Colleges that offer free tuition


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Tuition-free college sounds like a fantasy. But at some colleges and universities, it is possible for students to qualify to attend without paying tuition costs. Not all colleges offer free tuition, and some may require students who are receiving free tuition to maintain certain academic standards or meet other requirements. Other colleges may offer a reduced-tuition option for eligible students. When considering how much college may cost, the appeal of free tuition is obvious.

Read on for more details on how free-tuition programs work and an overview of colleges that offer free or reduced tuition.

Related: I didn’t get enough financial aid. Now what?


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What is Tuition-Free?

Yes, it’s true: There is a limited number of schools that offer free college tuition to students. There are also schools that offer free tuition if your parents earn less than a certain amount of money per year. Keep in mind that offers of free college tuition may not include other costs, like books, fees, room and board, or transportation. Researching the total cost of education at your chosen institution will give you a complete picture of your financial obligation. Still, tuition is, generally speaking, a huge cost, so not having to pay it could mean huge savings.

Why We Need Tuition-Free College

The answer to this question is probably pretty obvious: For many families, college is prohibitively expensive. Parents who want to foot the bill for their kids may feel stressed and guilty when they find they can’t afford the cost of college out of pocket, and students themselves may feel the repercussions of the exorbitant cost of school for decades. Still, there are both pros and cons to consider when deciding whether or not tuition-free universities strike your fancy.


Here’s some food for thought.

The Pros of Free College Tuition

The first pro is the most obvious: You could save a lot of money. Maybe you had planned on taking out student loans to pay for school. Think of the financial freedom you could attain if you didn’t have to spend years paying off those loans after graduation.


Second, free tuition can help make college more accessible for low-income students. If your family can’t financially contribute to your education, and you aren’t willing or able to accumulate educational loan debt, free tuition programs can make college a possibility.

The Cons of Free College Tuition

Few colleges offer free tuition to all students, which means your options for schools may be more limited. A lot of these colleges are small, private schools, many of which are religion-based. You may want to consider whether this is an environment you would enjoy for up to four years.


Because there are so few schools offering free tuition, attending school may require you to move further away from home. Depending on the student, this could be a pro or con.


Some schools have certain requirements for those who attend and/or receive free tuition, such as participating in a work program or living on campus.


Before you apply to any of the following schools, think about whether free college tuition is worth the trade-offs of attending a certain type of school, meeting specific requirements or potentially moving far away from your family. To help, here are some high-level overviews of a few of those schools.

Schools That Offer Free College Tuition to All Students

Let’s look at 31 free colleges in the U.S.: 15 provide free tuition for all students, and 16 offer free tuition to families with low-income levels.

Service Academies

1. The United States Air Force Academy  ​(Colorado)

The Academy provides free tuition, room, board and medical and dental benefits. You must serve as an officer in the Air Force for at least eight years, and at least five of those years must be in active duty.

2. The United States Coast Guard Academy  (New London, Connecticut)

You’ll receive free tuition, room and board. You have to serve as a Coast Guard officer for at least five years after graduation.

3. The United States Merchant Marine Academy  ​(Nassau County, New York)

Midshipmen receive free tuition, uniforms, books, room and board. Basic medical and dental care are also provided by the Academy’s Office of Health Services. However, any healthcare expenses that exceed the provided health plan will need to be covered. Students will also be responsible for transportation for leave periods. The Academy recommends applying for student loans if you need help with these expenses.


Service obligations after graduation may vary between five and eight years.

4. The United States Military Academy at West Point  (West Point, New York)

Tuition, room, board and medical and dental insurance are free for West Point students, and you’ll receive a monthly stipend — but there is a one-time up-front cost of $8,400 for all incoming Plebes to cover uniforms, books and other equipment. Graduates are commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the Army. You must serve a minimum of eight years, though that obligation is a combination of Active Duty and Reserve.

5. The United States Naval Academy  (Annapolis, Maryland)

The Navy covers all students’ tuition, room, board and medical and dental costs. In return, you’ll serve in active duty for at least five years after graduation.

