Compare School Options

Most schools have rolling admissions and financial help so you can start your degree in a few weeks!

For individuals aspiring to higher incomes and lower unemployment rates, the value of a master’s degree is increasingly evident. With weekly salaries for master’s degree holders averaging $1,574 and an impressively low 2.6% unemployment rate, earning an advanced degree is generally a wise investment.

Yet, knowing which online program is right for you can be challenging. After all, how can you ensure an affordable program is reputable? What qualities should you seek to determine a top-notch education that aligns with your budget? Which factors should you examine closely to make this decision?

In this article, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the most affordable online graduate programs, offering a cost-effective gateway to lucrative career prospects. We’ll also provide an insightful cost breakdown, dissect the factors influencing tuition rates, and detail various financing options, from out-of-pocket payments to federal loans and work-study opportunities. Plus, we’ll offer tips on selecting the right program to match your career aspirations and financial goals.

Cost Breakdown for an Online Master’s Degree Program

Earning your graduate degree online offers a unique advantage in that it can be completed remotely, anywhere in the world, and at your own pace. This makes online education feasible for working professionals and those with other significant responsibilities — like raising a family or caretaking — but it does come with its own set of costs. These include the following:

  • Tuition: Tuition fees for online master’s programs can vary significantly, but they are typically assessed per credit hour or term. Costs can range from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars per credit, and the total program cost depends on the number of credits required for completion.
  • Fees: In addition to tuition, students may incur fees for various services such as tech support for multiple services such as tech support, academic resources, and library access. Sometimes, these fees can add several hundred dollars to the overall cost.
  • Personal Technology: To participate effectively in an online program, students need a computer, hardware (often including a webcam and microphone), and reliable Wi-Fi. Costs will depend on the quality and specifications of the equipment you choose.
  • Books and Learning Materials: Students will need textbooks and course materials, which can vary in cost depending on the program’s requirements and whether digital or physical materials are preferred.

Budgeting for these components is essential when choosing a program for your degree. Still, it’s also important to remember where you’ll save money by earning your degree in a virtual environment. Online students often enjoy significant savings compared to their on-campus counterparts by avoiding commuting and housing expenses. This degree of flexibility enables many students to maintain part- or full-time employment when pursuing their degrees, helping to balance the overall financial impact.

Factors Influencing the Cost of an Online Master’s Degree Program

With an unemployment rate sitting at a mere 2.6% for graduate degree-holders, significantly lower than the national average for other education levels, pursuing your master’s is a wise investment. However, not all institutions are priced the same, and certain factors can cause tuition prices to fluctuate. Here’s a breakdown of the critical factors that impact tuition rates for online institutions:

  • Public vs. private institution: Public online colleges and universities, often funded by state governments, typically offer more affordable tuition rates. These institutions receive subsidies, making education more accessible to in-state residents. In contrast, private online institutions are more expensive and rely heavily on tuition revenue.
  • Nonprofit vs. for-profit: Nonprofit online institutions prioritize education over profit, resulting in more reasonable tuition rates. For-profit institutions often have higher tuition costs as they aim to generate revenue for shareholders.
  • Student residency status: In-state residents usually benefit from significantly lower tuition rates at public institutions. Out-of-state and international students often pay higher rates, as they don’t contribute to the state’s tax base that supports the university.
  • Student military status: Active-duty military personnel and veterans may receive tuition discounts, scholarships, or access to government-funded programs like the GI Bill, making education more affordable for this group of students.

It’s crucial to consider these factors when choosing an institution to ensure that you find an affordable and suitable option that aligns with your financial situation and academic goals.

Most Affordable 50 Online Master’s Degree Programs

Most Affordable Online Master's Degree Programs

University of Florida

California State University Dominguez Hills

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

John Jay College of Criminal Justice

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Fort Hays State University

California State University

Chadron State College

Stanford University

Arkansas State University

Amberton University

California State University at Fullerton

CSUN - Tseng College

Georgia Institute of Technology

Southeast Missouri State University

Southern New Hampshire University

Florida International University

Arizona State University

Western Governors University

Georgia College and State University

Wayne State College

University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign

University of South Florida

Graceland University

Colorado State University Global

Marshall University

University of Louisiana at Monroe

Texas A&M International University

University of Central Missouri

University of Maryland Global Campus

California State University, San Bernardino

Western New Mexico University

Texas A&M University - Commerce

Midwestern State University

University of West Georgia

Cameron University

University of Wyoming

Valdosta State University

University of Texas at Tyler

Sam Houston State University

Emporia State University

Lamar University

Discover More Options

How we rank schools

This list features some of the most affordable online master’s degree programs in the U.S. All are offered at nonprofit, accredited institutions, either public or private, with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions.

We evaluated each degree program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, reputation, and student resources. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared our picks to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

How to Pay for an Online Master’s Degree


For some students, paying for their tuition out-of-pocket is a money-saving endeavor that can benefit them for years to come. Students can use their personal savings to avoid costly student loans with interest rates if available. Many institutions also provide flexible payment plans that allow students to break their total tuition into manageable installments, making higher education financially feasible.

Federal student loans

Federal student loans are another option to finance your degree and are generally more favorable than private education loans. Federal loans offer flexible repayment terms and typically come with lower interest rates. Graduate students commonly receive two types of loans after submitting the Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA): Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans.

While federal student loans provide accessible and cost-effective financing options, avoiding overborrowing and pursuing other financial aid is essential to avoid incurring significant debt.

Private education loans

While private education loans are an option to fund your education, they should generally be used as a last resort. These loans often come with high interest rates and inflexible repayment terms, making them a costly choice compared to federal loans or personal savings. It’s advisable to exhaust all other financial aid options before considering private loans, as they can lead to significant debt burdens and financial strain after graduation.


