10 Super Cheap Master's Degrees Online
Enrolling in a master's degree program is a major decision and one that can affect both future career opportunities and long-term earning potential. 2013 data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that individuals with a master's degree could earn up to $400,000 more during their lifetime than those with a bachelor's degree.
Earning power aside, there are numerous other reasons to consider earning a graduate degree. The Council of Graduate Schools lists several:
- Propelling career advancement
- Securing advanced credentials
- Developing professional skills
- Opening doors to change careers
For many students, the reasons above can validate the time, effort and cost associated with completing a master's degree program. If you're currently thinking about taking the next step but don't know where to start, there are two central items to keep in mind before making a decision:
The monetary expense might be the first thing that comes to mind, but one of the biggest investments when it comes to a master’s degree isn’t money — it’s time. There are crucial questions to consider before starting this journey: Are you ready to commit one to three years (or more) to complete a master's degree program? Can you afford to take time off work to attend class? Will you be prepared to sacrifice family time to complete coursework? Are you able to potentially step away from the workforce in order to attend school either part- or full-time?
Once you’ve decided that you want to commit to completing a master’s degree, the next step is to investigate what the program you’re interested in might cost and how you’re going to pay for school.
Tuition & Fees
The time investment is important, but the cost of a master’s degree is still usually the No. 1 decision factor for graduate students. And while tuition is typically the primary expense, it’s not the only cost associated with each program. In some cases, schools may charge a low per credit rate but higher student fees — such as "educational programming" or "technology" fees — while others charge what might seem like a higher per credit fee but is actually an inclusive rate.
Sticker shock is a serious reality if you are unfamiliar with the cost of graduate education in the United States. The average graduate degree in the U.S. could cost between anywhere from $30,000 and $120,000, according to data from FinAid.org. Obviously, prices depend on the university, the program of study, the location, fees and more. With such expenses, researching graduate schools is just like shopping for a new car or a new home -- price comparisons are vital.
That’s why it’s important to do your research and find out what the full costs may be before choosing a school. Luckily, all colleges and universities that are Title IV approved (meaning they accept federal financial aid) are required by the Department of Education to have a net price calculator on their website, which can help prospective students assess the actual price of attendance.
The rise of online master's degree programs
For individuals who are lucky enough to live near a school that offers their program of choice, getting a master’s degree on campus or through a hybrid program can be a great option. But if you don’t live near a university, or don’t live near one you want or can afford to attend, online and distance education programs could be the answer.
In order to better serve their students, graduate schools across the country have been launching online degree programs at certificate, master's and doctoral levels. As these programs have gained credibility, they've gained market share as well.
Evidence of their importance is US News and World Report's decision to launch an annual review and ranking of online programs in 2011. Currently, this ranking covers 1,000 distance education programs and online master's in business, nursing, engineering, education and computer information technology.
For many students, the key to finding an online degree program that works for them is matching an affordable school with a degree that is likely to have a solid return on investment. To help with that, we found 10 jobs that either require or prefer that candidates have a master’s degree and that also have a national median salary above $75,000 and positive projected job growth, according to 2014 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
We also compiled a list of the schools around the country with the cheapest in-state average tuition for full-time graduate students, according to 2013-14 data from the National Center for Education Statistics. For each job, we matched a specific master’s degree that can lead to it with an affordable university that offers the degree online. These are our featured schools, in no particular order, along with each highlighted program and its corresponding career.
Located about 20 miles north of Atlanta, Kennesaw State is an up-and-coming institution that offers more than 100 bachelor's and graduate degrees. The online offerings here hold their own among the nation's best in the 2015 U.S. News and World Report rankings: Two of its degree programs taught in the virtual classroom made the top 100 overall, with the online MBA program landing at No. 29 nationwide.
What's more, Kennesaw State recently announced an institutional roll-up with Southern Polytechnic State University, bringing a wealth of new science, engineering and technology resources into the institution's wheelhouse. The consolidation introduces a number of exciting degree options, including rare undergraduate programs in mechatronics and systems engineering, and brings with it an engineering technology center that features an array of state-of-the-art laboratory facilities.
Featured degree: Information Technology (M.S.)
Candidates who hold a graduate degree in information technology are often preferred by employers looking to fill senior positions in their IT departments. The specific knowledge gained when pursuing an advanced IT degree can prepare you for terabyte database management, uncommon security concerns, and other complex technical realities of enterprise computing and networking.
