Get Your Degree for Free

  • Posted on: 27 August 2015
  • By: lyanabu

“You get What you Pay For”

“The Best Things in Life are Free”

These two statements are seemingly contradictory, but when it comes to Graduate School, they are somehow both true.

If you:

  • Are already in graduate school
  • Are thinking about getting a graduate degree
  • Know someone – a friend, a child, a mentee – who may one day consider going to graduate school

It is important to know that there are ways to get a graduate degree for free.

It is important because:

The average cost of a year of graduate school, including tuition and living expenses, is:

  • $30,000 for a public university
  • $40,000 at a private school

and costs can go up astronomically depending on the school and the program.

Thus it’s no surprise that the average graduate school student ends up with a student loan debt of $57,000. One in four has $100,000, and one in ten owes $150,000 or more after obtaining their degree.

This means when you graduate, you will be job hunting with the burden of having to pay back $1,000 each month, on top of your living expenses, rent, car payment, etc.

This is entirely unnecessary. You can get your advanced degree without taking out student loans. There are many ways to do it, but I want to cover just three of them.

  1. First, graduate programs themselves offer assistantships which waive your tuition and pay you a stipend
  2. Second, there are numerous sources of external funding: Foundations offer grants
  3. Finally, employers offer extended learning benefits so you can work full time and simultaneously work on your degree – without taking out student loans

When you are applying for graduate school, you’re mostly concerned with:

  • Whether the program is a good fit for you
  • Whether you can get along with the professors and students
  • Whether it’s located in a place you want to live
  • Whether you will get accepted to the program

None of these concerns are as important as securing funding for your degree.

Graduate school programs like to play hard to get. They make you jump through a lot of hoops, submit a flurry of paperwork to get accepted. They like to project an air of exclusivity.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. They need you more than you need them.

You don’t have to go to grad school. You can choose not to go, or go later, or go somewhere else.

But grad schools need students. They need grad students to fill their programs, to work with professors, teach classes, do field work, conduct research, and publish papers.

This gives you an upper hand in negotiations. There is no reason you should have to pay to go to graduate school. There are many options for finding funds. I will talk about three of them.


The first source of funding is the department themselves. Many departments will waive tuition and offer a stipend in exchange for working, usually 10 to 20 hours per week. This is how I got my Masters of Fine Arts degree in Photography. I taught undergraduates, I worked in a lab, and helped do research. You should apply early, and if you don’t get an assistantship, ask how you can beef up your application so you can be a more desirable candidate.


Another source of funding is external, through foundation grants. On campus we have, for example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They offers support for PhD candidates to study how to improve the health of people in underserved communities. They will pay your tuition, plus healthcare, and a stipend. Moreover they will give you office space on campus, a computer and IT support. You can get assistance with writing and editing, with applying for grants, mentoring, and perhaps best of all, numerous opportunities to network in your field so you can use your Toastmaster skills and further your academic career.

Through Your Employer

Fifty percent of American employers offer some type of education benefit. Companies want employees who are committed to continuous improvement, who are on the cutting edge of their field. Once you get into the work environment, many of your co-workers will be taking classes, one or two per semester, in pursuit of an advanced degree. This is a good deal because you get time off to study, and the company covers your tuition. If you work at a University, many people are working on their advanced degree as part of their employment benefits. It may take a bit longer, but in the end you get your degree, and you don’t have to take out student loans.

Do your research

No matter what your field of study, you’ll be doing a lot of research in graduate school. You might as well start by researching the programs you apply to, and find out which ones offer you the best deal where you don’t have to pay for your degree. Check with your professors, advisors, and people in your target career.

Remember “You get what you pay for”?

Think of it this way. You will pay for your degree with your time, your intellect, and the lost opportunity cost of the wages you could be making instead of going to school. You should not also have to pay tuition on top of that.

Remember, “The best things in life are free”.

The fact is, continued learning and advanced research is one of the best things in life. An advanced degree will change your life. It will change the way you think.

So go to graduate school. Just be smart about it. Enjoy your studies, but be sure to secure the funding for your education first. That way, when you are done, you won’t be paying interest for your academic interest.