Affordable online master's programs allow graduate students to earn a living and uphold personal responsibilities while completing their degree. From community colleges to the Ivy League, online master's programs and other distance degrees have become an increasingly popular choice among students due to their convenience and affordability.
More than ever, affordability is a primary concern among graduate students. Distance learners may be so excited by the prospect of saving on commuting and room and board that they simply look for the cheapest online master's degree they can find. While tuition costs are important, there are other considerations that factor into the overall value of an affordable online master's program.
Thousands of master's programs available online - the key is finding one that aligns with your career goals and budget.
In our list below, we use a carefully selected set of criteria to differentiate between the cheapest and the most affordable online master's degrees. Using our new College Affordability Score methodology, we take into account a broader picture of institutional affordability, including factors such as return on investment (ROI), the amount of financial aid given to students at the school, the number of students taking out loans, and the number of students able to repay their loans (loan default rates). Based on this criteria, schools widely considered expensive, such as Harvard, unexpectedly made our list. As opposed to merely offering the cheapest master's degree online, the following colleges offer quality, affordable online master's degree programs on the whole.
Affordable Online Master's Programs
|1||Texas A & M University-College Station College Station, TX||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 33||
Texas A&M offers an accelerated online master of science (MS) degree in statistics. The non-thesis, 36-hour program was designed to allow graduate students to obtain an advanced degree with minimal interruption to the productivity of their daily lives. In addition to being named among our most affordable online master’s degree programs, Texas A&M also offers inexpensive tuition for both in- and out-of-state students enrolled in the degree program online.
Online students at Texas A&M are eligible for financial aid, including more than eight nationally recognized scholarships and special programs. In addition, the university has integrated a comprehensive financial literacy program (Money Wise Aggie) into all curriculum school-wide, offering free online financial planning workshops, consumer protection advice, and student loan repayment consultation through a personal financial aid advisor.
|2||Purdue University-Main Campus West Lafayette, IN||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 36||
Purdue University offers approximately 20 online master’s programs. Available areas of study span diverse subspecialties in science, including engineering, technology, and aeronautics. In addition to Purdue’s affordable master’s degree programs that are fully online, the university facilitates hybrid programs that require a combination of online and on-campus coursework through its main campus. A graduate certificate, as well as professional development courses, are also available online.
Online students enrolled in a master’s program at Purdue are eligible to apply for the same need-based financial aid as their peers on campus. Graduate-level distance learners may also choose to use the search function on the school’s website to find funding opportunities, including scholarships and travel grants, specific to their learning situation. Purdue also caters to graduate students by offering health insurance options, tuition discounts, and other support specifically for students with families.
|3||University of Florida Gainesville, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 32||
Online master’s degrees at University of Florida are numerous and diverse, with programs and specializations ranging from agriculture and life sciences to veterinary medicine. Having met our stringent criteria for comprehensive affordability, UF also ranks high among schools with the most graduate degrees offered completely online. With a wide range of specialties available, students here can choose a unique program that also happens to be one of the cheapest master’s degrees online.
Online graduate students at the school can apply for the same financial aid as residential students. Options include federal aid, national and institutional scholarships, direct loans, and work-study programs. As part of its “special categories” of financial aid to accommodate tuition assistance for all students, UF offers aid to those engaged in both flexible learning and graduate study in particular. UF also participates in the state’s Bright Futures program, with a special scholarship option for graduate funding.
|4||North Carolina State University at Raleigh Raleigh, NC||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 42||
North Carolina State offers a range of online master’s degree programs in education, environmental sciences, and engineering, as well as other professional development courses. Some degrees and advanced studies programs at North Carolina State are offered fully online, while others are comprised of hybrid coursework and/or minimal on-campus course requirements. The university includes distance learning in its “off-campus programs” category of financial aid considerations.
Distance learners looking to qualify for financial aid must be enrolled in a degree program. Online students have access to the same need-based federal aid as residential students, though they may receive special consideration for being both a graduate student and for studying online. Distance education coursework at North Carolina State incurs a different rate for tuition than on-campus courses. Students looking to purchase a computer in order to perform coursework may be eligible to request funding for this expense through a loan program via the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid.
|5||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 39||
U of I offers more than 30 online graduate degrees in subjects ranging from science and engineering to education and technology. Current programs are aimed at accommodating diverse areas of interest, with new online degrees in subjects like modern American poetry and data science recently added. The school is especially unique for its winning combination of affordable tuition, high-value graduate curriculum, and diversification initiatives.
