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How Much Does a Master’s Degree Cost?

cost of masters degrees

Are you thinking about getting a master’s degree?

Whether you want to pursue a top master’s degree to land your dream job or to open up greater opportunities with your current employer, you may have questions.

Among them is this – how much does it cost to get a master’s degree?

Costs vary widely from one school to the next. There’s no set in stone masters degree price.

The total cost of a master’s degree may depend on whether you choose an online master’s programs or an on-campus degree. Here are some factors that will contribute to your masters degree cost. 

How Much is a Master’s Degree?

How much do masters degrees cost?

The latest averages for completing an accredited master’s program are right around $30,000 to $40,000.

However, some high-end private schools may charge as much as $100,000 for your degree.

Master’s degrees typically involve at least 1-3 years of full time study beyond the bachelor’s degree.

Master’s Degree Cost

The length of time and total cost of the degree will depend on the type of master’s degree pursued.

This will also depend on whether the degree is completed online or on campus.

Usually,  online master’s programs will be cheaper and faster than a traditional master’s degree. While there are many scholarships and financial aid options available for undergraduate students, graduate students typically have to finance their education through private loans or personal savings.

Given the current state of the economy, many people are rethinking the value of a master’s degree. But despite the high cost and increasing competition for jobs, graduate education can still be a smart move.

How Much Master’s Degree Cost: Variables to Consider

How Much Master's Degree Cost: Variables to ConsiderHow much does a master degree cost? The short answer is this – it varies. Here are a few variables that impact the overall cost of a degree.

On-Campus vs. Online

How much is a masters program? Some of this depends on where you choose to study.

The cost of a master’s degree can vary depending on whether the program is offered on campus or online.

Online programs tend to be more affordable. They often do not require students to pay for things like room and board or out-of-state tuition.

However, online programs may require students to pay for things like technology fees or online course materials. Also, online programs may not be accredited by the same organizations as on-campus programs. This can affect their value and return on investment.

Therefore, it is important to consider all of these factors when deciding how much to spend on a master’s degree.

Type of Degree

An MA program cost might not be the same as an MS program cost.

Master’s degrees are graduate-level degrees that can be earned in various academic fields. The two most common types of master’s degrees are the Master of Arts (MA) and the Master of Science (MS). Both types of degrees typically take around two years to complete and often require the completion of a thesis or research project.

The main difference between an MA and an MS degree is that an MA focuses primarily on arts and humanities subjects. An MS focuses on science and engineering subjects. However, there are also many online programs that offer both types of degrees. The cost of an online master will vary depending on the type of degree you select.

On average, MA programs tend to be cheaper than Master of Science degrees. There are fewer laboratory courses required. Therefore, fees tend to be less.

Profit vs. Not for Profit School

When looking for an affordable degree, try to choose not-for-profit schools. Although profit institutions are sometimes cheaper, the return on investment might not be as high. These schools are not always accredited.

These are schools that are in business to make money for the owners and shareholders. Profit is the number-one goal.

Not for profit schools have a learning environment that is designed primarily to help students. They can focus less on price and more on quality.

Academic Major

A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for most jobs. But in some cases, a master’s degree may be preferred. A master’s degree takes about two years of full-time study to complete. This can vary depending on the academic major.

Online programs may offer a faster path to graduation. They typically require the same number of credits as traditional programs. The cost of a master’s degree also varies based on the academic major.

For example, degrees in business or engineering tend to be more expensive than degrees in education or psychology.

The most expensive college degrees are:

  • MBA (Master of Business Administration)
  • Computer Science
  • Nursing
  • Healthcare Administration
  • Art and music
  • Photography/film studies
  • Law
  • Medicine and dentistry
  • Interior design
  • Architecture
  • Aviation
  • Accounting

The cheapest college majors – and those with the best return on investment – are:

  • Chemical engineering
  • Actuarial mathematics
  • Petroleum engineering
  • Software engineering
  • Nuclear engineering

Regardless of the major, grad school is a significant investment of time and money. Carefully consider your career goals before deciding which major to pursue.

It’s not just about return on investment. While you might be more willing to pay more money for a degree from a graduate school that promises a high salary, you also need to consider how long the degree will take.

Not every subject is available at every graduate school. Some programs require 40 credit hours instead of 30. Obviously, those master’s degrees will cost more.

Application Requirements and Fees

Application Requirements and FeesIt is important to consider the cost of a master’s degree before you even apply. Application fees cost an average of $100. That’s to say nothing of GRE or GMAT (Graduate Records Examination or Graduate Management Admission Test) fees.

