Best Tuition-Free Colleges

Tuition-free colleges are a great way to get a quality education without breaking the bank. These public colleges have their own unique programs that they provide for students, as well as some funding that you might not have considered. That is why we have created this list of tuition-free colleges to help you get your education on a budget.

Tuition-free colleges offer similar educational opportunities as other colleges and universities, but these schools generally charge no tuition to low-income students. Unlike traditional institutions, tuition- free colleges accept students from a wide range of economic and educational backgrounds.

Tuition-free colleges are the traditional institutions that may offer free or reduced cost to students who qualify for need-based aid. With college expenses continuing to rise, these schools provide an alternative to individuals who otherwise may not take advantage of higher education opportunities.

Tuition rates at colleges and universities across the country have skyrocketed in recent years , leaving many families struggling to pay for higher education. Some schools , however, possess specific requirements for tuition-free options. Students who do not meet the qualifications for free tuition may qualify for a tuition reduction. Applicants to tuition-free colleges should check with each institution to see if they qualify for fully free programs.

Tuition-Free Colleges – Some schools possess specific requirements for tuition-free solutions. Students who don’t meet the criteria for tuition-free plans could possibly qualify for a tuition reduction. Candidates to tuition-free colleges should check with every university to see if they could qualify for absolutely free programs.

Best Tuition-Free Colleges

Many colleges offer scholarships or work-study programs that allow students to receive free tuition. The following list, while not exhaustive, highlights some of the programs available across the country. Students should conduct additional research to find a program that is tailored to their specific interests and goals.

This page details free online colleges and highlights 21 tuition-free schools.

1. City College of San Francisco

This program, known as Free City, allows students who have established California residency to complete one of the school’s many associate degrees without paying tuition or fees.

Individuals who wish to take a few classes rather than complete a full degree are also eligible for financial assistance. Students from low-income families or with limited financial resources may be eligible for additional assistance with other educational expenses.

Location: San Francisco, California

2. City University of New York – Macaulay Honors College

Macaulay Honors College, one of the 24 CUNY campuses, serves approximately 1,400 students, all of whom receive a full scholarship that covers all tuition (excluding fees), a $7,500 grant for international research or service learning opportunities, a new MacBook Pro laptop, and Cultural Passport access to NYC arts and culture events.

To be eligible, students must meet CUNY’s residency requirements and complete at least 30 hours of community service during their first three years of study. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education has accredited CUNY – MHC.

Location: New York City, New York

3. College of the Ozarks

College of the Ozarks, located outside of Springfield, Missouri, has an endowment of more than $415 million, allowing full-time students to graduate debt-free by combining their school scholarship, federal and state grants, and the school’s work study program.

Although no money is exchanged between the school and the learner, degree seekers must agree to work 15 hours per week while in school and two 40-hour weeks during the school year. Students enrolled part-time pay $410 per credit hour. The Higher Learning Commission has accredited this school.

Location: Point Lookout, Missouri

4. Community College of Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Promise Scholarship made Rhode Island Community College free for all first-time college students beginning in the fall of 2017.

Students must be residents of the state, enroll full-time, and plan to continue their studies in the state after graduating – or find work – to qualify for a free two-year education. To be eligible for the scholarship, they must maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher throughout the program. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges has accredited CCRI.

Location: Warwick, Rhode Island

5. Curtis Institute of Music

Curtis Institute of Music has trained leading musicians and performers who have gone on to perform at the Metropolitan Opera and receive Grammy Awards and Guggenheim Fellowships for nearly a century.

Enrollment is kept low – approximately 165 students attend at any given time – but bachelor’s and master’s degrees are available. Despite the fact that the acceptance rate is around 4%, every student accepted receives a full-tuition scholarship for their time at the school. The National Association of Schools of Music and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education both accredited CIM.

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

6. Deep Springs College

Deep Springs College, a two-year liberal arts college on an alfalfa farm and cattle ranch, serves between 24 and 30 students at any given time.

