What Is the Cost of a Master’s Degree?

Most master's programs cost over $57,000. Students can save money in online and public college programs. Find average master's degree costs in our guide.
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Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and senior editor for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evalua...
Updated on December 1, 2023
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Data Summary

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    The average total cost of a master's degree is about $35,700 a year.[1]
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    Master's degree programs typically range from $50,000-$85,000 for two years.Note Reference [1]
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    The most expensive master's degree programs can cost more than $74,000 per year.[2]
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    45% of full-time master's students[3] and 35% of part-time master's students[4] receive scholarships or grants.
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    The average cost of an online master's program is roughly $24,300.[5]
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    The average master's degree-completer graduated with $64,400 in student loan debt — not counting loans from their undergraduate degree.[6]

Earning a master's degree could help you qualify for high-paying jobs in critical, fast-growing industries. It's also a huge investment.

Knowing the cost and value of a master's degree can help you decide on a program or an alternative next step in your career.

This report delves into how much master's degrees cost on average, the range of program costs, and how much you can realistically expect to save with scholarships.

Master's Degree Cost

According to the most recent data from the Department of Education:

  • On average, master's degrees cost between $50,000-$85,000 for a two-year program.Note Reference [1]
  • The average total cost of a master's degree is about $35,700 per year.Note Reference [1]
  • That includes tuition and fees plus non-tuition expenses, such as books, supplies, room and board, transportation, and personal expenses.
  • The median master's degree cost is $28,890 per year, or $57,780 for two years. (Half of all programs cost less than the median, and half cost more.)Note Reference [1]
  • The priciest master's degree programs cost nearly $74,000 a year, or over $148,000 for two years.Note Reference [2]
Master's Degree Total Costs by School Type
School Type Average Master's Degree Cost (One Year) Average Master's Degree Cost (Two Years)
Total (All Schools) $35,700 $71,400
Public $29,720 $59,440
Private, Nonprofit $42,700 $85,400
Private, For-Profit $25,530 $51,060
Source: National Center for Education Statistics PowerStats, in 2023 dollarsNote Reference [1], [7]

Keep in mind that master's degree program costs range widely. Find the spread below. (The tenth percentile means that 10% of schools charge lower than that stated tuition amount.)

Total Cost for One Year of a Master's Degree: Percentiles
Percentile Total Cost
10 $10,180
25 $17,790
50 $28,890
75 $45,180
90 $73,540
Source: NCES PowerStats, in 2023 dollarsNote Reference [2], Note Reference [7]

Behind the Numbers

First, we started with data from the 2019-2020 National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey of Graduate Students (NPSAS:GR), a nationally representative student survey conducted by the Department of Education. Then, we converted amounts to 2023 dollars using the Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator.Note Reference [7] Finally, we rounded figures to the nearest $10.

Sometimes this report shows medians along with averages. Medians often better represent what's typical, because averages are more easily skewed by super high or low numbers in a set.

Average Master's Degree Tuition

Master's degree tuition makes up about half the total cost of attending a master's degree program. Just like undergraduate tuition rates, nonprofit private schools typically charge more than public or for-profit schools.

Master's Degree Annual Tuition by School Type
School Type Average Tuition and Fees Median Tuition and Fees
Total, All Schools $16,320 $11,770
Public $11,700 $10,020
Private, Nonprofit $21,580 $14,670
Private, For-Profit $9,400 $9,430
Source: NCES PowerStats, in 2023 dollarsNote Reference [1], Note Reference [7]
Master's Degree Annual Tuition Percentiles
Percentile Tuition and Fees
10 $3,650
25 $6,660
50 $11,770
75 $21,320
90 $42,970
Source: NCES PowerStats, in 2023 dollarsNote Reference [7], [8]

A Deeper Look

For-profit vs. Nonprofit Master's Degree Costs

Even though the cost of for-profit master's degree programs is similar to the cost of programs at nonprofit public universities, for-profits might stick students with higher student loan debt.

A 2023 Department of Education report showed that students who earned their master's degrees at for-profit schools had higher median debt burdens than master's students at other school types, and they made lower median salaries after graduation.

Learn about the pros and cons of for-profit colleges.

Average Master's Degree Student Loan Debt

Most master's students take on student loan debt to help pay for their degree.

  • In 2015-2016, just over half of full-time master's degree graduates (53%) had student loan debt at graduation.Note Reference [6]
  • The average student loan debt amount among master's degree graduates was $50,290.Note Reference [6] In 2023 dollars, that's $64,400.
  • The total debt they owed after graduating — including debt from their undergraduate and master's programs — was $64,770, or $82,960 in 2023 dollars.Note Reference [6], Note Reference [7]

Average Net Cost for Master's Degrees

Some master's students receive free financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, and grad school fellowships. But, if you're counting on scholarship money to pay for your master's degree, there are a few things you should know:

Scholarships & Grants for Master's Programs Aren't Common

  • Less than half (45%) of full-time master's students receive grants.Note Reference [3]
  • Grants are even less common for part-time master's students. Just over one-third (35%) of part-time master's students receive aid.Note Reference [4]

And They Usually Don't Cover All Your Costs

  • In 2015-2016, the average grant amount for full-time master's students was $10,890.[9] In 2023 dollars, that's $13,950.Note Reference [7]
  • The average grant amount for part-time master's students was $5,620, or about $7,200 in 2023 dollars.Note Reference [7], [10]

The Average Net Cost of a Master's Degree Is Still Over $60,000

  • The average net cost of a master's degree program — including tuition and student expenses, minus grant funding — is about $30,870 per year.[11]
  • The median net cost of a master's degree program is roughly $24,730.Note Reference [11]

Cost of Online Master's Degrees

Online learning often comes with fees, such as technology fees, which contribute to students' total costs. But, online master's degree students might save money on travel, room and board, and campus-related costs.

  • The average total cost of taking a fully online master's program is about $24,290 a year.Note Reference [5]
  • Some of the most affordable online master's degrees may cost as little as $4,000-$7,000 a year.
  • Median prices for fully online master's programs are more than 30% cheaper than in-person master's programs and hybrid programs (where students participate both in class and online).Note Reference [5]

Master's Degree Cost by Field

Master's degree costs vary by program type. For example, master of science (MS) programs tend to cost more than master of arts (MA) programs.

The average total cost of an MBA is less expensive than either. However, top-ranked programs can cost more than $120,000 a year.

The Value of a Master's Degree

Having a master's degree might help you qualify for higher-paying jobs in some fields. On average, people with master's degrees earn higher incomes than people with just a bachelor's degree.[13]

However, master's degrees can send students into student loan debt. Not only that, the rising cost of grad school may be contributing to a decreasing return on investment for advanced degrees, according to a 2023 Urban Institute study.

Learn more about whether a master's degree is worth it and how to make the most of your program.