Depending on your school and discipline, you may end up paying hundreds of dollars just to apply. For some programs, you will also have to pay for prerequisite or foundational coursework that’s non-credit bearing. This is before you even start your master’s courses for your master’s degrees!

Related Fees

It’s not just tuition you will have to pay for. As a graduate student, you’ll have to pay for plenty of fees. You’re probably used to some of these from your time earning your bachelor’s degree.

You may have to pay fees like:

  • Parking costs
  • Technology fees
  • Library and lab fees
  • Tutoring or academic advising fees
  • Student resources fees
  • Student services fees
  • Travel and lodging
  • Thesis fees
  • Graduation fees
  • Health and wellness fees
  • Sustaining fees

Many of these are surprise fees that you might not expect. Or have budgeted for! Miscellaneous fees can add up to several hundred dollars each year.


Don’t forget that you will have to pay for books, too. Some schools now have the option for you to use downloadable e-books instead. Some even provide students with free laptops!

If you can, choose courses that require less expensive books. You can also buy used books, rent textbooks, or share with a classmate. These are small steps that all add up over time!

What’s in a Name?

Another factor that influences the cost of a master’s degree? It’s name. Some of the schools at the highest level charge the highest tuition rates.

Private and public universities like Yale, Wharton, Harvard, and more charge some of the highest tuition and application fees because they can. Lots of students want to apply to these prestigious programs.

And they don’t care how much it costs!

For most fields, the overall cost of such a prestigious degree really is not necessary. Do a detailed cost comparison to figure out which higher education institutions are right for you. Most universities will provide you with plenty of career opportunities, name aside.

Transfer Credits

Check with your graduate school to see if your graduate degree accepts transfer credits. If you already have master’s-level coursework or even some work experience, you might be able to use it toward the cost of your graduate degree. This can save a lot of money! Work with the admissions counselor at your graduate school to find out which opportunities are available.

How Much Does a Masters Degree Cost On Campus vs Online?

How Much Does a Masters Degree Cost On Campus vs Online?One of the biggest factors in the cost of grad school is whether you choose an online program or an on-campus degree. There are plenty of affordable online master’s programs to choose from, but these aren’t always the best bet.

Average Cost for On-Campus Master’s Degree

The cost of a master’s degree varies widely. Peterson’s reports that the average cost of tuition and fees for a master’s degree ranges between $30,000 and $40,000. Public schools are the more affordable option for master’s degree programs. At least, that’s true if you are an in-state student. Out of state students will pay more, in most cases.

Graduate students generally live off-campus. Professionals who are pursuing a graduate degree after establishing a career typically remain in their apartment or home while they attend school. This can help you save money.

As with undergraduate degrees, books can represent a significant expense for graduate students who are pursuing an on-campus degree. Depending on the course of study, you might spend thousands of dollars on books and supplies each year.

Average Cost of Online Master’s Degree

Online master’s degree programs may be more flexible than their on-campus counterparts. Busy professionals often opt for online programs so they can work while they pursue a graduate degree (see our list of the Fastest Online Master’s Degrees).

U.S. News & World Report reminds prospective students to look at the total cost of an online education before committing to a particular program. You can find tuition and fees on the school’s website. Be sure to pay attention to whether fees are charged per credit. These fees for distance learning can add up much more quickly than flat costs.

Tuition tends to be higher for online degrees. Some schools charge five times more per online credit as compared with on-campus tuition.

U.S. News & World Report also cautions that there may be additional costs that are not apparent when prospective students are researching tuition and fees. For example, costs associated with traveling to the campus for required conferences may not be factored into the costs outlined on the school’s website.

While students should take care to read the fine print and learn more about their financing options for an online master’s degree program, pursuing an online education can be a positive experience. The best way to make the most of an online degree is by learning time management skills and sticking with reputable universities that offer both online and on-campus degree programs.

How to Pay for a Master’s Degree

Graduate school can be expensive, and a master’s degree is no exception.

The cost of tuition, fees, and other associated expenses can vary widely from one school to the next. It’s not uncommon for graduate students to incur tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to finance a graduate education. Federal student loans are one option. Many graduate schools offer competitive fellowships and assistantships that can help offset the cost of tuition.

Private loans and scholarships are also available. By doing your research and exploring all of your options, you can find a way to finance your graduate degree. And that’s without incurring an excessive amount of debt!

When considering ways to offset the on-campus or online master’s degree cost, consider the following options.

