Unlike traditional institutions, tuition-free colleges allow students to attend without paying tuition. These schools offer the same accredited education as other colleges and universities, but at little or no cost to enrollees. Free online colleges especially benefit learners who may otherwise not enroll because of financial barriers.
Some schools 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.
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As tuition costs continue to rise, many learners worry about student debt. Free online colleges appeal to prospective students who wish to avoid taking on large debts through federal or private student loans. Other benefits of tuition-free college include increased accessibility to education and greater opportunities for student success.
This page details free online colleges and highlights 10 tuition-free schools.
Online Colleges With Free Tuition
||Alice Lloyd College
||Pippa Passes, KY
||Arizona State University
||City College of San Francisco
||San Francisco, CA
||College of the Ozarks
||Point Lookout, MO
||Community College of Rhode Island
||Curtis Institute of Music
||Deep Springs College
||Deep Springs, CA
||Louisiana Free Tuition
What Is 'Free College'?
Free colleges help students who cannot afford tuition by providing them with free or highly affordable attendance options. Colleges that offer free or reduced tuition fall into several categories. Some traditional universities host free options for low-income students. Other colleges may not charge tuition but require students to pay for fees, textbooks, and other essential expenses.
Additionally, several colleges feature completely free tuition as long as students meet key qualifications. Community colleges in certain states remain tuition-free for learners who reside in those states. Other schools partner with major companies and nonprofits to guarantee free tuition for enrollees. Some highly competitive music and military academies also offer a tuition-free experience for admitted learners.
Students at free online colleges typically pay some fees. An assessment or distance education fee may apply to online courses. Certain degrees also require lab or studio fees. Learners should budget for textbooks, lodging, transportation, food, and other costs.
Who Is Eligible for Free Tuition?
The meaning of “free tuition” varies depending on the school type and location. Many schools offer certain programs for free or at a reduced cost. These programs feature the same content as traditional programs but cost much less. Some programs also provide free course options for students who qualify.
Before applying to a tuition-free college, learners should check with the school’s admissions office to see if they qualify for fully free tuition. Some schools require specific documentation that verifies students’ eligibility.
Learners may also benefit from free, fully online courses from nonprofits or companies aligned with major universities. The list below highlights select qualifications for tuition-free college, free programs, and affordable course pathways.
- Military Members
- Active-duty military personnel and veterans qualify for free or reduced tuition at several colleges. Additionally, many military members receive educational funding through the G.I. Bill. Official military academies also provide free tuition for military personnel. Accepted members agree to serve on active duty for five years in exchange for free tuition. Many online colleges support military members and veterans through discounted tuition programs and flexible course options.
- High-Achieving, Low-Income Students
- Low-income students who meet certain academic qualifications may receive scholarships or fellowships that cover their entire tuition. Opportunities for low-income students vary by school. Many private universities award substantial merit-based aid packages to students with low estimated family contributions, according to their FAFSA. Major national scholarship programs also provide low-income students with stipends that cover full tuition costs.
- College Employees and Their Children
- Most colleges offer free or low-cost tuition for employees and their spouses or dependents. These programs allow current faculty and staff members to earn additional credentials. They also benefit employees’ partners and children. Some schools allow employees’ dependents to attend without paying any tuition. Others offer a 50% discount. Many regional universities maintain agreements with neighboring schools to offer affordable tuition for employees at any of the participating campuses.
- Employees of Specific Companies
- Several major companies provide tuition benefits to full-time staff members through educational assistance programs (EAPs). These opportunities enable employees to gain professional development skills that they can apply to their jobs. Corporations may subsidize entire degrees or provide reimbursement for individual classes and training programs. Major companies like Starbucks and Amazon feature robust EAPs for permanent employees. Starbucks even funds EAPs for part-time employees.
- Foster or Adopted Children
- Several federal programs provide financial support for former foster children and adoptees who wish to pursue college education. Most states offer educational and training vouchers that fund up to $5,000 per academic year. Several states, including Connecticut, Kentucky, and Florida, waive tuition costs for foster children and adoptees. Children in foster care or adoptees also qualify for free college benefits at several public and private universities.
- Learners of Native American Heritage
- Native American students may receive reduced or free tuition at colleges nationwide. Learners who possess one-quarter or more Native heritage may qualify for scholarships and grants through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The American Indian College Fund supports students of Native American heritage through full tuition waivers at any of the nation’s 33 accredited tribal colleges. Some individual tribes also offer awards for student members to attend college.
Colleges with Free Tuition
Many colleges offer scholarships or work scheme programs making it possible for students to receive free tuition. The following list highlights some of the programs available throughout the country but is not exhaustive. Students should do additional research to find a program tailored to their interests and goals.
City College of San Francisco
San Francisco, California
Known as Free City, this program allows students with established California residency to complete one of the school’s many associate degrees without paying for tuition or fees. Individuals who want to take a couple classes rather than complete a full degree are also eligible to receive support. Students from low-income families or with little financial means may be able to receive additional support for other expenses related to their educations.