Four-Year Schools

6. Alice Lloyd College (Pippa Passes, Kentucky)

This liberal arts college provides free tuition to students who are residents of Central Appalachia. Students are required to participate in the Student Work Program at least 10 hours per week and 160 hours per semester. You must pay for expenses other than tuition.

7. Barclay College  (Haviland, Kansas)

This Christian school provides a scholarship equal to the amount of tuition to students who live on campus, but the school doesn’t cover the cost of room, board or other fees.

8. Berea College  (Berea, Kentucky)

Berea is a liberal arts school that provides free tuition to all students. There are, however, other fees, including room, board, health and dental care, and others, which add up to about $4,000 per semester.

9. College of the Ozarks  (Point Lookout, Missouri)

This Christian liberal arts college provides free tuition for full-time students, provided they participate in the work-study program 15 hours per week and work two 40-hour workweeks per year. Keep in mind that this program does not include room, board, fees or books.

10. Curtis Institute of Music  (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

The conservatory provides free tuition to undergraduate and graduate students through merit-based scholarships. If students need financial assistance for other fees and living expenses, they can participate in the work-study program.

11. Macaulay Honors College at The City University of New York  (New York City, New York)

The honors college provides free tuition to New York state residents, including summer and winter classes, excluding the summer before freshman year. Students are responsible for additional fees.

12. Warren Wilson College  (Swannanoa, North Carolina)

If you qualify for any federal or North Carolina state-based federal aid, Warren Wilson College will fund the rest of your tuition, excluding fees. You must be a North Carolina resident, enroll as a full-time student, live on campus and participate in the work-study program. If you don’t qualify for free tuition at Warren Wilson, the school is known for providing generous scholarships.

13. Webb Institute  (Glen Cove, New York)

This engineering college provides free tuition to all students and financial aid opportunities to cover additional fees. The school offers only one undergraduate degree: a dual Bachelor of Science in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.

Junior Colleges

14. Deep Springs College  (Deep Springs, California)

This junior liberal arts college covers all students’ tuition, room and board, and there are scholarships that can be applied for to cover other expenses.

15. Williamson College of the Trades  (Media, Pennsylvania)

This men’s vocational college teaches trades such as carpentry, power plant technology, and masonry. Each student receives the Williamson Scholarship, which is need-based and can be as high as $32,430. This amount is just $140 under the school’s estimated costs for tuition, room, board and annual fees.

Schools That Offer Free or Reduced Income-Based College Tuition

These schools offer varying amounts of tuition assistance depending on your family’s income level. Based on the information a student provides on the yearly Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), schools take into account both parent contributions and student contributions to determine financial need. Offers of free tuition may sometimes mean that the parent contribution is equal to zero, but there may still be an expected student contribution. If accepted to these schools, here’s what can currently be expected:

Ivy League Schools

16. Brown University  (Providence, Rhode Island)

Brown has a zero parental contribution policy for most students whose families earn less than $60,000 per year and own less than $100,000 in assets. The university’s website specifies that student contribution expectations are set annually.

17. Columbia University  (New York City, New York)

If your parents earn less than $60,000 per year, the expected parental contribution is zero. If your family earns between $60,000 and $100,000, you may be eligible to receive a significant discount on tuition.

18. Cornell University  (Ithaca, New York)

Cornell guarantees no parental contribution and no loans for students whose families earn less than $60,000 per year and have total assets (primary home equity, retirement savings, certificates of deposit, etc.) equaling less than $100,000.

19. Dartmouth College  (Hanover, New Hampshire)

Students whose families earn less than $100,000 per year receive free tuition upon acceptance — and that number is going up to $125,000 for the class of 2026. The school stresses that even if your parents earn more than these amounts, you may still qualify for scholarships.

20. Harvard University  (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

Harvard’s website states that if your family earns under $65,000 annually, parents won’t pay anything for tuition or other fees. If you earn between $65,000 and $150,000, families and students pay between zero and 10% of their income per year. You may still qualify for financial aid if your family earns more than $150,000.