The university offers a wide range of financial aid to all students based on criteria including field of study, geographical location, or financial need. To navigate the more than 1,500 scholarships offered annually by U of I, students may search for awards specifically for graduate students and/or through the school of online and continuing education in the university’s online scholarship database. Though tuition varies per program, the school strives to maintain a low tuition cost per online semester, or eight credit hours, with no additional unnamed fees.
|6||University of Nebraska-Lincoln Lincoln, NE||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 39||
UNL offers more than 25 online master’s degrees in both fully online and blended formats. Graduate programs are available in subjects including agronomy, education, interior design, and journalism and mass communications. The university offers a wide variety of loan and grant opportunities to graduate students, as well as low student debt rates and high ROI.
UNL’s distance learners have access to the same financial aid as traditional students on campus. Financial aid advisors help to facilitate funding opportunities including scholarships, grants, and loans specifically directed toward online students. Tuition costs for online learning are priced per credit hour, and differ according to program and residency status. As many graduate students completing an online master’s degree at UNL are working professionals, the university supports employer's tuition assistance programs in addition to private scholarship funding.
|7||Bellevue University Bellevue, NE||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 44||
Online master's degree programs at Nebraska's Bellevue University span 27 different areas of study; classroom and/or blended formats are also available in certain subjects. Additionally, 11 of these programs follow a 'cohort' curriculum designed to build student engagement. Under this format, students enroll in one course at a time (while maintaining full-time status) and regularly meet with an assigned 'cohort' peer group. Non-cohort degree programs follow a traditional course track.
Online and in-class students pay the same tuition rate in master's degree programs at Bellevue, and both groups are eligible for the same financial aid opportunities. The school offers two payment plans for students who are receiving organizational tuition assistance; the 'employee sponsored option' is intended for students whose employers pay the school directly, while the 'deferral option' is for students who receive money from their employer and are responsible for making their own tuition payments. Currently, scholarship opportunities at Bellevue for graduate students are limited.
|8||University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Minneapolis, MN||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 43||
The University of Minnesota offers more than a dozen master’s degrees online, spanning subjects including healthcare, business, computer science, education, and more. UM’s online master’s degrees may require anywhere from 30-78 credit hours for completion, with costs assessed and applied per credit. The university offers competitive pricing per credit for each program; in rare cases, a program that requires one or more on-campus courses in addition to online coursework may differentiate between tuition costs for state residents and non-state residents.
Most distance learners at the U of M pay in-state tuition prices. Typically, financial aid opportunities including scholarships, grants, and loans are available to both traditional and online students through the same application process. Financial aid is not typically restricted by online status, except in the case of certain extended term courses, or those that are nine months in duration. Financial aid recipients are considered based on financial and personal need, as well as the individual course of study they have chosen at the U of M.
|9||University of Louisiana at Monroe Monroe, LA||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 38||
Aspiring teachers and school administrators who attend ULM can choose from seven education-oriented master's degree pathways; these include four Master of Arts in Education programs (two of which have a special education concentration), as well as Master of Education degrees focused on curriculum/instruction, educational leadership and educational technology. Eleven other graduate degrees in other academic fields are available in the exclusively online format. All ULM master's programs require 39 credits or less; as of Spring 2015, a large number of graduate-level courses are offered in an accelerated eight-week schedule, allowing students to complete their degree program in less time.
Most online master's students at ULM follow the same program schedule: fall and spring semesters, two summer sessions and intensive courses in December and late spring. Online grad students pay lower tuition rates than their classroom-based counterparts, and are not subject to out-of-state residency fees. Foundational scholarships are open to students pursuing graduate degrees in education, English and business administration.
|10||University of Colorado Denver Denver, CO||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 36||
University of Colorado Denver offers numerous affordable online master’s degrees in subjects ranging from education to engineering to criminal justice. Several doctoral programs in related subjects are also available via both hybrid and online study. The university’s dedicated distance learning division, CU Online, ranks among the most affordable in the state for its size and reputation.
