Most Affordable Online Master’s Programs of 2021

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By Doug Wintemute

Published on July 30, 2021

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Rankings compiled by the BestColleges Ranking Team

An online master's degree provides graduates with job opportunities in most markets. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), advanced degrees can lead to significantly higher earnings and lower unemployment rates. Nevertheless, students may still struggle to justify the price of a master's degree, which cost an average of $19,314 in annual tuition in 2018-2019, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

To save prospective students some time and help them identify their best study options, we ranked the most affordable online master's degrees across the nation. We also put together detailed information on typical coursework and costs.

What Are the Most Affordable Online Master's Programs of 2021? Here Are Our Top 10:

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#1 University of Washington-Seattle Campus Seattle, WA
#2 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
#3 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC
#4 Purdue University-Main Campus West Lafayette, IN
#5 Indiana University-Bloomington Bloomington, IN
#6 University of South Florida-Main Campus Tampa, FL
#7 University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI
#8 Florida State University Tallahassee, FL
#9 California State University-Stanislaus Turlock, CA
#10 Appalachian State University Boone, NC

Related Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

2021 Most Affordable Accredited Online Master's Programs

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University of Washington-Seattle Campus View School Profile Seattle, WA

The University of Washington offers online master's programs and degrees to help students succeed. Distance learners receive the same benefits as on-campus students, including access to libraries, student discounts, student support services, and other resources. Enrollment coaches also provide support throughout the admissions process.

Possible areas of study for online master's students include infrastructure planning, library and information science, and aerospace engineering. The University of Washington is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

University of Florida View School Profile Gainesville, FL

Based in Gainesville, the University of Florida provides graduate students numerous routes to degrees at the graduate level. Thirteen colleges at the university offer master's programs to distance learners.

More than 80 online master's programs at the University of Florida prepare students for success in their disciplines. Degrees conferred include a master of arts, master of science, and a master of engineering. Specific programs include aerospace engineering, fire and emergency sciences, and sustainable design. Many programs also offer specialization areas with the curriculum, such as a master of education with a specialization in education technology.

The University of Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill View School Profile Chapel Hill, NC

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provides 12 online master's degrees. Options are available in the schools of public health, media and journalism, government, information and library science, business, and pharmacy. Specific degree options include a professional science master's in biomedical and health informatics, master of arts in digital communication, and a master's in health administration in public health policy and management.

Programs can be taken by students from all over the world. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Purdue University-Main Campus View School Profile West Lafayette, IN

Purdue University offers online and hybrid classes through all three of its campuses, including its main campus in West Lafayette, Indiana. The university provides online master's degrees in a variety of subjects, including agriculture, aviation and aerospace, education, engineering, and health and human services.

Distance learners can choose from more than 40 online master's degrees. Depending on the program, classes may be synchronous or asynchronous. Coursework is interactive and may appeal to recent undergraduates and seasoned professionals. Many programs offer start dates in the fall and spring semesters.

Purdue University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Indiana University-Bloomington View School Profile Bloomington, IN

Indiana University Bloomington offers more than 50 master's degrees to distance learners, most of which can be completed entirely online. The university offers courses developed and taught by the same professors who teach on campus. Learners can earn degrees in many fields, including applied science, business, computing technology, and education.

Specific degrees conferred by the university include a master of science in technology, master of science in recreation, master of library and information science, master of science in nursing, and master of liberal studies. Some programs may include occasional on-campus requirements.

Indiana University Bloomington is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of South Florida-Main Campus View School Profile Tampa, FL

The University of South Florida — located in Tampa — offers online master's programs in nearly 40 specializations in fields like business, education, engineering, medicine, and public health. Certain programs require some in-person components, such as internships, practica, and/or clinical experiences.

Programs cover many specific disciplines, such as cybersecurity, music education, and engineering management. Other master's programs focus on pharmaceutical nanotechnology, global disaster management and humanitarian relief, and public health administration.

The University of South Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Wisconsin-Madison View School Profile Madison, WI

The University of Wisconsin Madison provides distance learners with access to 17 online master's programs. The online, flexible format is built to accommodate students who have other responsibilities. The university provides dedicated online coaches and advisors to support students throughout their journey.

Prospective students work alongside an enrollment coach and choose from master's programs in areas like health, biotechnology, engineering, library and information studies, education, and pharmaceutical studies. Online learners can also choose from various certificate options to complement their studies.

