I started my Master’s degree at age 25, and finished when I was 30 years old, paying the entire thing in cash at a private university. I had a full time high school teaching job, was an assistant coach for two sports, had a wife, kids, a home mortgage, and all the bills that go with life! I did this all while taking home no more than $57,000 a year at the most. That was because my wife brought in around $7,000- $8,000 a year toward the last few years, working at a local gym training people. Everyone told me going into this, that it was impossible to pay cash for a Master’s degree at that expensive private school, but I had a plan.
Many people at the time, and still today, find the most affordable options for advanced degrees can be found with the online degree programs. They are more flexible and you can go to school on your own time. Lamar University and Texas A&M Commerce are the big ones in my part of the country for online graduate degrees. I however, didn’t like their options for me, and they offered a lot of Education degrees, which I hate to study even as a working teacher. I like to study what I am interested in, and I needed to be in a classroom face to face with a professor, so I can learn from the whole person and get the whole experience. Voice tones, body language, eye contact, the works, is what helps me learn in the classroom. It was easy to find college in a classroom nearby, but almost impossible to find a degree that lets you learn what you want to learn, and you get a Master’s degree at the end. I believe I was searching up “Renaissance man,”for class one day, and I liked the idea of learning like they did. Learn a little of everything and go where your interests lead you. A few days later on NPR, of all places, I heard of a Liberal Studies degree on my way to work. So, of course I looked this up and found it was exactly what I wanted. You could create your own unique degree, and it was at half price compared to their other department of education programs. The price at the time was about $350 an hour; today it is $649 an hour for the same program. I also found that I needed 36 hours, and had six years to complete the degree with a 3.0 grade point average or higher. My undergraduate grades where high enough that I didn’t need a GRE score to get in (bonus, I saved money there), but I submitted my LSAT scores just to push the admissions in my favor. I really wanted into the program. I also noticed there were some scholarships for me too. It took a year of planning and waiting to see if I would get in, but I had a plan and actions where being taken.
This is were the plan came in before I even applied. I made phone calls, went to the campus, met with advisors, and researched online a lot. I could take one class a semester, or two classes a year, and get the degree done in six years. I took five years, because I applied for some Free Enterprise scholarships, and got two economics courses fully funded in summer school, one summer. That took a year off the degree. That was also six free graduate hours, so the entire degree would be around $10,500 plus books and a parking pass (It ended up around $13,000 total in the end). If I divided that up by month, over five years it’s $175 a month for tuition, so I saved $200 a month in a separate bank account. I took one class in the fall, and one class in the spring, and the money was always in my bank account to pay in cash, which was also discounted because I paid in cash or check. I also developed my own degree in Humanities and History that interested me. I sat in the same classes as those who where part of the History and Humanities programs, but I paid half price for the same course since I was Liberal Studies. My diploma in the end said, “Master’s in Liberal Studies: Concentration in History.” It gets me everything I wanted with my raise in salary as a teacher, with almost no restrictions in my education, and there was no debt. I also got to take a literature course on Charles Darwin’s writings, economics courses over globalization and farms, and history courses on revolutions and the constitutional convention. If it interested me, then I got to take the course. I just needed 18 hours in history to get the concentration part on the diploma, so I could get a pay raise. I was a real “Renaissance Man” by the end of the five years.
How to do this today
So, today how would I do this? I would probably do it the same way again. I have noticed online that today there are even more scholarship opportunities for teachers when I checked the universities’ website and other online sources for the college (Most of the scholarships are college, program, and occupation specific). The price may have doubled from around $350 to $649 an hour, but from what I saw online, the scholarships available have also doubled. I’d go for the Free Enterprise scholarship again, the Community Leaders Scholarship, and the Interdisciplinary Educators Scholarship. Those all cover two courses each, for eight of the twelve courses required for the degree. So we are talking about $7,788 in tuition left, for the same degree I got seven years ago. That’s $109 a month if you take the full six years to complete the degree taking two classes a year. I would probably take the free courses over the summer again, and cut my time down to three years instead of five to finish quicker. Yes, college is more expensive, but the media is sometimes wrong on affordability, so do your research and you might find a Master’s degree is a great bargain in your area with the right plan in place.
The Wrap Up
Did I mention the classes met one night a week for three hours of my time each week. You can find a night, if you want to, and it’s great to get out of the house and meet with like minded people for intellectual discussions and networking. Others perks were discounted or free sports tickets to college games, use of the recreation center (free rock climbing wall for the kids), student activities like the time Coolio had a concert on campus for free, student prices at the movies and other places, and making new friends.
You can do an online degree for $5,000-$12,000 from what I have been seeing online for grad school, or you can move to Germany for a free education, and a cool cultural experience. You can do some research, develop a plan, and pay cash for your Master’s degree. It can be done, and it should be done in all cash. Debt is dumb, and adding more bills to your life is dumb. If you can’t afford it, then don’t do it, but for under $200 a month, with a proper plan of attack from the beginning, higher education is affordable to all. So, follow your dreams, make more money at work, and invest in yourself. One reason I began writing online was because after my master’s degree was over, I realized I missed researching and writing, so here I am today continuing my education through this blog, and improving my writing with every day I practice my craft.