Distance learners at CU Online are offered a variety of scholarships, grants, and student loan opportunities. Prices are set per credit hour, and differ according to residency status. Out-of-state students taking all courses online may be eligible for a tuition discount. In addition, standard fees added onto the price of tuition per credit may be waived, whether the student resides in- or out-of-state, as long as they complete all coursework online and their degree program does not include any hybrid or on-campus courses.
|11||Colorado State University-Fort Collins Fort Collins, CO||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 45||
CSU in Fort Collins offers 25 online master’s degree programs ranging from adult education to engineering to social work. Colorado State also offers a variety of doctoral programs, as well as hybrid degrees that require both online and in-class components. Aside from being lauded for its affordability and value as an online college, tuition prices for distance education at CSU are among the cheapest of their kind in the nation.
Distance learners at the school must meet particular requirements to be eligible for financial aid. Graduate students must be enrolled in at least five credits per semester to qualify for state and/or federal aid; online programs are not considered for institutional aid. Financial aid is contingent on full-time enrollment. Online learners may access the RAMWeb financial aid portal to view pending awards and financial aid application status.
|12||Harvard University Cambridge, MA||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 4||
Harvard University offers online master’s degrees spanning 28 fields of study through its extension school. Graduate-level distance learners at Harvard are required to complete a three-part process to earn a master of liberal arts (MLA), including satisfying prerequisite courses, participation in mandatory hybrid courses, and engagement in the academic community. Distance learners at Harvard are offered the same financial aid opportunities as their on-campus counterparts.
Harvard’s own Financial Aid Initiative is funded by parents of attending students. Simply put, high-income families are asked to contribute 0-10% of their assets to the initiative, proportionate to their income, while those under a certain income level are not required to contribute. This revolutionary system is designed to increase access and affordability of financial aid among Harvard’s low- and middle-income students. Today, more than 20% of Harvard student families pay nothing, and the school offers all of its students the opportunity to graduate debt-free.
|13||Iowa State University Ames, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 52||
Iowa State University offers more than 20 affordable online master’s degrees spanning science, engineering, education, and other fields. Course-completion programs, individual courses and hybrid learning options, are also available via the university’s online and distance learning division. Online students pay resident tuition prices per credit, per semester. They are also charged a nominal technology fee per semester, based on the total number of credits taken, and a delivery fee per course.
Distance learners at Iowa State are eligible for many of the same financial aid opportunities as their on-campus counterparts. In addition to federal programs, the university offers school-wide and privately funded scholarships, as well as those provided by individual academic programs. Federal need-based loans and grants, as well as private funding opportunities, are also available. The school further offers comprehensive financial management resources for students, including the Live Like a Student counseling program and the No Fear Finance blog.
|14||Western Governors University Salt Lake City, UT||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 59||
This Utah institution is a premiere destination for aspiring educators seeking online graduate programs. WGU offers 17 master's degree pathways for teachers, most of which are concentrated in specific subjects and grade levels. Four post-baccalaureate teacher licensure programs and two endorsement preparation programs are also available. Additionally, students may pursue online master's degrees in business, information technology and health professions (such as nursing and healthcare management). Each course follows a flexible six-month schedule, allowing students to begin their studies on the first day of any month.
WGU has not raised tuition rates in eight years, and the cost of attendance is significantly lower when compared to other online colleges and universities. Tuition is billed at a flat rate per semester regardless of credit load, allowing students to save money in the long run by enrolling in more courses each term. Nine foundational scholarships are available to master's students pursuing degrees in certain fields; each award ranges from $2,000 to $3,000 per recipient.
|15||Missouri University of Science and Technology Rolla, MO||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 52||
Online master's degree programs at Missouri S&T carry a 10-course requirement of 30 credit hours; most courses are taught using a live-streaming video format. Master of Science and Master of Engineering degree programs are offered in 16 different STEM-related fields, as well as a Master of Business Administration pathway. Thesis and non-thesis options are available for the majority of these programs. Online students may also pursue a graduate certificate in any of these academic areas; these certificates consist of four three-credit courses, and can be used to satisfy overall requirements for a master's degree in the same field.
