How Much Does a Master’s Degree Cost?
If you’re thinking of going to graduate school, you might wonder, “How much does a master’s degree cost?” The cost of graduate tuition and fees is based on a few different factors, from whether you’re attending an out-of-state school to your chosen field of study.
According to Peterson’s, an educational services company, the average cost of a master’s degree at a public school is almost $30,000 annually, just for tuition and fees. Comparatively, private school graduate students spend an average of nearly $40,000 per year on tuition and fees.
Here’s what to expect when it comes to the average cost of a master’s degree, factors that affect tuition, and how to pay for your graduate school education.
Cost of a master’s degree: What you’ll pay at schools across U.S.
Peterson’s range above offers a high-level view of the cost you can expect when pursuing a graduate program. To help you understand specific master’s degree tuition costs, we pulled tuition and fee data, for resident and nonresident students, at 10 universities across the country.
Cost of Master's Degree Tuition and Fees
|School||Annual Tuition and Fees|
|University of California, Los Angeles|| |
|University of Maine|| |
|University of Florida|| |
|Murray State University|| |
|Texas A&M University – College Station|| |
|Colorado State University|| |
|University of Idaho|| |
|Kansas State University|| |
|University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill|| |
|Pennsylvania State University|| |
|*Based on 15 credit hours per semester|
**Excludes education, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology (CDI), and applied engineering and technology management (AETM) programs
§ Based on 9 credit hours per semester
§§ For 2020-2021 tuition and fees; excludes MBA, business, EMS, science, IST, engineering programs
4 factors that affect the cost of a master’s degree
There are a handful of factors that influence how much your master’s degree tuition will cost.
- In-state or out of state: Many graduate schools distinguish tuition rates based on whether you’re an in-state versus an out-of-state student. Resident master’s degree tuition is generally lower, since state residents pay taxes into the public institutions that offer graduate programs. This also gives in-state students an incentive to study at a local program instead of an out-of-state school. In comparison, out-of-state graduate tuition can be thousands of dollars more, as shown above.
- Online or on-campus: Graduate programs may be offered online in addition to a traditional on-campus environment. The tuition and fees for online master’s degrees can differ compared to getting your graduate degree on-campus. For example, Pepperdine University’s average MBA cost for full-time, on-campus study over three trimesters is $79,080. Online MBA students, on the other hand, pay at least $94,380 for the entire 52-unit program.
- Profit vs. nonprofit institutions: For-profit schools are designed to offer scheduling flexibility and fast-track students toward a degree or certification. Generally, for-profit schools charge considerably higher tuition compared to nonprofit institutions. It’s important to note that credits from for-profit schools may not be transferable to nonprofit schools, so tread carefully before enrolling.
- Subject of study: The cost of master’s degree tuition varies depending on the graduate program you enroll in at a particular school. For example, at the University of Texas in Austin, 2020-2021 graduate tuition for the Cockrell School of Engineering costs $10,554 compared to the $9,274 paid by graduate students under the College of Education.
When figuring out what the average cost of a master’s degree might look like for you, consider these distinctions to find a program that works for your budget.
How to pay for a master’s degree
The high cost of graduate programs may require you to seek financial aid, if paying for a master’s degree out of pocket isn’t possible. Here are a few options to explore.
Scholarships and grants
Scholarships and grants can help you pay for the graduate degree expenses. This kind of financial aid may be awarded by federal and state governments, the graduate school you’re attending, or third-party companies and organizations. Some examples of scholarships and grants for graduate students include:
- Federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant. A federal grant available to undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, or graduate students attending a participating TEACH Grant school and enrolled in an eligible graduate program.
- Florida Stormwater Association Scholarship. This is a merit-based scholarship funded by the Florida Stormwater Association. It’s available to eligible graduate students studying water quality, stormwater management or finance at a Florida college or university.
- USC Asian Pacific Alumni Association (APAA) Scholarship. A scholarship that’s based on need and merit, and is available to students attending the University of California full-time.
