Free Ivy League Degree

Free Ivy League Degree

I’m not talking about free courses on iTunes U or a free seminar that is open to the public (both of which I’ve utilized and are very valuable in their own right).

I am talking about a FREE, walk-across-the-stage-wearing-a-cap-and-gown degree from a highly respected Ivy League institution!

My Free Master’s Degree

I am currently a quarter of the way to getting a free master’s degree from one of the best schools in the country and I didn’t have to spend months completing scholarship applications or applying for government grants to do it.

Even better still, they are paying ME a generous salary as I complete my studies.

How is this possible? Did they find out that I am actually a Nobel Prize-winning fientist and decide to give me a full scholarship? No, I simply became an employee at the institution and am utilizing their employee tuition benefits.

I had hoped to someday go to graduate school but the high price tag of most master’s degree programs and the fact that additional qualifications aren’t necessary to achieve financial independence made it very unlikely that I would ever pursue an additional degree.

After moving to within ten miles of an Ivy League college, however, I decided to investigate what benefits the institution provided to its employees. When I realized that it’d be possible to receive a free master’s degree while working full-time, I decided to apply for a job there so that I could pursue a post-graduate degree.

Utilize Your Final Working Years

This article is not actually about getting a free degree, however. It is about thinking about your personal goals and finding a way to use your final working years to help achieve those goals.

If you are like me, you still have a few years before you become financially independent. Rather than unhappily grinding through those last few years, think about how you could use your time working to prepare you for your post-FI years.

Are there new skills you’d like to learn that you plan on using after reaching financial independence? Why not get a new job that will help you develop those skills while also helping you towards FI by giving you a regular paycheck?

Postpone FI?

I took a pay cut when I moved to my current position so the choice to switch jobs to pursue my master’s degree actually pushed my FI date back a bit. Although I obviously wasn’t happy to delay FI, the fact that I am learning and doing something I want to do, while steadily marching towards FI, is making these last few years of employment much more bearable.

How About You?

What are your plans for your final pre-FI years? Are there any changes you can make to not only make your last few years of work more enjoyable but to also set yourself up to have a more fulfilling life after financial independence?

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37 comments for “Free Ivy League Degree

  1. Nathan @ Real Sustainable Habits
    July 16, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Nice post! Sounds like you did things the right way. Working in a field with a more lucrative field gives you flexibility to do those things.

    Unfortunately, I made the mistake of going to graduate school right after my undergraduate years, which postponed FI even more than with what you’re doing. You got and will get the benefit of savings compounding over the years you worked in a professional field and the years you are pursuing your degree. My graduate stipend just barely covered all my expenses.

    My advice based on experience: get training in a field that you can make decent money in first. It will give you more leverage. And then pursue the degree you want. It’s kind of a modification of the whole “pursue your passion” thing. If your passion doesn’t align with making money, you should pursue your passion second rather than hope that you’ll be able to take care of yourself and your dependents.

    • The Mad Fientist
      July 16, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      Nathan, great advice! There is always a lot of talk about how people should figure out what they’re passionate about and try to build a career out of that but I agree with you that it usually makes more sense to focus on your passions after you’ve already secured your financial future. It’s not really the message people want to hear but when financial independence can be achieved in 5 to 10 years, why not achieve FI and then be free do whatever you want for the rest of your life? Knowing that the sooner I reach financial independence, the sooner I can start dedicating myself to my true passions really helps me make the frugal choices necessary to reach FI as quickly as possible.

      By the way, congratulations on pursuing a graduate degree. It is a lot of work so I definitely respect anyone that’s done it!

      • Nathan @ Real Sustainable Habits
        July 18, 2012 at 12:51 pm

        “Knowing that the sooner I reach financial independence, the sooner I can start dedicating myself to my true passions really helps me make the frugal choices necessary to reach FI as quickly as possible.”

        That’s a great way to look at it. Even if you aren’t doing your passion right now, you might still be following your by setting yourself up to do it through hard work in another area and keeping a high savings rate.


  2. jlcollinsnh
    September 23, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    What a great strategy!

    I’ve just sent the link off to my duaghter who is in her junior year of college.

  3. Kriegsspiel
    July 20, 2013 at 7:23 am

    I’m psyched I ran across this post MF, I have been fantasizing about doing the exact thing you did: leave my corporate job to work for a university and get free tuition! If you don’t mind, what job did you eventually settle into, and how much of a pay decrease did you take from your former job?

