Affordable Online Masters DegreesAugust 6, 2021
Obtaining a master’s degree can be an excellent decision for your career. But it can be a significant investment. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual tuition for a master’s degree was $19,314 during the 2018-19 school year.
And depending on where you plan to attend, the overall cost can easily climb into six figures. Fortunately, there are ways to cut the cost of a master’s degree, and one of those is to get a degree through an online master’s degree program.
Some affordable online master’s degrees can even set you up for a successful career. Here’s what you need to know.
The Pros and Cons of an Online Master’s Degree
On the surface, it might seem like an online master’s degree isn’t as marketable as one that requires you to attend in-person classes. But there are both pros and cons to online Master’s degrees, especially when cost is a significant factor.
- More flexibility: With an online degree program, you don’t have to sit in classrooms for hours every day. If you have a full-time job and a family, you can learn at your own pace and on your own schedule.
- It may suit you better: People learn differently. If you’re the type of person who gets more out of reading the material than listening to a lecture, an online master’s degree program could be a better choice.
- It’s cheaper: The cost of an online master’s degree can vary by program and by school. But the most affordable online master’s degrees charge much lower tuition. What’s more, you don’t have to deal with childcare, transportation and other expenses that you might have to deal with if you were to attend in-person classes.
- Less in-person interaction: If you’re the type of person who enjoys the classroom dynamic, doing an online program may not be the best fit for you. The same goes if you like to have more access to your professors for questions and feedback. While online programs offer that, it might not be immediate as in a classroom setting.
- It requires more discipline: With no set times to attend classes, it can be easy to be complacent and get behind. And while you can learn at your own pace and on your own schedule, you’ll still have deadlines to meet for assignments and exams, and if you don’t prepare properly, your grades could suffer.
- You’re reliant on technology: Both online and in-person master’s degree programs require access to the internet. But if the entire program is online, you may run into more problems if your computer dies or the internet goes down.
The Importance of Accreditation with Online Degrees
Even with the cheapest master’s degrees, it’s crucial that you make sure that the college or university is accredited. Accreditation is a process in which an accrediting body, such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or Distance Education Accreditation Commission, evaluates a degree program to ensure that it meets universal standards of academic quality.
Schools must be accredited by one of these organizations in order to receive federal funding, and students don’t qualify to receive federal or state financial aid if the program they’re going through isn’t accredited.
Additionally, if you transfer to another college or university at some point, it likely won’t allow you to transfer your credits from an unaccredited institution.
Finally, obtaining a degree from an accredited program is usually required for certification and licensure if your career of choice requires it. It’s also crucial if you want your degree to be viewed as legitimate by prospective employers and colleagues.
There are a few different types of accreditation your school may receive:
- Regional: This is common with nonprofit educational institutions. It simply means that the school has been accredited by the accrediting body in that region.
- National: National accreditation comes from a national organization and is often focused on certain areas of expertise rather than the geographical area where the school is located.
- Programmatic: There are also accrediting bodies that focus on specific areas of study. This type is also sometimes called specialized or professional accreditation for that reason.
In general, if a school has either national or regional accreditation, you’re in good shape. However, individual programs and departments may also have programmatic accreditation in their field for even more legitimacy.
The Most Affordable Online Master’s Degrees
Affordable master’s degrees are plentiful, especially if you know where to look. That’s even the case in desirable job markets with competitive salaries. Here are some of the cheapest online master’s degree programs that also rank high in median salaries, according to OnlineU.
Keep in mind that while we share average annual tuition numbers for each school, the actual tuition numbers can vary by program.
1. California State University-Dominguez Hills
With 15 online degrees, California State University-Dominguez Hills offers a variety of programs in public administration, nursing, quality assurance and systems engineering. The average annual tuition is $7,176, and 94% of the school’s students get financial aid.
The school also has a salary score of 92 from OnlineU, which is based on the median alumni salary for each program at the school compared to the median salary for the same program at other schools.
The nonprofit school is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission, which is a regional accrediting body.
2. Touro College
Touro College has 12 master’s degree programs across a number of areas, including industrial and organizational psychology, special education, school leadership and more. The average annual tuition at the school is $8,500, but you can receive discounted rates if you’re an active-duty service member or a veteran.
If you’re concerned about the cost, 90% of the school’s students receive some form of financial aid. The school has a 74% acceptance rate, which is among the highest on our list.
Touro College, a private college located in New York City, is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
3. Georgia Institute of Technology
The average salary score among master’s degree programs at the Georgia Institute of Technology is 90, which is impressive in its own right. But what makes this school special is that it offers some of the cheapest graduate degrees you can get at $2,700 in average annual tuition.
Even if that figure is too high, 79% of the school’s students receive financial aid in some form or another.