Scholarships are an excellent option to offset the cost of your education. Scholarships are often awarded for various reasons, including merit-based, need-based, and subject-specific opportunities. These opportunities are available from multiple sources, including universities, private organizations, and government entities.

Explore your chosen institution’s scholarship programs to find scholarships for your studies. Your school’s financial aid office can connect you with opportunities ideal for your background and needs.


You can also leverage grants as a source of financial aid for your education. Grants, like scholarships, do not require repayment but differ in their origin; grants are often government-funded, while scholarships come from various organizations and institutions.

Graduate students are not eligible for federal grants like the Pell Grant, as it’s predominantly awarded to undergraduates. However, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant is available for qualifying graduate students and grants up to $4,000 annually. State-specific and institutional grants might also be an option, depending on your chosen program and location.


Work-study programs can help graduate students fund their education with part-time employment opportunities that align with their field of study. While work-study opportunities are often awarded based on financial need, graduate-level positions for online learners might involve virtual research, teaching assistantships, or administrative roles.

These programs allow students to gain practical experience and earn money to cover educational costs. Even better, work-study options for online graduate students are designed to be flexible, accommodating your study schedule while providing valuable skills and financial support.

Employer tuition assistance

Those currently employed can explore employer tuition assistance, a valuable benefit where employers partially or fully cover educational expenses. This support not only eases the financial burden but also supports career development.

To discover if your employer offers this benefit, contact your HR department. Some employers may require students to pursue degrees related to their current roles, while others have more flexible policies.

Applying for Financial Aid

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process for graduate students involves a few key steps. First, you must create an FSA ID and gather your financial documents, including tax returns and bank statements. Next, complete the FAFSA form online, providing personal and financial information. Then, specify the graduate schools you are planning to apply to. After submission, review your Student Aid Report (SAR) for accuracy.

The SAR will then be sent to your chosen schools to determine your eligibility for federal aid programs, including grants and loans. Be sure to adhere to deadlines and keep your information up-to-date for a smooth financial aid process.

Learn more about the FAFSA

For those seeking a comprehensive resource on navigating the FAFSA, check out’s Ultimate FAFSA Guide. This guide offers invaluable insights into the types of funding available, a step-by-step how-to list for completing the form, and tips on handling questions related to family size and immigration status.

Student loan forgiveness and repayment

Amid ongoing debates and legislative efforts surrounding student loan forgiveness in the United States, current and prospective college students must consider their financial future responsibly. Making a well-informed plan for loan repayment is essential to ensure financial stability after graduation.

College counselor Dana Marvin emphasizes this significance: “First, take out what you need and nothing more.” She continues, “For example, if you’re eligible to take out a loan for $12,500 per year but only need $8,000, there’s no need to take out a loan for that extra funds. Remember, every dollar you take out in a loan will not only be paid back, but with interest!” While federal loans can be helpful, it’s essential to avoid overborrowing to set yourself up for financial success in the future.

How to Choose the Online College or University that’s Right for You

Step 1: Clarify what you want

Deciding to seek higher education is an excellent way to take your career to the next level or pivot to a new field, and the path to success starts with gaining clarity on several crucial factors before committing to a program.

First, determine your area of study. While this decision may be relatively straightforward for those planning to stay in their current field, it may require more thought from those seeking a new career. After all, a master’s degree in accounting will prepare you for a vastly different future than a master’s in psychology.

Next, consider the program type: a traditional master’s, executive program, or specialized track. Assess the program’s delivery format and schedule to ensure it fits your lifestyle. Addressing these vital components will prepare you for a more rewarding and tailored education journey.

Step 2: Research schools and programs

Once you’ve clarified your educational goals, it’s time to research schools and programs that are well-equipped to help you achieve those objectives. First, check for institutional and programmatic accreditation to ensure you’re eligible for federal funding.

Then, consider the following questions to help guide your research:

  • Does the program align with your career objectives?
  • What is the curriculum structure, including core and elective courses?
  • Is the faculty experienced in online teaching?
  • Are there opportunities for networking and student support services?

You can gather this information by exploring school websites, attending virtual or in-person open houses, contacting program coordinators, speaking with current students, and examining program reviews and rankings.

Step 3: Prepare for applications and tests

Now that you have shortlisted your preferred online graduate programs, you can begin preparing for the application process. Ensure you meet all application requirements, including transcripts, letters of recommendation, essays, and a resume.

If your selected programs require GRE or GMAT scores, consider enrolling in a test prep program to improve your scores. A strong test score can boost your competitiveness as an applicant, and test prep programs for both the GRE and the GMAT can help get you there with test-taking strategies and structured study plans.

Step 4: Select your program

Two strategies exist when applying to online graduate schools: a focused approach that prioritizes one or two ideal schools and a broader approach that casts a wider net for increased acceptance chances. Each has its merits, depending on your priorities.

For those with multiple acceptance letters, deciding which school to attend requires thoughtful consideration. Now is an excellent time to revisit factors like program fit, faculty expertise, financial aid, and career prospects post-graduation. You can also seek insights from current students, attend program webinars, and evaluate each program’s curriculum and support services.

Step 5: Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Paying for your online master’s degree can feel intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Prioritize scholarships and grants, as they don’t require repayment and can significantly offset expenses. Federal loans should be your next choice due to their lower interest rates and flexible repayment terms compared to private loans. Additionally, explore work-study options, as these opportunities will help you secure employment while pursuing your education.

By strategically combining these financial resources, graduate students can make their educational investment more accessible and financially manageable.

Compare School Options

Related Degrees