Many people are interested in attending graduate school for the career opportunities it can create. Although higher education can be extremely expensive, there are many affordable options. Some of the cheapest graduate schools in the United States hold national ranks for their teaching, community engagements, and research efforts. These schools also offer tuition aid resources to students.
Whether you’re a high school senior or an international student looking to go to school in the US, it’s time you discovered what your options are for earning your graduate degree. We’ll cover the most affordable graduate schools and see how schools offering the cheapest graduate degrees break down their costs so you can make informed decisions.
What Are the Most Affordable Graduate Schools in the US?
Based on our review, the most affordable graduate schools in the US are the University of West Georgia, Valdosta State University, and Arkansas State University. These universities have the lowest in-state annual tuition rates. You should know that affordability in graduate schools depends on the program type and the learning format. STEM education may be more expensive.
How Much Do the Cheapest Graduate Schools Cost?
The cheapest graduate schools cost between $4,000 and $20,000. According to the 2019-2020 survey of graduate tuition and required fees in postgraduate schools by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average cost of graduate tuition for students enrolled in a public school is $12,410 while graduate students in private schools pay an average of $26,597.
Cheapest Graduate Schools Costs Breakdown
- Tuition and fees. These are costs directly associated with the degree. You’ll be required to pay for your graduate degree per credit hour, per course, or per semester, in most cases. Fees vary depending on the school and program, but popular fees for graduate students include application fees, registration fees, and technology fees.
- Books and supplies. This fee can be charged each term or academic year. You may be allowed to cut down on this expense if your school permits borrowing of textbooks or offers free access to educational supplies.
- Room and board. The factor to consider here is your living arrangement while studying, whether you’ll be living with a spouse or partner and how many kids will be included. Most schools offer a variety of housing options to graduate students.
- Transportation. There’ll always be plenty of transit options available to graduate students. Some schools allow them to use their private bikes or cars. Other students may prefer to use other forms of public transit and they may be able to take advantage of student discounts in their city.
- Health insurance charge. This may be included as a mandatory charge for graduate students. On a yearly or termly basis, you’ll most likely be offered a variety of health plans to choose from.
Why You Should Attend a Graduate School
Although graduate school isn’t compulsory for most jobs, it does offer you broader career opportunities and a substantial increase in your earning potential. If you’re keen on building knowledge for industry leverage, graduate school can give you the credibility you need to build profitable business relationships or secure positions with top employers in the industry.
According to the 2021 survey by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers with graduate degrees had the lowest unemployment rates and highest earnings. A graduate degree isn’t just a credential that helps you earn more and access more job opportunities, it is a source of job security even in an economic downturn.
Best Graduate School Career Options
Graduate schools can prepare students for careers as physicians, surgeons, therapists, lawyers, nurse anesthetists, clinical psychologists, criminologists, college professors, economists, C-suite executives, and speech-language pathologists.
According to the BLS, the employment projection for graduates with master’s degrees between 2016 and 2026 is 17 percent. Graduates with doctoral degrees have an employment projection of 13 percent for the same period. According to the 2020 projected opening report by the BLS, graduate-level occupations with the most openings are lawyers, counselors, health specialist teachers, and nurse practitioners.
According to PayScale, the average annual salary for a Master of Science graduate is $81,000, while a Master of Engineering graduate can earn around $95,000. Graduates with a Master of Arts and a Master of Education earn an average of $65,000 and $61,000 a year respectively.
The figure generally increases as you go up another level in tertiary education. A doctor of education graduate earns an average of $80,000, a doctor of philosophy graduate earns an average of $100,000, and a doctor of science graduate earns an average of $108,000.
Can You Attend Graduate School for Free?
Yes, you can attend college for free substantial financial aid. Eligible students can apply for several types of aid before enrolling in a master’s or doctoral program. You’ll find that the cost of graduate school is high, so you may likely need a combination of financial aid including scholarships, fellowships, work-study, and employer sponsorship to significantly reduce the cost of earning an advanced degree.
However, you don’t have to start graduate school until you’re financially secure. In the meantime, you could look toward platforms like Stanford Online and MIT OpenCourseWare for free graduate-level courses, depending on your ideal career path.