Figure Out What You Need

First things first – figure out how much money you need to begin with. Tuition for a master’s degree tends to be more expensive than for a bachelor’s degree. Since there are fewer credits, this might not matter as much. Calculate the cost per credit hour and per year to find out your cost.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the cost per credit hour?
  • How many credits are needed to graduate?
  • Will you continue working full time or part time? How much money can you make from this job and how much of that can be contributed to master’s degree costs?
  • What student fees are charged?
  • Do you have any money in your savings that could go toward tuition and fees?
  • Do you need to purchase textbooks or other learning materials, like a laptop?
  • Do you have any investments, like stocks and bonds, you can tap into?
  • What will you need for living expenses?
  • Could friends or family members provide you with a personal loan?
  • Are you saddled with other kinds of debt, like credit card or student loans?

Then, consider applying to affordable schools in your budget range. Public universities tend to charge less for in-state students. Out of state students may not see a significant discount. Online master’s degree programs also lead to cost savings. Tuition is charged on a per credit basis rather than per year. If you have to complete more credits, that will cost more, unless you can take more credits per semester and receive a discount.

Another factor in your master’s degree cost is your major. Master’s degrees that require lots of lab time will cost more money.

Employer Reimbursement

Take employer reimbursement into consideration. If you already have a job in your field of study, this could be a viable option. Prospective students should discuss how reimbursement works with a human resources representative before enrolling in classes.

Some employers will not reimburse employees until they have completed coursework with a minimum grade.

Savings and “Bootstrapping”

Online master’s programs are beneficial in that you can pay for tuition and miscellaneous student fees out of pocket. The most affordable online master’s programs let you take classes online at your own pace. You can pay as you go and achieve academic excellence – without having to quit your job. In many cases, you don’t have to pay out of state tuition even if you’re attending for profit or nonprofit schools out of state. This is true for both a public and a private school.

See if your online master’s program will allow you to pay out of pocket and work your way slowly through your classes. You may be able to get the academic and practical training you need – at your own pace, and on your own budget.

Financial Aid for a Master’s Degree

Financial Aid for a Master's DegreeA master’s degree can open up new opportunities for career advancement and personal growth. However, the cost of tuition can be a deterrent for many people. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to finance a master’s degree.

Online programs often offer lower tuition rates than traditional programs. Many schools offer scholarships and financial aid specifically for online students. Out-of-state students may also be eligible for discounts on tuition.

In addition, federal financial aid programs can help cover the cost of a master’s degree. Do some research and explore all of your options. You can find a way to finance your master’s degree and reach your academic and professional goals.

Student Loans

Most students don’t like to think about student loans. Finding an affordable online master’s degree should be your primary goal. However, student loan borrowers should take comfort in knowing that student loan debt is often worth it. Most master’s degree programs offer a decent return on investment. Both out of state and in state students may find it worth it to take on some student loan debt.

Consider public student loans that are subsidized by the federal government instead of private student loans. These loans can be used for both on-campus and online learning at most graduate schools. They can fund tuition for graduate programs as well as other fees, like room and board.

Federal loans, like Direct Plus Loans, are affordable tuition financing options. These can be used for master’s programs and doctoral programs alike. These loans can finance classes online and on-campus. They take two forms: direct unsubsidized loans direct subsidized loans. Only a bachelor’s degree is eligible for direct subsidized loans.

Scholarships and Grants

While there are some opportunities only a bachelor’s degree is eligible for, master’s students still have plenty to consider in the school search. Both online students and on campus students should check with their own enrollment counselor. Get the average cost of your program and find out what scholarships and grants are available that might affect tuition rates.

For some, you may have to have a certain GPA. For others, other factors like work experience might play in. Many MBA programs, for example, award tuition waivers or discounts to students who already have a successful career in business.

Most universities require you to apply for federal financial aid before turning to school-based options for offsetting the graduate school cost. You will need to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal student Aid) to apply for most on-campus and online master’s degrees financial aid opportunities. 

Leave no stone unturned in your school search. The average cost of a graduate program might be high, but there are plenty of ways to graduate with less student debt.

How Much is Masters Degree – and is it Worth It?

It doesn’t matter whether you choose an online or on-campus master’s degree program. Figuring out whether the cost is really worth the investment is a matter of calculating your future return on investment. See our list of the Highest Paying Master’s Degrees for more information!

Collect information from a university’s website and compare the data with salary averages found online. This will help to give you a better idea about how much money you can expect to earn after graduating.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics also provides data related to salary and job growth. Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics website to get information on which graduate programs will allow you to graduate with the least student debt and make the most money.

Whatever the case may be, earning a master’s degree is a smart investment. Choose the program – and the financing options – wisely, and you’ll be on your way toward a successful future.

Related School Rankings

50 Most Popular Masters Degrees
50 Best Online Masters Programs
40 Online Masters That Don’t Ask for the GMAT

Michael Templeton
Managing Editor

Kacey Reynolds Schedler
Contributing Editor