According to EducationData.org, a master’s degree can cost students anywhere from $30,000 to $120,000. As outlined below, this wide range can be attributed to multiple factors. These factors include how schools set their tuition prices, additional fees and costs associated with an online master’s degree, and what students actually end up paying thanks to resources like loans, scholarships, and employer tuition assistance.
While it’s important to consider the cost of an online master’s degree, ultimately, price is just one of the many factors that students should weigh when deciding if an online master’s program is right for them.
Factors that Impact Grad School Cost
There are two ways to think about the cost of graduate school, what institutions charge, and what students pay. Several factors affect both of these aspects of the cost of grad school.
A key influence on a school’s tuition price is whether it’s a public or private institution. Public universities are subsidized by state governments, allowing them to charge lower tuition rates than private universities, which get most of their funding from tuition and endowments. EducationData.org reports that the average cost of a master’s degree is $29,150 at a public university and $62,100 at a private university.
However, one thing to keep in mind with public universities is that they typically charge out-of-state students higher tuition rates. This is particularly important for online students to consider if they’re enrolling at a public university in a different state than where they reside.
Tuition prices may also vary based on the specific master’s degree program. Certain programs that are selective, resource-intensive, or have a high return on investment may charge higher tuition rates than those that are more common and less expensive to administer.
Meanwhile, several factors impact what grad school costs students when they pay for their programs. Chief among these are financial aid like loans, scholarships, and assistantships. These types of funding can significantly lower the cost of grad school.
Tuition assistance or reimbursement from an employer is another form of financial aid that can help lower a graduate student’s tuition costs. Generally speaking, in this situation, a student pays upfront for their classes, and their employer reimburses them for some or all tuition after successfully completing the course.
Students who are active-duty or veteran service members, or married to service members, may also be eligible for tuition discounts and special programs that help subsidize the out-of-pocket cost of a master’s degree.
Online Grad School Costs Other Than Tuition
While tuition is often the most significant expense associated with an online master’s program, there are additional costs that students should keep in mind when budgeting for grad school. These may include:
|Technology||After tuition, technology is often a key expense for online master’s students. This includes having high-quality hardware like a computer, a functioning webcam, a microphone, and headphones. Online students also need fast, reliable internet so they can attend virtual classes or stream video lessons without interruption. Depending on their program, they may also need specific hardware or software.|
|Fees||Schools may charge students annual or per-term fees for technical support, online student resources, or other supplementary services.|
|Books and materials||Whether digital or hard-copy format, textbooks are still an integral part of online learning in many cases.|
|Application costs||There are also costs associated with applying to graduate school, including application fees and the cost of registering and preparing for graduate entrance exams like the GRE or GMAT.|
|Travel costs||While online grad students don’t have to pay for daily transportation to campus, there may be in-person events that students have to attend, including internships, residencies, labs, or orientations. Students should be aware of any in-person requirements for their program and factor any related costs, such as gas, public transportation, or parking, into their budget.|
How to Pay for an Online Master’s Degree
In addition to using their own funds, there are several ways students can pay for an online master’s degree. These include student loans, employer tuition assistance scholarships, grants, assistantships, and more. Students may receive financial assistance forms directly from their schools, but the following resources are available to all students, regardless of their educational institution.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid
The first stop for students planning on borrowing money to pay for their graduate education should be StudentAid.gov. This is where students can complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which the Department of Education uses to determine who is eligible for federal student loans. The types of federal aid graduate students are eligible for include Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, the TEACH Grant, the Federal Work-Study Program, and Federal Pell Grants. Many states and schools also use information from the FAFSA to determine eligibility for additional aid and scholarships.
Employer Tuition Assistance
An often-overlooked method of paying for grad school is using tuition assistance benefits from an employer. While this isn’t a universal employee benefit, some of the nation’s largest companies, including Amazon, AT&T, Verizon, Apple, and Wal-Mart, offer some or all employees tuition assistance. The exact reimbursement amounts and process vary by company, but generally, a company will compensate an employee for their tuition after they submit documentation showing they successfully completed their classes. Students who need clarification about whether their company offers tuition assistance benefits can contact their human resources department or benefits coordinator to find out more.
FastWeb is a leading online higher education resource best known for its extensive scholarship database. The site features a directory where students can search for scholarships based on specific demographics, like first-year graduate students, single parents, non-traditional adults and returning students, and more. Students can also create a profile to get personalized recommendations for scholarship opportunities using FastWeb’s database algorithm. Searching for scholarships can be time-consuming, so this feature makes FastWeb one of the more effective and efficient resources for finding money to help pay for grad school.
The U.S. Department of Labor sponsors CareerOneStop, an online resource to help individuals prepare for the workforce with self-assessments, career planning tools, and information on education and training paths. They also feature a searchable database of financial aid resources, including scholarships, fellowships, grants, and other monetary prizes to help pay for school and career development. Students can browse the thousands of opportunities or do a targeted search using keywords or filters like level or field of study, upcoming deadlines, award amount, and type of award.
Multitasking students who want to find the money for grad school on the go will appreciate Scholly, a mobile app that uses AI to help students pinpoint ideal scholarship opportunities. Available for Apple and Android devices, Scholly streamlines the process of finding suitable scholarships, grants, and fellowships by matching students with options based on their educational and professional backgrounds, interests, accomplishments, and more. Scholly also offers additional opportunities to earn money for school through drawings and exclusive offers.
The Pros and Cons of an Online Master’s Program
There are various benefits and drawbacks to earning a master’s degree online, many of which come down to personal preferences and circumstances. Here are some top pros and cons of an online master’s program.
- Flexibility: Compared to traditional master’s programs, online programs offer an exceptional level of flexibility. Students can learn from anywhere and, if their program’s asynchronous, at whatever time is convenient. This makes online master’s programs ideal for individuals who are working, raising kids, or fulfilling other obligations.
- Accessibility: Education can be much more accessible when students don’t have to be in a specific location for classes. Online learning opens up opportunities for students with physical or learning limitations that make in-person classes difficult.
- More program options: It also means that students aren’t limited to programs offered by institutions in their local area. Rather than be forced to move or give up on their education, students can access their desired course of study from wherever they currently live.
- Not compatible with all learning styles: While online learning might seem ideal in theory, it’s not for everyone. Hands-on learners may find it challenging to stay engaged with virtual lectures or lots of reading assignments, which are common in online learning settings. Additionally, online learning requires more self-motivation, organization, and tech-savvy than traditional programs.
- Networking challenges: A key reason students attend grad school is to build their professional network, which can be difficult in an online setting. Although many programs have ways to connect students and faculty, like discussion forums and virtual networking events, it can be easier to form lasting connections with face-to-face interaction of in-person classes and impromptu meetings.
- Requires technological skills: Technology is a part of education regardless of the learning setting, but being comfortable with tech is crucial to success in an online master’s program. Students may need to troubleshoot connectivity issues to attend classes and must be comfortable communicating primarily via email, group chats, and discussion forums.
The Best Online Master’s Programs
Intelligent.com reviewed hundreds of online master’s programs based on quality, retention and graduation rates, cost, and more to create this list of the top 50 best programs for 2023.