College debt in the US is overwhelmingly burdensome and is what keeps a lot of people from even entertaining the idea of higher education. Over the last decade, the average tuition and fees at private four-year schools rose 26 percent and has increased 35% at four-year public schools.
Believe me I totally understand the heaviness of carrying student loan debt because while I got a scholarship for undergrad and was able to get my master’s free, my doctorate was an entirely different story. Seriously, I could have a nice home off the lake for what I currently owe on my Doctorate degree, but I digress.
This is how I hacked my master’s degree and 5 more options for you to consider if you want to do the same
1. Tuition Remission
This is how I obtained my Master’s Degree free! Almost 90 percent of colleges and universities offer tuition remission benefits to their employees and employees’ dependents, according to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR). Tuition remission is assistance that results in the waiver of tuition and fees when an employee attends their university. Basically, the university pays for your education.
While I did not apply for my job just for the sake of getting a third degree, it definitely was a huge perk. I always wanted to get a Master’s in Education, but after completing and owning for my Doctorate degree I wasn’t sure it would happen.
I was blessed enough to happen upon a job that seemed a great fit for me, it was teaching in my career field and for a University that offered tuition remission. I did attend evening classes and am pretty sure I was the always the oldest student in the room, which didn’t really bother me. Total it took me about two and a half years taking two classes per semester. Because of this there were times when I had to pay taxes on my tuition as I went over the allotted amount of money annually, but my goal was to get finished and to do so as quick as possible! My school did not reimburse for books, so this was an out of pocket expense many times.
If you have any questions about my process just ask in the comments, I’ll be happy to answer them.
Some tips if this is the route you decide to take:
- You will most likely be expected to work full time during the day and attend school in the evenings, so prepared for some long days and nights
- Your degree may take a little longer as most schools charge taxes if go over a certain amount of money per year
- Make sure you research each universities policy regarding tuition benefits because each one differs
- Don’t make tuition remission your sole motivation for applying to a university, you will be there for some years and should enjoy what you do while you’re there
- Most times your children can also go to the university for free or at a significantly decreased cost
- Typically, you have to be employed for a certain amount of time before you are eligible to receive tuition remission, in my case it was a year
- You will still have to apply and be accepted to the school as a student
- The schools tend to be on the losing end of this employee benefit, as it cost them a lot of money. So many are now revamping their remissions programs. Common changes include requiring longer service before employees are eligible; covering employee education only when it’s job-related; adding a minimum course grade for reimbursement; or remitting a different percentage of the tuition, he says.
2. Tuition reimbursment
Tuition reimbursement is pretty similar to remission, except it is usually for employees that choose to attend a school outside of the university they work for. The university or college provides reimbursement of tuition and fees that have been approved in advance by an alternative institution.
Some things to keep in mind
- Usually reimbursement is subject to the availability of funds within the employee’s home institution
- Tuition Assistance is usually only considered only when an equivalent course is not available at the institution within a specific mile radius of the employee’s work location
- You will probably need to obtain and keep a “C” or “B” grade in each course
- There are certain degrees which may be ineligible such as professional degrees like dental, veterinary medicine or medical
- Many times schools will want the degree to pertain to your current job position
- There is usually a certain amount of money that can be reimbursed per year, for example a $10,000 cap
- Make sure you do your research and check to see if this is available at the university you choose, also check specific guidelines and terms
3. Military Action
This may be an unpopular choice for some, but I know plenty of people that have gotten their degrees through joining the military. Members of the U.S. military are eligible for a ton of benefits, and rightfully so, with many of which pertain to education. According to the Armed Services Tuition Assistance Program, members of any U.S. military organization (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard) are eligible to get up to 100% of their tuition-costs covered.
The Post 9/11 G.I. Bill states that if you have at least 90 days of aggregate active duty service after Sept. 10, 2001, and are still on active duty, or if you are an honorably discharged Veteran or were discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days, you may be eligible for 100% tuition coverage. In addition there are other benefits like relocation assistance if you aren’t close to where you’d like to study, money for housing, fees, books and supplies.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Not all branches are created equal, for instance if you join the Air Force you are eligible for 100% tuition reimbursement but cannot exceed $4,500 per fiscal year. In addition, the following school fees are covered: lab, enrollment, special and computer. While in the Coast Guard you can’t exceed $2,250 and only get lab fees covered.
- For the entire time you are in the military, you will be expected to maintain a level of fitness sufficient to perform your job duties. If you suffer from chronic illnesses such as asthma or epilepsy, you will probably not be able to join the military.
While applying for scholarships is a pretty obvious step for some, the according to a recent study by NerdScholar, high school graduates in the U.S left more than $2.9 billion in free federal grant money unused. Crazy right?! Considering it is free money, you would think people would be all over it!
But there are so many cavaets to seeking out and applying for scholarships including the time it takes to research those that you fit the criteria for, completing the applications, getting the needed supplemental information and knowing where to go to source out scholarships.
There are tons of financial aid options available for students and one of the best places to start is by applying for Federal Student Aid money. If you are at a loss as to where to begin searching for scholarships, scholarships.com may be good resource to get started with. Also, here’s one specifically for HBCU’s.
Some things to keep in mind when applying for scholarships
- Watch out for scams: yes, in this day of people making livings from stealing from others, those seeking money for education are not absolved from their attempts. Usually, these companies don’t have addresses (only P.O Boxes) or phone numbers and contain spelling errors In addition most of them will attempt to charge a fee or request unusual information like a credit card number, bank account number or social security number. For more information on scholarship scams read here.
- Set aside time each day to research and apply for scholarships. It will be time consuming, but well worth the effort
- You may have to apply for and receive multiple scholarships to cover the cost of your education
- Also check into grants, while scholarships and grants are used interchangeably, they aren’t the same thing
5. Tuition Free Universities
Tuition-free college programs, both private and public sources depending on the program, fund in-state tuition for students that meet certain eligibility requirements. These programs typically offer college students two years of free tuition at participating state community colleges or other associate-degree programs and vocational schools.
AT the time of writing this article, eleven states — Oregon, Nevada, Arkansas, New Jersey, Maryland, Tennessee, New York, Rhode Island, Delaware, Kentucky, and Indiana — already have these programs in place and nine more are working on legislation to do so.
When seeking out tuition-free universities keep in mind
- The list of tuition-free universities is limited
- Most tuition-free programs follow a last dollar model, meaning that they themselves do not fund the student’s education entirely, but instead cover the remaining costs after all need-based federal, state and institutional grants are applied.
- Usually, they only cover tuition, which means books, housing and transportation are the responsibility of the student
- Many of these programs come with stringent requirements, including a minimum number of credits each year, a minimum GPA, or even residency requirements after graduation
- Many will pay for a two year program or city college only
6. The Ivy League Route
For decades, low- and middle-income families found it increasingly difficult to attend top private universities. The goal of higher education has become elusive to many, which is why after some pressure, Ivy League schools like Princeton, Cornell, Columbia and Harvard which can cost upwards of $50,000 per year are looking to help students that wish to attend these schools but could not afford to do so.
In addition, as an adult there are over 400 online courses you can take from these schools right now! One is the MIT Open Course Ware which was created with educators in mind so that they had access to the information to use in their classrooms.
Some things to keep in mind
- There is a parental income limit set by most universities. Usually, the total parental earnings must be lover than $60,000 and they can not have assets of more than $100,000
- Each school is different, so make sure that you do your due diligence in applying
Have you got something to add? Do so in the comments!
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