21. Princeton University  (Princeton, New Jersey)

Princeton covers tuition, room and board for students whose parents earn less than $65,000 per year.

22. University of Pennsylvania  (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

If your family earns less than $65,500, you may qualify for free tuition, fees, room and board. Penn emphasizes that it’s committed to meeting 100% of demonstrated financial needs with grant-based aid.

23. Yale University  (New Haven, Connecticut)

Yale expects zero parent contribution for students whose families earn less than $65,000 per year. They also offer a $2,000 grant to first-year students who are eligible for this “zero parent share” award, as well as free hospitalization insurance.

Other Elite Schools

24. Duke University  (Durham, North Carolina)

Duke does not require any parent financial contribution for students whose families earn under $60,000 annually. The university does include student income in the financial aid calculation, however, and expects a minimum contribution of $2,600 from first-year students regardless of income.

25. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT  (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

If your family earns less than $90,000 per year, MIT promises you free tuition upon acceptance.

26. Rice University  (Houston, Texas)

Per the 2020-2021 school year, you may be able to receive half-tuition to Rice if your family makes $130,000-$200,000 annually; full tuition with an income of $65,000-$130,000; and full tuition, room, board and other fees with an annual income lower than $65,000.

27. Stanford University  (Stanford, California)

Stanford guarantees families earning less than $150,000 annually free tuition — and families earning less than $75,000 free tuition, room and board.

28. Texas A&M University  (College Station, Texas)

Texas A&M offers financial aid (which they refer to as Aggie Assurance) for eligible students whose parents earn less than $60,000 annually. Beginning in the fall semester of 2021, families who earn more than $60,000 but less than $130,000 will qualify, too. You must be a resident of Texas, a full-time student and have to maintain at least a 2.5 GPA at Texas A&M to qualify. Aggie Assurance does not cover any fees.

29. University of Chicago  (Chicago, Illinois)

If your family’s adjusted gross income is less than $125,000, you’re eligible to receive free tuition to the University of Chicago. If your family’s AGI is less than $60,000, the school will also cover room, board and other fees.

30. University of North Carolina  (17 campuses across North Carolina)

This school promises a debt-free education to eligible students whose family income does not exceed 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, which, in 2021, is $51,500 per year for a family of four.

31. Vanderbilt University  (Nashville, Tennessee)

Vanderbilt’s approach is different from other schools on this list. The school doesn’t offer free tuition to students whose families earn under a specific amount annually. Instead, Vanderbilt claims to meet 100% of families’ demonstrated financial need (through grants and a “reasonable work expectation”) based on the FAFSA. This need is met in the form of grant assistance.

Financing Your Education If You Don’t Qualify For Free Tuition

Not all students will qualify for or attend a school that offers free tuition. There are several options for financing college.

Tuition Payment Plans

If it’s not the amount, but how quickly you need to pay it, you may be able to take advantage of a tuition payment plan, which allows you to spread out the payments you and your family make to the school over time.

Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships and grants are often referred to as “gift aid,” because they’re essentially that: gifts. You don’t typically have to pay back scholarships or grant money after graduation as you do with student loans. Scholarships are often offered based on merit, while grants are typically based on financial need. Gift aid can come from numerous types of institutions — from your college to local community organizations to large corporations.

Student Loans

Unlike scholarships and grants, you do have to repay student loans upon leaving school or graduating. Student loans are split into two broad categories: federal and private loans. Federal student loans are disbursed by the government, which sets fixed rules about repayment and interest rates. You apply for these loans by filling out the FAFSA.


Private financial institutions may provide private student loans. No two private loan companies are the same, so each sets its own repayment requirements and how much you’ll pay in interest. You apply for these loans directly through the lender. Private student loans are generally considered as an option only after all other sources of aid have been exhausted. This is because they lack the same borrower protections as federal student loans, such as income-driven repayment plans or the option to pursue Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

The Takeaway

There are a number of schools that offer free tuition plans or substantial financial assistance to students. Free tuition programs can make higher education more accessible to lower-income students. As mentioned, some schools may have requirements around work-study, academics, or living on campus in order for students to qualify for free or reduced tuition.


