By Tommy Lehner

What if there was a legitimate way to get most of your college tuition paid for while you work? Sounds intriguing, right? In the state of Georgia, this is a reality through a Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).

The program allows full-time employees at any college under the University System of Georgia to receive free tuition for up to nine hours of classes per semester under most programs. There are about 450 TAP student-workers at the University of Georgia, according to Assistant Registrar Blake Dye.

“The majority of TAP students here are earning their graduate degrees,” Dye explained. “There is a wide-range of students, both young and old, who work in positions that range from facilities management to being a professor.”

Students working at other colleges and universities should consult their registrar’s office or other resource offices such as financial aid or student affairs to determine if similar programs are available to pay all or a portion of their tuition.

Dye said the process at UGA is pretty simple, and requires just a few things.

“First, you would need to be accepted into the University through the admissions office. Then, you would need to send a TAP application to the Registrar’s Office,” Dye said. “Once approved, you can go ahead and register for classes, though TAP students don’t have priority over regular students when it comes to picking classes. Once, signed up, the school applies the waiver and you’re good to go.”

While this is simple enough, there are some caveats to the TAP application. A student-worker would require his or her supervisor’s approval to ensure that whatever work-hours are missed due to classes will be made up. The applicant also must work as a full-time employee for at least six-months prior to starting classes. The program doesn’t include all degrees. For example, degrees such as the professional MBA, juris doctor (law) and the doctor of pharmacy are excluded

Dye is a beneficiary of the TAP program, and is working on a master’s degree in educational administration.

“Right now my classes are scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. To remain a full-time employee, I have to make up those hours, so I just work late on Tuesdays,” Dye explained. “The biggest challenge is time management; you have to get your work-school-life balance right. Life doesn’t get any easier and things happen that can throw you off. But TAP is an incredible opportunity and I’d tell anyone interested that they should absolutely do it!”

Jane Diener is another student-worker who is enjoying the benefits of TAP. She has been the full-time University Housing Sustainability Coordinator since August 2016. Previous to full-time employment, Diener was working as a graduate assistant, which has also helped her pay for school. With her six-month waiting period as a full-time employee now complete, she will finish school as a TAP student over the summer.

Diener also explained how challenging it can be to balance her work and school schedules.

“I’ve had to make some sacrifices to maintain productivity in work and school. In order to get work done on my dissertation, I’ve had to do all my writing on weekends or in the evenings, which I’m lucky to have free because I’m not a parent and I don’t have to work another job on the weekends,” said Diener, who is working on a doctor of philosophy in forest resources. “I also had to use almost a week of my annual leave to get consecutive writing days in. It was worth it because I finished my first draft of my dissertation, but it’s difficult not to be able to use my time away for holidays or true vacations.”

Diener, who intends to work in environmental education, said “It’ll all be worth it when I’m done! But long story short: the balance is achievable, but challenging!”

Tommy Lehner is a journalism major at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.