    • The Mad Fientist
      July 20, 2013 at 9:34 am

      I actually settled into a job I like much better than my corporate job. I’m still doing the same thing (software development) but I enjoy the languages and frameworks that I’m using now (Ruby on Rails, Objective C, etc.) more than the ones I was using at my corporate job (C#.NET, ASP.NET, etc.).

      I was a contractor in my last job so I had a much higher hourly wage but I did not have many benefits. Now that I’m working in higher education, my hourly rate is lower but I’d say the benefits almost compensate for the wage decrease. When you factor in the tuition benefits (which for me, are worth over $15K per year), I actually make a bit more now on paper.

      It is definitely a great way to get a degree so I highly recommend it! Let me know if I can be of any more help.

      • Kriegsspiel
        July 20, 2013 at 11:46 am

        I gotcha. Did you just go through the school’s career/jobs page, or did you go talk to someone?

        • The Mad Fientist
          July 20, 2013 at 6:40 pm

          I just kept an eye on the school’s online job page.

  4. Kriegsspiel
    July 29, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    Well, that sounds like what I’m doing :) Thanks for the info, maybe you can write a little more about the process of applying for college jobs and then applying to be enrolled in a masters in a blog post?

    • The Mad Fientist
      July 30, 2013 at 12:09 pm

      Nice! Are you getting an undergraduate or graduate degree for free?

      There wasn’t much to it, actually. I just kept an eye on the college’s online job board until an interesting opportunity popped up and then I applied for it. Once I was working at the university for a year, I was then able to apply for the grad program just like a normal prospective student would.

      I’d be happy to answer any specific questions so feel free to post them here or send me an email!

      • Kriegsspiel
        July 30, 2013 at 8:17 pm

        HAH! No I meant I am keeping an eye on their job boards!

        • The Mad Fientist
          July 30, 2013 at 8:59 pm

          Sorry, I should have said are you planning on getting an undergraduate or graduate degree? I know some schools restrict what programs part-time students (which is what you would be as a full-time employee) can enroll in so you definitely want to check to make sure you’d be able to complete a degree that appeals to you. Even if you can’t complete your ideal program (which was the case for me), it can definitely still be worth it if you find another degree program that you are interested in or even if you just take random classes for credit.

          Good luck with your job hunt and definitely keep me posted on how it goes.

  5. Thanh Pham
    August 25, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    I hope you don’t mind me asking this but what Ivy League school is this? I’m actually quite interested! Great job getting to where you are today!

    • The Mad Fientist
      August 26, 2013 at 8:09 pm

      No, I don’t mind at all…it’s Dartmouth! I’m sure many other good schools offer similar benefits to their employees so you should just find a school you’d like to go to and then look around on their website to see what tuition benefits they offer to their employees. Good luck!

      • Poor UC staff person
        December 11, 2015 at 4:47 pm

        I know from (unfortunate) experience that the University of California (Cal, UCLA, et al) does NOT offer such a tuition plan to its employees, so everyone should be sure to clarify this benefit before accepting a position!

  6. threadbndr
    November 4, 2013 at 10:13 am

    The other strategy is to choose a corporate job with education benefits. Our tuition and books are 100% reimbursed (in three equal payments over the three years after you finish a class). The degree DOES have to be one that the company can use, but since I’m upgrading from being an accounting clerk to being a financial analyst (gulp), it’s working for me.

    • The Mad Fientist
      November 6, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      Great point! Mike from Lacking Ambition described during our podcast interview how he took advantage of education benefits where he worked to get a free law degree. It definitely seems like another great way to get a free education.

  7. Bruno
    November 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Suprised that an Ivy league guy would put up an image of Stanford :).

    Any ambition to top if off with a Ph.D.? Normally you’d only do that with a full fellowship anyways (available at almost all decent universities), so no real impact on FI.

    • The Mad Fientist
      November 19, 2013 at 4:05 pm

      Haha, I was wondering if anyone would catch that! It’s been over a year since I published this post so I thought I got away with it :)

      I have actually considered going for a Ph.D. at some point. In fact, I think I may have even mentioned it in my Perfect Life post.