Students who aren’t enrolled in a school that offers free tuition have a few options for financing their education including savings, federal financial aid, scholarships and federal student loans. When these resources aren’t enough, some students consider private student loans.

Learn more:

This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by


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More from MediaFeed:

9 smart ways to pay off student loans


No one ever wants to talk about the unglamorous work that goes on behind the scenes, but it’s the unspoken progress that makes or breaks every successful business owner, athlete, or creative person. It is helpful to have this mindset and to think about student loan repayment like any other big feat worth accomplishing.

It begins in knowing that paying down student loans in a way that is financially smart and effective takes time and effort, most of which lies in the preparation — the proper planning, budgeting and education will make tackling your student loans during the next decade or more so much easier.

While there is no one single smartest way to pay off student loans, there are steps that you can take that will put you in the best position to pay off your student loans on a timeline and with terms that work best for you. In addition to understanding your student loans, your goal should be to build an overall financial plan that includes your loans.

Related: Why your student loan balance never seems to decrease

9 ways to pay off student loans

If you want to understand how to repay student loans in the smartest and most financially responsible way possible, here are nine steps to implement in your loan repayment plan.


jacoblund / istockphoto


Keeping track of all of your student loans and other sources of debt can be tricky, especially if you are a recent graduate. Your first step should be to organize them on a list. On your list should include the loan service provider (the bank, federal government, or private lender), amount of the loan, monthly payment, interest rate and when the loan will be paid off in full.

If you aren’t sure what your monthly payments on your student loans will be, you can use our student loan calculator. This calculator estimates how much you could be paying each month on your student loans.

If you have credit card debt or other personal loans, include these on your list. With all of your sources of debt, mark on a calendar the date that the monthly payments are due.

While you always need to make the monthly minimum payments on all debts (unless your student loans are within their grace period or are in forbearance), listing them out allows you to identify which debts to pay off first. If you have high interest credit cards adding up each month, a credit card consolidation loan may be a great option to look at.

Once your credit cards are paid off, you’ll want to think about whether your goal is to pay your loans off quickly, or to simply make the monthly payments until the loans are done. The former is a good way to save on interest over time.

Some folks do prefer to pay only the minimum monthly amount on their student loans so that they can save and invest while they pay down their student loans.

If the interest rates on your student loans are low, this may be a good reason to start investing with your extra funds, in order to take advantage of compound returns. If the interest on your loans is higher than you could reasonably expect to make investing, it might make more sense to pay off your loans first. Which option is right for you is a completely personal decision.


No matter who you are, learning how to budget your money should be on the top of your financial to-do list. It takes time and effort to develop a budgeting system that works for you, but it is doable, and totally worth it. To get started, track your monthly cash inflows and outflows for two months.

Total up how much money you spent in each category, including debt payments like student loans. Once you have a general idea of what you’re spending in each category, you can begin to build a budget framework. For example, if you spend $260 on groceries one month and $300 the next, you can now set yourself a realistic grocery budget. Leave room for annual, bi-annual and quarterly expenses, as well as incidentals.

With a budget that is built to include student loan payments, you’ll be more equipped to make all of your payments on-time and know how much is available to spend on other needs and wants. Also, understanding exactly how you’re spending allows you to identify the areas where you’re overspending.

For example, a close look at your budget could reveal that you’re spending more than you realized on dining out, subscriptions, clothing, or even rent — and gives you the power to make a change. And by saving money in other categories, you’ll free up money to apply to your financial goals.


Hopefully, your student loans are already set up to be automatically deducted from your bank account. (This is a good strategy for all your monthly bills.) If they aren’t, contact your student loan service provider to set it up. This way, you’ll never miss a payment because you forgot or are somewhere where you can’t access the internet.

