How I Obtained a Masters Degree from Harvard for $500–without Scholarships

Yes, you read that correctly! Despite moving to Boston with a $14K+ credit card debt, I became quite savvy at navigating the perils of financing a graduate education.

Along with learning how to balance my life, priorities and spending, I pushed myself to learn as much as possible about how to cut the costs of attending an outrageously expensive school–without having any scholarships to fall back on.

Here’s how I did it (and later applied the same knowledge to obtain another Masters degree and a few professional certificates at various universities in the area; yes, I love school!):

Secure part-time work at your university

The moment I moved to Boston, I worked to secure employment in the Harvard system (this was in addition to the other part-time job I had that provided all living expenses). Given that I knew very few people in the area and none that actually worked for the university, I had my work cut out for me.

But that obviously did not deter me and I tirelessly submitted resumes & cover letters through the online employment site. Luckily, I was called for a few interviews, was offered a position, accepted it, and have worked there ever since (7 years and counting!). Once you have this job, leverage all you can out of the amazing Tuition Assistance Programs most universities offer to all of their employees, regardless of their employment status.

Seek out assistantships.

“Assistantship” is basically a fancy word for doing grunt work for your professors. The silver lining is that most come with tuition and/or living stipends in exchange for your work. Additionally, assistantships provide ample opportunity to delve deeper into research and to network with other professors, students, and colleagues.

I waived the living stipend portion of my assistantship in lieu of a greater tuition credit. Doing so essentially meant that I would be paying only basic fees for my classes, which averaged $30-75 per course.

Cut down on course material costs.

I’ve never paid full price for a textbook, including those pesky ‘course packs’ that some professors sell themselves in the bookstore. Do your research! Those packs are usually full of case studies that can be found in libraries and online databases.

For textbooks, use search engines built for searching for low prices by ISBN number. I once found, and purchased, a book for one CENT. Also, share your books! If you trust a classmate or have a colleague taking the same course, partner up ASAP.

Identify loopholes.

When I completed my first Masters degree, the university had a policy where all Tuition Assistance Program benefits were automatically applied before any other tuition credits, etc.

By piggy-backing my TAP benefits on top of my assistantship credits, I sometimes was able to receive a refund check for the semester because I’d “overpaid.” I applied those refunds to the following semester’s courses to drive down my personal costs. It’s a double-whammy…in your favor!

Be Creative.

There are literally hundreds of ways to cut down on tuition bills, including at the undergraduate level. By being creative, doing some extra work to seek out potential deals & credits, and being diligent, you can literally save yourself thousands.

My time at Harvard should have cost me over $80,000. Instead, it was $500. If you ask me, that’s a whole heck of a lot less zeros that my bank account surely appreciated not having to fork over!!

More About Me

If you’re visiting here from CNN Money, Lifehacker, Yahoo! Finance, or another media outlet that’s shown so much love for this post, welcome! If you’d like to learn more about my debt payoff, homeownership, travel, or self-employment adventures, check out my About Me page or these posts:

 

Helpful Resources

This section will change periodically, but is filled with various resources to help you find your own path through grad school (and how to pay for it!):

What have you done to cut down on education-related expenses?

- Jen Smialek

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Freelancer; reformed spendaholic; risk taker; adventure seeker; world traveler; rose smeller; debt destroyer. My mission is to inspire others to live a healthy, balanced life one cent at a time.

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