- Goldman Sachs MBA Fellowship. Available to eligible women and black, Hispanic/Latino or Native American MBA students who are interested in a position as a Goldman Sachs summer associate.
These are just a few examples of the range of scholarships and grants available, based on different types of affiliations. The biggest advantage of using scholarship and grant funds toward your graduate degree is that these awards don’t need to be repaid. This means you’ll take on less student debt toward your master’s degree.
Federal student loans
Graduate students who need additional financial aid beyond scholarships and grants can consider federal student loans. Direct unsubsidized loans and Direct PLUS loans are available to graduate students. Here’s what to know about each option:
- Direct unsubsidized loans. Direct unsubsidized loans are not need-based, but schools determine the loan amount. Graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 in direct unsubsidized loans per academic year at a fixed interest rate that’s currently 6.08%. Interest accrues as soon as funds are disbursed. The maximum total amount of direct loans (subsidized and unsubsidized) that each student is allowed to borrow is $138,500, with no more than $65,500 coming from subsidized direct loans.
- Direct PLUS loans. Graduate students who are enrolled at least half-time and working toward a graduate or professional degree or certification at an eligible school can apply for a direct grad PLUS loan. The school determines the amount you can borrow, based on the cost of attendance minus other financial aid you’ve received. Currently, the fixed interest rate on grad PLUS loans is 7.08%. A credit check is required.
If you must borrow to pay for your master’s degree, federal student loans offer protections, like student loan forbearance, income-driven repayment options, and deferment if you’re unable to make payments. Also, eligible federal loan borrowers may qualify for forgiveness programs, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Private student loans
Private student loans can make paying for master’s degree costs possible if you’ve exhausted scholarship, grant, and federal loan options. Private student loan rates can be fixed or variable, and term durations vary depending on the lender. Some examples of private student loan lenders include:
- Commonbond. The lender offers graduate students fixed- and variable-rate private student loans. Interest rate ranges are 3.74% – 10.74% APR and 3.87% – 9.40% APR, respectively, which includes a 0.25% autopay discount. Commonbond doesn’t charge prepayment penalties, has a cosigner release option, and offers loan deferment for up to 12 months.
- Discover. Borrowers can get up to 100% of graduate school costs covered. Interest rates on fixed-rate loans are 3.99% – 12.99% APR and variable-rate grad loans are 1.99% – 11.99% APR, while enrolled in automatic payments (i.e., the 0.25% autopay discount). The lender doesn’t charge additional fees and students with a 3.0 GPA or higher earn a one-time cash reward.
- Citizen’s Bank. The bank offers graduate student loans starting at 5.00% – 10.75% APR for fixed student loans and starting at 6.53% – 12.19% for variable loans. You can borrow $1,000 to $150,000 toward a graduate degree; if you’re pursuing an MBA, law school or health care field, you may be able to borrow more toward your education.
To apply for a private student loan, you’ll need to undergo a credit check. Lenders have different credit requirements and terms when approving borrowers.
Master’s degree FAQ
There’s a broad range of master’s degrees you can pursue across Humanities, Science, and more. Some examples include a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, and a Master of Arts in Linguistics.
According to The Princeton Review, the average cost of an MBA at a prestigious business school can be higher than $130,000. However, there may be more affordable MBA programs available, if you look at in-state schools or online programs.
The return on investment (ROI) for graduate school depends on the discipline you choose to study. For example, the ROI for social work and education graduate degrees may be lower compared to the ROI for STEM graduate school programs.
Depending on your graduate school and area of study, you may encounter additional fees, like health center fees, administration fees, or student body fees. For example, University of Houston graduate students are charged mandatory fees for student services, the university center, and the recreation and wellness center.
When deciding on the right master’s degree for you, consider what your professional future might look like after grad school and whether you’re passionate about the career path. Ask yourself what the prospective earnings are in your desired job, how interested you are about the field, and whether it’ll be an in-demand occupation once you’re done with school. Using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook can help you answer some of these questions.