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How to Attend Graduate School for Free

It’s Back to School time! Check out our blog series for tips and resources to set you and your family up for success this season.

July 14, 2021

Pursuing an advanced degree such as an MBA, master’s degree or Ph.D., can be extremely rewarding. Not only are you expanding your knowledge base and skill set, but you’re also giving your resume a solid boost. Unfortunately, seeking an advanced degree can be expensive — public institutions cost an average of $18,383 annually, and private schools $47,419 a year. Many consider taking on student loans in order to pay for it. 

That being said, sometimes attending grad school doesn’t have to cost you anything. In some cases, you can even be paid to attend grad school. If you have your heart set on attending a graduate program, we have some insight into how you could go to grad school for free. 

Consider a Ph.D. Over a Master’s

While it may seem like enrolling in a lengthy Ph.D. program is a recipe for spending a lot of money, it’s fairly common to pursue a Ph.D. for free if you’re doing graduate research. 

Many Ph.D. programs offer full funding for students across various subjects such as computer science, public health, engineering and the humanities. Generally, a fully-funded Ph.D. program waives both the cost of tuition and fees.

On top of not paying for school, these programs tend to provide an annual stipend and benefits such as health insurance to students so they don’t have to work while enrolled in school. Acceptance into these programs can be competitive, but the chance to walk away with a Ph.D. to your name and no student loan debt could be worth going after. 

As great as Ph.D. programs are, pursuing one doesn’t necessarily make sense for every career and may not align with your personal goals. In which case, you may be wondering how to get a master’s degree for free. Unfortunately, master’s programs usually aren’t fully funded like Ph.D. programs. Why? A lot of universities use expensive master’s degree programs as a source of revenue. Some people decide to pursue a master’s degree first to get ready to apply for a Ph.D., but if you can get accepted to a Ph.D. program from the get-go, you can save a lot of money.

Scholarships, Grants and Fellowships

Suppose you can’t find a fully funded Ph.D. program that suits your needs or decide a master’s, law or medical degree is more up your alley. In that case, you do have some other options for going to graduate school for free — one of which is to pursue financial aid and fellowship opportunities. 

Before you even apply to a specific grad school program, it can be helpful to investigate what that program’s financial aid and fellowship opportunities look like. When doing your research, you can connect with the recruitment team at the universities you’re applying to and ask key questions to gain more insight into what it may cost you to enroll in their program. 

When researching schools, it may be helpful to ask recruitment teams the following:

  • Am I the type of student who is eligible to receive grant money?

  • What types of scholarships does your program offer?

  • Do you host any fellowship programs?

  • Are Ph.D. students fully funded?

Once you’ve exhausted your program’s internal resources, you can also apply for scholarships and grants through outside parties. One good route to take is to apply for grants or scholarships through professional organizations in your field of study. For example, if you’re studying to be a dentist, the Dental Trade Alliance Foundation awards graduate scholarships of at least $5,000 to a few students every year. While it may be challenging to get your hands on gift aid that covers all of your education costs, you can help offset some of the expenses. 

Choose the Right School

While these schools are likely to be more competitive for applicants, some graduate schools offer completely tuition-free programs to all students, such as New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, which since 2018 has given out full-tuition scholarships to all of their medical students. That scholarship does not cover fees and other expenses but does pay for $57,476 in tuition. So even if you can’t get a completely full ride for grad school, you can see how much money programs with free tuition can save you. Similarly, since 2019, the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine has provided free tuition to about half of their new students, saving them $68,480 a year. 

Talk to Your Employer

If you’re already employed and considering attending school while you’re working, talk to your employer first before you pay for anything on your own. Many companies offer education assistance to their employees, including Exxon Mobil, Starbucks and Fiat Chrysler. While some of these programs may be designed to help pay for undergraduate degrees, some do pay for graduate education, especially if the degree will help you excel in your job, like an MBA. Employers even have some financial motivation for providing their employees with tuition reimbursement, scholarships or financing for job-related coursework because the IRS allows them to deduct up to $5,250 yearly per employee

While this may seem like a big ask, don’t be afraid to inquire about your company’s willingness to pay for grad school. A 2018 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 49% of workers have employers who offer graduate school educational assistance. In many cases, your coursework will need to connect to your job for your employer to pay for it. Your employer may require you to work for them for a set period once you finish the program and you may risk having to pay back some of the tuition if you choose to leave your job before that period ends. 

There’s no one set path to figure out how to go to grad school for free, but you do have options available if you’re willing to do some research and wait for the right opportunity to come along. 

Want to send your credit card debt packing so you can put more money towards funding your education goals? Tally can make it easier to pay down your debt faster while saving money at the same time.