Cheapest Graduate Schools That Won’t Break the Bank
|School||In-State Tuition||Out-of-State Tuition||Graduation Rate|
|University of West Georgia||$4,338||$16,830||42%|
|Valdosta State University||$4,572||$16,470||41%|
|Arkansas State University||$4,986||$9,972||54%|
|Georgia Southern University||$4,986||$19,890||54%|
|University of Central
|Kennesaw State University||$5,238||$19,188||49%|
|University of Wyoming||$5,382||$16,092||60%|
|Missouri State University||$5,760||$11,520||59%|
|University of Arkansas at Little Rock||$5,760||$13,050||40%|
|Sam Houston State University||$5,765||$13,108||57%|
What Are the Cheapest Graduate Schools? A Deep Dive
Paying for Graduate School With Financial Aid
Even if you’re exploring the cheapest graduate schools, it helps to consider other ways to decrease the cost of university. Federal or state financial aid is usually available to eligible students, so it’s recommended that you look for alternative ways to pay for college. Below are several aid options for prospective students to consider.
Not all grants are available to graduate students. As a graduate student, you should conduct some research before applying for a grant for graduate school. Federal Pell Grants, for example, are available to only undergraduate students. Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant also come with strict requirements.
Graduate students can apply for a Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant as long as they can commit to fulfilling a teaching service obligation. If not, they have to rely on only the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG).
While the federal grant for graduate students doesn’t currently exceed $4,000, you can take out a federal loan of up to $20,500 each year. The downside to this is that federal loans have to be repaid. Direct Unsubsidized Loan and Direct Plus Loan don’t come with any form of interest relief, however, you don’t need to demonstrate financial need to apply for this loan.
Private loans are easier to secure because some private lenders put less emphasis on the credit score of the borrower. The downsides to private loans are that they can lead to higher interest rates, over-borrowing, and don’t include debt forgiveness or income-driven repayment.
However, if this is an option that works for you, consider private lenders with good loan terms to students in both private colleges and public colleges like Sallie Mae, Ernest, SoFi, and Ascent.
You can apply to federal work-study programs or graduate assistantships at your school. Work-study programs have several benefits, especially for an online graduate student. You don’t have to repay the funds you make and you’re not restricted in their use. Besides covering your annual tuition and educational expenses, you can use the money from this program to take care of your other living expenses.
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How to Apply for Federal Aid to Finance Your Graduate School Program
Financial aid applications work the same way for both graduate and undergraduate students. For one, you have to be enrolled in a federal aid participating school. You should also assess if the tuition rate is within your financial capacity before applying for aid. Then you should follow the steps listed below.
- Step 1. Graduate applicants must understand their financial aid options before applying. If you’re enrolled in a federal aid school, visit the tuition and financial aid page to gather your information about the school’s tuition costs or the Free Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA) website.
- Step 2. You can seek advice from your financial aid officer at school before deciding which type of aid to pursue. Then, you should gather the documents required and submit your application before the deadline.
- Step 3. Once you’ve submitted your FAFSA, you should await a Student Aid Report (SAR). You can view your SAR by logging into your FAFSA account. Then, review the information in the report before approving or resubmitting it if necessary.
- Step 4. Your school’s financial aid office determines the amount of aid you can receive. If you qualify for aid, you will be contacted by them. You should review the aid options offered and accept non-repayable options first.
- Step 5. You would need to reapply each academic year until your graduation if you want to keep receiving aid.
Best Graduate Scholarships
- Paul and Daisy Soros Scholarship for New Americans | Amount: $90,000 (up to two years). This award is given to 30 graduate students who are US immigrants or the children of immigrants. A major component of this scholarship is the submission of two 1,000-worded essays.
- Quad Fellowship STEM Scholarship | Amount: $50,000 (one-time): This award is targeted at prospective students and current students from the US, Australia, Japan, and India who are pursuing STEM disciplines. Applicants should be permanent residents or citizens of the listed countries.
- NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program | Amount: $34,000 (annual stipend); $12,000 (education allowance) up to three years. This is for full-time graduate students enrolled in National Science Foundation-supported STEM disciplines at accredited US schools. You must be in an early year of graduate school and must be pursuing a research program.
