If the idea of taking on additional student loan debt has suggested you may be better off without earning a master's, it's time to reconsider. Some people have been able to get a master's degree for free, and you can, too.
Whether you've finished your undergraduate studies and are looking to take the next step or you're planning for long-term goals, there are several options that you should consider in your pursuit of a post-graduate degree.
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Here are just a few legit ways to hack your way to a free master's degree, according to people who have done it.
1. Work for a university or college
Many higher education institutions offer "tuition remission" for employees. In a 2014 post, Liz, one half of the couple that writes the blog, Frugalwoods, shared her own experience with getting a free master's through tuition remission.
Liz writes that when she and her husband moved, it was an opportunity for her to apply for jobs at a university and start working toward a master's. She applied for any position she found open at reputable universities and colleges in the area, and she snagged one.
She writes that before sending out job applications, she researched each university’s policy regarding tuition benefits. (Typically, you have to be employed for a certain amount of time because you can use the tuition remission benefit.)
Liz graduated from a school with a sticker price of $64,000—for free.
There are usually three caveats if you take advantage of this perk, Liz writes. They are:
- After you're hired, you also have to be accepted to the school as a student.
- You're generally expected work full-time while going to school.
- You may have to pay taxes on the market value of the graduate-level tuition if it's over a certain amount.
2. Choose an Ivy League school
Some universities and programs guarantee that your costs will be covered if you're accepted. Ivy League schools, for example, often offer great financial aid packages, sometimes covering the entire cost of a master's.
Lisa, from Mad Money Monster, adds that some of those Ivy League schools, like Brown and Cornell, also offer free online master's degrees. Requirements vary by school, so your degree may not be totally free, but this option worth looking into.
3. Look for special, funded programs
You can also look for special tuition-free programs within certain universities. For example, Forbes reports that Stanford’s MBA program offers full tuition to students willing to work in the Midwest after graduation.
Other master's programs offer free tuition to students who attended the university for undergrad.
Prescott College, for example, offers a free year of a graduate program to students who study for four years at the college and are enrolled in its Accelerated Master's Degree Program.
If you are an incoming college student or are still enrolled in an undergrad program, it's worth checking with your university to see if they offer any free post-graduate programs.
4. Use your employer's higher education benefit
In that same Mad Money Monster blog post we mentioned above, blogger Lisa details how she got a free master's by taking advantage of an employee benefit. Her company offered 100% tuition reimbursement for program of study that pertained to her job, as long as she met certain requirements.
Companies that have tuition reimbursement often have some stipulations, such as:
- 100% of tuition and materials be reimbursed.
- Up to $10,000 per calendar year can be reimbursed.
- You must maintain grades of B or higher.
Lisa offers this tip: When job-seeking, ask about the benefits package, and carefully review whether tuition reimbursement is available. If you're already in a steady job, ask your employer if they offer this benefit, and check specific guidelines and terms.
BONUS: Apply for scholarships
Perhaps it goes without saying, but scholarships can save you from paying thousands of dollars for your post-graduate education. More than $53 billion in funding is available for graduate students.
Start with resource 150 Scholarships for Graduate Students. Also, check out ProFellow, which offers an excellent lists of scholarships and funded fellowships for master's programs. Two solid examples:
- GEM Fellowship: MS Engineering Fellowship Program: This scholarship is designed to improve representation of the minorities in the engineering and natural science fields. Fellows receive a full tuition scholarship and a $4,000 living stipend per semester.
David H. Clift Scholarship: This $3,000 scholarship is awarded annually to a student working toward a MLS, MLIS, or MIS.
If you find that you have tuition gaps to fill after collecting scholarship and financial aid money, check out our list of highly-vetted private student loan lenders who are offering some seriously competitive deals right now.