- Program length: 36-48 credit hours
- Tuition per credit (online, Fall 2015): $408
- Total tuition for program: $14,688 - $19,584
Featured career: Information Security Analyst
Any organization whose business relies on digital resources places a high priority on information security. Occupational demand for highly skilled IT security personnel is expected to be very strong over the next several years, and a master's degree in information technology can help open doors to upward mobility in the field.
- Median national salary in 2014: $91,600
- Job growth, 2012-22: 37 percent
This institution in Carrollton, Georgia, is committed to providing accessible academic degrees in its home state, both online and in a traditional campus environment. Students at West Georgia can choose from 43 bachelor's programs and 29 master's and specialist degrees, with a handful of options for doctoral study and non-degree certification also available.
Online programs at WGU fared quite well in U.S. News’ 2015 graduate online rankings, including a top-20 finish in the computer information technology category. The school also provides comprehensive information resources about the challenges and opportunities of earning a degree online, and a preparedness assessment can be taken by prospective students who aren't sure whether they're ready to tackle a fully online course load.
Featured degree: Applied Computer Science (M.S.)
Some master's degrees focus on preparing students for careers in research or professorship, while others concentrate their instruction on professional applications of their knowledge and skill outside the halls of academia. The graduate major in applied computer science at UWG is of the latter variety, featuring a balanced faculty whose backgrounds include a mix of industry and academic experience.
- Program length: 36 credit hours
- Tuition per credit: $394
- Total tuition for program: $14,184
Featured career: Information Security Analyst
Information security analysts assess computer systems and networks and develop plans for securing them against outside attack and other vulnerabilities. Top positions in the field are likely to go to the most qualified candidates, and combining IT job experience with a degree in applied computer science can demonstrate to employers your readiness to handle high-stakes security work.
- Median national salary in 2014: $88,890
- Job growth, 2012-22: 37 percent
Affordable and accessible education have long been the mission of the University of Massachusetts System, and UMass Lowell works toward that mission by providing students with options for experience-focused academic programs at all levels, including 48 online degree and certificate plans as of spring 2015. The university's motto is "Learning with Purpose," which represents its commitment to translating academic success into prosperity in the workforce after graduation.
According to Forbes, which ranks hundreds of universities according to various criteria, UMass Lowell placed among the top 200 research universities and the top 500 universities overall in 2015.
Featured degree: Educational Administration (M. Ed.)
Advanced academic training is sometimes necessary to promote career growth, and a master's degree in educational administration can open doors for those seeking positions of influence over the policies, guidelines and standards of educational systems. The program at UMass Lowell requires that applicants have at least five years of teaching experience before applying, and the online availability of the courses can help busy teachers earn their master’s degree without causing too much disturbance to their existing schedule.
- Program length: 30 credit hours
- Tuition per credit: $470
- Total tuition for program: $14,100
Featured career: Education Administrator
Educational institutions at all levels need capable administrators to help them run smoothly, from deans and provosts at the college level to principals and superintendents in elementary and secondary schools. Administration at K-12 schools includes management of school staff, including teachers and support personnel, occasional counseling or disciplinary meetings with students, evaluation of teacher performance and organizing professional development programs for teachers and staff.
- Median national salary in 2014: $89,540
- Job growth, 2012-22: 6 percent
The online catalog at Colorado State University contains more than 30 graduate and post-graduate degrees, including in-demand subjects such as business administration, computer information systems and biomedical engineering. Whereas some traditional institutions may hold to the residency model when determining online tuition, Colorado State makes its digital course offerings equally affordable for in-state and out-of-state students.
The Fort Collins-based university is also well-recognized among national collegiate rankings agencies, with the Princeton Review naming it to their Best 379 Colleges list in 2015 and Forbes placing it among the top 125 research universities in the country. Online degrees at Colorado State have earned individual accolades, as well — the bachelor's and graduate business programs available online both placed among the U.S. News and World Report top 40 for 2015.
Featured degree: Applied Statistics (M.A.S.)
The Master of Applied Statistics degree online at CSU is taught by the same faculty as the campus-based program, which took the No. 42 spot nationally on the U.S. News list for 2015. The program features a capstone consulting course designed to provide students with hands-on experience using statistical techniques and communicating with other professionals who make use of statistical data on the job.
- Program length: 31 credit hours
- Tuition per credit: $720
- Total tuition for program: $22,320
Featured career: Statistician
The ability to process data and derive meaningful results can be vital to the health of an enterprise, and those who graduate with a degree in statistical math or applied statistics enter the workforce prepared to help organizations understand their numbers. The largest percentage of statisticians worked in government agencies, according to a recent BLS poll, followed by the insurance, education and health care industries.