DSC has an extremely competitive admissions process and typically admits between 6 and 15% of applicants, based on the principles of academia, labor, and self-governance. Every student who is accepted receives a scholarship of more than $50,000 per academic year to cover all of the costs associated with obtaining a degree. Learners must agree to work at least 20 hours per week in order to attend. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has accredited Deep Springs.

Location: Dyer, Nevada

7. Harvard University

Harvard University, consistently ranked as one of the best higher education institutions in the world, has a five percent acceptance rate for undergraduate students and costs more than $62,000 per academic year.

Parents earning less than $60,000 per year are exempt from paying tuition, fees, books, or room and board as part of the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative. Families earning $65,000 to $150,000 contribute between 0% and 10% of their income, depending on their circumstances.

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

8. Louisiana Free Tuition

For many years, the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students has provided fully-funded state scholarships to qualified students wishing to attend a school affiliated with either the Louisiana Community and Technical College System or the Louisiana Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

To be eligible, applicants must have lived in Louisiana for at least one year prior to applying, have a high school GPA of 2.5 or higher, and have an ACT/SAT score that is at or above the national average.

Location: Louisiana

9. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT, another world-class university, accepts eight out of every 100 applicants and has a student-to-faculty ratio of only three-to-one.

Despite the high cost of an MIT education, students from families earning $90,000 or less per year receive free tuition through school scholarships and grants. Students are expected to work during the semester, with many working on campus. Almost three out of every four students graduate debt-free.

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

10. Oregon Community Colleges

Since 2016, the Oregon Promise scholarship has allowed recent high school graduates and GED holders from low-income and middle-class families to attend one of the state’s numerous community colleges while paying little or no tuition.

Eligible applicants must have lived in the state for at least 12 months prior to applying, have a 2.5 GPA or a GED score of 145, and intend to attend college within six months of graduating from high school.

Location: Oregon

11. South Dakota Technical Schools

South Dakota residents and non-residents alike can apply for the Build Dakota Scholarship at one of the state’s four technical institutes if they intend to enter a workforce program with a high need and use their skills to help the state after graduation.

In exchange for three years of work after graduation, the scholarship covers books, tuition, and fees, as well as other program expenses.

Location: Watertown, Mitchell, Sioux Falls, and Rapid City, South Dakota

12. St. Louis Christian College

St. Louis Christian College, located in the heart of the bustling Gateway Arch neighborhood, offers academic merit scholarships that cover the full cost of tuition to qualifying students who plan to study full-time at the main campus.

To be eligible, applicants must have a high college entrance exam score or a high high school GPA and must maintain a high GPA throughout their time at the school. Books, fees, and room and board are the responsibility of the student. The Association for Biblical Higher Education has accredited SLCC.

Location: St. Louis, Missouri

13. SUNY & CUNY Institutions

After several years of testing, New York State launched a new program in 2017 that allows nearly a million New York residents to attend any of the City of New York (CUNY) or State of New York (SUNY) colleges for free.

Applicants must either have parents earning less than $125,000 per year or be an adult earning less than that amount. Students must enroll full-time and plan to work in the state after graduation for the duration of their attendance.

Location: New York

14. Tennessee Community & Technical Colleges

Beginning in 2018, both traditional and adult learners who are first-time college students (i.e., do not already have an associate or bachelor’s degree) will be able to take advantage of free tuition at all of the state’s community and technical colleges.

To be eligible, degree candidates must have lived in Tennessee for at least a year prior to applying, be enrolled at least part-time, and maintain a GPA of at least 2.0.

Location: Tennessee

15. United States Air Force Academy

As the only military academy west of the Mississippi River, the USNA offers a beautiful campus as well as free tuition to students who are willing to devote five years of their lives to active service after graduation.

At any given time, the school serves approximately 4,200 students but maintains an intimate student-to-faculty ratio of eight-to-one to ensure students receive individualized training. Students can choose from 27 undergraduate majors in addition to air force training.

Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado

16. United States Coast Guard Academy

Despite being the smallest of the five military academies, the United States Coast Guard Academy has been in operation since 1876 and accepts approximately 300 new cadets at the start of each academic year.

Students who choose this route receive free undergraduate education in exchange for agreeing to serve in an active duty capacity for at least five years after graduation. Learners who want to attend graduate school or flight school must commit to a longer period of service.

Location: New London, Connecticut

17. United States Merchant Marine Academy

In addition to their other studies, learners take courses in marine engineering, maritime law, customs, and navigation with the goal of instilling in midshipmen (the official name of students at the school) the knowledge and skills associated with operating a large ship.

To receive the full scholarship associated with this institution, graduates must serve at least eight years as a commissioned officer in the United States Navy Reserve, Coast Guard Reserve, or other Reserve/National Guard unit, with at least five of those years being active duty.

Location: Kings Point, New York

18. United States Military Academy

The USMA, also known as West Point, was founded by Thomas Jefferson and currently enrolls approximately 1,300 new cadets each year.

Academics are divided into 13 departments, and all graduates, regardless of major, receive a Bachelor of Science degree. Enrollees receive free tuition, fees, and room and board if they agree to serve as a second lieutenant on active duty for at least five years after graduation. Individuals who leave the Army after that point must serve three years in the inactive ready reserves.

Location: West Point, New York

19. United States Naval Academy

Since 1845, the United States Naval Academy has awarded bachelor’s degrees to midshipmen, or students who study their chosen field while also learning what it means to be an officer-in-training.

To be eligible for free tuition, applicants must commit to at least five years of active duty service (plus three years as an inactive reserve) as an officer in the Navy or Marine Corps after graduation.

Location: Annapolis, Maryland

20. Webb Institute

This engineering-focused institute of learning offers a single undergraduate degree option: naval architecture and marine engineering.

The student body numbers around 90 people, and the school has a one-in-three acceptance rate. Learners receive a full scholarship that covers all tuition in exchange for working in a maritime-related job during the winter holidays. The costs of books, room and board, and software are the responsibility of the students. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education accredits the Webb Institute.

Location: Glen Cove, New York

21. Williamson College of the Trades

This unique, male-only vocational school, located in a Philadelphia suburb, welcomes approximately 100 new students each year into a Judeo-Christian environment that emphasizes service, diligence, integrity, and faith.

Learners must come from low-income families and be under the age of 20 when they apply. Carpentry and masonry programs are available, as well as horticulture and power plant technology. To qualify for full scholarships that cover tuition, fees, textbooks, and room and board, all students must live on campus, attend chapel, and adhere to a dress code. The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology has granted WCT accreditation.

Location: Media, Pennsylvania

What Is ‘Free College’?

The phrase ‘free college’ is used to describe the type of institutions that offer free tuition, with at least one notable exception making it a worthwhile term. This means students who continuously enroll in and complete courses are able to graduate without ever paying tuition. There are several different ways the term is used, which can be confusing.

Students who cannot afford tuition are helped by free or low-cost attendance options at free colleges. There are several types of colleges that offer free or reduced tuition. Some traditional universities provide low-income students with free options. Other colleges may not charge tuition, but students must pay fees, textbooks, and other necessary expenses.

Furthermore, several colleges offer completely free tuition as long as students meet certain criteria. Community colleges in certain states continue to be tuition-free for students who live in those states. Other schools form alliances with major corporations and non-profit organizations to provide free tuition to students. Some highly competitive music and military academies also provide tuition-free education to admitted students.

Free college’ could very well mean you’re getting a bargain, but there’s a few catches. Online students at free colleges typically pay some fees. There may be an assessment fee or distance education fee associated with online courses. Certain degrees also require lab or studio fees. Students need to budget for textbooks, lodging, transportation, food, and other expenses.

How Do Tuition-Free Colleges Work?

