You’ve heard the dire numbers before: The average student loan balance for graduates is $37,172, and students are taking on more debt than ever before. That sounds scary, but what if you could go to school for free?
Free college might seem like a pipe dream, but it really does exist. There are several free-tuition universities and colleges where you can get a great education without paying a dime. Some of the names will surprise you — several Ivy League schools and acclaimed colleges will cover the cost of tuition for at least some students.
7 schools that offer a free college education
1. Alice Lloyd College
Alice Lloyd College is a private liberal arts school located in Kentucky. The school has just over 600 students, so you’ll experience small class sizes and plenty of one-on-one interaction with your professors.
The school guarantees completely free college tuition to people from its service area of 108 Central Appalachia counties. Students and parents are only expected to cover the cost of room, board, books, and fees.
If you live on-campus, that means you’ll need to pay about $5,000 a semester. However, if you cannot afford that amount, the Alice Lloyd financial aid office might be able to help.
As part of the school experience, students are expected to work at least 10 hours a week, either on or off campus. Job opportunities include gardening, serving as a lifeguard, and selling books in the school store. Or, you can start a side hustle and use those funds to fulfill the requirement.
2. Berea College
Berea College is a small Kentucky-based school that offers bachelor’s degrees in 28 different fields. You can major in everything from music to physics, but one of the best features of Berea is its price.
MONEY Magazine ranked Berea College No. 1 in affordability for private schools, and it’s easy to understand why. All students who go to Berea pay no tuition at all, plus the school issues students a new laptop.
While tuition is free, you do need to cover the cost of room and board, transportation, books, and other fees. The school estimates that your expenses will total about $10,000 a year. You can choose to cover the bill by working part time or with student loans.
3. College of the Ozarks
Located in Missouri, the College of the Ozarks is a small, Christian, liberal arts college. As of 2017, U.S. News rated the school as No. 1 in the Best Value Schools category.
College of the Ozarks offers students free tuition, but all must participate in a work program. Individuals work for 15 hours a week and two 40-hour weeks per year.
Although the tuition is free, students still need to pay for room and board, which costs about $7,100 a year.
4. Columbia University
Columbia University is one of the most prestigious schools in the nation. Located in New York City, the university has the lowest acceptance rate of any of the eight Ivy League schools. Getting into Columbia is a huge achievement, and its passionate alumni network can help you later on in your career.
Columbia comes with a big price tag — unless your family makes under $60,000 a year. If your family falls into its income restriction, Columbia will cover the total cost of your tuition, room, board, and any fees. Since each year costs over $72,000 in total, that means you can get an education valued at over $288,000 for free.
5. Harvard University
Harvard University is an elite Ivy League school that is regularly in the top three of university rankings. Its academic rigor and stellar reputation mean that graduating from Harvard can be a gateway to a successful career.
However, that reputation also means Harvard is expensive; as of the 2017-2018 school year, the cost of tuition, room, board, and fees is about $70,000. That price tag might make it seem like going to school there is unaffordable, but you might be surprised.
Harvard has a robust financial aid program; if your family makes less than $65,000 a year, you can get a free college education. Unlike some schools on this list, Harvard also covers the cost of your room, board, and fees, too.
According to the university, 20 percent of families pay $0 toward tuition and other costs, and there’s no need for student loans.
There’s just one small catch: Harvard does expect you to contribute to the cost of your education by working 10 to 12 hours a week during each term and in the summer.
6. Texas A&M
With over 66,000 students, Texas A&M is one of the largest schools in the country. It’s also recognized as one of the nation’s best value schools. Offering over 130 undergraduate degrees, you can graduate with a bachelor’s in your field, even if you plan to pursue a niche area of study.
To help low- and middle-income students attend, Texas A&M launched the Aggie Assurance program. Under this initiative, the school covers the tuition cost for students with an annual family income under $60,000. To be eligible, you must be a Texas resident and a full-time student.
The program only covers the cost of tuition; it doesn’t pay for room, board, or other fees. However, you might qualify for other grants or scholarships to cover those expenses.
7. Webb Institute
Located in New York, the Webb Institute caters to students pursuing careers in the maritime industry. All students graduate with a dual bachelor’s degree in naval architecture and marine engineering.
One of the unique features of this school is that all students are expected to complete a work term between the fall and spring semesters. It gives them an opportunity to use their skills in a real work environment and get a firsthand experience.
The Webb Institute grants all students free tuition, as long as they’re U.S. residents or permanent citizens. Students do need to pay for their living costs and technology fees, but the full tuition scholarship can help reduce the number of loans you need to borrow.
Choosing a school
These free colleges and programs are just one way you can deal with the high cost of tuition. You don’t have to graduate school buried in student loans.
If you’re not sure where you want to go to school and are worried about affordability, evaluate factors such as cost, reputation, and financial aid offerings to pick the best choice for you. It might be worth skipping the dream school to save thousands at another college.
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1 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
2 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
1Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
2This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.
Information advertised valid as of 5/18/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
3 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicant’s ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
4 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Lowest APRs shown are available for the most creditworthy applicants.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restrictions. Loans are offered through CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS #1175900).
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens.
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.54%- 6.40% (3.54% – 6.40% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.79% – 6.65% (3.79% – 6.65% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.72% – 6.11% (2.72% – 6.11% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.49% – 6.36% (3.49%-6.36% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.47% – 8.35% (1.47% – 8.20% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.45% – 10.74% (4.45% – 10.59% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.47% – 7.25% (1.47% – 7.10% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.40% – 9.64% (4.40% – 9.49% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.09%-6.23% (3.09%-6.23% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.48%-8.52% (5.48%-8.52% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.79% – 9.93% (4.79% – 9.85% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.39% – 12.82% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.88% – 7.38% (3.88% – 7.04% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.08% APR).
Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of May 1, 2020, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.44%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.
Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
|2.00% – 10.01%*,1||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.49% – 11.98%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|3.18% – 13.92%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|2.09% – 11.49%4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.52% – 9.50%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.54% – 6.40%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|