- Financial Women of San Francisco| Amount: $15,000 (one-time). This award is available to female graduate students who are pursuing careers in the finance and financial services industries. It includes opportunities for networking and career development.
- Generation Google Scholarship | Amount: $10,000 (one-time). This is for undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in a computer science discipline. Scholars will be selected based on academic achievements, leadership qualities demonstrated, and commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion.
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Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees
Cheapest Graduate Schools for Master’s and PhD Students
There are several cheap graduate schools that can give you the best value for your funds. Besides the fact that cheaper degree programs allow you to significantly reduce or eliminate the need for a student loan, they also provide you with many of the student resources offered at the elite schools. Below are the most affordable schools in the US for your graduate program.
Most Affordable Schools for Master’s Degrees
- Central Methodist University | Master of Education | $285/credit. This is a 36-credit program that can be completed through full or part-time study. It is designed to prepare students for leadership roles in the school system. It covers instruction planning and preparing, monitoring and assessment, and individual and classroom management.
- Arkansas State University | Master of Science in Computer Science | $349/credit (in state); $640/credit (out of state). This program helps you build advanced computing skills. Admitted students must pass the assessment exam, which will be based on subjects such as structured programming, algorithms, advanced data structures, object-oriented programming, and fundamental data structures.
- National University | Master of Arts in Human Resource Management | $442/quarter unit. This program allows you to master areas such as recruitment, labor relations, benefits, ethics, and technology. It includes a specialization in organizational leadership. To earn this degree, you’ll be required to complete 49.5 quarter units.
- Brigham Young University-Provo | Master of Science in Nursing | $467/credit (latter-day saint); $934/credit (non-latter-day saint). This program builds expertise in clinical competence. You’ll be required to write a thesis, an evidence-based paper, or develop a clinical project. It includes 60 to 63 credit hours in courses such as pharmacology, graduate nursing internship, nursing science, and advanced practice issues.
- The University of Central Arkansas | Master of Science in Biology | $499/credit. The master’s program in biology is a 30-semester-hour program that allows you to choose between a thesis and a non-thesis track. The thesis track includes six credit hours of a research project. You’ll be required to include field research or an original laboratory project.
Most Affordable PhDs
- University of West Georgia | Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology | $241/credit (in state); $935/credit (out of state). This is a 64-credit program that includes nine transferable credit hours. Besides courses in human science methodologies, culture and subjectivity, and consciousness and experience, you’ll complete the program evaluation, independent project, advanced seminars, practicum, internship, and dissertation.
- Brigham Young University-Provo | Doctor of Philosophy in Neuroscience | $467/credit (latter-day saint); $934/credit (non-latter-day saint). This 56-credit program covers coursework and research in areas such as molecular biology, neuroanatomy, neuroscience, neuroendocrinology, developmental biology, neurophysiology, and neuroimmunology.
- University of Arkansas | Doctor of Philosophy in English | $504/credit (in state); $1,256/credit (out of state). You’ll be required to earn 24 credits beyond the 30 credits earned at the master’s level. As a doctoral student, you’d be required to show that you have reading competency in one foreign language. This will include passing the reading knowledge test administered by the department.
- Old Dominion University | Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering in Aerospace Engineering | $571/credit (in state); $1,394/ (out of state). This degree prepares students for leadership roles in engineering, especially in areas like research and development, design, teaching, and consulting. You can specialize in thermodynamics and energy, aerodynamics and fluids, dynamics and controls, or manufacturing.
- Sam Houston State University | Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership | $726/credit (in state); $1,134/credit (out of state). This degree allows you to apply for roles in K-12 settings. It includes a comprehensive exam and a dissertation. Some of the leadership core include academic writing and research, program evaluation in education, education policy and ethics, leadership theory and application, and societal factors affecting education.
Best Online Master’s Degrees
Best Online PhD Programs
How to Choose a Good and Affordable Graduate School
Picking the right college can define the trajectory of your career growth. Some of the things that can help you make a decision include affordable tuition fees and the options of degrees in fields that you are interested in. Other crucial factors to consider are listed below.
