If you’re looking to obtain a graduate degree, taking out more student loans to pay for it probably doesn’t sound very appealing. I decided to go a different route and instead of adding to my student loan debt to get my master’s degree, I took a job with a local university that offered employees 100% tuition waivers. This is a very common perk at most universities, but one that is often overlooked. If you’re looking to advance your education, working at a university in exchange for a free master’s degree can be a great set up.
Many universities give their employers 100% tuition waivers so that they can earn their undergraduate or graduate degree for free. The even better news is that most institutions also extend a 75-100% discount to children and spouses of employees so even if you aren’t looking for a degree, working at a university could help your kids get their degrees for free or for a deep discount.
My university paid for up to four classes per semester which enabled me to graduate with a free master’s degree in a little under two years, and my books were the only thing I had to pay for.
Other Often Overlooked University Benefits
It’s hard to top a free master’s degree, but here are a few more of my favorite overlooked university benefits:
- Free access to fitness center and exercise classes (no need for a gym membership!)
- Free noncredit courses and programs such as software training, photography, financial planning, accounting, management certificates, etc.
- Many universities give their employees access to TWO retirement accounts (403b & 457b)
I’ll expand on that last perk a bit because aside from free master’s degrees, the fact that you can max out two retirement accounts is my favorite benefit of working at a university. Most employees at for profit companies have access to a 401k where they can put away up to $18,500 (the 2018 limit) pre-tax into their retirement accounts. Employees at certain nonprofit and governmental organizations (including universities) can put away a maximum of $18,500 into their 403b and another $18,500 into their 457b for a total of $37,000 of their income they can shield from taxes each year.
457b retirement accounts are especially great for people working toward early retirement. If you withdraw from a 401k or 403b accounts before you’re 59 ½, you must pay a 10% penalty. With a 457b, however, as long as you have separated from your employer, you can withdraw the money at any age without penalty. This makes it perfect for people planning to retire early in their 30s, 40s, or 50s.
Common Jobs Available at Universities
Colleges and universities don’t just hire instructors. Here are some of the kinds of jobs you can find:
Accounting & Finance
Government Relations (particularly for state universities)
Archives & Special Collections
Art Gallery Manager
Bookstore (retail employees/manager)
Childcare (if the university has an onsite daycare)
Mail and Distribution
Grounds Keeping & Building Maintenance
Research & Data Analysis
Fitness Center employees