How to get a cheap or free education? – Part I

A long time ago, when my blog was young and cool, I promised to do a series of articles (and later videos) on how to finish your education with little or no debt. We live in an America where students often finish their undergraduate education tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, in debt. There are ways of avoiding this, and of finishing your education with, perhaps, one thousand dollars in debt, if not less. I should note that when I say “finish your education” I mean up to the doctoral level. So, let us start, then, with how to get a cheap or free education – part I.

I’ll start with the obvious statement – EVERYONE wants to go to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, or a university of comparable repute, but most are afraid that they won’t be able to afford it. Yet it IS possible to afford going to those institutions, finishing your undergraduate degree, and not have to pay a cent. Consider Stanford University: Since 2008, Stanford University started a program where the children of families earning $100,000 a year or less would get a full tuition waiver, and students from families earning $60,000 a year or less would get a full tuition waiver plus a waiver on the cost for room and board (link to the article below). Harvard has a similar program where tuition is waived for students whose families earn less than $60,000 a year, and a tuition reduction for students whose families make between $60,000 and $80,000. Similarly, the University of Pennsylvania has a program where tuition is reduced for students whose families earn less than $50,000 a year. This means that if your family earns a modest income, you can study in the nation’s (and perhaps the world’s) premier institution of learning without going into debt. You can also go to the university ranked # 3 and the two universities tied for rank # 5 without accumulating much debt. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you’ll get accepted into these universities. Their acceptance rate is ridiculously low – 8% would be a high number – but if you’re one of those lucky gifted people whose grades have been consistently 4.0 and whose SAT scores are around the 1500s using the old system or around 2250 using the new system, and your family happens to make less than the indicated amounts, then by all means go to one of the best institutions in the world, network, meet important people, and learn the same stuff you could have learned in almost any other institution at the undergraduate level.

If it happens that your family makes more than the indicated amounts, then you might still have a chance to go to one of the top universities and not incur any debt. You will, of course, need the 4.0 avg and the 1500 / 2250 SAT, but in addition you will need to have accomplished something in the field you want to study. If you, for example, are able to solve one of the unsolved Millennium Prize Problems, I have no doubt that many institutions of higher learning will be more than happy to welcome you into their wings with a full tuition waiver for their mathematics program. Alternatively, if you excel at sports you might “get scouted” (short for getting a recommendation from your coach) into one of these universities, where you would likely get a tuition waiver and cover for room and board.

That being said, I am NOT a representative of any of these institutions and I am NOT making offers to anyone, I am merely forwarding the information that I have received from people who have done this successfully. If you apply to one of these universities and are accepted, but for whatever reason you don’t qualify for a full tuition waiver, then do NOT enroll in that university. These institutions are really expensive and if you decide to attend without one of these tuition waiver options it is likely that you will end up with over $200,000 in student debt, unless your family can afford it, in which case go ahead and enroll.

But what if you don’t get a tuition waiver for Harvard or Stanford? Or what if you’re not a 4.0 student? What if you’re only a 3.9 student who made a 1421 (or 2119) on their SATs and who hasn’t published anything on American Scientific? You can still get an excellent undergraduate education at a top-tier university and finish your degree with little to no debt… but that will be my next post.

Stanford tuition waiver:

Harvard and other institutions tuition waiver:

Image from Wikipedia:


“Remember to never quote Wikipedia in your papers” – your teacher


About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on September 10, 2011, in Education Commentary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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