How to Go to Grad School for Free

how to afford grad school and minimize debt

Getting a Bachelor’s Degree can take quite a toll on students’ financial situation. Three to four years of full time study and the additional living costs increase the debt that graduates have. Many people spend years or even decades repaying their Bachelor Degree debt.

The average cost of graduate school is $30,000 for public schools and around $40,000 for private schools. It could also go up to $100,000 for two year studies in higher ranked universities.

The changing job market though constantly favors more educated people so many of those who have Bachelor’s Degrees are looking into going to grad school and get their Master’s Degrees. Research shows that having a graduate degree increases earning potential and boosts your career, so it is a wise career investment. It also comes with a hefty price tag!

Combining this expense with the student debt of a Bachelor’s Degree makes education extremely expensive and not everyone can afford it.

It is no wonder then that so many people want to know if there is any possibility that they can reduce the cost of grad school or even get the degree for free. In fact there are a few ways that this can be achieved and you will have graduated with no student loans or debt at all.

Below are 8 ways about how to go to grad school for free.

How to go to grad school for free

Get Scholarships

The first method on how to pay for graduate school without loans is scholarships. Scholarships are some of the best financing methods for education since students are responsible for applications and they get evaluated on different criteria, such as their academic achievements, professional potential, and so on.

There are different types of scholarships, with the most popular being merit scholarships.

Merit scholarships

Merit scholarships are awarded on the basis of how well a student has performed or is performing academically. This entails the achievement of good grades or high GPA, becoming involved in research and university projects, participating in university extracurricular activities and so on.

Universities usually award millions of dollars in scholarships each year and some of the money goes for grad students. When you apply to graduate school, ask the admissions office about scholarship opportunities and they will give you more details.

While some schools do not require any additional documents to qualify for scholarships and make decisions based on your application, some others will ask you to submit a separate scholarship application and supporting documents. If you have to apply, then ask for specific guidelines on what you have to submit so that you don’t get rejected for mistakenly forgetting to attach a document.

Merit scholarships can cover the full or partial tuition costs. Based on your academics, the decision on how much or whether to give you a scholarship is at the discretion of the university admissions or scholarship office.

Additionally, if your graduate program is more than one year long, you might be required to apply for the scholarship again for the second year. This motivates students to perform well in school so that they can qualify for second year scholarships.

External scholarships

Besides merit based scholarships, you can research external scholarships which are given through governmental organizations or other individuals or foundations. There are hundreds of websites out there which list scholarship opportunities, such as

These websites list the source of the scholarship, the amount, requirements and instructions to apply, and deadlines. You can see the details of each one and make a list of where you want to apply. You can combine a few partial scholarships and be able to fund your entire graduate school education through them.

Apply For Research Grants

Another way you can go to grad school with minimal spending is by applying for research grants. If your field of interest in which you want to complete your graduate degree is research based then you will be required to submit ideas about what you want to further investigate in the form of a research proposal.

You can use this research proposal to also apply for university or other institutional research grants. Universities are constantly looking to showcase excellent pieces of research from their students so they are willing to fund their education and research through them.

If you are not sure whether the universities you are applying to offer research grants, contact them and ask for further details.

External research grants

If universities are not offering you research grants, you can look for external funding. There are a ton of institutions and governmental organizations in which you can apply. Many of them are topic or subject specific so they might offer research grants only in the fields of for example mathematics or psychology, so check if your research interests align with them.

These institutions might fund part or all of your research and education, so you can apply to multiple of them to get the full funding. You should try to provide as much detail as possible about your research interests and proposal as these are highly competitive grants and not many students get them. That is because not only do you get a degree, but you will also have the chance to get your research published in reputable journals.

Some sources where you can look for research grants are:

Find Program Sponsorships

In addition to scholarships and research grants given by universities and different institutions, there are also organizations which will fund your entire grad school experience if you agree to study abroad or in a university that they pick for you.

This is a great experience since it combines academics with a new cultural perspective.

These program sponsorships or exchange opportunities are usually funded by governmental or non-profit organizations. You are most likely to be able to get such an opportunity if you come from a developing country, but developed countries also offer their students sponsorships so as to get them exposed to foreign cultures.

Not only do these sponsorships cover your tuition, but some might even give you stipends to cover your living costs, such as the Fulbright Program which is one of the most prestigious exchange programs in the world. You basically get to live in a different country and get education for free.