      If I do decide to go back to school again, it will likely be quite a few years down the road because I’ll need some time to forget how much work/stress is involved in getting a graduate degree!

      I’ve always dreamed of interacting with the brightest minds in the world at MIT so maybe I can use the first few years of FI figuring out a way to get accepted into a Ph.D. program there.

      Getting paid to learn seems like an incredible way to spend a few early retirement years though so it’s definitely a possibility!

  8. Jeremy
    November 26, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Hey Mad Fientist,

    Great site and great post! You’re certainly “hacking” your education by getting a free Ivy League degree for free — amazing.

    I’ve been looking for ways to get my MBA without going into debt. Have you heard of UniversityNow ( It’s a social venture with two accredited universities that offer self-paced, unlimited classes which you pay per “term,” not credit. It’s a very innovative model that I’m considering, especially since it’s essentially open enrollment, having had a less than stellar undergraduate GPA. Total cost for an accredited MBA is ~$4000-$5000 — not bad! And my company pays $4000/yr for education. What do you think? I’d like to go for an MBA as a personal challenge, not as an expectation for hope of higher salary.

    (I’d like to highlight that venture capital firm, Greylock Partners, have invested in UNow. They have backed LinkedIn, Facebook, Pandora, Zipcar, & Instagram to name a few. Interesting!!!)

    And if you don’t mind, how old are you and what Master’s are you pursuing? Thanks for your time, I’m looking forward to more blog posts!

    – Jeremy

    • The Mad Fientist
      November 27, 2013 at 8:26 am

      Hey Jeremy, I hadn’t heard of UniversityNow but it looks interesting. The fact that you could do it for (almost) free, thanks to your employer education reimbursement, makes it seem like it could definitely be worthwhile. If you do decide to go for it, you’ll have to let me know how it goes.

      Had I been paying for my degree, I would have likely gone for an MBA as well but since I’m not, I’m going to get a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (this is one of the only programs I was able to do part time). Like you, I’m simply doing it as a personal challenge and to learn more so it’s been really good for that.

      Good luck and keep me posted on what you decide to do.

  9. Steve
    December 6, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Made the mistake of going straight into a grad program after undergrad. Not in STEM. In the UK. And paid ridiculous international student fees. I guess the one bright side is that it was one of the best universities in the UK :P

    I came over here from jlcollinsnh and absolutely loving your content. You’ve got a new regular reader!

    • The Mad Fientist
      December 7, 2013 at 11:11 am

      Welcome, Steve! I’m really glad to hear you’re enjoying the site so far.

      Even though you probably had to pay a pretty penny for it, I imagine studying at the London School of Economics (judging from some pictures on your site, which looks great, by the way) was an incredible experience and likely not a complete “mistake”.

      Thanks a lot for the comment and I look forward to chatting with you more in the future!

  10. Alan
    February 25, 2014 at 11:18 am

    Was just linked to your site from jlcollins stock series. Such insightful resources… I can’t stop reading. You guys rock!

    Good strategy on getting your degree. My current employer offers tuition reimbursement and I plan on taking full advantage of it when I start working on my masters. They cover 90% of tuition costs or up to $10,000 per year. It may not cover an ivy league degree but it certainly would cover most costs from other reputable universities. Fortunately I live in New England so my options are plentiful.

    • The Mad Fientist
      February 25, 2014 at 11:38 am

      Welcome, Alan!

      That’s great you are offered tuition reimbursement as well. It really is the best way for someone pursuing financial independence to get a master’s degree.

      Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to hearing more from you in the future!

  11. Leigh
    April 21, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    I’m following a similar plan, though I somehow seem to have maneuvered myself into a less stressful job with better significantly better benefits (including tuition reimbursement) and possibly not actually lowering my pay. Sweet! I plan to get my Master’s degree with my employer paying for it. I should reach FI sometime in the next 3-5 years and I should finish the Master’s degree sometime in about 3.5-4 years from now. I would love to spend early FI getting my PhD and then kickstarting a new career, maybe even my own ventures without worrying about making money. I’m excited to see how life goes in the next 5 years!

    • The Mad Fientist
      April 22, 2015 at 11:23 am

      Wow, nice work!

      I had thought about getting my PhD after I leave my full-time job but I’m still having a bit of PTSD from my Master’s degree so I’ll hold off a bit longer and will reassess once I forget how much work it was :)

  12. Marie
    June 21, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    Do universities also extend the free tuition to immediate family members? Or at least greatly discounted tuition?