The University of Wisconsin Madison is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Florida State University View School Profile Tallahassee, FL

Florida State University, based in Tallahassee, offers online master's degree programs for students in need of flexibility and convenience. Almost 20 different online master's programs are available from the university, including credentials from the colleges of engineering, social work, applied studies, business, education, law, and communication and information.

Florida State University recommends researching any programs that involve professional licenses to ensure the program and curriculum meet state requirements outside of Florida. Academic program specialists are available to answer questions from prospective students about distance education and tuition. Distance learners can access the same resources as students who attend classes on campus, including an academic center for excellence and career center.

Florida State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

California State University-Stanislaus View School Profile Turlock, CA

California State University, Stanislaus offers two master's degree programs that can be completed by distance learners. Students can earn a master of business administration entirely online, choosing from a finance concentration or a general pathway. Additionally, learners interested in a hybrid academic experience can earn a master of social work. These two master's degree programs are in high demand in their respective industries.

The university also offers an online readiness assessment that students can take prior to enrolling in online classes, ensuring they are prepared to succeed in an online learning environment. California State University, Stanislaus is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.

Appalachian State University View School Profile Boone, NC

A public university based in Boone, North Carolina, Appalachian State University offers online programs so students can learn from any location. The online curriculum is taught by the same faculty who teach on campus. Depending on their specific program, learners may engage in synchronous and/or asynchronous study.

Aspiring master's students can choose from more than a dozen online degree options, including a master of health administration, master of science in nursing, and master of library science. The school also offers two hybrid options: a master of social work and a master of arts in reading education.

Appalachian State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Florida International University View School Profile Miami, FL

Established in 1965 and located in Miami, Florida International University offers online programs that feature the same instructors who teach on campus. With more than 50 master's degree programs available online, students can pursue opportunities in fields like engineering, education, business, nursing, and healthcare. Many programs offer start dates in the spring and fall.

Specific degree options include a master of public administration, master of science in logistics engineering, and master of arts in history. Aspiring students interested in programs that involve professional licensure should reach out to programs directly to ensure curricula meet state requirements outside of Florida. Applicants to master's programs must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Florida International University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

William & Mary View School Profile Williamsburg, VA

Located in Williamsburg, Virginia, William & Mary offers online programs taught by award-winning faculty. Online master's programs are available through the William & Mary School of Education and the Raymond A. Mason School of Business.

Business students can choose from three online master's degrees: a master of business administration, master of business analytics, and master's in marketing. Students may enroll in the fall, spring, or summer.

Distance learners interested in the field of education can earn a hybrid master's degree in K-12 leadership or an online master of education in counseling. Each degree gives students the opportunity to choose from a generalized curriculum or a focus area. Additionally, these programs are designed to accommodate teachers who have full-time careers.

William & Mary is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges.

California State University-San Bernardino View School Profile San Bernardino, CA

California State University, San Bernardino offers entirely online master's programs, as well as blended online programs that combine the benefits of online and face-to-face instruction. Entirely online master‘s degrees options include a master's in teacher leadership, master of business administration, master of public administration, and master of arts in criminal justice.

Blended online programs offered at the master's level include nursing, education (with multiple areas of emphasis), and social work. These courses can typically be completed 50-80% online.

California State University, San Bernardino is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.

California State University-Fresno View School Profile Fresno, CA

California State University, Fresno offers an online master of science in water resource management for students looking to pursue an education beyond the undergraduate level. The university also hosts various online certificate and professional training programs.

The master's in water resource management program, designed to meet the growing demand for water resources in urban, industrial, and agricultural environments, covers topics related to the political and economic impacts of water. Students also explore GIS systems, water availability, and water forecasting.

California State University, Fresno is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.

University of Utah View School Profile Salt Lake City, UT

The University of Utah, based in Salt Lake City, provides students with access to a variety of online degree programs at the graduate level. Students watch lectures, read class materials, discuss topics, and complete assignments on their own time. Online programs are held to the same standards as in-person learning and require acceptance into the University of Utah as well as the specific program.

Available degrees include a master of science in gerontology, master of science in nursing education, master of arts in teaching fine arts, master of healthcare administration, master of business administration, and master of legal studies. Students in some programs have the option to mix on-campus and online courses.

The University of Utah is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Related Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Can You Get a Master's Degree Online?

Students can pursue an affordable online master's degree in most subjects. Even programs with heavy clinical components allow learners to take classes online while completing practical training at a location near them. According to the NCES, more than 1.2 million graduate students take online classes, with more than 900,000 of them studying exclusively online.