City University of New York – Macaulay Honors College
New York City, New York
Operating as one of the 24 CUNY campuses, Macaulay Honors College serves approximately 1,400 learners – all of who receive a full scholarship that covers all tuition (excludes fees), a $7,500 grant for international research or service learning opportunities, a new MacBook Pro laptop, and access to NYC arts and culture events via a Cultural Passport. To be eligible, learners must meet CUNY’s requirements of residency and undertake at least 30 hours of community service during their first three years of enrollment. CUNY – MHC is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
College of the Ozarks
Point Lookout, Missouri
With an endowment of more than $415 million, College of the Ozarks outside Springfield, MO provides the opportunity for full-time students to graduate debt free when using their school scholarship, federal and state grants, and the school’s work study program in tandem. No money is exchanged between the school and learner, but degree seekers must agree to work 15 hours per week while in school and commit to two 40-hour weeks during schools breaks each year. Learners enrolled on a part-time basis pay $410 per credit hour. This school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Community College of Rhode Island
Warwick, Rhode Island
Starting in the fall of 2017, Rhode Island Community College became free for all first-time college students under the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship. To qualify for a free two-year education, students must be residents of the state, enroll on a full-time basis, and plan to continue their studies in the state after graduating – or find a job. They must also maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher throughout the program to maintain good standing for the scholarship. CCRI is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
Curtis Institute of Music
For nearly 100 years, Curtis Institute of Music has trained leading musicians and performers who have gone on to play at the Metropolitan Opera and receive Grammy Awards and Guggenheim Fellowships. Enrollment is kept low – approximately 165 students attend at any given time – but degrees are available at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. Though the acceptance rate sits at around four percent, every student accepted receives a full-tuition scholarship for their time at the school. CIM received accreditation via the National Association of Schools of Music and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Deep Springs College
Operating as a two-year liberal arts institution on an alfalfa farm and cattle ranch, Deep Springs College serves between 24 and 30 students at any given time. Built on the principals of academia, labor, and self-governance, DSC has an extremely competitive admissions process and typically admits between 6 to 15 percent of applicants. Once accepted, every student receives a scholarship of more than $50,000 each academic year to cover all the costs associated with gaining a degree. To attend, learners must agree to work at least 20 hours a week. Deep Springs is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Consistently hailed as one of the best institutions for higher education in the world, Harvard University maintains an acceptance rate of just five percent for undergraduate learners and costs more than $62,000 per academic year. As part of the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, parents making less than $60,000 annually do not have to contribute any money for tuition, fees, books, or room and board. Families making between $65,000 and $150,000 contribute between zero and 10 percent of their income, depending on individual circumstances.
Louisiana Free Tuition
For many years now, the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students has provided fully-funded state scholarships to eligible learners hoping to attend a school from either the Louisiana Community and Technical College System or the Louisiana Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. To be eligible, degree seekers must have lived in Louisiana for at least one year prior to applying, have a high school GPA of 2.5 or higher, and scored at least within the average for the ACT/SAT.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Another one of the world’s leading universities, MIT accepts eight out of every 100 applicants and maintains a student-to-faculty ratio of just three-to-one. Though the sticker price for an MIT education is exceptionally high, learners from families earning $90,000 or less annually receive free tuition via school scholarships and grants. Students are expected to work during the term, with many taking part in campus-based jobs. Nearly three out of every four students graduate without debt.
Oregon Community Colleges
Since 2016, the Oregon Promise scholarship has made it possible for recent high school graduates and GED holders from low-income and middle-class families to attend one of the numerous community colleges in the state and pay little or no money towards tuition. Eligible applicants must have lived in the state for at least 12 months before applying, have at least a 2.5 GPA or GED score of 145, and plan to attend college within six months of graduating high school.
South Dakota Technical Schools
Watertown, Mitchell, Sioux Falls, and Rapid City, South Dakota
South Dakota residents and non-residents alike can take advantage of the Build Dakota Scholarship at one of the state’s four technical institutes if they plan to enter a workforce program with high need and use their skills to continue improving the state after graduation. The scholarship covers books, tuition, and fees alongside other program expenses in exchange for three years of work upon graduation.
St. Louis Christian College
St. Louis, Missouri
Located in the heart of the bustling home of the Gateway Arch, St. Louis Christian College provides qualifying learners who plan to study on a full-time basis at the main campus with academic merit scholarships which cover the full cost of tuition. Applicants must have a high college entrance exam score or high school GPA to qualify and must maintain a high GPA throughout their time at the school. Students are responsible for books, fees, and room and board. SLCC is accredited by The Association for Biblical Higher Education.
SUNY & CUNY Institutions
After testing this program for several years, New York State rolled out a new program in 2017 that makes it possible for nearly a million New York residents to attend any of the City of New York (CUNY) or State of New York (SUNY) colleges with no charges for tuition. Applicants must either have parents making less than $125,000 annually or be an adult making that amount or less. Students must enroll on a full-time basis and plan to work in the state after they graduate for however long they attended.
Tennessee Community & Technical Colleges
Beginning in 2018, both traditional and adult learners who are first-time college students (meaning they don’t already have an associate or bachelor’s degree) can take advantage of free tuition at all of the state’s community and technical colleges. To qualify, degree seekers must have resided in Tennessee for at least a year before applying, be enrolled on at least a part-time basis, and keep their GPA above 2.0.
