Benjamin Bolger slept little, ate cheap, cold-called for TA jobs
You don't need scholarships or family savings to afford a graduate degree at even the most expensive university, says
Bolger didn't receive many grants, and he figures he borrowed only about 25 percent of his costs over the 13 years he spent earning a doctorate from
Instead, he says, hard work, discipline, and sacrifice are the keys to funding graduate school. Bolger, who suffers from dyslexia that makes it difficult for him to read and write, worked about 50 hours a week, lived extremely frugally, and made sacrifices that eliminated many opportunities for extracurricular activities such as exercise or romance. "Go in with a mind-set that while some of your friends may be relaxing Friday or Saturday night, you are going to have to work a second or third shift," Bolger says. He adds, "You are not going to sleep much. You will not live an extravagant or materialistic life. If you have to wear
He knows that working such long hours to earn so many graduate degrees may seem a little over the top. But he loves school. In fact, he made sure that almost all the jobs he took to earn tuition were classroom jobs. Sure, he would have earned more in fewer hours with a good bartending gig, but "I don't drink alcohol. I really thought, 'If I am going to take a job, I would like it to be an educational experience.' I just enjoy learning."
He must. Bolger has master's degrees in liberal studies from
A wunderkind who graduated from the
Finding funds. Bolger got help to improve his reading. But as he restarted his graduate career, he confronted another barrier: money. Most graduate aid is reserved for Ph.D. students who are doing research. The number of scholarships available for master's students, especially in the humanities, is very small, and competition is fierce. Even the doctoral program he chose, at
Bolger would study for his own courses--sometimes having his mother or others read him his assignments and take his dictation--at night and on weekends. He says he generally slept only four or five hours a night.
To pay his tuition, Bolger tried to land assistantships or teaching jobs. Each semester, he cold-called or E-mailed dozens of professors in hopes of finding a campus job that would get him a tuition waiver or a stipend (preferably both). Teaching assistants typically attend a course's lectures, grade some assignments, and lead small groups of undergraduates in discussions. Bolger likes those jobs because TAs get to know a professor, learn the course free of charge, and get experience teaching and grading. Some semesters, he was a TA for as many as five courses, he says. Although budget cuts are forcing many colleges to reduce the number of assistantships, Bolger says grad students can often find unadvertised TA jobs. "I would look through the course catalog and look for courses that sounded interesting" and for which he had qualifications. By following the adage that "90 percent of life is showing up," Bolger sometimes got hired simply because he was there for the first class, while others weren't. "I was the one who showed up. And I dressed the part. I wore a blazer. I didn't walk in in Birkenstocks and torn bluejeans."
Intent on improving his teaching skills and building references, he tried to find assistantships with professors who made an effort to mentor their graduate helpers, he says.
Scrambling for jobs. Unfortunately, those jobs were usually not enough to cover all his costs, so Bolger had to scare up other work. He took a tutoring job at one of
Some of his professors warn that many students would have difficulty copying Bolger's academic success.
To reduce his need to work or borrow, Bolger lived cheaply. He generally paid a little extra in rent for an apartment close to campus so he didn't have to waste time commuting. All other extravagances were out. "I made a habit of getting by on macaroni and cheese. My furniture was always minimalist. When I first got into
The sacrifices could be rough. Some girlfriends broke up with him because he didn't make time for vacations, he says. He took a pass on some iconic college experiences. "I missed some football games," he says. And the work hours left no time for healthful eating or exercise, so he put on too much weight, he says.
Now that he's gotten a doctorate and is working as a visiting professor at the
The math of a grad degree
Average net annual* costs of pursuing a master's
|Math/Engineering/ Computer science||$17,082||$7,707|
*Data are for 2007-08, the last year for which figures are available.
Note: Net total cost means tuition, living, and miscellaneous expenses minus any grants or scholarships. Net tuition costs means tuition and fees minus any grants or scholarships.
- So You Want to Transfer
- Protect Yourself From Crime on Campus
- A Word for the Rejects
- Business Schools' Great Ethics Debate
- Jobs With Great Return on Investment
- Colleges Go Green for Earth Day
- Maximizing an Online Education
- Student Loan Crunch May Be Easing
- Internships Near Necessity in Quest to Find Job in Today's Market
- You Can Work Your Way Through 11 Grad Degrees
- Turn Education Into New Job: Short-term Routes Lead to Career Growth
- Getting Into Graduate School Made Tougher by Recession
- Colleges Attract Students With Unique Campus Tours
- Questions to Ask on College Campus Tours
- Jaime Escalante: He Had Ganas
- You've Been Put on the Wait List for College. Now What?
- How to Pick the Best College for You and Your Wallet
- 8 Big Mistakes Online Students Make
- Online Certificate Programs Offer Fast Track to New Career
- No Child Left Behind & Reform Killing Public Education
- Big Changes Coming to Student Loans
- Snag Your Dream Internship
- Smart Ways to Live Cheaper on Campus
- YouTube the New Essay in College Applications
- High School Senior's Advice on Picking Right College
- Colleges Where Need for Aid Can Hurt Admission Odds
- 7 Steps to Find a Great Affordable College
- Do Colleges Prefer Rich Applicants
- How to Pick the 'Right' College
- Latin America Leads in School Laptops
- NCAA Men's Basketball Graduation Rate Disparity Between Races Grows
- NCAA March Madness & Diploma Sadness
- Organize Your Study Space
- Cleaner Greener College Living
- You're In! And Here's a Free T-Shirt
- Why College Students Cheat
- Fraternities & Sororities: Going, Going ... Greek?
- Alternative Spring Breaks Combine Service & Learning
- How to Relax and Ace Your College Exams
- Making Majors out of Math Skills
- Free Online Course Offerings Grow in Abundance and Popularity
- Will You Get Enough Financial Aid?
Education: You Can Work Your Way Through 11 Grad Degrees | Education
(c) 2010 U.S. News & World Report