These programs are highly competitive because as you can imagine, everyone wants to get their graduate degree for free. In order to get funded, you will have to go through multiple procedures, including an application form with many documents, interviews, standardized tests, and other placement procedures.

There are also some conditions for sponsorship. Many organizations require you to go back to your home country and work for the government or volunteer in NGOs for a few years. They might have a specified period of time during which you have to be involved in activities and work in your home country. These are all acceptable though since you are getting free education.

Some of the institutions or programs which offer such sponsorship opportunities are:

Do A Graduate Research Or Teaching Assistantship

Another possibility to fund grad school is by getting a graduate research or teaching assistantship. These positions are within the university you will be attending and they either cover your tuition or your living costs.

A research assistantship means that you will be employed in the university with a professor who is doing research.

You will assist the professor with the research process tasks such as:

  • Developing research plans
  • Collecting data
  • Coding data
  • Analyzing data
  • Writing reports, etc.

Research assistantships are mostly recommended for students whose field is research based. They provide valuable experience in the process and they are highly prestigious positions. People who hold such positions are more likely to then get research grants or find a job.

The same holds for graduate teaching assistantships. The university will employ you and you will assist one or multiple professors in their teaching.

Your tasks might include:

  • Writing teaching plans and syllabi
  • Holding office hours and tutorials for students
  • Teaching if the professor is not there
  • Answering student questions
  • Grading assignments and exams

Both research and teaching assistantships are competitive positions since almost all graduate students want them. They bring experience and the ability to pay tuition or living costs. They might require you to work a maximum of 20 hours per week and you are encouraged to combine them with your studies.

Most universities have these positions, so if you want to make sure that your university offers such opportunities and what the requirements are, contact them to ask for details.

Work For The University

With graduate teaching or research assistantships you would be working for the university part time, but there is another possibility through which you can get free graduate tuition. That is through working at the university as a full time employee.

If you are hired by a university in any sort of position, after a few months or years of experience you qualify for either a partial or a full tuition waiver. You can take advantage of this and apply at the universities. Contact them to ask for the details since each university has different rules.

Through this, you will get paid as a full time employee and get a degree for free. The workload is quite heavy since your performance at work cannot be poor and you will attend classes in the evening for which there will be several assignments and exams that you need to pass.

This method of funding a grad school degree is challenging, but it is worth avoiding thousands of dollars of student debts.

Check For Tuition Reimbursement Benefits

Companies value educated employees because they know that it’s the best way to grow and become more profitable. That is why many of them are funding their employee tuition fees for graduate school.

According to Society for Human Resource Management, around 59% of the companies in the US offer this type of benefit to their employees.

In the recent years, employees who want to go to grad school in a field related to their job so as to improve their skills and increase productivity apply for tuition reimbursement benefits with their employer. This means that the employer will pay for their education as long as they do not leave the company for a few years.

The conditions of the tuition reimbursement benefits vary from company to company. Employees should check whether this is a viable option and check the fine print in their reimbursement contracts to see what is expected of them.

In addition to tuition reimbursement benefits, some employers also enroll their employees in programs to get certified or get graduate degrees from universities. The fees are covered so there are no disadvantages to taking these opportunities.

Apply For Financial Aid

Universities and governments offer extensive financial aid for students who can prove that they do not have the necessary funds. Financial aid is a great way to fund your education, you just have to find the opportunities that are offered to you.

Applying for financial aid can be lengthy and there are a ton of documents to submit. But at the end of the day, it is worth it if you qualify and obtain a free graduate degree in your field of interest.

Below you can find a few sources for financial aid in different countries. Each one contains information about who qualifies, their requirements, and deadlines. Look through them and if there is anything unclear, contact them for more details.

Join The Military

Many people join the military with noble causes as it should be. They are respected members of the community and because of that they also get a few perks. One of them is free education.

Members of the military are allowed to enroll in various universities and the government covers their tuition and book costs. They have to complete their duties in the military and then continue to complete their academic assignments.

Even though this is a way to finance your education, it is not recommended that you join the military solely to get a free degree. The military entails many other duties so you should prepare for a challenging ride in case you decide to enroll.

Other Helpful Articles On This Topic

What is a Master’s Degree? – A complete guide to Master’s Degree with costs and all expenses included.
How much does a Master’s Degree cost? – The cost of getting a Master’s Degree depending on many factors.
Grad school interview preparation and answers to questions  – Preparing for scholarship interviews.