

$741 (non-resident)

60

$37,440 (resident) $44,460
(non-resident)

Master of Public Health (MPH)

In an online MPH program, expect to learn a combination of healthcare and public policy fundamentals to prepare you for a career in the broader public health field. Most MPH programs, whether online, hybrid, or on-campus, take about two years of full-time study to complete.

Related Online Master’s Program Cost/Credit No. of Credits Est. Tuition

$566 (resident)

$610 (non-resident)

45

$25,470 (resident)

$27,450
(non-resident)

Other Potential Fees for Online Master’s Degree Programs

While tuition is the largest and most obvious cost of your online master’s degree, it’s unlikely to be the only expense. In addition to your base tuition, you’re likely to encounter other fees and expenses and should account for this when you’re making your grad school budget before you enroll.

School Fees

Many schools charge an administrative fee for all students. The tuition and fees pages on school websites, like this one at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, have information not only on rates of tuition but on course fees that can vary from course to course, for graduates or undergraduates, and from year to year. These are typically much lower than tuition, often a few hundred dollars per year, but should still be accounted for.

Textbooks and Supplies

It’s no secret that academic textbooks can be expensive, often over a hundred dollars for a single book. While there are many online textbooks available at a lower cost or even for free and websites and bookstores where you can buy used textbooks, you should not count on being able to find these when you’re preparing your budget. Be sure to anticipate the possibility of having to buy your textbooks at full retail price.

Technology

As an online student, you’ll use a variety of different technologies. While this obviously includes video services like Zoom and/or MS Teams, you may also use more advanced technology for collaborative work like group projects or things like virtual lab-based classes. You’ll also likely use school IT for troubleshooting. As such, your university may charge you a technology and IT fee, which can be several hundred dollars per semester.

Health Insurance

Most schools, like Indiana University-Bloomington, have a health insurance program for students that usually includes access to student health centers and coverage in the event of more extensive physical or mental health needs. While you may or may not be required to buy university health insurance as an online graduate student, it’s important to be sure you have health insurance coverage in one form or another before you begin your graduate studies.

Miscellaneous Expenses

Remember to expect the unexpected. As you plan your grad school budget, keep a fund for miscellaneous expenses, which can include things like commuting or travel expenses for independent research, specialized course-specific equipment like scrubs in certain healthcare programs, or something else altogether. In the event you don’t need this miscellaneous fund, it can go towards future expenses or serve as a “rainy day” fund.

Ways to Pay for Your Online Master’s Degree

Even if you’ve been accepted into a school with affordable tuition, you may still have even more ways to save money on your degree. Financial aid programs, scholarship opportunities, and more exist for online graduate students to help them fund their degrees and graduate with as little student debt as possible.

Assistantships

Research and teaching assistantships are programs where graduate students work either in research in their field or help teach undergrads in exchange for a stipend or reduced tuition. Be sure to explore opportunities for assistantships for online graduate students at your school.

Grants

Grants, like scholarships, are one-off, usually merit-based payments to help support your graduate studies. Many grants are specific to students studying a particular field, and some are available for members of historically marginalized groups. Do your research to see what you’re eligible for.

Employer Tuition Assistance

Depending on your current job and what you want to study in grad school, you may be able to get your employer to help pay for your tuition. Many employers offer tuition assistance to help employees get the qualifications they need to advance in the field. Check if your workplace is one of them.

Scholarships

Scholarships, given to students to support their education fully or partially, can be based on either academic merit or financial need, or a combination of both. Be sure to check for school-specific scholarships you may be eligible for as well as for private scholarships from charities and other organizations.

Student Loans

Student loans, including both government and private loans, lend you money to pay for school that you’ll pay back when you graduate. Be sure to do your research on interest rates and other terms of the loan before you take out a student loan, especially if you’re borrowing from a private lender like a bank.

Financial Resources for Online Master’s Degree Students

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry. There are a whole host of resources to help you finance your online master’s degree. Here are a few to get you started.