Remember, every time you miss or are late on a payment, it negatively impacts your credit score. Bad credit could preclude you from opportunities in the future, such as being able to refinance your loan to a lower interest rate. Take every extra precaution to make sure your loans get paid on time.

As an added bonus, some service providers offer a discount, usually.25%, if you arrange to pay by automatic payments. When you sign up, be sure to ask if such a discount is available.


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Most student loans allow you to pay more than the minimum monthly payment, and doing so can be a great strategy if your goal is to pay back your loan faster than the stated term. In addition to a faster payoff, you can save on interest over the life of the loan. Even small amounts make a difference. One drawback is that some providers have prepayment penalties. When you contact you student loan service provider, be sure to ask if they charge such fees.

To do this, call your loan service provider to adjust your automated monthly payment to a higher amount, and clarify that you want that money dedicated to the principal of the loan. Make sure, after the next month’s payment, that the money was indeed put towards the loan’s principal.

Looking for more advice on paying down your student loans? SoFi’s student loan help center offers tips, guides and resources on all things student loans.


Deposit Photos


Increasing your monthly payment isn’t the only way to put a dent in your loans; at any point, you are allowed to make a lump sum payment towards the principal of your loan. This is a great way to speed up the student loan repayment process without having to commit to paying more each and every month.

You may have more opportunities to do this than you think: Utilize your tax refund, holiday money, birthday money, work bonuses or inheritance money. Additionally, putting income from a side hustle or other passive income towards student loans could be a financially rewarding move over the long-term.




Most federal student loans come with a standard, ten-year repayment plan. With federal loans, there are other options for repayment plans with lower monthly payments, calculated using your income. These plans lower your monthly payments by extending the length of your loan, usually from ten years to twenty or more years.

When you choose one of these options, it is important to know that even though your monthly payments are lower, you can end up paying more in interest over time. Therefore, it’s not a great choice if you want to pay off your loans quickly or pay as little in interest as possible, but it is available to those who are having trouble making their monthly payments.

If you are planning to utilize the Public Student Loan Forgiveness program for your federal loans, you will need to select one of the income-dependent repayment programs.




When you refinance a loan or multiple loans, a lender pays off your current loan(s) and provides you with a new loan, ideally at a lower rate. A lower interest rate could mean savings over the life of your loan.

Though refinancing might not be the right option for everyone, it’s a strategy that every student loan holder should, in the very least, research and consider. Also, understand that while refinancing can consolidate multiple loans, federal loan consolidation is a different process. With federal loan consolidation, the government bundles your loans together into one, using a weighted average of the interest rates.

If you are able to refinance to a lower rate, you will want to ask yourself whether the purpose is to lower your monthly payment but keep the same term, freeing up some money in your monthly budget, or to keep your monthly payment the same (or higher) and to shorten your term so that you can pay off your student debt faster.

Exploring refinancing with a private lender usually doesn’t take a lot of time and it doesn’t cost you anything.


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With all raises, you can use the extra income towards your financial goals. This could mean increasing the monthly amount you pay towards your loans, making the occasional lump sum payment towards the loan with the extra windfall, and/or saving and investing money for your other long-term financial goals.

How much money you earn is an important factor contributing to your financial stability and ability to pay down your student debt. While budgeting is important, so is knowing your worth and asking for more when you deserve it. If you haven’t already, start keeping track of your successes now so that at your next compensation conversation, you’re loaded with concrete data on why you deserve a bump.


fizkes / istockphoto


Although not yet as widespread as retirement or healthcare benefits, more employers are offering student loan repayment help as a benefit to attract and retain employees.

Depending on your personal situation, student loan repayment help could be as important than a raise or other benefits. Whenever you’re comparing job offers, it’s critical to understand and compare benefits packages, because although they’re not flashy like a big salary or company equity, benefits can be just as valuable.

If you’re looking for a new job, include student loan repayment help in your search. While it shouldn’t be your only consideration, it’s great to have an idea of what you’re looking for in an employer.

Learn more:

This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by

Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.




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