Consider the Reputation of Your School and Program
You should only apply to accredited schools to ensure that your credentials are widely accepted. If you’re interested in pursuing a professional degree, ensure the program is also accredited. An accredited institution provides opportunities for you to take advantage of industry partnerships and professional certifications, both of which can boost your employment outcome in the real world.
Consider the Program Content
Always review the type of courses offered, along with the concentrations, degree options, specializations, and study tracks available. While your degree might not list out the concentrations or externships you took part in, all your experiences in college can boost your resume and increase your value to potential employers.
Consider the Learning Formats Offered
If you’re a busy professional, you should consider the learning formats offered at your ideal school. A hybrid or online format makes it easy for you to manage your time and finances. Some of the best online degree programs offer convenience and flexible pacing to students. They also may allow students to pay per course, thus reducing your financial burden.
Tips for Saving Money While Attending Graduate School
- Apply to as many scholarships as you can. While some scholarship providers place restrictions on the number of funding scholarships applicants can receive, others don’t.
- Don’t rely on loans. Incurring student debts leads to financial dependency and instability. Instead of requesting loans, you could apply to a work-study program.
- Invest in gaining knowledge of financial management. This knowledge helps you to make a functional budget that allows you to manage your streams of income.
- Consider enrolling in an online program. As an online graduate student, you won’t need to make non-educational expenses usually required for campus programs.
- Talk to a guidance counselor. Visit your academic advisor to devise payment plans that suit your financial situation. This will reduce the impact of your tuition burden and make room for savings.
Cheapest Online Schools for Graduate Students
Today, you don’t have to attend in-person programs to acquire an education. There are several online graduate degree programs that are widely accessible. We’ve outlined a list of affordable graduate schools that offer diverse online master’s and doctoral degree programs at the lowest rates.
|Georgia Southern State University||$257/credit||34%|
|Fort Hays State University||$299/credit||50%|
|American Public University||$370/credit||49%|
|Western Governors University||$4,240/six-month term||64%|
Most Affordable Online Graduate Master’s Programs
- Georgia Southwestern State University | Online Master of Science in Computer Science | $257/credit. This is a 30-credit program that covers core courses in information security, distributed web applications, distributed operating systems, advanced database design, inter-networking architecture and protocols, and interface design.
- Fort Hays State University | Online Master of Liberal Studies | $299/credit. This is a 31-credit program that covers liberal studies, information literacy origins and implications of the knowledge society, and ways of knowing from a comparative perspective. You can develop a concentration with the help of your graduate advisor.
- American Public University | Online Master of Business Administration | $370/credit. This is a 33-credit program that includes 15 transferable credits. You’ll be allowed to choose from 15 concentrations including business project management, healthcare administration, operational technology management, leading the digital workplace, marketing, analytics, and accounting.
- Capella University | Online Master of Science in Information Technology- Cybersecurity | $440-$815/credit. This online program equips you with the knowledge to manage data security, mitigate risk, and implement innovative solutions. This program includes 48 credits, seven core courses, five specializations and an applied IT project.
- Western Governors University | Online Master of Science in Nursing Informatics (BSN to MSN) | $4,240/six-month term. This online program comprises 14 courses. You’ll be allowed to explore clinical practices and specializations in informatics system analysis and design, data science and analytics, nursing informatics field experience, nursing informatics capstone, data modeling, and database management systems.
Most Affordable Online Graduate Doctoral Programs
- Mississippi State University | Online Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science | $539/credit (fall and spring); $531/credit (summer). Besides offering affordable tuition, this is a 32-credit program that includes coursework, research, and dissertation. To gain admission into this program, you must have completed the master’s degree program at Mississippi State University. You’ll be required to complete the qualifying exam, the preliminary exam, and the dissertation defense.
- Capella University | Doctor of Social Work | $545-$810/credit. This program prepares you to take on leadership roles in social work. You’ll complete a doctoral project and a doctoral project development seminar. Enrolled students are required to complete 71 credits and 14 core courses in advanced social work practice, advanced social work policy and practice, and leadership and management in complex social systems.
