Most Affordable Online Master’s Degrees 2021

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According to 2019 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), master’s degree-holders earn twice as much as workers with just a high school diploma — $1,497 and $746, respectively. Although the difference in weekly median earnings between a bachelor’s degree-holder and a master’s degree-holder is not as stark — $1,248 and $1,497, respectively — it still comes to a significant amount when accrued over time.

The same data reveals that a master’s degree also serves as an effective hedge against unemployment. The BLS reports the unemployment rates for workers with a high school diploma and those with a bachelor’s degree to be at 3.7% and 2.2%, respectively. Master’s degree-holders show an unemployment of only 2%.

In addition to higher income potential and lower unemployment rates, an online master’s degree comes with the added advantages of flexibility. These include multiple start dates and asynchronous delivery formats, as well as no added transportation or on-campus housing costs.

This guide contains information on online graduate schools that readers can use in choosing the most beneficial master’s program to pursue.


Question Answer
Which master’s degrees are most in demand? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, master’s degrees in business, education, and health professions make up the most popular programs.
How long does it take to earn a master’s degree? The amount of time it takes to complete a master’s degree depends on factors such as a student’s enrollment status and program requirements. However, students complete most master’s programs in 1-3 years.
What GPA is needed for a master’s degree? The required GPA for master’s programs varies between schools and between programs in the same institution. Generally, students must show a GPA of 3.0 or higher to be considered for admission to a master’s program.
Are online degrees credible? Yes. Accredited institutions do not distinguish between their online and on-campus offerings. Online and onsite students enroll in the same classes taught by the same teachers and submit the same course requirements.
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Recommended Online Programs

What Are the Goals of an Online Graduate Degree?

As mentioned above, pursuing a master’s degree online often means greater flexibility and, ultimately, a more affordable program. Most online programs also offer convenience by providing multiple start dates and following a rolling admissions policy. Prospective enrollees do not need to wait until the following spring or fall to begin their studies, which also means they can earn the degree sooner.

Online graduate schools understand that applicants often need to juggle multiple responsibilities at work and in their personal lives. Online study options such as full-time or part-time enrollment, accelerated programs, and asynchronous classes give busy individuals the opportunity to earn a postgraduate degree.

Online Master's Degree and Program Guide

Why Get an Online Graduate Degree?

Going back to school for postgraduate studies requires a significant investment of time and financial resources. However, for an increasing number of individuals, the decision to pursue a master’s degree online makes sense in light of several reasons, which often include the five enumerated below.

Improve Professional Options
Master’s degree-holders often qualify for top managerial and administrative roles because employers know they possess the knowledge, training, and leadership qualities typically required in such positions.
Greater Responsibility
With their training and expertise, master’s degree-holders can assume more responsibilities in any role they take on, which often leads to a more visible professional profile and a higher salary.
Keep Knowledge Current and Relevant
Pursuing an online master’s program is an excellent and efficient way to update industry knowledge, develop meaningful professional networks, and keep up with the latest advances in one’s field of practice.
Increase Credibility
A master’s degree presents the holder as a credible source of information related to their industry.
Doctoral Program Requirement
Professionals who wish to pursue a doctoral degree often need to complete a master’s program for consideration.

What Are the Requirements for an Online Graduate Degree?

Common admission requirements for accredited master’s programs include relevant test scores from graduate entrance exams such as the GRE or GMAT, high school or college-level GPA of at least 3.0, and letters of recommendation. Science-focused or technical programs may require the completion of specific courses. Programs in art or dance may require applicants to submit a portfolio of their work thus far.

Graduation requirements vary, with some programs requiring a thesis for completion and others requiring candidates to submit a capstone project or pass a comprehensive exam. Some online graduate schools offer coursework-only master’s programs, which means students do not need to complete a culminating activity to graduate.

What is Accreditation and Why Does it Matter?

Scholarships for Online Graduate Students

Accredited institutions often offer financial assistance to qualified students, especially at the postgraduate level. However, students interested in pursuing a master’s degree online or on site can find funding options from private agencies and professional organizations. The list of five scholarship programs below target master’s degree-seekers.