- Median national salary in 2014: $79,990
- Job growth, 2012-22: 27 percent
Touro College was established in 1970 and designed as a higher education destination for the Jewish community, though it's grown to serve a diverse population of students in the decades since. Touro University Worldwide was added to the Touro College and University System (the California campus is pictured above) in 1998. TUW joined as a source of bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees for nontraditional learners in the military or otherwise unable to commit to a full-time education at a campus-based institution.
Touro College has been recognized nationally for its programs in medicine, health care and the social sciences. The catalog of online offerings at TUW includes psychology programs for undergraduates, graduates and post-grads as well as degrees in health and human services education and administration.
Featured degree: Industrial & Organizational Psychology (M.A.)
Industrial and organizational psychology sits at the intersection between psychology and business administration. Students in an industrial-organizational psychology program work to understand the ways in which organizational culture and policy can influence employee morale, productivity and effectiveness.
- Program length: 36 credit hours
- Tuition per credit: $500
- Total tuition for program: $18,000
Featured career: Industrial-Organizational Psychologist
Employment of industrial-organizational psychologists is projected to grow more than 50 percent over the next several years, and a master's degree is the minimum level of education necessary to compete for one of the hundreds of emerging positions in the field. Doctoral degrees in the discipline are also available at certain institutions, though Ph.D. graduates typically use their advanced training to embark on careers in research.
- Median national salary in 2014: $76,950
- Job growth, 2012-22: 53 percent
The University of North Dakota is the oldest institution of higher learning in its state and features an eclectic array degrees and courses, with more than 225 areas of study available as of 2015. The university's online catalog contains hundreds of courses and nearly 40 full degree programs, including online graduate degrees in business that ranked in the national top 25 for 2015.
Online coursework at UND comes in two forms. Enroll-anytime courses give you full control over when you complete your assignments, as long as you finish the entire course in nine months or less. Semester-based courses are structured in a similar fashion to traditional classes, where the standard university schedule is followed, but the professor and students meet in the virtual classroom environment.
Featured degree: Economics (M.S.)
Economics is often viewed as a primarily theoretical discipline, but the MS in applied economics from UND makes it clear that economic research has significant practical value in both the public and private sectors. Students learn how to collect and analyze data effectively, communicate technical material with clarity and precision and apply various economic theories to real-world situations.
- Program length: 31-32 credit hours
- Tuition per credit: $417.72
- Total tuition for program: $12,949 - $13,367
Featured career: Economist
Nearly than half of economists polled in 2012 worked for federal, state and local governments, while an additional 19 percent held positions at scientific and technical consulting services firms. Depending on the individual job, economists may work on independent projects or function as part of a team that includes statisticians and other applied mathematics professionals.
- Median national salary in 2014: $95,710
- Job growth, 2012-22: 14 percent
The University of Illinois Springfield is the newest member of the University of Illinois system, having joined the Urbana-Champaign and Chicago campuses in 1995, and its combination of small, liberal-arts-university sensibilities with a proven record in business education makes for a stimulating educational landscape. The university prides itself on limiting class sizes to foster personalized attention from professors.
UIS has also taken the world of online education by storm over the last several years, garnering top-20 rankings for its online bachelor's and online graduate business programs in 2015. Tuition for prospective students in its 25 graduate and post-grad degree and certificate programs is not subject to the same residency restrictions as traditional classroom tuition, meaning those who live outside the borders of Illinois pay the same per online credit hour as in-state students.
Featured degree: Political Science (M.A.)
Offered on campus as well as online, the political science master's degree at UIS works to unite political science theory with the practical knowledge that helps analysts, pundits and strategists thrive. Students typically specialize in one branch of the discipline, whether it's state and national politics, international relations, public law, political philosophy or comparative politics.
- Program length: 40 credit hours
- Tuition per credit: $387.25
- Total tuition for program: $15,490
Featured career: Political Scientist
Political scientists commonly take an advisory role in governmental processes, using their extensive historical and theoretical knowledge to help guide policy decisions and interpret trends in data, economic activity or public opinion. Research is often a big part of the job, and many political scientists work as part of a team of specialists with diverse backgrounds who combine their expertise to develop well-rounded conclusions.
- Median national salary in 2014: $104,920
- Job growth, 2012-22: 21 percent
This Murfreesboro institution can claim an impressive distinction: It's the No. 1 provider of college degrees to low-income and nontraditional students in Tennessee, thanks in part to a statewide effort on the part of the Tennessee Board of Regents system to offer an array of degrees, certificates and diplomas online through Regents Online Degree Programs (RODP) and Regents Online Continuing Education and Workforce Development (ROCE).