United States Air Force Academy
Colorado Springs, Colorado
As the only military academy located west of the Mississippi River, the USNA offers a breathtaking campus alongside free tuition for learners prepared to devote five years of their lives to active service upon graduation. The school serves approximately 4,200 students at any given time but maintains an intimate student to faculty ratio of eight-to-one to ensure learners receive individualized training. In addition to air force training, students choose from 27 undergraduate majors.
United States Coast Guard Academy
New London, Connecticut
Although the U.S. Coast Guard Academy is the smallest of the five military academies, the school has been in existence since 1876 and accepts approximately 300 new cadets at the start of each academic year. Students choosing this path complete undergraduate studies for free in exchange for agreeing to serve in an active duty capacity for at least five years after graduation. Learners who want to attend graduate or flight school must agree to a longer term of service.
United States Merchant Marine Academy
Kings Point, New York
With a focus on instilling in midshipmen (the official name of students at the school) the knowledge and skills associated with running a large ship, learners take courses in marine engineering, maritime law, customs, and navigation in addition to their other studies. To receive the full scholarship associated with this institution, graduates must serve at least eight years as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, Coast Guard Reserve, or other Reserve/National Guard unit – five of which must be in active duty.
United States Military Academy
West Point, New York
Often referred to as simply West Point, the USMA was originally envisaged by Thomas Jefferson and currently welcomes approximately 1,300 new cadets each year. Academics are divided into 13 departments, with every graduate receiving a Bachelor of Science degree regardless of individual major. Enrollees receive free tuition, fees, and room and board once they agree to serve in an active duty role as a second lieutenant for at least five years after graduation. Individuals who leave the Army after that time must serve three years as members of the inactive ready reserves.
United States Naval Academy
Since 1845, the U.S. Naval Academy has provided bachelor’s degrees to midshipmen – as students are known – who study their chosen field while also learning what it means to be an officer-in-training. Applicants must agree to at least five years of active duty service (along with an additional three years as an inactive reserve) in the Navy or the Marine Corps as an officer upon graduation to receive free tuition.
Glen Cove, New York
This niche institute of learning focuses on engineering offers a single undergraduate degree option: naval architecture and marine engineering. The student body is comprised of approximately 90 students and the school maintains a 1-in-3 acceptance ratio. In exchange for working in a maritime-focused job over the winter holidays, learners receive a full scholarship that covers all tuition. Students are responsible for paying the costs associated with books, room and board, and software. The Webb Institute receive accreditation via the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Williamson College of the Trades
Based in a suburb of Philadelphia, this unique, male-only vocational school welcomes approximately 100 new students each year into a Judeo-Christian environment that emphasizes service, diligence, integrity, and faith. Learners must come from families of financial need and be no more than 20 years old when they apply. Programs available range from carpentry and masonry to horticulture and power plant technology. All learners must live on campus, attend chapel, and follow a dress code to qualify for the full scholarships that cover tuition, fees, textbooks, and room and board. WCT is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology.
Other Ways to Get (Nearly) Free or Cheap College Tuition
Learners can also take advantage of scholarships, tuition assistance programs, and affordable course offerings to reduce college costs. National, state, and local scholarships provide enrollees with additional funds and enhance students’ resumes. Low- or no-cost online classes can also help learners gain additional skills or credentials. The list below highlights two strategies for reducing college tuition costs.
Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice
From the Expert
Q: In your experience, is there a specific population of students that may not know about free college options available to them?
I work with prospective college students who have physical and mental disabilities. Not many students pursue medical-based financial aid despite numerous benefits. This program will pay for tuition, fees, books, some school supplies, and many other items. Students often overlook this program because they mistakenly believe their medical condition is not serious enough to qualify.
Q: What types of medical conditions qualify for free tuition?
Many common medical conditions qualify for medical-based financial aid, including asthma, allergies, ADHD, anxiety, and depression. Not many students with these conditions would consider them to be disabilities in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, I typically refrain from using that word in my discussions with students because I find it has a certain stigma that can impact their decision to apply for medical-based financial aid.
Approximately 20% of students aged 18-24 suffer from one or more significant medical conditions that would potentially qualify for medical-based financial aid. This equates to approximately two million college students in the United States each year. However, out of those two million students, only about 100,000 ever find out that their medical condition can potentially be a source of free money for college.
Q: Where can students who might qualify for medically based financial aid find more information?
My book, “T,” was published last year and teaches students how to apply for medical-based financial aid. This information is crucial to securing medical-based financial aid because completing the FAFSA does not inform students of their potential eligibility. There is a separate application process to apply for medical-based financial aid, and most students never find out about it.
An authority on medical-based financial aid and a member of the Association on Higher Education and Disability, White is an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, a former assistant attorney general for Florida, and former prosecutor for the Florida Department of Business. He earned his law degree from Florida State University College of Law. White authored “The Medical Loophole: The Ultimate Guide to Medical-Based Financial Aid.”