The Truth Behind Masters’ Fees and Funding in the USA

It can be challenging to compare masters fees, and some grad schools are guarded about theirs. If you’re comparing programs to find the best value, it’s worth starting by educating yourself on the most influential factors of these costs and how you can reduce them.

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What is the Typical Cost?


The latest averages for completing a master’s degree at an accredited school are about $35,000 for both public and private universities. High-end schools with name-dropping prestige typically run for much high, with costs approaching $100,000 or more.

Understandably, students must compare universities and determine the most valuable path forward, but the truth is that the actual cost varies by program. That’s why it’s essential to understand the main cost drivers and become a more intelligent consumer.

Factors Influencing Cost


A degree is filled with many costs, and identifying them helps you know where to save money. Below are the most common drivers behind the final number:

1. Profit?

First, consider the difference between schools that operate for profit and otherwise. However, understand that this distinction is irrelevant to public or private status.

For-profit institutions:

  • Are here to make money for shareholders in exchange for a service (education)
  • Must provide enough money to stakeholders; profit is a priority

Non-profit institutions:

  • Offer students a learning environment based on their interests and needs, helping them complete college degrees
  • Operate independently of owner structure and needn’t focus on making money for shareholders
  • Receive financial support from state and federal government (public universities) or private endowments (private)

2. Online vs. On-Campus vs. Hybrid

You might think an online-only program saves money, but current trends reveal many schools charge more for the convenience. Speak with someone at the school to understand their program options; while online courses may have extra fees attached, you might save more in parking and transportation to make up the difference.

3. Application Requirements

Students typically pay an average of $100 to apply to a grad school, but some programs have higher fees. Depending on your discipline, you may also need to pay for additional testing, such as the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) or GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). Everything you must submit will add to your total submission cost, including transfer credits from a college you’ve previously attended.

4. Miscellaneous Fees

Some schools have several incidental costs, including unexpected tuition increases, that quickly add up.

5. Area of Study

Finally, your chosen subject will also play a role in the final cost.

Certain areas of study just need more coursework, so you might attend more semesters than you would have otherwise. After all, if you need to earn 60 credits instead of 48, there’s no way around spending time and money on those extra 12 credits. Of course, these costs also include transportation, parking, and everything else you pay for each semester.

6. Location

If you’re looking at masters programs anywhere besides your home state, you’re bound to pay more in fees than a local resident. This is as true for international students as it is out-of-state applicants.

How Can I Afford a Masters?


Choosing a grad school program presents several challenges, but so too does trying to pay for it. Unfortunately, most students cannot afford to fund their education out of pocket, so they’ll turn to other options; loans are the most common way to fund an education. However, before taking on debt, consider the following strategies to reduce or eliminate funding challenges to getting your degree.

1. Fellowships, Scholarships, and Grants

These are the best way to fund grad school since you don’t repay the money you get. However, they’re merit-based rewards; you won’t get free money for financial needs.

Some universities offer fellowships to encourage your choosing them, or you can apply to a government or private fellowship. You can find them on professional organization websites or search engines.

2. Set Aside Part of Your Paycheck

If you can get a graduate assistantship, you’ll have the opportunity to teach or research for a stipend or salary. On average, graduate teaching assistants make $36,000 a year; ideally, you can use a portion of those funds to pay for your education. Of course, if this stipend is your entire income, that can be challenging; consider working on the side if you can balance the extra responsibility.

3. Employer Help

Few graduate students enroll immediately after finishing an undergraduate program. If you’re employed, the company may be willing to provide tuition assistance.

Employers can offer up to $5,250 per year in college assistance tax-free, but some opt to pay more. If you choose this route, work with your human resources team to understand any conditions relevant to this funding. For example, it may require staying with the business for a certain number of years.

You might also qualify for discounted tuition if you or a family member work for a university.

4. Federal Loans

After exhausting all other funding options, you can pursue federal or private loans to bridge the gap.

Federal loans are typically the best option because private options lack certain benefits, such as forgiveness and income-drive repayment. Students can take out as much as $20,500 each year in unsubsidized federal loans; unlike undergraduate programs, graduate schools don’t have subsidized loan options. If this source isn’t sufficient to cover the rest of your grad school costs, you can instead take out the remainder through federal graduate PLUS loans or private lenders.

If you or a co-signer have excellent credit and have no use for the benefits associated with federal loans, private loans may make sense in some cases. So compare the interest rate that you would receive with a PLUS loan with what you would qualify for via a private lender. Also, remember that there is an origination fee associated with PLUS loans that you won’t have to pay with most private financers.

In all cases, you typically won’t have to repay your student loans while you’re in grad school as long as you’re taking classes at least half-time. However, interest will accrue on these loans, ultimately increasing the total amount you’ll owe after graduation.