Want to know how I got my master’s degree and Ph.D. at one of the best colleges in the country by using a little-known free college tuition secret? I’ll share how I did it, add a few tips in this article, and share other lesser-known ways of getting free college tuition.
This strategy saved me $114,460 to date, so when I graduate with my Ph.D., I’m leaving with zero student loans from a nationally top-ranked university. Zippo. Zilch. Nada. I was paid almost $500,000, had a free 10% match on my 401k plan, four weeks of paid time off, and medical insurance.
This doesn’t happen to everyone, but it does happen a lot more frequently than you’d expect. What I’m describing is every parent’s dream and extremely valuable information for almost any student (undergraduate or graduate) who wants to leave college debt-free.
What’s the secret for free tuition?
The secret to getting paid to go to school and getting two graduate degrees without paying a penny on tuition was to find an entry-level position at my local university and work like heck to get promoted every 3-4 years.
Some people can land their first position in higher-level areas e.g. if you’re already an accountant or have specialized skill sets, and some people can get promoted even faster.
Here’s my story:
A few years ago, I took some certification classes and applied for an entry-level tech position at my local university. It was a well-known large employer in my area and I thought there might be potential for future advancement and offer some good benefits.
To my surprise, once I was hired, I discovered they didn’t offer discounts on the tuition, they offered a completely FREE employee scholarship via a tuition waiver so I could continue my education.
After my 90-day probationary period was up, I immediately signed up for my first semester and it took me about 3 years to complete my master’s degree. This allowed me to get my first major promotion.
During the last year in my master’s program, I realized I had a unique opportunity to keep going.
So I did some research on the Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs at my university and decided on pursuing a Ph.D.
This allowed me to continue to reap the benefits of the free tuition, access to advanced statistics and data modeling software which I’m using to land my next promotion, and potentially, the option to teach at a university and earn a great six-figure salary.
Important things to mention
Sounds like the perfect plan for everyone right? Maybe not. Free tuition doesn’t mean completely free. I still pay a registration and student activity fee every semester and I still need books.
But this also gives me access to great sporting events, professional networking opportunities, a strong alumni network, and access to celebrity speakers and events that aren’t available to my friends and family.
The other thing to mention is some degree programs won’t allow you to work full time e.g. M.D., D.O., and some professional programs will demand all of your time.
However, my plan is ideal for many other professional programs and STEM fields where an advanced degree is necessary for career advancement e.g. M.B.A., M.Ed., M.S., M.A., M.P.A., M.I.S., etc.
The important thing about an employee scholarship is I am employed and working full-time.
However, like almost everyone these days, I manage a decent work/school/life balance (we still make time for Game of Thrones) and my wife is also in the Ph.D. program and uses her GI Bill to cover additional expenses.
The way we see it is that time is going to pass one way or the other. We could have 1,000 hours of Netflix shows to quote or a new college degree with opportunities for advancement in five years.
It also forced us to become meal prepping pros and helped us shave our food budget to about $75 a week for two adults.
While my story focuses on getting two tuition-free graduate degrees, I know several undergraduate students who are also working full-time and getting free tuition.
Some of them are employed by offices around campus to do entry-level work OR they work for the university’s vendors and get 100% free tuition due to the university partnership.
The BEST benefits
The best thing about going to college this way is I’m actually being paid to learn instead of paying to learn like many of my fellow classmates.
These benefits are also available by serving in the military, but I don’t have the fear of being deployed and leaving my family. I’m also extremely thankful for a very generous 401k plan that includes a 10% match on the first 4% of my contribution.
I know other universities nearby that offer 6%-8%. This generous retirement benefit helped me reach my first $100,000 in five years.
The other great thing about being employed full-time at a university while working on my degree is employer-covered health care. I’ve been to the emergency room twice through no fault of my own and the stays were covered after a reasonable $90 co-pay.
Finally, I have access to many wonderful opportunities that are only available as a university employee that my friends never see. Every semester, we have the opportunity to see quality plays and free concerts.
I’m surrounded by intelligent, curious young adults who are excited to learn and possibly make an impact in the world. We’re also treated to lunch frequently and only work a few weekends or evenings a year.
Our university is very well connected in town. So if we decide to leave, we can tap into a network of alumni who are employed at Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and some huge local companies.
I have paid professional development, free travel and lodging to national conferences, one free professional membership a year, hundreds of discounts, and access to free training through the university’s electronic databases.
I saved the best for last, we have almost 4 weeks of paid time off (including a generous week off for the winter break) and hundreds of hours of sick time.
You’re probably thinking, “I should have done this!” I have read a number of personal finance blogs where people are using their side hustles to pay off five or six-figure level debts.
I have a few side hustles and I’m fortunate that I can move any additional income directly into my savings and retirement funds.
In summary, if you (or your kids) are considering going to college and you don’t want to be left with crippling loans, want to get paid, and get free health insurance, try applying to your local university or community college to let them pay for your tuition!