- Liberty University | Online Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice | $595/credit (full-time); $650/credit (part-time). This is a 60-credit program that allows you to transfer up to half of your degree credits. In three years, you can be transformed into a leader in criminal justice through advanced study, research, and analysis of the criminal justice system. It includes specializations in homeland security and leadership.
- University of North Dakota | Online Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Engineering |$798/credit. This is a 90-credit program that can be completed in over three years. As a leader in providing online options, the University of North Dakota ensures online students can explore research and development in diagnostic, therapy, monitoring, surgical, and other medical devices from the comfort of their homes.
- Aspen University| Online Doctor of Nursing Practice | $23,520 total. This is a practice-based program that prepares students for nursing leadership roles. You’ll be allowed to pick your capstone project. You’ll cover courses in theoretical and scientific underpinnings, strategic planning and financial management, organizational and systems leadership, and health policy and advocacy.
Will Attending an Online Graduate School Save Me Money?
Yes, attending an online graduate school will save you money as it eliminates non-educational fees such as transportation, accommodation, and meals. According to the 2022 report by Statista, flexibility is the biggest benefit of remote work. However, that’s not all an online graduate school offers. Below are the top reasons you should pursue online graduate degrees.
Benefits of Online Graduate Programs
- Opportunity to build soft skills. Since you’ll be studying in isolation from a remote location, you’ll have to organize your schedule, manage your time, and motivate yourself to work. Repetitively doing these activities allows you to build marketable soft skills that increase your value to potential employers.
- Reduced non-essential costs. On-campus students may be required to pay for non-educational fees like transportation, room and board, meals, healthcare, and other miscellaneous expenses. This isn’t the case for online students.
- Self-paced study. Many online graduate programs are self-paced, as opposed to campus-based programs. This flexibility allows you to incorporate other activities into your study period. You don’t have to disrupt your existing schedule if you don’t want to.
- More student support. Online students can look forward to receiving adequate support from course instructors and academic advisors. Some online graduate schools provide resources such as online tutoring centers, dedicated online coaches, and virtual libraries to aid online students.
- Increase in productivity. The flexibility that comes with online study allows you to boost your productivity. This allows you to reduce the number of years you spend earning your degree and increase your grade point average.
Highest-Paying Graduate Careers
|Graduate Job||Graduate Degree||Average Salary|
|Lawyer||Doctoral or professional degree||$127,990|
|Nurse Anesthetist||Master’s degree||$123,780|
|Biochemist||Doctoral or professional degree||$102,270|
|Education Administrator||Master’s degree||$96,910|
|Physical Therapist||Doctoral or professional degree||$95,620|
Best Graduate Jobs Explained
Choosing a career path involves a lot of considerations. One of the most important factors to consider is its potential earnings. Below are some of the best high-paying jobs you can land with a graduate degree.
Graduate Schools Ranking Methodology: How We Ranked the Most Affordable Graduate Schools
We chose the most affordable graduate colleges based on tuition and general costs information from the schools’ official websites, the US Department of Education’s database of accredited schools, and the US Department of Education’s College Scorecard tool.
Additional Reading About Graduate
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Cheapest Graduate Schools FAQ
Yes, you can get a master’s degree with a 2.5 GPA. Some schools even accept 2.0 GPAs. Your grade point average isn’t the only thing considered during the graduate admissions process. You may need to provide a resume, undergraduate degrees in a related field, recommendation letters, or a personal statement, as they affect the decision-making process.
You can go to grad school for free if you secure full tuition funding. You can obtain a full sponsorship through scholarships, grants, or crowdfunding. You can also get a current or potential employer to pay for your education in exchange for services. However, securing full funding from one source can be difficult, so you should consider combining multiple resources.
Yes, there are several one-year master’s programs in the US. It depends on the school and the intensity of the program. While some schools offer single one-year master’s programs, accelerated master’s programs offer an opportunity to complete your degree at a faster pace, usually in one year. Combined programs also allow you to compress the length of your study.
No, a post-graduate program is not necessary for a PhD. You can apply and be accepted into a doctoral program without completing a master’s degree or a post-graduate certificate. However, some schools request that applicants have master’s degrees, preferably in a related discipline, before they can be admitted into a program.
About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.