AAUW Selected Professional Focus Professions Group Fellowship

Who Can Apply: The program, administered by the American Association of University Women, welcomes applications from female graduate students from historically underrepresented groups. Applicants must be pursuing a graduate degree in business administration, law, or medicine. AAUW stipulates that business administration applicants must be in their second year of study, law students in their third year, and medical degree enrollees in their third or fourth year of enrollment.
Amount: $5,000-$18,000

AKA/EAF Financial Need Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Alpha Kappa Alpha Educational Advancement Foundation accepts applications from full-time graduate students pursuing an accredited program in any field. A need-based scholarship, applicants must submit proof of financial need. Applicants must also submit a description of their research or project and have a GPA of 2.5 or higher.
Amount: Varies

Beinecke Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Graduate students pursuing a graduate degree in the arts, humanities, and social sciences at an accredited institution can apply for this scholarship opportunity. Recipients must utilize the scholarship amount within five years of completing their undergraduate program. The program awards $4,000 to scholars immediately upon being selected for the scholarship.
Amount: $30,000

LAGRANT Foundation Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Foundation welcomes graduate-student applicants from one of the following ethnic groups: African American, Asian American/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, or Native American/Alaska Native. Applicants must show proof of full-time enrollment (at least nine credits/semester) in an advertising, marketing, or public relations graduate program. The Foundation requires a minimum 3.2 GPA of all applicants.
Amount: $3,750

National Academy of Human Resources Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Students pursuing an accredited graduate program with an emphasis in human resources can apply for this scholarship opportunity funded by the NAHR Foundation. Applicants must show a minimum GPA of 3.5 and be a member in good standing of the Society for Human Resource Management. Applicants must show completion of at least six credits toward their degree at the time of application.
Amount: $5,000

Most Affordable Online Graduate Schools for a Master’s Degree 2021

  1. University of Florida

    Gainesville, Florida



    UF offers over 200 undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs online, including 84 master's degrees in diverse areas of study. At UF's Warrington College of Business, students can enroll in a one-year or two-year online master of business administration (MBA) program. Applicants need a bachelor's degree in business from an accredited college or university. They must have earned their degree within seven years of applying.

    The College of Education offers a master of education (M.Ed.) in curriculum and instruction with specializations in education technology and teacher leadership for school improvement. The college also offers an online master's degree in educational leadership. The programs accept full-time and part-time enrollees, with many students earning their M.Ed. within two years. UF's educator preparation programs have been continuously accredited since 1954.

  2. California State University-Fresno

    Fresno, California



    The Kremen School of Education and Human Development at CSU Fresno offers a fully online master's degree in reading and language arts instruction. Students enroll in one three-credit class every eight weeks.

    The program includes supervised field experiences in a variety of educational settings. During these experiences, enrollees can observe actual classes, evaluate and develop reading programs, and work with specialists in the field. To culminate the degree, students can write a thesis, complete a project, or take a comprehensive exam.

    CSU Fresno also offers an online master of science in water resource management. The 30-credit program consists of eight three-credit courses and an internship and final project. Applicants need an upper-division 3.0 GPA or higher. Like at many online graduate schools, applicants must also demonstrate GIS proficiency and submit their most recent GRE scores.

  3. Indiana University-Bloomington

    Bloomington, Indiana



    IU currently offers 158 online programs in diverse fields of study, including library science, public affairs and administration, health and health sciences, and informatics. Most of IU's online master's degrees do not require any campus visits.

    The master's in global health and sustainable development requires 30 credits and follows a curriculum based on the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. Students can choose from six concentrations, including food, water, and sanitation; preservation and restoration of land and sea; and resilient cities and communities.

    Enrollees interested in pursuing a career in the information security field can explore the 30-credit online master's in cybersecurity risk management program. The curriculum covers topics such as data intelligence and visualization, managing intellectual property in global businesses, and information privacy laws.

  4. The University of Texas at Austin

    Austin, Texas



    UT's Cockrell School of Engineering offers a completely online master's degree in mechanical engineering. The 30-credit program does not require a thesis. Most students graduate within two years.

    Applicants need a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or a related field and at least one year of relevant professional experience. The program typically requires the submission of GRE scores. However, students can request a waiver for the fall 2021 semester. Currently, the program does not accept transfer credits.

    The curriculum includes coursework in applied thermodynamics; modeling, simulation, and control of physical systems; fluid mechanics in industrial processes; and heat transfer in industrial systems. The school maintains a career placement center that assists online and on-campus students in finding employment opportunities after graduation.

