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Affordable Online Master’s Degrees

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For those who don’t have the time to sit in a traditional classroom, online learning provides an opportunity that would not otherwise be possible. This is a major reason why master’s degrees are extremely popular in the online format. Since the master’s degree is such a high-level degree, many students seeking the credential already have well-established careers and full-time jobs, yet are seeking ways to continue their professional advancement. And many master’s degree students already have children and other family responsibilities that preclude spending all day on a college campus.

Recognizing the need to help those individuals with work and family responsibilities earn the higher education degree they need; many colleges and universities offer several online master’s degree programs. We’ll take a look at what prospective master’s degree students can expect from an online degree program and provide a bit of advice in choosing the right program for their unique needs.

The 50 Best Online Master’s Degrees in 2018

Prospective online master’s degree students can begin the important search for schools with the following list. This ranking of schools offering online master’s degree programs takes into account various important factors, such as tuition and program offerings. This makes it easier for curious students to decide if the higher-ranked schools will effectively meet their academic needs.


To find the best colleges of 2016-17 for earning an online master’s degree, our researchers and higher education experts collected and analyzed data from every accredited postsecondary institution in the United States. The goal? To see which colleges offered the most notable balances of academic rigor, program availability, student support and affordability for online learning. The specific criteria and scoring metrics for the ranking are as follows:

  • Accredited, 4-year public or private not-for-profit institution
  • Must offer at least 3 online master’s degree programs
  • Annual in-state tuition & fees below $25,000
  • In-state tuition & fees for graduate students
  • Count of online master’s degree programs available
  • Student-to-faculty ratio
  • Availability of academic/career counseling services
  • Availability of job placement services
  • 3-year loan default rate
  • AC Online Peer-Based Value (PBV)*

*PBV: is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or “bang for your buck” – of an online degree.-

Rank University Location Score Annual Tuition # of Online Programs Financial Aid % Student-Teacher RatioGrad RateCredit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
1 Western New Mexico University Silver City, NM 99.79 $4,220 9 26% 16:116%No Yes Yes
2 Fort Hays State University Hays, KS 99.51 $3,705 12 72% 17:141%No Yes Yes
3 University of Central Arkansas Conway, AR 99.40 $5,644 12 85% 17:141%No Yes Yes
4 Arkansas State University-Main Campus Jonesboro, AR 99.39 $5,576 11 65% 17:139%No Yes Yes
5 Wilmington University New Castle, DE 99.32 $7,862 16 20% 14:134%Yes Yes Yes
6 University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg, MS 99.29 $6,980 15 74% 17:150%No Yes Yes
7 Saint Leo University Saint Leo, FL 99.28 $8,442 21 99% 15:143%Yes Yes Yes
8 East Carolina University Greenville, NC 99.10 $6,407 31 50% 18:158%No Yes Yes
9 Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide Daytona Beach, FL 99.04 $6,720 11 14% 12:148%Yes Yes Yes
10 Wayland Baptist University Plainview, TX 98.98 $9,930 15 33% 10:136%Yes Yes Yes
11 University of West Alabama Livingston, AL 98.96 $6,152 9 47% 15:127%No Yes Yes
12 Delta State University Cleveland, MS 98.93 $6,562 8 42% 13:137%No Yes Yes
13 Troy University Troy, AL 98.76 $7,372 10 45% 15:135%Yes Yes Yes
14 Southern Arkansas University Main Campus Magnolia, AR 98.58 $5,544 7 82% 16:135%No Yes Yes
15 University of Nebraska at Kearney Kearney, NE 98.56 $6,347 10 55% 15:156%No Yes Yes
16 Indiana State University Terre Haute, IN 98.52 $7,040 17 75% 20:143%Yes Yes Yes
17 University of Memphis Memphis, TN 98.52 $9,867 15 40% 14:140%Yes Yes Yes
18 University of Idaho Moscow, ID 98.50 $7,882 18 78% 17:156%Yes Yes Yes
19 New Mexico State University-Main Campus Las Cruces, NM 98.48 $4,822 7 39% 17:144%No Yes Yes
20 Columbus State University Columbus, GA 98.36 $6,799 10 13% 17:134%Yes Yes Yes
21 Adams State University Alamosa, CO 98.35 $6,594 8 70% 15:125%Yes Yes Yes
22 Emporia State University Emporia, KS 98.35 $7,248 16 76% 18:142%No Yes Yes
23 University of Central Missouri Warrensburg, MO 98.30 $7,326 14 60% 18:149%Yes Yes Yes
24 The University of Texas at Tyler Tyler, TX 98.30 $6,142 13 39% 21:141%Yes Yes Yes
25 Western Carolina University Cullowhee, NC 98.28 $6,734 9 67% 16:148%Yes Yes Yes
26 University of Louisiana at Monroe Monroe, LA 98.16 $7,276 17 56% 21:137%No Yes Yes
27 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ 98.15 $8,632 24 66% 18:149%No Yes Yes
28 Missouri State University-Springfield Springfield, MO 98.07 $5,388 10 51% 20:155%No Yes Yes
29 Concordia University-Saint Paul Saint Paul, MN 98.05 $8,550 14 85% 15:147%Yes Yes Yes
30 Oklahoma State University-Main Campus Stillwater, OK 98.05 $6,901 16 73% 20:162%Yes Yes Yes
31 Northwestern State University of Louisiana Natchitoches, LA 98.04 $7,470 15 48% 20:136%Yes Yes Yes
32 Southeastern Oklahoma State University Durant, OK 98.03 $4,198 6 59% 17:130%No Yes Yes
33 Ball State University Muncie, IN 98.01 $8,760 14 47% 15:157%No Yes Yes
34 Graceland University-Lamoni Lamoni, IA 97.93 $7,797 8 10% 13:150%Yes Yes Yes
35 Brenau University Gainesville, GA 97.89 $8,996 10 98% 11:145%Yes Yes Yes
36 North Carolina Central University Durham, NC 97.86 $6,329 6 81% 15:143%Yes Yes Yes
37 University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro, NC 97.76 $7,163 10 49% 17:154%No Yes Yes
38 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA 97.72 $9,710 23 78% 18:146%Yes Yes Yes
39 Indiana Wesleyan University Marion, IN 97.68 $10,235 22 50% 16:170%Yes Yes Yes
40 Western Kentucky University Bowling Green, KY 97.68 $10,300 23 37% 18:150%No Yes Yes
41 North Carolina State University at Raleigh Raleigh, NC 97.66 $9,892 33 50% 16:171%No Yes Yes
42 University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR 97.65 $7,822 16 38% 19:160%No Yes Yes
43 Chadron State College Chadron, NE 97.65 $4,185 8 66% 21:142%Yes Yes Yes
44 Webster University Saint Louis, MO 97.61 $11,970 20 94% 13:164%Yes Yes Yes
45 Purdue University-Main Campus West Lafayette, IN 97.60 $10,002 13 47% 12:170%No Yes Yes
46 University of Colorado Denver Denver, CO 97.59 $7,816 12 48% 16:145%No Yes Yes
47 University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Brownsville, TX 97.59 $4,462 8 7% 24:123%Yes Yes Yes
48 University of Arkansas at Little Rock Little Rock, AR 97.47 $7,203 6 50% 13:119%No Yes Yes
49 University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham, AL 97.43 $7,090 10 66% 18:148%Yes Yes Yes
50 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND 97.42 $8,225 23 30% 19:152%No Yes Yes