Tennessee residents pay lower tuition rates for online courses than they do for those that meet on campus, and out-of-state online students pay significantly less per credit hour than they would if they enrolled in brick-and-mortar courses at the school. Middle Tennessee State offers a selection of specialized online master's degrees, including some in uncommon disciplines such as aviation administration and advanced practice nursing.
Featured degree: Nursing (M.S.N.)
Nursing is a vital part of effective health care, and nurses with advanced academic training can help fill some of the most important positions in the field. The Master of Science in Nursing degree at Middle Tennessee State allows students to specialize their training along three tracks: nurse educator, nurse administrator or family nurse practitioner.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing plans to raise the level of education necessary for advanced practice nursing from the master's level to the doctoral level before long, but the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) has not yet become the official degree. One reason for the change is that the current master’s programs, such as the one at Middle Tennessee State, typically require the same amount of credits as DNP programs, despite the lower degree level.
- Program length: 36-46 credits
- Tuition per credit: $549-$759
- Total tuition for program: $19,764-$34,914
Featured career: Nurse Practitioner
Nurse practitioners provide advanced primary and specialty care to patients, typically focusing on the needs of a certain population. Common specializations include pediatric health, geriatric health and mental health and psychiatric care. The specific duties of a nurse practitioner tend to vary by state, though working closely with other health professionals is almost always necessary.
- Median national salary in 2014: $95,350
- Job growth, 2012-22: 34 percent
Fayetteville State University has been educating North Carolina students since 1867, working to provide the state-of-the-art facilities and diversity of programs available at a large university in the close-knit atmosphere of a liberal arts campus. Its status as a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina system connects it to a wealth of academic resources, and the university's showing on the National Survey of Student Engagement indicates a commitment to developing a strong student culture.
In 2015, 100 percent of the online graduate degrees offered at Fayetteville State landed among in the top 75 programs in their respective categories in the U.S. News rankings, with the online M.S. in Criminal Justice taking the No. 30 spot nationally. Out-of-state students pay out-of-state rates for online courses, but in-state students can potentially earn a whole degree online for less than $6,000 in some cases.
Featured degree: Master of Business Administration (MBA)
Whether you want to concentrate your studies in finance, management, marketing, international business, project management, health care management or entrepreneurship, Fayetteville State offers a plan of study to help get you there. The base degree requires 36-39 credit hours to complete, but students without undergraduate degrees in business may need to complete up to 15 additional hours of foundational business coursework.
- Program length: 36-54 credit hours
- Tuition per credit: $174.78-$706.56
- Total tuition for program: $6,293-$38,155
Featured career: Management Analyst
If you've got an analytical mind and an interest in business, a career in management analysis could be a great way to put your skills to use. Management analysts are organizational problem-solvers who gather and process finance, human resource and procedural data and explore existing enterprise systems for ways to eliminate waste and help them run more smoothly.
- Median national salary in 2014: $80,880
- Job growth, 2012-22: 19 percent
Better than 90 percent of faculty members at this Massachusetts institution hold the highest possible degree in their field, and 2015 figures show a student-teacher ratio of just 15:1. Administrators at Fitchburg State work to ensure that traditional and nontraditional students are supported equally, and a prominent faculty mentoring program helps students smoothly transition into the workforce or into their next degree program after graduation.
Per-hour class costs at Fitchburg State are geographically independent, which is to say that out-of-state students pay the same rate per credit as Massachusetts residents, and certain graduate degrees offered on campus as well as online can be earned for a total tuition cost of around $10,000.
Featured degree: Master of Business Administration in Human Resources Management (MBA)
Human resources management is a vital part of organizational structures the world over. The online MBA at Fitchburg State takes just 30 credits to qualify for graduation, which allows for a shorter time to completion than most ordinary MBA degrees available. Students with the ability to commit to a full-time online education can earn their human resources management MBA in just 17 months.
- Program length: 30 credit hours
- Tuition per credit: $362
- Total tuition for program: $10,860
Featured career: Training and Development Manager
Every company needs well-trained employees, and training and development managers with the right combination of education and experience can help make that happen. Studying business administration, human resource management, organizational development and instructional design can help prepare you to create effective training programs and monitor employee progress while remaining in alignment with the organization's strategic goals.
- Median national salary in 2014: $101,930
- Job growth, 2012-22: 11 percent
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