Online students at Missouri S&T pay the same tuition rates regardless of state residency or undergraduate/graduate status. Fees for distance learners are divided into two categories: 'instructional' and 'technology services'. Web-based students enrolled in at least four credit hours per semester will be eligible to apply for financial aid opportunities. The school also offers a deferral option if a student's employer has agreed to cover at least 50% of program costs.
|16||Fort Hays State University Hays, KS||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 41||
The Virtual College at Fort Hays State offers several master's pathways for aspiring teachers and school professionals; these options including degrees in education administration (principals), higher education student affairs and special education. Students may also pursue a master's degree in fields like business administration, health and human performance and nursing. Two master's degree programs--counseling and school psychology--are hybrid programs with some on-campus requirements; these two programs carry a requirement of 60-66 credits. The remaining graduate-level programs at Fort Hays State can be completed in 40 credit hours or less.
The Virtual College's tuition costs fall within the lowest 2% of all higher learning institutions in the country. Graduate students enrolled in online programs will be charged the same tuition fees per semester regardless of state residency. Online students earning an MBA will pay $400 per credit hour; all other programs offered through The Virtual College carry a tuition rate of $253.07 per credit hour.
|17||Clemson University Clemson, SC||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 43||
Clemson University offers six online master’s degree programs in the fields of agriculture, architecture, health, and education. The university also counts two online PhDs among its distance graduate programs. Online graduate programs are priced per credit hour according to a tier system, with the same prices for both residents and non-resident students. Each student should consult his or her financial advisor to discuss which tier encompasses a specific program of study.
The same financial aid is available to online and traditional students at Clemson. To view pending applications and review award offers, students may access the school’s iROAR web portal, exclusively for managing financial aid accounts, including scholarships, grants, loans, and other potential forms of support. Students are encouraged to work closely with an advisor within their own academic department at Clemson to locate scholarship opportunities that may be exclusive to their field of study and/or specific to distance learning in their major.
|18||Wilmington University New Castle, DE||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 48||
Delaware's Wilmington University offers exclusively online master's degree programs in 19 academic areas of study. Web-based students pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree can choose from seven different concentrations, including accounting, environmental sustainability and organizational leadership. Other departments with multiple concentrations for master's-level online students include administration of justice, homeland security, information technologies, management and nursing leadership. Two dual-degree options are available for students pursuing a career in healthcare administration, as well.
All online courses at Wilmington University are either seven or 15 weeks in length. Classes are not self-paced; distance learners must participate in web-based course activities three to five days per week. Tuition rates are the same for online and classroom-based courses. The school's payment plan option allows students to pay for their tuition in bi-monthly installments throughout the semester. Wilmington's $tand By Me® offers free one-on-one financial coaching, career planning and other services designed to help students lower their overall debt and build their savings.
|19||University of Arizona Tucson, AZ||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 41||
At the University of Arizona, graduate students can choose from online master's degree pathways in 16 different academic subjects. Master of Science programs comprise the majority of these offerings, covering areas of study like agricultural education, clinical leadership, optical sciences and four different engineering fields. Other options include Master of Business Administration, Master of Public Health and Master of Arts degrees in international security, library and information science and two special education tracks. Additionally, online graduate certificate programs are available in 28 fields of study. All online programs are delivered using the Blackboard learning management system.
Web courses at the University of Arizona are not self-paced, and students are expected to participate in online activities three to five days per week. Tuition rates for online graduate students at the University of Arizona will vary by specific program and state residency status. The school's Scholarship Universe tool generates financial aid options for each student based on financial information, academic area of focus and other individual factors.
|20||Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 44||
Lehigh University offers nine online master’s degrees in science, business, and engineering majors. Almost all graduate degrees available through Lehigh’s distance education department are comprised of 30 credit hours, while the online MBA requires completion of 36 credits. Tuition prices, per credit hour, are highly competitive among comparable distance programs and offer students a choice of rates for either live or asynchronous online learning.