  5. American University

    Washington, District of Columbia



    AU offers several online graduate programs that lead to master of arts (MA) and master of science (MS) degrees in a variety of fields. Students can pursue postgraduate studies in areas like education, human resources, economics, and healthcare management.

    The 30-credit MA in strategic communications offers concentrations in advocacy and social impact as well as strategies and analytics in digital communication. Students enroll in two classes each semester to graduate in 20 months.

    AU also offers a 36-credit online master's degree in public administration and policy. Coursework covers topics such as organizational analysis, managing human capital assets, foundations of program evaluation, and leadership in a changing workplace.

    The university's Career Center offers many services for online and onsite enrollees, including employer recruiting events, career advisement, and internship and scholarship information. AU offers a $10,000 merit-based scholarship to select online students.

  6. University of Connecticut

    Storrs, Connecticut



    UConn's online master's programs cover diverse areas of study, including educational technology, special education, human resource management, and engineering.

    Accounting professionals looking for an accredited postgraduate program can explore UConn's online master's in accounting program, which is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. The program offers a variety of electives that allow enrollees to customize the degree according to their academic and career objectives.

    UConn also offers an interdisciplinary online master's in energy and environmental management with courses in planning and management, geographical information systems, and environment law. Required courses only make up nine credits of the 30-credit program, allowing enrollees to pursue an educational path that supports their individual goals and interests.

    UConn offers two online nursing programs for nurses seeking to expand their employment options or transition to a new nursing arena. Registered nurses can pursue an online family nurse practitioner or neonatal nursing program.

  7. John Brown University

    Siloam Springs, Arkansas



    JBU in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, offers online master's programs in business, counseling, cybersecurity, and education.

    Students can pursue a two-year master of business administration completely online or through a combination of online and onsite coursework. The program comprises 36-45 credits, depending on enrollees' academic background. Students can choose from concentrations in cybersecurity, healthcare administration, design thinking and innovation, international business, leadership, and marketing research and consumer insights.

    JBU also offers a 60-credit master's in counseling that prepares graduates for the licensed professional counselor credential in Arkansas. The program offers specializations in marriage and family therapy, play therapy, and adventure therapy. The school also offers online master's degrees in higher education and teaching, as well as an online master of education (M.Ed.) in special education. The master's in higher education program runs fully online, while the master's in teaching and the M.Ed. in special education follow a hybrid delivery format.

  8. Clemson University

    Clemson, South Carolina



    Clemson offers online master's programs in 15 areas of study, including construction science management, athletic leadership, human resource development, and biological sciences. Students must live in states that are part of the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement to qualify for the school's online programs.

    Learners interested in pursuing an online master of education can choose from three specializations: literacy, special education, or teaching and learning. The school's 30-credit online master's program in engineering runs asynchronously. Applicants need at least three years of relevant professional experience.

    Clemson's online master of public administration program offers specializations in emergency management, homeland defense and security, local and state government, nonprofit management, and regional sustainability. The program requires 39-42 credits, depending on the student's choice of culminating activity.

  9. University of San Diego

    San Diego, California



    USD offers online master's programs in fields such as healthcare informatics, education, cybersecurity operations and leadership, and applied data science.

    The school's online master of education program welcomes applications from K-12 teachers with at least two years of experience. Students can specialize in curriculum and instruction, inclusive learning, literacy and digital learning, school leadership, or STEAM education.

    USD also offers a 31-credit master of science in cybersecurity operations and leadership. Students can complete the program in just 20 months. The curriculum includes courses on topics such as applied cryptology, secure software design and development, and network visualization and vulnerability detection.

    IT professionals with an interest in artificial intelligence can pursue the 30-credit master's in applied artificial intelligence offered by the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering. The program focuses on the practical applications of AI in various industries.

  10. Western Carolina University

    Cullowhee, North Carolina



    WCU offers a 36-credit online master of project management (MPM) that students can complete without any campus visits. The MPM program is accredited by the Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs, the accrediting branch of the Project Management Institute.

    Applicants need a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and at least two years of professional experience. Students follow a pre-set course sequence that allows them to graduate within two years. The program requires summer enrollment. Each MPM course counts for six credits. Learners can begin the program in August or January.

    The curriculum includes classes in project selection, initiation, and legal considerations; project execution; and project closeout, ethics, and approaches. MPM candidates must maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher in all classes.

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