An Unconventional Guide to Paying for College

How to Earn your Graduate Degree For $12 Per Semester

master's degree

Getting a Master’s degree is time consuming, stressful, and expensive.

As bad as that sounds, an advanced degree is an essential element of career growth for many professions. A Master’s degree will often open the door for management opportunities, and separate you from your peers in a battle of credentials. For some professions, a Master’s degree is a required credential or “piece of paper” that can be a literal brick wall to your career if you do not have one. This is where I have found myself as a staff member in higher education.

I work for a large public university and the state human resources board has determined that virtually all management positions and the majority of positions with any responsibility (and therefore decent pay) require a Master’s degree. I have known since entering this career that I had to get my Master’s degree if I ever wanted to advance my career past entry level.

Master’s Degree Cost

Master’s degree can vary widely in cost. For example, the graduate programs at the school where I work range from $380 per credit hour, to $14,000 flat rate fee per semester. This wide range of pricing can be torture for someone who likes to plan. Thankfully, every program has a set price so you can narrow down your research to the programs that you are interested in applying to.

The graduate program that I applied for is $602 per credit hour. The program requires 48 credit hours to graduate which will come to an approximate cost of $28,896. That price does not include books, supplies, and the other little extra fees that colleges tack on every semester. So you can figure an even $30,000 by the time I would have finished my degree.

My plan is to take two classes per semester, which would total 6 credit hours, or $3612. A semester is roughly 4 months in length, which would mean that my master’s degree would cost me $903 per month.

That is more than my house payment!!

With the depressing cost of an advanced degree in my blurred vision I began to look around for alternatives to paying this tuition cost all by myself.

Employee Tuition Assistance and Reimbursement

My first place to look was the human resources website for my employer. What I found, was one of the few perks of working in higher education. The university I work for allows employees to take up to 6 credit hours per semester for free! Talk about a benefit. This essentially means that I just earned a $903 per month raise if I was able to take advantage of this benefit.

The only fee that I am required to pay is a $12 per semester software license fee that goes to support the IT infrastructure and the discounted software that we have access to as students. I think I can handle that!

If you work for a company that is not an actual higher education facility your company will likely offer tuition reimbursement of some form. Many companies will reimburse you up to a certain amount as long as you earn an A or a B in a course. Some companies may have a pool of professional development funds that you have to apply to every semester, and other companies may actually pay you an increased salary with the intent of using those funds to help cover the cost of your Master’s degree.

With a variety of different formats, it is a really good idea to speak with your human resources department to get an idea of how your employee tuition assistance program works.

If you feel stuck in your career, often times an advanced degree will give you the jumpstart that you need for upward mobility. It may even open up an entirely new career path. Who knows, you might learn the skills necessary to start your own business and break free of the 9 – 5 work chain.

A Master’s degree can be an incredibly rewarding experience, and it is even sweeter if you can get someone else to pay for it!

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  1. Nice raise! That is a nice perk. Money for college. Good title for a blog.

  2. Thanks Dr. Dean! I’ve always prescribed to the anthem that “simple is usually better”.

  3. It seems there are always ways to cover tuition costs. You just have to look. I lost count of how many scholarships I applied for when I was in school. But having 3 out or 4 years of my degree completely paid for was totally worth it.

    • @Jeremy — You make a good point, the amount of time and effort put into searching for free money is equal to the amount of free money for college you receive. Simple cause and effect. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Just make sure you read the fine print. When I got my MBA, we had all sorts of people who were getting their degree paid for (or partially paid for) by their employer. Each seemed to have different restrictions and benefits.
    My employer reimbursed me $2k/yr, which is nothing when getting a graduate degree, but it paid for books, software, and other incidentals. It was counted as part of my income, so I was taxed on it. And I had to make sure I had the money there to pay for classes in the first place.
    Other employers paid more money, even the full amount, but you had to be in a degree program that was relevant to your current career track at the company, and often had to commit to working for the company for X numbers of years after completing your degree. If you left before that time was up, you owed them your tuition back- and you can’t get student loans once you’re out of school.
    There was one company who paid 100%, no restrictions on degree, no required time to stay at the company after. But that was only one company out of the dozen or so represented in my cohort.
    So yes, check in to what your employer offers, but make sure you read the fine print.

    • @Shanendoah — That is a great insight. I only have my one small experience to speak from, so I am happy that you were able to share a different perspective. As with most things in life, you are exactly correct, it definitely pays to read the fine print! Thanks!

  5. I’ve been thinking a ton about my education options….this is a timely post. Part of me wants to go back and get more education and the other has no interest….tough decision.

    • @Average Joe — It is definitely a tough decision. Fortunately, with mine being so inexpensive my decision was made a little easier. In the end, I think you have to weigh whether the investment of time and money will pay off in the long run. I think that should your main barometer. Please let us know what you decide!

  6. My employer offers tuition assistance. I am seriously planning for a part time MBA. at the moment too much excited about the blog. MBA is at back seat.

    • @SB — I actually have a similar feeling as you. I have already started classes, but I trying to weigh out whether it would be a better investment of my time to work on my master’s degree or focus on reinvesting more time into this blog. Difficult choices. You’ll have to let us know what you decide.


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