The school offers 25 graduate programs in a variety of areas ranging from aerospace engineering and computer science to manufacturing leadership and occupational health and safety.
The biggest drawback is that Georgia Tech only has a 23% acceptance rate. But that lower acceptance rate corresponds to a high graduation rate at 87%, which is the second-highest on our list.
The Atlanta-based school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges. The school is ranked No. 35 in the nation by U.S. News.
4. California State University-Northridge
The school offers 19 online degrees in several areas, including technology, humanities, educational administration and more. Tuition at California State University-Northridge is on the high end for our list at $12,075, but that’s still low compared to the $19,314 national average.
What’s more, 87% of students at the school receive financial aid, and the graduates can expect a salary score of 88.
Like California State University-Dominguez Hills, this school is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
5. Villanova University
A private university ranked No. 53 nationally by U.S. News, Villanova University offers a whopping 46 online master’s degrees. Some of the areas with multiple specialties include classical studies, business administration, civil engineering, cybersecurity, electrical engineering, nursing and sustainable engineering.
Villanova is the second-most expensive school on our list, with an average annual tuition of $12,300. But the salary score is 87, and almost two-thirds of students receive financial aid.
Villanova’s acceptance rate is relatively low at 36%, but the school has the highest graduation rate of any institution on our list at 91% — a higher graduation rate means better chances of obtaining the job you’re going to school to get.
The school, which is located in Pennsylvania, is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
6. George Mason University
Located in Fairfax, Virginia, George Mason University has almost three dozen online master’s degrees available. Some of the options include economics, business administration, special education, computer science, data analytics and more.
George Mason University is also relatively pricey compared to some of the other schools on our list, charging an average annual tuition of $12,075. That said, more than three-quarters of students receive financial aid, and the online programs have a salary score of 87.
One big benefit for prospective students is that the school has an acceptance rate of 81%, along with a graduation rate of 70%. George Mason University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges.
7. University of Washington – Seattle
Often called simply the University of Washington, this school offers 24 online master’s degrees. These aren’t the cheapest master’s degrees, with an average annual tuition of $15,330 — in fact, the school is the most expensive on our list, even if it’s still below average nationally.
That said, the University of Washington is also one of the best colleges in the country, ranking 58th nationally via U.S. News.
A handful of the school’s online master’s degrees are in aerospace engineering, but there are also programs for pharmaceutical bioengineering, civil engineering, special education and many more.
The school has a salary score of 86, and 61% of students receive financial aid. While the acceptance rate is rather low at 46%, the school has a graduation rate of 84%. The university is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
8. National University
National University’s programs are primarily designed for adult learners, which is why it has the most online master’s degrees of any school on our list at 66. You can expect affordable master’s degrees in several different areas of expertise.
The average annual tuition at the school is $10,166, which is higher than most on our list, but the salary score is 82.
National University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
9. Washington State University
Located in Pullman, Washington, Washington State University offers 22 online master’s degrees with an average annual tuition of $9,147 — 90% of the school’s students receive financial aid in some form or another, and the salary score is 82.
Almost half of the university’s online programs are in business administration and agriculture, but you can also get a degree in special education, nursing, software engineering and more.
The school, which has a 73% acceptance rate but just a 59% graduation rate, is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
10. University of St. Thomas
The University of St. Thomas offers 15 online master’s degree programs, primarily in special education but also in Catholic studies, business administration, social work and more. The school has an average annual tuition of $9,900, and a whopping 98% of students receive financial aid to help cover the cost.
The acceptance rate is 84%, and the graduation rate is 77%. The University of St. Thomas, which is located in St. Paul, Minnesota, is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The salary score is 82.
Alternative Options for Funding a Master’s Degree
Choosing an affordable master’s degree can make your life easier, but even some of the cheapest master’s degree programs may still be too pricey to cover with your income and savings.
Take the opportunity to look into financial aid. While federal grants aren’t available to graduate students, you may be able to qualify for a scholarship from the school or via a private organization. Check with the college or university and search databases at Scholarships.com, Fastweb and similar websites to find financial aid and scholarship options.
Also, consider taking out student loans. While federal student loans come with certain benefits like income-driven repayment plans and forgiveness programs, you may run into some issues with annual and aggregate student loan limits.
If you’ve taken out the maximum in federal student loans and still need help funding your education, consider private student loans from a lender like ELFI.* With private student loans, your eligibility and interest rates will depend on your income, credit history and other factors. Choosing the right lender could help you pay for your affordable master’s degree.
Even if you don’t get the best deal — or if you choose federal loans but change your mind down the road, you can always refinance your student loans after you graduate. Student loan refinancing could save you money and give you a bit more flexibility with your student loan repayment plan.