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Top 10 Most Affordable Master’s Degrees Online

A master’s degree can mean as much as $400,000 in extra earnings over the course of a career compared to holders of bachelor’s degrees. Being able to earn that degree on a budget and at your own schedule while continuing to meet personal and professional responsibilities is a marvel of the modern era. This list of the top 10 cheapest online master’s degrees in 2018 will help you select the program at the school that best suits your academic needs and financial situation.

Online schooling requires a slightly different skill set than traditional brick and mortar college. You need to be more organized and independently motivated if you are not in front of a professor multiple times a week. Most school websites will have a brief online quiz where you can assess your capabilities in this department, but if you got yourself through your bachelor’s program, you are well on your way. There is also a technical component to online study, but if you accessed this ranking without assistance, you probably have that cracked, as well.

In compiling this list of the top 10 cheapest online master’s degrees, we used the out of state graduate tuition figures reported to the National Center for Education Statistics, a service of the US government. Student to faculty ratio and enrollment figures are also from this source. The ranking methodology is broken down below. In case of a tie in points, schools are ranked in order of decreasing tuition.

Rating and Ranking Methodology

Tuition Points

  1. Under $30,000—1 point
  2. Under $27,000—2 points
  3. Under $24,000—3 points
  4. Under $21,000—4 points
  5. Under $18,000—5 points
  6. Under $15,000—6 points
  7. Under $12,000—7 points
  8. Under $9,000—8 points

Student-to-Faculty Ratio Points

  1. Above 35-1 point
  2. Above 30-2 points
  3. Above 25-3 points
  4. Above 20-4 points
  5. Above 15-5 points
  6. Above 10-6 points

National Recognition

  1. Top 40-1 point
  2. Top 30-2 points
  3. Top 20-3 points
  4. Top 10-4 points
  5. Top 5-5 points

Bonus for special tuition discount for online students

  1. Has special online discount for tuition-3 points
  2. Online students charged standard tuition-0 points

Best Offerings for Cheapest Master’s Degrees Online

#10 – University of Maryland Global Campus

Adelphi, Maryland

Website
Points:11
Enrollment: 60,603
Tuition: $12,336

The University of Maryland Global Campus was founded in 1947 as a branch of the University of Maryland that was specially set up to train working adults and those serving abroad in the military. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 19 to 1, they have 43 online graduate degree options, including cybersecurity management and policy and healthcare informatics administration. The University of Maryland Global Campus charges an out-of-state graduate online tuition rate of $659 per credit hour. They are accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

#9 – University of Louisiana at Monroe

Monroe, Louisiana

Website
Points: 11
Enrollment: 9,291
Tuition: $21,074

The University of Louisiana at Monroe started out as a junior college in 1931 and is today a comprehensive, modern institution of higher learning. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 20 to 1, they have 18 online graduate programs, including gerontology and educational technology leadership. The University of Louisiana at Monroe offers an online graduate tuition rate of $500 per credit hour, regardless of residency. They are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges.

#8 – University of Arkansas

Fayetteville, Arkansas

Points: 12
Enrollment: 27,778
Tuition: $25,872

The University of Arkansas was founded in 1871, and their mascot is the razorback hog. They are a top-tier research university, the only one in the Natural State. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 18 to 1, they have twenty online master’s degree options, including electrical engineering and food safety. The University of Arkansas offers various graduate tuition rates depending on the program. The most affordable is $580 per credit hour. They are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

#7 – Georgia College and State University

Milledgeville, Georgia

Website
Points: 12
Enrollment: 6,989
Tuition: $28,710

Georgia College and State University opened as a women’s institution in 1889. Their fight song is “Here Comes the Thunder.” With a student-to-faculty ratio of 17 to 1, they offer 17 graduate degree options, including music therapy and middle-grades education. Georgia College and State University offers an out-of-state graduate tuition rate of $1,047 per credit hour. They are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges.