Degree-seekers choose affordable online master's programs for many reasons, but the ability to obtain a degree and advance a career while working ranks highly among them. Learners benefit from the flexible scheduling and travel requirements of online programs, while employers view them as the same as on-campus programs.

Many online graduate programs look similar, but they may differ in several areas. These programs may feature synchronous or asynchronous delivery, entirely online courses or some on-campus requirements, and standard online tuition rates that make for more affordable online master's programs for out-of-state students. Accreditation may also vary between for-profit and nonprofit schools.

Accreditation

Online college accreditation provides students, employers, and schools with quality assurances. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognizes various organizations that accredit the colleges and universities that meet or exceed the highest educational standards in their area. Employment, federal financial aid, licensure, and transfer credits all depend on regional accreditation.

Similarly, programmatic accreditation may be required for licensure in certain fields, while being preferred or recommended in others. When dealing with for-profit schools, students may encounter national accreditation as well. This type of recognition can help degree-seekers determine quality, but credits may not transfer between nationally accredited and regionally accredited institutions.

Is it Worth Getting an Online Master's Degree?

Prospective students need to determine the value of an affordable online master's degree for themselves, but several factors can help them figure that out. Graduate degrees can lead to more lucrative jobs, along with better advancement opportunities.

When weighing the pros and cons of online and on-campus programs, or simply deciding if they should pursue a master's degree at all, students need to consider the following factors.

Most affordable online master's degrees take students between 1-2 years to complete. However, many online programs offer accelerated, asynchronous, or part-time scheduling options, which can make them more accessible for some learners. Accelerated degrees launch students into their desired careers more quickly, and asynchronous and part-time schedules allow learners to work while they study.

According to the NCES, the average master's degree tuition was $12,171 at public institutions and $25,929 at private institutions in 2018-2019. However, prospective students may find the best value master's degrees online, as many schools feature lower tuition rates for online students. Out-of-state degree-seekers can often access in-state tuition rates, which allows them to expand their searches.

Compared to bachelor's degree-holders, master's graduates earned $240 more per week and saw 1.4% lower unemployment rates, according to the BLS. With a master's degree, professionals earn an average annual salary of $76,000 compared to $63,000 for bachelor's degree-holders, according to PayScale.

Prospective students should always think about their personal and professional goals when deciding on a program. An affordable online master's degree can help graduates pursue management positions and take on more responsibility. These degrees may also provide them with a greater sense of accomplishment and pride.

Academic Opportunities

Prospective students often think about the amount of work that goes into a master's degree, but they should also consider how rewarding that experience can be. Learners get to engage in advanced discussions with their similarly educated peers and experts in their discipline. These programs also feature in-depth research and clinical assignments in subjects they enjoy.

How Much Does an Online Master's Degree Cost?

Prospective students can find affordable online master's programs among both public and private schools, but they may find more savings at private institutions when compared to on-campus programs. According to U.S. News & World Report, online in-state undergraduate students paid $5 more per credit than on-campus learners at public schools, whereas online students paid $752 less per credit at private schools.

That price does not account for additional costs, which online and on-campus students must consider. When calculating the cost of a master's degree online, for example, prospective learners should think about textbooks, campus and practicum travel, food, and room and board. They might also consider any lost wages during their studies.

In addition to the big costs, online degree-seekers may incur hidden or less visible costs, such as distance learning, technology, graduation, and assessment fees. While the most affordable graduate schools keep these costs minimal, they can add up.

Funding an Online Master's Program

Even students pursuing the most affordable online master's degrees often need assistance to fund their education. The following list explores some of the major types of financial aid, the differences between them, and eligibility requirements.

true Loans

College loans may come from federal financial aid packages or banking institutions. Students who demonstrate financial need or strong financial responsibility may qualify. Loans typically feature minimal or no interest rates and repayment requirements until after the student graduates, though conditions may vary.

Scholarships & Grants

Scholarships and grants recognize students with financial need and academic excellence. Learners do not usually need to repay these financial rewards, and they may be renewable.

Fellowships

Fellowships tend to offer graduate students a stipend in return for work or research. Fellowships provide high-achieving learners with professional development, funding, and possible career opportunities.

Work-Study

Federal work-study jobs offer funding in return for part-time work on or nearby the campus. Most positions allow students to work around their study schedules. These assignments typically go to learners who demonstrate financial need.

Types of Online Master's Degree Programs

Online learning continues to change the look of college and universities, and prospective students enjoy an array of affordable online master's programs to choose from. The following lists highlight some of the options available, and the corresponding pages offer program details, guides, and rankings.

