Our annual virtual open house is coming. Join us Sept. 13-14. Register today.

Our annual virtual open house is coming. Join us Sept. 13-14. Register today.

The Cost and Value of Earning a Master’s Degree Online

Each year, thousands of individuals make the decision to earn a master’s degree online. If you count yourself amongst that number, it’s only natural to wonder not only if earning your degree online will be worth it, but also what the costs involved will be.

Below, we take a look at the average cost of earning a master’s degree online, the unique expenses related to doing so that you might not immediately think of, and the benefits that come from earning your degree online. Our goal is to empower you to make a more informed decision about whether or not earning a master’s degree online is the best path forward for you.

Average Cost of Earning an Online Master’s Degree

Many universities offer both online and in-person degrees. And yet, if you compare those two options side by side, you’ll often find that there is no difference in the cost of tuition, and only a nominal difference in individual fees. Simply put, most universities charge the same for tuition and fees whether you are attending in person or online.

What this means is that, broadly speaking, whether you earn your master’s degree online or in-person will not dramatically impact the cost of your education.


Northeastern’s Online Learning Experience

Learn what it’s like to take a class online, tips for excelling in an online learning environment, and more.

WATCH THE WEBINAR


With this in mind, according to data compiled by EducationData.org, the average cost of earning a master’s degree is approximately $66,340. This cost can vary significantly depending on the institution you attend, whether it is a private or public university, and how many years it takes for you to complete your program.

Costs of Completing an Online Master’s Degree

Of course, earning your master’s degree online will come with certain expenses that you may or may not need to account for if you were to complete your degree in person. While these costs are relatively minimal, it’s important to understand them and work them into your budget. These expenses include:

1. A Laptop or Desktop Computer

A laptop or desktop computer will, generally speaking, be required for virtually every modern degree, whether you are completing your studies in person or online. That being said, when you earn your degree online this device will be your primary means of education, making it even more important for you to invest in a reliable device.

When selecting a laptop or computer for online studies, you should choose one that you know will be able to handle the demands of video conferencing as well as any specific programs or software that your program of study requires. Failure to choose a powerful enough device may make it more difficult for you to complete your degree.

Depending on the machine you purchase, you can expect to spend anywhere between $1,000 and $2,000+ on your laptop or computer.

2. Computer Accessories

In addition to your laptop or desktop computer, earning your degree online will likely require a number of computer accessories that can be easy to overlook. These can sometimes be required for your program, or else simply required for you to be productive in your studies. Some examples of computer accessories you may need include:

  • Headphones, microphone, and webcam, for videoconferencing or collaborating online with your professors and classmates
  • A printer, for printing hard copies of course materials
  • A scanner, for scanning documents to be able to send to your professor
  • Specialized tools, such as a stylus and tablet for design programs or CAD software for engineering programs

Depending on the tool, these tools and accessories can cost anywhere from $100 to $1,000 or more each.

3. High-Speed Internet

While this may be a given, and something that you are already paying for, it’s an important consideration to add to your list, especially if your program involves videoconferencing or synchronous learning. If you have never taken part in a video call over your wifi or internet connection, it’s recommended to test your bandwidth and see if it can handle such demands. If not, you may need to upgrade your internet package to include faster upload and download speed.

Depending on the internet package you select, you may need to add anywhere from $50 to $100 to your monthly budget.

4. A Proper Work Setting

Finally, when you study remotely, it’s important that you create a workspace for yourself where you know you will be able to be productive. However tempting it may be to learn from your bed, couch, or kitchen counter, most online learners find that they learn most effectively from a formal learning space.

Ideally, your learning space should include:

  • A proper desk
  • An ergonomic chair
  • Organizational supplies (storage, shelving, etc.)
  • A room divider (especially important if your learning space will be in a shared space, such as a section of your living room or bedroom)

Benefits of Earning Your Master’s Degree Online

Of course, while you may experience certain easy-to-overlook expenses when earning your degree online, you’ll also realize a number of benefits. For most online learners, these benefits far outweigh the costs.

1. Increased Flexibility

Earning your degree online will allow you to complete your coursework when and where you are able to do so, regardless of your schedule. This fact can be an especially important consideration for learners who are completing their degree while working, those who are earning their degree while raising a family, or those who have other obligations that require flexibility.

2. Lowered Expenses

Even though you may need to spend some money on the expenses discussed above, many online learners find that earning their master’s degree online saves them money compared to earning their degree in person.

For example, consider the fact that if you were to complete your master’s degree in person, you would by nature need to be relatively close to the university. You would either need to commute to campus or live on campus in a dorm.

Commuting to campus would require you to spend money on:

  • Gas
  • Parking Pass
  • Car maintenance
  • Public Transportation

Living on campus, on the other hand, would require you to pay for room and board. And, if you are traveling a long distance in order to reach campus (such as cross country), you would also be required to pay travel and relocation expenses.

All of these expenses can really add up over time. Completing your degree online, by comparison, will allow you to save much of this money.

3. Increased Options

Many aspiring students would like to attend a specific university program that is not near where they live, but they are unable or unwilling to uproot their lives in order to do so. With an online program, it is in many cases possible to attend the same program from afar, regardless of where you live.

This fact opens up many more options and opportunities for programs that you can consider. It can be an especially important consideration for those learners who own a home, who care for aging parents or other family members and need to be close to them, or who have children and do not want to uproot them.

When an Online Master’s Degree Makes Sense

Ultimately, you are likely to find that earning a master’s degree online will not dramatically increase how much you pay to complete your education, but it could lead to significant savings.

Of course, an online education isn’t for everyone. You should consider an online master’s degree if:

  • You need increased flexibility in your schedule for work or family obligations while completing your degree
  • You would like to earn your degree from a university or program that is far from where you live, and you are unwilling to travel
  • You have the self-discipline to stick to your learning plan and complete your coursework
  • Your program does not require in-person education (as is the case with many medical degrees, for example).

For more on how to be a successful online learner, explore our related online learning tips and advice posts, or watch the recorded webinar below.