#6 – Western Governors University

Salt Lake City, Utah

Website
Points: 12
Enrollment: 121,437
Tuition: $6,670

western-governors-university

Western Governors University has a unique model for education. Instead of credit hours, they use “competency units” or CUs: You complete the units and test out of them, and however many CUs you complete in a term, that is how many credits you get. The more quickly you complete CUs, the more you save on tuition. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 41 to 1, they have 34 online graduate degree options, including an MBA in information technology management and an MS in nursing-leadership and management. Western Governors University offers a flat rate per term, regardless of residency. The graduate tuition fees range from $3,225 to $4,325 per term. They are accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

#5 – Wayne State College

Wayne, Nebraska

Website
Points: 13
Enrollment: 3,633
Tuition: $12,662

Wayne State College was founded in 1891. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 20 to 1, they offer 15 online graduate programs, including school administration and athletic administration. Wayne State College charges an out of state, online, graduate tuition rate of $380 per credit hour. They offer tuition discounts for residents of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. They are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

#4 – Southeast Missouri State University

Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Website
Points: 14
Enrollment: 11,071
Tuition: $13,830

Southeast Missouri State University is an affordable choice with a large selection of available degrees. They were founded in 1873, and their mascot is Rowdy the Redhawk. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 20 to 1, they have 16 online graduate options, including programs in public administration and technology management. Southeast Missouri State University offers an online graduate tuition rate of $365 per credit hour. They are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

#3 – Fort Hays State University

Hays, Kansas

Points: 15
Enrollment: 15,523
Tuition: $15,360

fort-hays-state-university

Fort Hays State University was founded in 1902, and their mascot is Victor E. Tiger. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 18 to 1, they have sixteen master’s degree options, including school counseling and nursing education. Fort Hays State University offers an online, graduate tuition rate of $298.55 per credit hour, regardless of residency. Tuition for the online MBA program is $350 per credit hour, regardless of residency. They are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

#2 – Arkansas State University

Jonesboro, Arkansas

Points: 15
Enrollment: 13,709
Tuition: $15,860

Arkansas State University was founded in 1909, and their mascot is the red wolves. They are the economic and cultural engine of Northeast Arkansas. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 18 to 1, they have eight graduate degree options online, including sport administration and media management. Arkansas State University offers an online, graduate tuition rate of $277 per credit hour, regardless of residency. They are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

#1 – Chadron State College

Chadron, Nebraska

Points: 16
Enrollment: 2,448
Tuition: $7,586

Chadron State College was founded in 1885, and its mascot is Elmo the Eagle. They have a growing college population with the atmosphere of a small college. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 17 to 1, they offer four online graduate degree options, including an MBA and organizational management. Chadron State College offers an online graduate tuition rate of $370.75, regardless of residency. They are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

This concludes our list of the top ten most affordable online master’s degrees.

About Online Master’s Degree Programs

Online master’s degree programs have become more and more popular in recent years. These convenient distance learning options give busy and working professionals an opportunity to enhance their knowledge and skills in a specific academic discipline and advance their careers as well. Today, students have more opportunities to continue their studies in their respective fields while keeping their day jobs or tending to family responsibilities such as caring for children, for example. Online master’s degrees are available in nearly every academic discipline and are offered by some of the top colleges and universities in the country.

Types of Online Master’s Degrees

All online master’s degree programs offer students a more convenient path toward a graduate degree than traditional in-person offerings. That doesn’t mean they’re all the same though. If you’re considering pursuing an online master’s degree, it’s important to learn about the different types of graduate distance learning options available.

Fully Online Versus Hybrid Master’s Degree Programs

It is possible to complete a master’s degree entirely via distance education through a fully online master’s degree program. These options require no campus visits, and all degree requirements can be fulfilled from the comfort of your home or anywhere you have an Internet connection. Other programs labeled as online master’s degree programs require some visits to campus and are therefore hybrid options.

Part-Time Versus Full-Time Online Master’s Degree Programs

Students who are unable to commit to a full course load may opt for a part-time online master’s degree program. These programs lessen the number of hours that students are required to put into their studies for the short-term. However, it will take them longer to complete degree requirements over the long-term compared to a full-time program.

Synchronous Versus Asynchronous Online Master’s Degrees

Like all online educational offerings, online master’s degree programs rely on one of two content delivery methods: synchronous delivery and asynchronous delivery. Synchronous programs are more structured and require students to log in to their learning platforms at predetermined times. These programs are characterized by live class meetings and lectures. Asynchronous online master’s degree programs, on the other hand, are more flexible and enable students to log in to their classes at their convenience. These options feature pre-recorded lectures and discussion forums.