What Are the Highest Paying Online Master’s Degrees?

Getting more education is one of the best ways to increase an individual’s salary. However, it’s important to remember that the increase in salary is not universal. It depends on many factors, including the subject area the graduate degree is in, where the worker lives and much more. The following table provides a sampling of what graduates of a master’s degree program might expect from certain careers.

Subjects 2014 Median Pay
Marriage Therapist $49,170
Nurse Anesthetist $107,460
Human Resources Manager $106,910
Top Executive $103,950
Mechanical Engineer $84,190
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What Are the Most Popular Master’s Degrees to Earn Online?

For the most part, a master’s degree is a way for someone with an undergraduate degree to further specialize in a particular area of study. This is often to help the student achieve a promotion or move into a different career path from one they would otherwise have with just a bachelor’s or associate degree. To learn more about some of the popular fields students choose for a master’s degree, check out the following chart, which links to more detailed pages about particular subject areas.

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Search by Subject

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Master’s Degree Online?

Master’s degree programs are a bit less uniform than their undergraduate counterparts, and the timeline for the graduate degree is more subject-area specific. However, the typical master’s degree program is designed to take about 18 months to two years to complete. Up to three years of study is possible, especially for those who need to slow down the pacing due to family or professional obligations. With so much flexibility in master’s programs, the following timeline will only provide a basic overview of each year of schooling.

Are Online Master’s Degrees Cheaper?

The price of obtaining an online master’s degree is typically comparable to a conventional, on-campus master’s program. There are also a few costs associated with online education that aren’t usually present with on-campus learning. However, it’s common for an online program to be cheaper and more cost effective than attending class in-person. Below are some of the added costs—as well as some cost savings—an online student can expect in a typical master’s degree program.

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Can You Get Financial Aid for Online Master’s Programs?

Attending school online rarely makes any difference with respect to eligibility for financial aid. Online students have access to the same state, federal and privately funded financial aid awards as any other student. The biggest exception has to do with accreditation.

Accreditation is the independent review of a school and/or program to ensure it meets basic levels of education quality. In other words, it makes sure the degree a student receives actually means something. A degree from an accredited school is readily recognized by other schools (assuming a student chooses to transfer or further their education with the doctorate), as well as potential employers. But when it comes to financial aid, accreditation is vitally important—most financial aid providers will only give financial aid to students who are attending an accredited program or school.

Most students will need to complete the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, to become eligible for financial aid. The FAFSA is the official application for federal financial aid. There are numerous federal-based aid options for graduate students, with more information available at the official federal government website, Federal Student Aid.

Even if students don’t want to apply for federal financial aid, they’ll still need to complete the FAFSA. It’s almost always required for the granting of state-based aid. Additionally, many private scholarships will require applicants to complete the FAFSA to be eligible.

Master’s students should keep in mind that most federal and state-based aid will be available to them, but not quite as much as they got as undergraduate students. This is because many government-supported financial aid awards focus more on undergraduate students. However, master’s degree students can find certain types of financial aid awards available to them that aren’t usually available at the undergraduate level, such as fellowships.

How Can I Find the Best Online Master’s Programs?

Because the idea of “best” is based primarily on the particular needs of the student, making a universal list of “best” programs is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. While the following list ranks schools, it does so by analyzing a number of different factors on which students typically place heavy consideration when choosing a program. For example, students more interested in getting a degree as cheaply as possible can focus in on the cost of attendance and place less emphasis on student-to-faculty ratio. Decisions like this allow future college students to find the best program within the context of their specific needs.

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