Art and Design
Business and Management
Computers and Technology
Criminal Justice and Legal
Education and Teaching
Liberal Arts and Humanities
Nursing and Healthcare
Psychology and Counseling
Science and Engineering

How Affordable is an Online Master's Degree?

Determining the cost of a master's degree depends on many factors, including school and program type, delivery method, program length, and additional services and facilities available to students. The most affordable graduate schools may not offer the appropriate support for all learners, so prospective students should always consider their priorities.

When looking for affordable online master's programs, degree-seekers should identify which schools offer standard online tuition or in-state rates for out-of-state students.

When looking for affordable online master's programs, degree-seekers should identify which schools offer standard online tuition or in-state rates for out-of-state students. In some cases, asynchronous programs can feature discounted prices because lessons do not require live instruction. Furthermore, an accelerated track can reduce educational costs in various ways if a student's schedule can accommodate it.

Other considerations may include the availability of transfer credits and prior learning assessments, which can decrease the number of credits required to graduate. Furthermore, online learners should always research their program's residency requirements to ensure they can complete them and how much they may add to the overall cost.

Which Master's Degrees Are Most In-Demand?

More students pursue master's degrees now than ever before, and the demand for graduate education among employers continues to rise. According to the NCES, the number of master's degrees awarded increased by 73% between 2000 and 2018. Below, we examine five of the most in-demand master's degrees in the country.

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners provide primary, advanced, and specialized care to patients in various fields. A master's degree in this discipline covers assessments, diagnostics, and treatment plans and may focus on specific demographics. The incredible demand for professionals results from an aging population and the increasing scope of practice for nurse practitioners in an array of healthcare settings.

  • Median Annual Salary: $117,670
  • Job Growth: 45%

Mathematician and Statistician

These professionals use their mathematical and statistical analysis expertise to support and solve problems for various organizations and industries. At the graduate level, mathematics programs may focus on different types of modeling, analyses, and research groups, such as financial and discrete mathematics. The job demand results from vast organizational data usage and the need for analysis and projections.

  • Median Annual Salary: $93,290
  • Job Growth: 33%

Physician Assistant

Physician assistants support healthcare teams by providing patient examinations and completing minor procedures. Master's programs in this discipline feature advanced research and medicine training in various departments and specialities, plus extensive clinical rotations. The strong demand results from the growing population and healthcare services, along with an expanding professional scope.

  • Median Annual Salary: $115,390
  • Job Growth: 31%

Information Security Analyst

Information security analysts help organizations protect their data and computer systems from a growing number of cyberthreats. Master's degrees in cybersecurity delve into advanced threat analysis, prevention, and protection software design. As cyberattacks continue to increase in frequency and intelligence, the demand for information security analysts will increase as well.

  • Median Annual Salary: $103,590
  • Job Growth: 31%

Speech-Language Pathologist

Speech-language pathologists help people manage, overcome, and prevent various communication disorders. In master's programs for this field, students engage in advanced research in speech science and clinical applications of developmental and acquired language disorders. The increased demand results from increasing health conditions that lead to communication issues and better detection and treatment methods.

  • Median Annual Salary: $80,480
  • Job Growth: 25%

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Master's Programs

Are online master's degrees cheaper?

Online master's degrees may be cheaper for students than on-campus degrees depending on the school and situation. For example, the most affordable online master's degrees often feature standard online tuition rates that save out-of-state learners money. Online programs also reduce travel and room and board costs.

Are online master's degrees respected?

Delivery method does not change how people view master's degrees. While school and program reputation may influence employers, online programs cover the same material as on-campus programs and should not factor into employment decisions.

What are the most affordable graduate schools?

The most affordable graduate schools are usually public institutions because they receive more federal funding. According to the NCES, the average master's degree from public colleges and universities cost $13,758 less than at private schools.

Which master's degrees have the best value?

The best value master's degree depends on numerous factors, but students usually have to decide this on their own. Typically, prospective learners can figure this out by determining the program's return on investment. Programs that lead to lucrative careers, such as nurse practitioner, engineer, scientist, and business manager might rank highly in this regard.

Are there any free master's programs?

Students may find tuition-free master's programs at certain schools across the country. These degrees typically require work or military service in return for tuition waivers. Some schools may offer tuition waivers for county residents or students in specific disciplines who demonstrate critical financial need.

Additional Resources

Graduate Admissions Guide Scholarships and Financial Aid for Online College Students Your Guide to the FAFSA
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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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