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Pursuing a New Degree Debt-Free


I finally made the leap and went back to school! Since graduating with a masters degree in 2015, returning to earn a higher degree was my next logical, yet debatable goal. Continuing my education was a questionable next step because of the weight of sacrifice versus reward.

I first assessed my current situation: I have a master’s degree that is supposed to be a requirement for my current position. I (finally) have a total of right under $8000 of student loan debt that is a product of this master’s degree.

In my desired situation, I would have the degree that allows me to attain my ideal position with a reasonable amount of my time and life sacrificed. Additionally, my top requirement was that this degree would not bring me any additional debt. This was a desired situation for my ideal position in a picture perfect world, I thought. However, as I continued to search, I realized that some of this criteria was actually attainable.

I first needed to determine what degree to earn. I originally decided was that I was going to earn a doctorates degree and I was already envisioning the Ph.D. behind my name. Then I started doing some research and went to an information session at a local college campus. I learned how much time and money goes into doctorate programs. I gained an even deeper respect for those who have earned this highest degree, but I also learned that this just was not the route for me. When I explored the masters program requirements, I did not feel much better about this option either.

I was bothered. And I was annoyed with myself that I was bothered because, as an educator, I was having an internal struggle about the value of education. I don’t think I would be in the right field if I did not truly believe that an education is priceless. I do believe so. I believe that an education breaks barriers, grants access to unreachable places, and changes the entire trajectory of ones future. But I hate that we have assigned such steep monetary costs to education and that in some ways it seems to be less about the knowledge and skillbase, and more about the letters behind a name. This was just my personal opinion that developed from this internal debate. So I shifted my search toward cost effective degrees.

I did a bit of research and spoke to HR representatives in my system. I found that I did not have to hold a master’s degree and that a certificate would suffice. This sounded like the perfect option for me, as a certificate program would be a more economical option and would take half the time to complete.

My next step was to find the best school. I knew that I preferred online programs. I also once attended one of those popular online Devry/University of Phoenix type schools. At the time, I decided on this route primary for convenience and costs. However, it was not until I started my search for my current program that I realized that despite their effective marketing, these schools are not necessarily the most convenient and economical option. Local schools offer great low-cost tuition options for in-state students.

Therefore, my updated school search was for an online and in-state program. I found a great program at a local college in the city in which I live. It is a 24 credit-hour, 15 month-program that meets state requirements for licensure and for my desired position. Additionally, the total cost of my tuition would be only around $8,000! It was a win-win!

My final step was to craft the most creative way to offset the costs of this tuition and not incur any additional debt. I first searched for grants and scholarships. Although there are fewer grants for higher education, there were still many options that ranged from scholarships for single moms to programs for people that resided in specified counties. Additionally, many schools offer in-house grants and scholarships that seem to be often overlooked. Unfortunately, I did not qualify for any of the opportunities.

I decided to use the income from my rental house to cover my monthly tuition. This has worked out very well. My monthly tuition comes to around $550 and I am able to pay it straight from this allotment of money in my checking account. I am thankful to be able to pay for school out of pocket and not worry about interest or debt.

As of December, I am already halfway through the program. The workload is reasonable and the learning is relevant and applicable. I found that higher education can have reasonable and affordable options that still help students accomplish their goals. Thankfully, when I checked my transcript last week, I found that I have a 4.0, so I am happy to say that I am still on my way to accomplishing mine!


  • Reply Laura |

    It would be nice if you did an intro post with here are my debts, here is my budget. Most of us don’t know anything about you since you haven’t linked to your previous posts and thy don’t come up by clicking on your name.

    I also find this post confusing. You say you have a Master’s degree, but talked to HR to see if you needed a Master’s degree or a certificate?

  • Reply Reece |

    A debt vs expense post would be great! Also maybe some background info as well to reintroduce yourself….

  • Reply Chantal |

    This website is falling apart. Who is Ashley L.? I thought I was reading Ashley’s contributions until it became senseless.

  • Reply Jean |

    Your ‘voice’ is very formal in this blog post. Is this the way you talk to your friends sitting across the table from you at dinner? You will engage more people if you write in a more casual, friendly tone rather than the tone you would use at work or for a research paper. Easier said than done sometimes.

So, what do you think ?