  13. Nancy
    December 21, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    I got my MBA taking classes part time at night a couple decades ago, while working full-time. Not Ivy League by any stretch of the imagination, but my company did cover about 97% of the cost of the degree, so I had zero debt from my studies. And, each semester I paid my tuition on a mileage earning CC, so I had a nice trip all saved up at the end from all those free miles!

    It’s always best to get someone else (like a corporate organization) to pay for one’s master’s degree if one can at all manage it. I do like your approach a lot though.

  14. A-non
    February 28, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    Long time follower, possibly first time commentator, but somehow seemed to have missed this post until today.

    I’m pursuing a master’s degree part-time from the best university in the state. I’ve met a few people in the program who are doing the exact same thing as you did, i.e. tuition is free for university employees. I’m too chicken to let go off my corporate job though, and work pays for at least a portion of the tuition.

    I’m nearing the end though, 2 more semesters to go, and can’t seem to figure out what I’ll be doing with the massive amount of spare time I will have on my hands as I don’t have to go to school after work 2 to 3 days per week, then work on readings/homework/assignments/papers for the rest of the of the nights in the week!

  15. Mighty Investor
    June 1, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Mad FI,

    I pride myself on being pretty saving about knowing how to find good deals, etc. I’m blown away that the idea of working at an elite institution never crossed my mind. Super smart move. Seriously, you got work experience and the degree at the same time. For the long haul, putting of FI a bit to do this was pretty smart.

    Wish I’d thought of your strategy years ago. I might have made some different life choices in terms of degrees, where I worked, whether I bothered to get a grad degree, etc.

  16. OMGF
    December 8, 2017 at 11:05 am

    Hi know that this post is old as Methuselah but I just had to comment and say hi to another Ivy Leaguer. Don’t know what school, but it’s all one big family. #GoBigRed

  17. chris
    March 12, 2018 at 1:02 am

    that sounds great! I looked at the picture and it looks like Stanford, but I saw that you are at Dartmouth. Awesome.

  18. Shannon
    October 23, 2019 at 9:49 am

    You’ve indicated in many forums that you attended an “Ivy League School” located in Vermont. There are no Ivy League schools located in Vermont. Your accomplishments are massive and stand on their own. Why lie about or embellish this part of your history? The Ivy League schools are:

    Harvard (Massachusetts)
    Yale (Connecticut)
    Princeton (New Jersey)
    Dartmouth (NH)
    Cornell (NY)
    Penn (PA)
    Brown (RI) and
    Columbia (NY).

    People look to you for sound advice and you don’t need to claim to have an Ivy League degree to establish your credibility. And indicating you do when you don’t actually undermines it.

  19. Shannon
    October 23, 2019 at 9:59 am

    Disregard the last comment, I see from some of the other comments you went to Dartmouth. When you talk about this part of your life (i.e. on the chooseFi podcast), I’d gotten the impression that this “Ivy League” school you’d gone to was located in vermont because you talked about the “local” university while you and your wife were living in Vermont. But it appears you were just living in vermont and driving across the border to NH! I’d mention this in future podcasts, because it left a really bad taste in my mouth thinking you’d fib about something like this. Glad to hear it wasn’t the case!

  20. Shey
    January 12, 2021 at 9:26 am

    I did something similar. I was a teacher and therefore tied to a school-year schedule for vacations, etc., plus the low salary. I decided to switch to work at the airlines–took only a slight pay cut, but within 5 years was beating my teaching salary. I then received free first-class (and economy) travel to the whole world. Got a second gig doing the occasional banquet for a large hotel chain which yielded super-cheap rooms at my fave hotels around the world. Best combo for a “retirement” job.

    • Indiana Ashdown
      July 26, 2021 at 12:14 pm

      Hi Shey,
      That’s an incredible “retirement” job you discovered!
      Wish I’d thought of that sooner!

      Quick question….
      Which airline and what job did get hired for that allowed you to travel the world for free?
      What hotel chain (and what job did you get with the hotel chain) that allowed you to live in super-cheap rooms?? I’m assuming bartending/serving? We’re you still able to do this during the pandemic?

      I would love to do this!
      Congratulations on your semi-retirement with the best possible work-life combo!

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