  • AAUW
    The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has a mission to further women’s education and offers a variety of scholarships and fellowships for graduate students.
  • American Indian Education Fund
    This is one of the largest scholarship resources exclusively for Native American students.
  • FAFSA
    This is the federal government’s free application for subsidized loans, grants, work-study, and other forms of financial aid for higher education.
  • Mint
    This personal finance app from Intuit can help you set and stick to a budget during your studies, preventing unexpected financial issues.
  • NAACP Scholarships
    From one of the oldest African-American organizations in the country, the NAACP sponsors a variety of scholarships and internships every year, including opportunities for graduate students.
  • Personal Finance for PhDs
    Although aimed at early-career academics and PhD students, this site is filled with useful advice for managing your finances in an academic environment.
  • r/GradSchool
    Got a specific question about your budget or finances? This open forum of over 400,000 people allows you to ask and answer questions with fellow grad students and search their archives.
  • SAVE Repayment Plan
    For those with student debt, the new SAVE repayment plan allows you to pay off your debt on an income-based plan with an automatic forgiveness program if you make minimum payments.
  • Scholarships.com
    This is a comprehensive and customizable search engine and database for scholarships large and small, including those exclusively for graduate students.
  • THE Student Finance Series
    A series of helpful and practical blog posts on student finance and budgeting, this site is published by the Times Higher Education (THE) supplemental publication.

Interview with a Financial Aid Expert

Jack Wang

Jack Wang works with families throughout the U.S. to help them maximize aid and pay for college efficiently without wrecking their finances. A regular guest on various personal finance podcasts, Mr. Wang has been quoted in publications like Forbes, CBS News, Business Insider, and GoBankingRates. He is also the host of the up-and-coming “Smart College Buyer” podcast.

Q. What are some of the factors influencing grad school costs for 2024?

Graduate school costs generally rise each year, but a major factor that influences cost is the “prestige” or demand of the school. For example, an MBA from Harvard University tops $80k for tuition and fees, not counting living expenses while some online MBAs could cost under $20k. Another factor includes the format of the program and whether the program is full-time on-campus, low residency, or fully online.

Q. Are there particular types of master's programs that are more or less expensive for the average student?

Costs can really vary for master’s programs, but I would submit that a better measure is return on investment, which is a better measure for graduate rather than undergrad programs. Some grad degrees in STEM fields, medicine, and law, can have high ROI, but programs such as social work or even teaching can often have low ROI due to low average starting salaries. It may not be fair, but it is the truth of those fields.

Q. How important is it to have your financial aid completely lined up before starting your program?

Extremely as most of the horror stories starting with “I graduated with $x in debt…” are often from graduate students who are allowed to borrow as much as needed from the Federal government. A would-be grad student may not know the exact details of aid, but having a plan to pay for grad school and realistic expectations for aid is critical if one does not want to graduate with a ton of debt.

Q. What types of scholarships and aid applications do you generally recommend graduate students turn their attention to?

There are scholarships for graduate students, though most of the money comes from the colleges themselves. Also, don’t forget other sources of money such as obtaining fellowships, research positions, or becoming a teaching assistant.

Don’t overlook employer-provided benefits such as tuition reimbursement or student loan payment benefits which can’t eliminate debt but can help lessen the overall cost of debt. As for applying for financial aid, graduate students are considered independent for financial aid purposes, even if they live with their parents.

Q. Would you say online/hybrid grad students notice a substantial difference in financial aid opportunities?

Yes, because financial aid is calculated starting with the overall cost of the program. Online or hybrid grad programs are often less expensive than traditional programs, so a student would typically be offered less aid.

Q. What role should living expenses play when students are calculating their grad school budget?

Living expenses are a huge, often overlooked component of grad school costs. Grad students don’t often live in dorms, so costs tend to be higher. Also often overlooked are forgone earnings if a student has to quit a job to attend grad school full-time.

Q. Do you feel graduate students should be wary at all when it comes to taking out student loans? Does the type of loan play a role in your advice?

Grad students taking out loans should be even more mindful of the return on investment since the student should be able to earn enough to live as well as pay off the loans without causing hardship.

Q. What's the single most important piece of advice you have for graduate students worried about financing their education?

Think about the ultimate goal and what you hope to gain. Do you just need a degree to advance your career with your current employer? Or are you doing a career switch? And, just how important are prestige and alumni networks when the technical knowledge gained is often the same at each school? Sometimes people look to the higher cost programs because of perceived quality when it really doesn’t matter to their professional goals.