How To Go To Grad School For Free

Let’s be real for a moment; education is expensive af. When you’re still struggling to pay off your loans from undergrad, the last thing that you want to think about is how to pay for your advanced degree. Of course, scholarships, grants and other incentives exist to make your degree more affordable, but what if it wasn’t just affordable? What if you were able to get it for next to nothing? Here are five ways you can go back to school with little to no (monetary) costs to you.

1. Combine scholarships and grants

It might be difficult to find one scholarship or grant that is going to cover the entirety of your tuition and other fees, but it’s not unfeasible that you could earn multiple aid offers that could combine to cover your costs!

Elizabeth Bacharach, a graduate of Northwestern University, utilized multiple financial aid sources to cover her costs. “My journalism program offered me, and the majority of my class, financial aid, as well as other resources and outlets to apply for different scholarships to cover my costs.”

Talia Soto, a graduate student, is in a program that offers donor-based scholarships after her first year. “They’re not usually full, but some of them are as big as $10,000, which would cover a good chunk of my tuition,” she says. “There are work study and teaching assistant positions to take while in school, though those are usually more to help your cost of living.”

If you take the time to do your research, you could find any number of aid options that can combine to cover your furthering education. Checking your potential school/program’s aid options, searching sites like scholarships.com and searching for fellowships are all great places to start.

Related: 7 Steps to a Stellar Grad School Application

2. See if your company has a tuition assistance or incentive program

Not all employers will offer an option like this, but many out there will pay towards, if not all, your tuition if it is relevant to your position. Sometimes you get hired in and are under-qualified, or you’re promoted from within and need further certifications, and the company will credit you towards certain institutions for your education. This is often for online institutions, but a degree is a degree. Talk to your manager and see if there are options like this available to you!

3. Work for the college or university

Most universities offer a number of jobs that could qualify you to take classes for free if you’re full-time. Don’t plan on this being an easy ride, though! There are generally stipulations you must meet before you’re eligible to get your education for free, and you’ll have to make sure you’re taking care of all of the responsibilities your position requires in addition to your educational duties!

One option is becoming a residence director. Most RDs get housing and meal plans included with their contract, but you’ve usually got a whole building, at least, of RAs and students under your watch, not to mention administrative duties and weekly periods where you’re on watch!

Em, an RD in upstate New York, says her institution allows her to take six credits a semester for free. “I still had to apply to my program, and wasn’t able to start taking classes until I’d been there for six months, and I’ll have to continue working there for a certain amount of time after my degree has been completed.” She also suggests becoming a graduate assistant as an option, but for that position at her school you have to be registered and paying for at least one course, first.

Don’t burn yourself out, though. “Working full time and doing grad classes at night can be a lot of stress, so make sure you’re finding ways to unwind and take care of yourself, so you can accomplish it and do it well,” Em warns. Free school isn’t worth much if you’re not passing!

Check out your school or program’s site, or contact a full-time employee there to see what options and benefits are available to you as a potential full-time employee, or to see if they offer work-study for graduate students.

4. Join the military

This is one of the most serious decisions you could make, and it should not be done without taking time to discuss it with recruiters and experienced military personnel, and without giving yourself a chance to think it over. Joining the military is not a snap decision; you can’t just turn around and say, “You know what? Maybe this isn’t for me, after all.” Once you’re in, you’re in until your contract is up, barring serious consequences to your health or a breach of contract on your end, which is not something you want to do.

The military offers a number of different options for funding your education. Some partially cover your costs; some cover most, if not all of them. Each branch has its own requirements for service requirements and eligibility for the tuition assistance program (which you can begin get an idea about here), but each branch has the ability to cover up to all of your tuition costs. There are also two different GI Bills that can help you go back to school: the Post 9/11 and the Montgomery GI Bills.

The educational benefits of joining the military are amazing, but you shouldn’t do it just for a free degree. If you do, you run the risk of disrespecting those who joined to make a difference and of getting yourself into something you were completely unprepared for.

5. Find a fully funded program

This may not be possible depending on your field of study, but it’s definitely worth the research to see what kinds of programs you may be able to get into fully-funded, and how you can apply to them. Medical or law degrees are not likely to offer you free options (unless someone else is paying for them), but many Ph.D. programs, as well as some MA or MFA programs, might pay you to join them!

Related: What to Do If You Change Your Mind About Grad School

If you decide you’re going to apply to graduate programs, many of them may seem unattainable after the thousands upon thousands of dollars you spent on your bachelor’s degree. They don’t have to be, though. If you play your cards right, do your research and manage your finances, you could get that advanced degree without sending yourself spiraling into (further) debt.

 

About The Author

A 20-something or other with an appreciation for the following: emergency medicine, lipstick, the suburban mother wine culture, commas, musical theatre and Taylor Swift. Chances are you'll find her at Chick-fil-a, screeching along to the radio with the windows down, or buried in blankets crying over overly-dramatic television.