Tuition-free colleges are designed to offer affordable higher education for a variety of students. Some programs, such as those offered by community colleges, may be free for all students. Other tuition-free college programs can be tailored to specific populations, such as minorities or low-income residents. Many programs also require that students participate in work-study programs; this way, the government can help pay for tuition and services without spending too much money.

Tuition-free colleges function in a variety of ways. These programs are often sponsored by state governments as an incentive to encourage students to attend school in their home states. States typically host these schools under the guidance of public institutions such as community colleges and state universities. To earn free tuition, students must meet a set of predetermined requirements and pay back their tuition assistance if they do not meet these requirements.

There are many types of tuition-free colleges. Some states have legislation where the state will pay for residents to attend college. Other states have reduced tuition rates that are set by the colleges themselves.

Who Is Eligible for Free Tuition?

Depending on where you live, the type of school and what you plan to study, “free tuition” might not be completely free. Some schools offer programs for free or at a reduced cost. The content of these programs is the same as traditional ones, but they cost much less. Students may also qualify for free courses in some programs.

Before applying to a tuition-free college, students should check with the admissions office to see if they are eligible for completely free tuition. Some schools require students to provide specific documentation to prove their eligibility.

Learners may also benefit from free, all-online courses provided by nonprofits or businesses affiliated with major universities. The qualifications for tuition-free college, free programs, and affordable course pathways are highlighted in the list below.

What States Offer Free Tuition?

Tuition-free college programs are available in seventeen states. Each state establishes its own tuition-free aid requirements and standards.

Some states only provide “promise programs,” which typically fund two years of community college tuition. Arkansas, Delaware, New York, Oregon, and Tennessee are among these states. Other states offer four-year tuition assistance, but students can only attend community colleges and public schools that participate.

Before awarding tuition-free aid, most states require applicants to demonstrate financial need. Students who do not demonstrate a sufficient need are not eligible for tuition-free status, but they may be eligible for other grants and scholarships.

Other Ways to Get (Nearly) Free or Cheap College Tuition

Learners can also reduce college costs by taking advantage of scholarships, tuition assistance programs, and low-cost course offerings. National, state, and local scholarships supplement students’ financial aid packages while also improving their resumes. Online classes that are low- or no-cost can also help students gain new skills or credentials. The following are two strategies for lowering college tuition costs.

Are There Other Costs to Consider When Attending a Tuition-Free College?

When people think of college, they often immediately focus on the cost of tuition. However, college is more than just the cost of tuition – it also consists of other auxiliary costs, such as room and board, books and supplies, transportation, fees and expenses and personal expenses. If you’re planning on attending a tuition-free college program, be sure you understand how much you can expect to pay each year before enrolling in a program.

For example, that person’s room and board can be a significant portion of their budget, even if the university provides housing and meal plans. Additionally, those who live off-campus must factor in transportation expenses.

Tuition-free college sounds like a great deal, but before you start counting the days until you graduate, remember to factor in other costs of attending school. Books and supplies, as well as additional living expenses, can add up and bring your total cost of attendance to thousands of dollars per year.

Can You Get a Good Education at a Tuition-Free College?

It is possible to get a good quality education at a tuition-free college or a tuition-free program. Tuition-free colleges offer the same type of education as colleges that charge tuition. Students may be required to pay for certain expenses, such as the cost of room and board. Tuition-free programs are designed to help students from low-income households afford the cost of attending college. These programs may also have requirements in place for students to receive free tuition. For example, students may have to maintain a certain GPA and achieve certain goals such as good attendance or taking classes on certain topics.

Tuition-free colleges exist as an option, but you may need to do considerable research to find one that offers what you are looking for. Not all tuition-free colleges are alike. Tuition-free college programs usually fall into three categories: work-study programs where you pay for your education by working a certain number of hours per week or semester; a free scholarship awarded on the basis of grades, test scores, athletics or some other talent or ability; and state budget cuts or tuition freezes, which allow schools to waive the tuition cost for eligible students.