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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