Online Master’s Degree Programs: Admissions

Admissions criteria for online master’s degree programs will vary depending on the college or university offering the degree. Usually, candidates will need a bachelor’s degree and a minimum grade point average as well as graduate school admissions exam scores such as GRE or GMAT results. Other admissions requirements for master’s degree online programs may include:

  • Personal statements
  • Writing samples
  • Letters of reference
  • Interviews

For specific information about the admissions criteria for a particular online master’s degree program, visit the school’s website or contact an admissions counselor.  

Master’s Degrees Online: Curriculum

The curriculum for an online master’s degree program will depend on the college or university you attend as well as the academic discipline you choose to study. This curriculum will also vary based on any concentrations, specializations, or areas of emphasis you elect as part of your degree plan. Still, you can expect the courses you take to address high-level concepts in your chosen academic subject and require you to conduct a fair amount of scholarly research and writing. Unlike undergraduate degree programs, online master’s programs will not require you to fulfill any general education requirements. Instead, all of your coursework will be directly related to your major area of study.

Frequently-Searched Schools for Online Master’s Degree Programs

Georgia Tech—Georgia Tech offers 13 different online master’s degree programs through its Division of Professional Education. Some of the school’s most popular online graduate programs include those in:

  • Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Manufacturing
  • Occupational Health and Safety

Johns Hopkins University—Johns Hopkins University offers numerous online master’s degree programs, including both Master of Arts and Master of Science offerings. Some of these include:

  • Online MS in Applied and Computational Mathematics
  • Online MS in Artificial Intelligence
  • Online MS in Data Analytics and Policy
  • Online MA in Public Health Biology
  • Online MA in Museum Studies

Liberty University– Liberty University offers accelerated master’s degree online programs, many of which can be completed in just 18 months of study. Some of the school’s most popular online master’s options include:

  • MBA in Business Administration Online
  • M.Ed. in School Counseling Online
  • MS in Criminal Justice Online
  • MA in Human Services Counseling Online

Washington State University—Washington State University has been nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report for its online MBA program as well as its online master’s in engineering degree. The school also offers additional online graduate programs such as:

  • Online Professional Science Master’s in Molecular Biosciences
  • Online Master of Arts in Music
  • Online Master of Education in Special Education
  • Online Master of Software Engineering

Arizona State University—One of the largest providers of online master’s programs in the nation, Arizona State University offers over 80 online graduate degrees. This includes online master’s degrees such as:

  • Online MS in Business Analytics
  • Online MA in Communication
  • Online Master of Computer Science
  • Online MA in Cybersecurity Policy and Management

Appalachian State University—Appalachian State University is home to over a dozen hybrid and fully online master’s degree programs. This includes a nationally recognized online master of education program. Other offerings include:

  • Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
  • Online Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Online Master of Social Work (MSW)
  • Online Master of Library Science (MLS)

Duke University—Several of Duke University’s online master of nursing specialties have been highly ranked by U.S. News & World Report. The school also offers other online graduate degrees like:

  • Accelerated Online Master of Science in Quantitative Management
  • Online Global Executive MBA
  • Online MA in Christian Practice
  • Online Master of Engineering Management

Drexel University—Drexel University is one of the nation’s largest providers of online master’s degree programs. The school offers dozens of graduate degree programs that can be completed entirely online, including those in disciplines such as:

  • Biomedical Research
  • Criminal Justice
  • Information Science
  • Engineering
  • Psychology
  • Public Health

Harvard University—Harvard University offers numerous online master’s degree programs through the Harvard Extension School. These programs span fields such as:

  • Anthropology & Archaeology
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychology
  • International Relations
  • Data Science
  • Sustainability

Kansas State University—Kansas State University offers more than 40 online master’s degree programs through its Global Campus. Examples include:

  • Online Master’s in Mass Communication
  • Online Master’s in Mechanical Engineering
  • Online Professional Master of Technology
  • Online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)

Lamar University—U.S. News & World Report has ranked Lamar University’s online master’s in criminal justice program among the top 35 such programs in the country. Other online master’s degrees offered by the university include:

  • Online Master of Public Administration
  • Online MBA in Enterprise Resource Management
  • Online Master of Educational Administration
  • Online Master of Science in Nutrition

Louisiana State University—Many of LSU’s online master’s degree programs have been highly ranked by U.S. News & World Report. These top offerings include:

  • Online MBA
  • Online Master’s in Engineering
  • Online Master of Education

Ohio State University—Ohio State University is home to several nationally-ranked online master’s degree programs. Some of these high-quality options include:

  • Online Master’s in Engineering
  • Online Master of Education
  • Online Master’s in Nursing
  • Online Master’s in Instructional Media
  • Online Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction

Pennsylvania State University—A prolific provider of online master’s degree programs, Penn State University offers over 100 online graduate programs. Some of these popular master’s programs include:

  • Master of Professional Studies in Community and Economic Development Online
  • Master of Engineering in Additive Manufacturing and Design Online
  • Master of Professional Studies in Applied Demography Online
  • Master of Education in Higher Education Online

Texas State University—Texas State University offers a variety of hybrid and fully online master’s degree programs. Fully online options include:

  • Online Master of Education in Educational Technology
  • Online Master of Applied Geography
  • Online Master of Science in Construction Management

George Washington University—U.S. News & World Report has ranked many of George Washington University’s online master’s programs among the very best in the nation. Some of these top-ranked programs include:

  • Online Master’s in Engineering
  • Online Master of Education
  • Online Master’s in Nursing
  • Online MBA
  • Online Master’s in Business

Grand Canyon University—Grand Canyon University offers five high-quality online master’s degrees. Prospective students can consider graduate studies in the following programs:

  • Master of Arts in Christian Ministry Online
  • Master of Arts in Communication Online
  • Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction Online
  • Master of Arts in Autism Spectrum Disorder Online
  • Master of Arts in Christian Leadership Online

Frequently-Asked Questions About Online Master’s Degrees

An online master’s degree program represents a significant investment in time, effort, and money. It’s only natural to have questions prior to committing to such a program. Below, our editors have addressed several of the most frequently-asked questions about master’s degree programs online. Keep in mind that the information provided here is general in nature and not intended to represent any specific school or program. For more detailed information about a particular college or university’s online master’s degree programs, it’s best to speak to a school admissions counselor.

Q: Are online master’s degrees worth it?

A: Many graduates will tell you that the time and effort invested in an online master’s degree program is well-worth it considering the numerous benefits of holding such a credential. Advantages include increased pay, job satisfaction, and career advancement opportunities.

Q: Are online master’s degrees taken seriously?

A: Yes. Online degrees have become more respected over the years. Nowadays, top colleges and universities are offering high-quality online programs that mirror their on-campus offerings.

Q: Are online master’s programs easier to get into?

A: Not necessarily. Admissions criteria depend more on the particular college or university you attend than the delivery format of the program. These criteria can vary widely.


Q: Do I need a bachelor’s degree to be admitted to an online master’s program?

A: Usually, yes. However, there are some combined online bachelor’s/master’s degree programs as well should you decide to pursue both credentials simultaneously.

Q: Can I get an online master’s without taking the GRE or GMAT?

A: Yes. Many (but not all) online master’s degree programs waive graduate entrance exam requirements such as the GRE or GMAT.

Q: Do online master’s degree programs require a thesis?

A: Some of them do and some of them do not. Non-thesis programs usually require some other type of culminating element, though, such as a scholarly research project, practicum, or comprehensive examination, for example.

Q: Are online master’s and PhD combined programs available?

A: Yes, but these programs are limited. They may also require on-campus residencies for the purpose of dissertation completion and/or presentation.

Q: How do online master’s versus traditional programs compare?

A: It really depends on the school you attend. Some colleges and universities offer online master’s degree programs featuring the same curriculum as their on-campus programs. Some are even taught by the same professors.

Q: What are the best online master’s degree programs?

A: The best online master’s degree programs may not be the same for everyone. To find the ideal program for you, prioritize the features you desire in a program such as cost, curriculum, content delivery, and reputation, for instance.

This ranking was updated in July 2020.

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