Online students may access the same financial aid as traditional graduate students at Lehigh University. In addition to numerous available loans, departmental funding, and external scholarships, the university offers a three-payment installment plan, tuition employer deferment plan, and tuition remission plan. Lehigh boasts a less-than-1% loan default rate. Around 460 students benefit from the Loan Elimination Initiative and 500 students benefit from the Loan Reduction Initiative.
|21||University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 40||
The University of Arkansas offers 18 online master's degree programs. Three options are available for aspiring food and nutrition professionals: a Master of Science in agricultural and extension education or food safety, as well as a Master of Laws in agricultural and food law. Other pathways include an executive Master of Business Administration and six Master of Education tracks. The Master of Nursing may follow a thesis (42-credit) or non-thesis (39-credit) schedule; all other online master's pathways carry a requirement of 24 to 38 course credit hours.
Online graduate students pay the same tuition rate regardless of their field of study; distance learners will also incur $43.18 per credit hour in administrative fees. The school's website features an extensive list of federal funding opportunities, foundational scholarships and other research-based financial aid options for master's-level students. Students in good academic standing may also qualify for travel grants; the university will reimburse eligible recipients for up to 90% of their travel-related expenses.
|22||University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 51||
The University of North Dakota's online degree offerings include master's programs in 16 areas of academic study. Specific options include multiple concentrations in the fields of education and nursing, as well as niche subjects like K-12 school counseling, forensic psychology, occupational therapy and space studies. Most online master's programs at UND consist of 30 to 40 credit hours, and can be completed within two years. Additionally, online students may pursue a graduate certificate in 12 different fields. Most programs are delivered exclusively online, while some require occasional campus visits.
Online students pay in-state tuition rates regardless of their state of residence. Master's-level students enrolled in the School of Graduate Studies may supplement their education with a paid graduate assistantship, which may consist of up to 20 hours of work per week. Cultural diversity tuition waivers are also available for enrolled graduate students belonging to a historically underrepresented or economically disadvantaged ethnic group.
|23||University of Illinois at Springfield Springfield, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 54||
The University of Illinois at Springfield offers more than 50 online master’s degrees in majors including science, the arts and humanities, law, and education, among others. Online programs incur a special “e-tuition” fee for both resident and nonresident students who are enrolled in only online courses. Included on our list for affordability and value among comparable national online programs, University of Illinois has also been recognized nationally for its outstanding online graduate degrees.
Graduate students in online and on-campus programs at University of illinois are eligible for the same financial aid. Options include scholarships, private education loans, and veterans benefits. E-tuition for online students includes the same set tuition rate per credit hour for any online graduate program, with additional fees added based on the number of credits taken per semester, as well as for online support and program-specific differential costs.
|24||University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro, NC||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 58||
Graduate students at UNC-Greensboro can choose from 10 online master's degree programs. These include traditional Master of Education and Master of Science in Nursing degrees, as well as pathways in niche fields like peace and conflict studies, dance education, and consumer, apparel and retail studies. All of the school's online master's degrees require fewer than 40 credit hours, and may be completed within two years. Additionally, 14 graduate certificates are available in an exclusively online format. Individual online courses are delivered using the Blackboard platform in both synchronous and asynchronous (self-paced) formats.
Online students at UNC-Greensboro pay lower tuition rates than their campus-based counterparts. Additionally, most distance learners not living in North Carolina will qualify for 'Outside North Carolina' tuition rates, which are significantly lower compared to the out-of-state rates for classroom students. North Carolina residents who enroll in online courses at the university are eligible for in-state tuition rates of $272.94 per credit hour.
|25||Auburn University Auburn University, AL||Cost: $$$$$||Receiving Loans: 35||
Graduate students who enroll at Auburn University can choose from more than 50 online master's degree programs. The school's robust education department offers master's-level degrees in 25 different concentrations, including a dual Master of Education/Master of Science in Library Media and seven programs focused on English or foreign language instruction. Additional online master's degree options at Auburn include 11 programs through the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business and 10 programs through the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.
Degree-seeking master's students are welcome to apply for a paid graduate assistantship, which may consist of up to 20 hours of work per week. Assistants who maintain good academic standing may also qualify for a graduate tuition fellowship, which covers all tuition and student fees for up to 15 credit hours per semester. Graduate research and travel fellowships are also available for master's-level students who wish to present their work on behalf of Auburn University at regional or national conferences and seminars.