How to Graduate College debt free

debt free college


The average annual cost of graduate school is probably over $50,000 excluding room and board. The cost has continued to rise regardless of the University or degree you choose. Compared to the return received after graduation in the form of high paying career, the degree cost may be less for some; but the return is never guaranteed.

The average American (and international too) is left with no choice than getting into debt to pursue their career, with the hopes that they’ll earn back more than they owe.

I come from a lower middle-class family. I’m in no position to afford the exorbitant graduate degree cost therefore, I’ve always thought graduate studies in United States is beyond my reach, until I learned about various US school funding.

It takes arduous effort, time, and determination but yes, it is possible to graduate college with zero debt. In many cases (mostly in graduate degrees), students get paid to study and finish their degrees.  In following, I will discuss getting a free graduate degree (all tuition paid) and get paid for room and board (I received $1,200 every month) through assistantship programs.

Is it possible to graduate with no debt?

Yes, it is possible to graduate with no debt else I will not be writing this article.

I was able to graduate with master’s degree in civil engineering with zero debt and some cash in my bank account.

 Everyone knows about the traditional way of getting knowledge – pay tuition, study, and get a degree. This is the easy way (to the ones who can afford it) but you can actually get paid to get a degree. It is not easy, but it is not impossible as well. My journey to get an offer for a Research Assistantship (RA) at the University took exactly two years. It felt like quitting many times, but I didn’t (I’m glad I didn’t).

This article is more geared towards a graduate degree (Master’s degree and above) but the technique also applies for undergraduate degrees

What is Research Assistantship (RA)?

Research assistantship (RA) is a form of funding through research, where a student is involved in a research offered by the professor and works towards publishing a paper (and/or thesis). The student thereby receives tuition paid by the research funding along with a stipend. The tuition paid by the research funding agency will either be full funding or partial funding depending on availability. The best part about this is that the student is not required to pay it back unlike loan.

Stipend is a monthly (or biweekly) compensation (money directly deposited to one’s bank account) for the full-time work towards the research. It is cash provided to you for the work which you can use for anything.

University professors usually apply for research funding to different agencies. Once the funding is secured, they select students either from the pool of applicants or from the list of students who have approached them directly through email. The professors like to select the student who has some form of knowledge and interest in the field of his research.

If you have average or low grade in your undergraduate degree then don’t be discouraged, scores is not the only factor of selection.

What qualifications do you need to be a research assistant?

One of the basic requirements to become a research assistant is the interest towards research topic. You should be able to demonstrate that you’re interested in the field and understand the practical use.

A student must fulfil the departmental requirement for graduate studies, which is usually English proficiency (for international student) and a  GRE score (minimum as setup by the grad school).The student must be selected by the grad school for admission before the assistantship is offered. Most of the assistantships are awarded to the student who are already admitted to the University. Grad school must accept the application before any funding decision is finalized.

Therefore, the candidate should possess minimum qualification that graduate degrees require. After grad school accept the application, the assistantship decision will be based on the professor needing the assistants. Therefore, it makes more sense to be in touch with professor well in advance of applying the University.  

How to approach a professor for research assistantship?

The best way to secure a research assistantship is to approach the professor directly through email rather than applying for the grad school and wait until the admission is confirmed. First, you’d need to perform extensive research on the professor in the field that you’re interested in. Most of the research professor would have their dedicated website, where they list all the ongoing projects. If there are any project in the list that you’re interested, you can contact the professor via email for any assistantship availability.

In an email to professor, you should discuss about you, your expertise and interest in the research field. The email should be short and to the point but should also content enough information. You should show your interest to study and research under his tutelage. It is also a good idea to include your resume with your work experience if you’ve acquired any.

I’ve prepared a generic email format that you can use to contact professor which can be downloaded here.

How do you write a good statement of purpose for grad school?

Statement of purpose (SOP) for graduate school is one of the important documents, that is required during application. It is a piece of article where a student describes about himself, his qualification and experience and thereby explains why the University should consider his candidacy for the graduate study. There may not be a huge weightage on SOP for an applicant’s admission to the University, but it makes a difference to write an effective SOP for funding to the degree through assistantship.

A good statement of purpose should have all the information/qualities of the candidate to prove his candidacy. It should explain in brief about the educational profile of the candidate, his interest and work or internship experiences. The SOP should be written in such a way that they should tell a story about the candidate. The story should flow and fall into place so that it is easy for reader. SOP is basically a test of how good of a writer you are. As a graduate student, you will be writing a lot of paper and based on your SOP, professor will be able to decide how good your writing skills are.

Schools that offer Graduate Assistantships

Most grad school have some type of graduate assistantship program that pays for partial or full tuition fee. The Universities will have a separate graduate study webpage which will have information regarding graduate assistantship. This is the first place to look for funding information. I’ve compiled a list of Universities which provide graduate assistantship in the field of civil engineering. These universities will also have funding for other degrees. You can download the list here.

It takes some time and research to find the graduate school with funding availability. A student must research the school, professors, and their current and future projects under their profile to obtain information related to their area of interest. Then he can contact professor for the funding. You must be persistent on this task if you’re serious about getting a degree with zero cost and fully funded. If you have any questions regarding any topic discussed in this article please feel free to contact me at I would love to hear from you and would help with any queries that you have on this debt free college degree journey.