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  • Graduate school costs vary widely depending on the school and program.
  • The average cost of a master’s degree is $65,134.
  • Grants, scholarships, and Federal Work-Study can help make graduate school more affordable.


Making the choice to pursue a graduate degree is a big decision. Whether you’re going directly from an undergraduate program or you’re a working professional returning to school, you’ll be investing time, energy, and money into your program. But it could be well worth it if it allows you to enter a skilled profession that requires an advanced degree—or secure better pay and more opportunities in a particular field. Several different factors influence the cost of graduate school. Here are some important things to consider before making a decision. 

Pursuing a master’s degree can be expensive. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of graduate school comes in at just over $65,000—but your total spend will depend on the following factors.

1. Degree type

Some careers require an advanced degree—you can’t be a practicing physician without going to medical school. The type of graduate degree you pursue can significantly impact your costs. For example, the average total cost of attending law school is over $220,000

Other graduate and postdoctoral programs are optional and may lead to an advanced career path. For example, earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) may allow you to gain relevant skills that unlock professional doors and higher salaries.

There are three types of graduate degrees:

  • Master’s degree: Builds on a bachelor’s degree by expanding specialized skills and knowledge that students will use while working in their chosen field
  • Professional degree: Focuses on the practical application of knowledge and using existing research to prepare students for careers in specific professions
  • Doctorate degree: Involves conducting original research and strengthening critical thinking skills with the purpose of making students experts in their field

The length of your program can also affect your total spend. A three-year, in-person master’s program will likely cost more than attending an online, one-year graduate program. Your career goals and budget will determine what makes the most sense for you. 

2. The school you choose

The same master’s degree might cost more at one school than another. The Education Data Initiative puts the average cost at $59,060 for a public school and $87,950 for a private school. Leaving your home state can also drive up your graduate school costs as out-of-state tuition tends to be higher.

The caliber of the school you choose can also play into your budget. Tuition costs will likely be higher at more prestigious institutions. There’s also the added expense of relocating, if that’s necessary.

3. Application costs

Application fees can add up, especially if you’re applying to multiple graduate programs. Some graduate school applications are free, while others may be as high as $155. You might be able to lower your out-of-pocket costs by applying for fee waivers and opting for virtual visits over in-person tours. 

You’ll also want to factor admissions exams into your budget. The GMAT™ and GRE ® may be optional, depending on the school and program. Costs for these exams can range anywhere from $220 to $300 . To apply to medical school, your first application fee is $175, then $45 for every school after that. Law school application fees land at about $80 each.

Graduate degree examples

  Potential career paths Avg. cost and length of full-time program Required tests
  • Business consultant
  • Entrepreneur
  • C-suite executive
  • Financial manager
  • $71,880 
  • 1 to 2 years 
GMAT or GRE may be optional 
Master of Science (MS) in Computer Science
  • Computer systems analyst
  • Cybersecurity manager
  • Machine learning engineer
  • Software developer
  • $15,000 to $72,000
  • 2 to 5 years
GMAT or GRE may be optional 
Master of Health Administration (MHA)
  • Hospital administrator
  • Medical records supervisor
  • Healthcare consultant
  • Director of nursing
  • Nursing home administrator
  • $6,500 to $75,000 depending on student residency
  • 2 to 4 years 
GMAT or GRE may be optional 

Physician Assistant (PA) Master Program

  • Certified PA
  • Medical & health services manager
  • Health information technician
  • $15,000 to $20,000
  • 1 to 2.5 years
Generally none required 
Juris Doctor (JD)
  • Attorney
  • Judge
  • Law professor
  • Legal writer
  • $220,335 
  • 3 years
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Engineering
  • Chemical engineer
  • Biomedical engineer
  • Aerospace engineer
  • Computer software engineer
  • $15,520 to $83,880 
  • 5 to 7 years
GRE usually required 

Sources: Education Data Initiative, Princeton Review, U.S. News & World Report, University of New Haven, The Association of American Law Schools, GetEducated, Indeed

Ways to pay for graduate school

Financial aid could bring down your out-of-pocket costs. Begin by completing the FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which determines your eligibility. With the right combination of aid, graduate school could become much more affordable. Review your financial aid award letters and focus on:

  • Grants: This is free money that’s typically awarded to students who demonstrate financial need.
  • Scholarships: Your financial aid award letters may include school-based scholarships. You can also apply for scholarships from outside organizations and nonprofits.
  • Work-study: This is a federal program that provides part-time employment to qualifying students. It allows you to earn money that you can put toward academic expenses.
  • Student loans: Federal student loans, which must be repaid, might be an option. If there’s still a funding gap, private graduate student loans can help cover the difference.

If you’re a full-time graduate student, you may also qualify for a fellowship. This can provide financial support and help subsidize your graduate school costs. It may include a fellowship stipend and a cost-of-education allowance. Check with your school to see what options may be available. 

Ways to reduce graduate school costs

Here are some other potential ways to make graduate school more affordable.

  • Attend graduate school while working part time: That may be on campus, online, or with a local business. Some colleges allow graduate students to assist with research or provide support in certain academic departments. That might include teaching or becoming a resident advisor (RA).
  • Seek employer tuition assistance: If you’re working while earning your master’s degree on the side, check your employee benefits to see if tuition reimbursement is on the table. They may be willing to contribute to your education. If so, be sure to understand your employer’s requirements.
  • Consider a dual degree program: With a dual degree program, you might be able to earn an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree at the same time—and it typically costs less than if you were to pursue them separately. Check with your school to see if this is an option.

Alternatives to graduate school

Depending on your situation, you may not need to attend a formal graduate school program.

  • Look for certificate programs or professional development opportunities: This can help you build important skills and acquire the knowledge you need to advance in your career without going back to school.
  • Take individual college courses: Instead of matriculating through a graduate program, consider taking classes online or at a local college on an as-needed basis. It may help you close knowledge gaps and develop important career skills.

Understanding the costs of graduate school can help you decide if it makes sense for you. You’ll want to consider the opportunity cost and the true impact the degree will have on your career. Also think about the academic demands and time commitment—and if it’s compatible with your lifestyle.

Be sure to connect with people who already have the degree you’re interested in. How has it affected their career trajectory and earnings? This kind of first-hand knowledge can help you determine if graduate school is worth the investment.

GMAT™ is a trademark owned by the Graduate Management Admission Council, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

GRE® is a trademark owned by the Educational Testing Service, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover® Student Loans.

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