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Free Online Master's Programs: Is 'Free' Really Free? (Sometimes, yes)

Maybe you want to earn your master’s degree to enter a new career field or move up a level in your pay grade. Or, maybe you want to just expand your knowledge of your profession. If so, you might be wondering if there's a way to go to school online while you work full-time.

The good news is that there are several legit options to take grad classes online for free—and in some cases, even earn your degree. 



Let's take a look at four ways you can get your master's for free, almost-free

1. Use your employer's higher education benefit

If you’re currently employed, check to see if your company offers a tuition reimbursement benefit. Many companies will offer full or partial tuition reimbursement for programs of study that pertain to your job.

Companies that have tuition reimbursement often have some stipulations. Some common requirements are: 

  • Up to $10,000 per calendar year can be reimbursed.
  • You must maintain grades of B or higher.

Tip: If you’re currently in the job market, target companies that offer tuition reimbursement.

2. Audit classes from top universities

Harard, Berkely, MIT, and a host of other presitigious insitutions offer a wide variety of courseware through edX.  These classes are called MOOCs, which stands for Massive Online Open Courseware.

While you cannot earn credits or a degree through this program, you do have the benefit of learning from some of the world’s top professors for free.

MOOCs are also an excellent way to test-drive an online study program. You can find out if you're truly motivated to complete the coursework, if you enjoy the online-learning format (not everyone does), and if the subject matter is aligned with your expectations. Because MOOCs are free, you can try before you buy/matriculate. 

3. Earn a micromaster instead

MIT is currently running an innovative, mostly-free program called the MITx MicroMaster’s credential program.

This is a free online program that has no prerequisites. That is, you can earn this credential without first obtaining a bachelor’s degree, or even a high school diploma or GRE.

The only charge to the student is the cost to take the final exam for each course. Exams are given at proctored test locations.

The program consists of about one semester’s worth of MIT classes, or about five to eight classes, depending on the program of study. To get credit for each class, you must pass an in-person, proctored exam. You may take each exam at the conclusion of each class, or you can opt to take them all at once. MIT has testing locations around the world.

After you have passed all the tests in your program of study, you will be awarded the MIT MicroMaster’s credential.

See also: MIT Online Degrees: What You Need to Know

4. Apply for scholarships

Perhaps it goes without saying, but scholarships can save you from paying thousands of dollars for your post-graduate education. However, many grad students fail to apply for scholarship money.

More than $53 billion in funding is available for graduate students, so don't miss out on your opportunity to collect some for your own education. 

Start with our blog post 150 Scholarships for Graduate Students

See alsoIs Grad School Worth It? 3 Questions to Ask Before You Enroll


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