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Navigating the Balancing Act of Paying for an Online Master’s Degree

When it comes to fast-paced and evolving fields like computer science, cybersecurity, electrical and computer engineering, and IT management, staying current is vital.

A professional master’s degree program is a powerful tool for accelerating and future-proofing your career in these high-demand disciplines. Use a master’s credential and rigorous coursework to upgrade your current skills and fill skills gaps, transition to a new industry or profession, and network with other professionals advancing their careers.

Balancing the cost of graduate school with the need to advance your career, however, can be tricky, especially if you’re seeking graduate programs from top-ranked institutions.

As a nonprofit, edX is committed to increasing access to high quality master’s programs in fields that are in high demand. Degrees on edX are flexible, fully online, and disruptively priced to be lower than most other online graduate programs. For example, if admitted, you can earn a master’s degree in analytics or in computer science for $10,000 or less — for the entire degree.

Explore top-ranked, disruptively priced online master’s degree programs on edX from Georgia Tech, Indiana University, Purdue University, the University of Texas at Austin, Arizona State University, and more.

Even with a more affordable price tag, the question remains: How can you best plan financially for taking advantage of this opportunity? In this article, we offer some tips and strategies for structuring your experience in a master’s degree program to make financial sense for you, including:

  • A primer on the value of master’s degrees within today’s fast-evolving job market
  • A low-cost, credit-eligible opportunity to try a master’s program before applying
  • Resources to help you think through your program timeline and financial planning

Leveraging Master’s Degrees in a Modern Job Market

The workplace is changing more rapidly than ever and employers are in need of highly-skilled talent, especially in fields most impacted by advances in technology. Today, the master’s credential has become so important that some professionals gain not just one master’s degree in a lifetime, but two or three to stay current.

“Skills transformation is now the rule, not the exception,” said edX founder and CEO Anant Agarwal in an article for Forbes. “It’s nearly impossible now to study one subject in school and never again return to the classroom. Some of today’s most lucrative industries, such as data science, were invented less than 10 years ago. Advances in technology, automation, artificial intelligence, and big data are revolutionizing every field and require refreshed skills.”

Master’s degrees are a great tool to build skills and gain credentials in these emerging fields, and take advantage of a job market where they’re in high demand — even in less expected roles like sales and marketing. According to a 2019 report from Burning Glass and Boston Consulting Group, high-growth skills like artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, and data visualization are in demand in an ever-widening range of jobs.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning skills are appearing in job ads for marketing managers and business intelligence analysts, and knowledge of or experience with the Internet of Things is showing up as a requirement for various sales and marketing positions… We believe this is only the beginning of an important trend that will reshape the skill requirements for many traditional job profiles in the future,” the report states.

Additionally, some professionals find that they need one kind of professional graduate degree, like accounting, marketing, or MBA programs, to build foundations in the earlier years of their career, but a different kind of degree as they move into leadership roles, pursuing more specialized programs like supply chain management, analytics, or leadership in service innovation.

Try Before You Buy: edX MicroMasters® Programs

Master’s degrees are an investment: in cost, time, and your own growth. While research and due diligence can help minimize the risk of that investment, it’s hard to know what the experience of a graduate program will be ahead of committing, especially if it’s online.

edX’s innovative MicroMasters programs offer a low-cost, credit-eligible opportunity to experience a master’s degree program — the coursework, faculty, projects, community of learners, and balancing learning with life — and ensure it’s the right fit for you and your goals before committing to the full investment of a degree. Once completed, you’ll gain advanced standing in the associated master’s degree program if you’re accepted, plus a certificate that is immediately valuable in and of itself.

Here’s how it works:

  • Choose your program and complete each course, whenever and wherever you choose.
  • Complete the program and earn a valuable program certificate.
  • Apply to full master’s degree at the university that accepts your MicroMasters program certificate for credit and, if accepted, the certificate will grant you advanced standing in the program, accelerating your degree.

Learn more about MicroMasters programs on edX.

Resources to Explore: Financial Aid, Tuition Assistance and Tuition Reimbursement, Student Loans, and More

Once you’ve made the decision to apply to a master’s degree program, how do you think through financial planning? Here are a few tips and resources:

Find a Flexible Program

If you wish to remain in a full-time job while you study, look for master’s degree programs that are flexible and can be taken part-time. Through an online program, you can study anywhere, any time, and be able to take one class at a time if needed or take one class, take a term off, and come back to take a second class the following term. Leveraging this more flexible structure may mean that it takes you one, two, or three years to complete the degree, but you’ll be able to continue to earn a salary along the way and spread out payments over a longer period of time.

Explore Tuition Assistance

If you do intend to stay in your current role while you study, discuss possible tuition assistance plans with your employer — your direct supervisor and human resources. Many companies offer some reimbursement to employees for taking classes. The amount of that reimbursement annually will vary as will the conditions under which the reimbursement takes place (e.g., the company may require you to achieve a certain grade or score to be eligible for reimbursement). But consider this: if your company pays $5,000 a year in tuition reimbursement, and your master’s degree costs $10,000 total, then you could complete your degree in two years without having paid any of your own money.

Connect With an Advisor to Discuss Financial Aid

If you qualify, you may be eligible to receive Federal Financial Aid. For graduate programs, this means loans at a favorable interest rate that you can apply for from the U.S. federal government (available only to U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens). In addition to the very detailed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website, your master’s degree program of interest will ensure you have access to an advisor who can help answer your questions and identify the best way to navigate the Federal Financial Aid process. Note: When reviewing the website, remember that you are not applying to undergraduate programs, so only review the information for graduate programs as they differ significantly.

Look for Scholarship or Grant Opportunities

Look for scholarship or grant opportunities that may be available to you. Ask the university you’re applying to for any opportunities you should be aware of and the process for applying for those opportunities. Consider some state or other governmental programs that provide support for graduate education and review potential industry sources of funding, such as professional association awards for graduate study.

Is Getting a Professional Master’s Degree Worth it?

Digital technology is revolutionizing every aspect of our society and changing the nature of work. Existing industries are evolving while new fields are emerging, and there is a clear demand for the advanced knowledge needed to succeed in this new workplace.

The demand for online education in emerging fields is clear, and the opportunity to study in-demand topics with world-renowned faculty can have significant value for accelerating and future-proofing your career. In calculating your own return on investment, it’s helpful to think about: what is the price of becoming a leader in a highly competitive field?

“We are at the forefront of transforming graduate education by offering two fully online top-ranked master’s degrees in high-demand subjects for under $10,000,” said Nelson Baker, dean of Georgia Tech Professional Education. “Our Online Master of Science in Analytics degree grew quickly at scale, demonstrating a clear demand for affordable, high quality education. With the addition of our new Online Master’s in Cybersecurity, we’re offering thousands of learners the opportunity to become leaders in two of today’s most competitive fields.”

Request More Information on Part-Time, Top-Ranked Online Graduate Programs

Master’s degree programs on edX include electrical and computer engineering, leadership in service innovation, IT management, accounting, cybersecurity, analytics, marketing, supply chain management, computer science, and more.

Complete the Request for Information form on the programs you’re interested in for more information and the opportunity to ask more questions about master’s degree programs or our university partners.

Explore all online degrees on edX.