Tuition-free colleges sounds a bit made-up, I know. It’s the type of thing that would exist in a perfect world. A world where there are no student loans and college education is available to everyone at zero cost.
Though many schools can find financial support through donations, endowments, and fundraising, operating without tuition may not be sustainable for even the largest of schools.
In fact, more than 46 percent of public higher education revenue was sourced from tuition dollars last year, according to a study by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.
However, colleges with free tuition do exist. And they could offer the best of both worlds: a valuable education while adding to your savings.
And while some of the schools listed below are indeed free of tuition costs, attending them isn’t entirely a free ride. Some mandate students to work in exchange for no tuition. Others impose strict eligibility requirements.
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of attending one of these specialized tuition-free colleges.
Tuition free colleges in the U.S.
These are just a handful of colleges that offer free tuition, usually in tandem with a rigorous work study program.
Alice Lloyd College, Pippa Passes, Ky.
Work study is usually optional at most schools. But at this small, four-year private college full-time students work a minimum of 10 hours per week (or 160 hours per semester) either on-campus or off-campus in exchange for zero tuition.
Alice Lloyd College is one of only seven work colleges in the U.S.
Barclay College, Haviland, Kan.
Living on campus has its benefits at Barclay College, a private Christian college. Resident students can pursue their degrees free of tuition.
Barclay College automatically offers a full-tuition scholarship worth $12,500 for all resident students to help underclassmen avoid going into debt.
However, students are still responsible for their own room and board, estimated at $8,400 per year.
Webb Institute, Glen Cove, N.Y.
This engineering school off of Long Island offers a full tuition scholarship to all enrolled full-time students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
This tuition scholarship is valued at $47,000 for the 2016-2017 academic year. However, undergraduates may still need to apply for some student loans to pay for room and board.
There is one catch, though. The school only offers one course of study: a double Bachelors of Science in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.
What are the benefits of attending tuition free colleges?
Here are a few pros to consider when deciding on attending a college free of tuition costs.
Student loan debt is all but eliminated.
With zero tuition, you all but avoid student loans and the debt load that comes with them.
The money you save can be used towards future life expenses, such as a home down payment or interest-bearing savings effort.
Keep in mind thought that attending a tuition-free (or tuition-reduced) school sometimes involves paying for your own room and board, along with other fees. This may require you to borrow some money.
Smaller class sizes.
The colleges we listed above all have a small student to professor ratio.
This gives students a more attentive, one-on-one educational experience compared to being one student among thousands at a large public university.
That says a lot, considering that the private school experience you’d receive comes at zero tuition.
They help build a stronger work ethic.
Since many tuition-free colleges mandate working in exchange for tuition, attending one may help develop a student’s sense of responsibility, leadership, and professionalism.
Many students who work during college also find they are better prepared for entering the workforce after graduating — compared to attending a public school where part-time work is optional.
And with the burden of student loans mostly off the mind of a student borrower, you can focus more on your academic and job performance, as well as cultivate real-world skills without encumbering debt.
Tuition-free colleges may benefit lower income demographics.
Many students who can’t afford to attend a popular public or private university, even with financial aid or scholarships, can benefit from a college that charges no tuition.
What are some drawbacks of tuition free colleges?
Attending a college with free tuition may have a price. Even though you’ll owe no money, it could cost you in other ways.
A narrow academic focus.
Unless you’re looking to major in theology, the arts, or a very specific line of study, your choice of college majors may be limited.
Very few tuition-free schools, apart from the ones we’ve mentioned here, offer a broad curriculum. It may not be worth majoring in a field you dislike just to save on tuition.
Inhibits how you manage your finances.
Having zero tuition could result in becoming less financially aware and responsible.
When students aren’t involved in managing their student loans or financing their college education, it could impact how they handle their finances after graduation
Exclusiveness may keep you excluded.
Many tuition-free colleges have strict eligibility guidelines. These could be only allowing students of a certain gender in. Or, applicants may perhaps need to demonstrate a high financial need.
This could lead to admission rates in the single digits for some tuition-free schools.
Are tuition free colleges worth it?
If you’re intent on attending a college that offers free tuition, you should still consider applying to a range of other major public or private universities. Even if they’re your second, third, or fourth choices.
Although some tuition-free colleges don’t participate in any kind of lending program, you should still go ahead and fill out your FAFSA during your senior year of high school.
It may help determine if you meet the financial requirements for admission into an exclusive, tuition-free school. Or, you’ll also be able to see what types of student loans you qualify for if you end up attending a state or public university.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
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|3.80% – 9.36%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
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|1.22% – 11.66%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|2.76% – 7.14%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.24% – 11.99%7||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers. |
1 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.
Rates 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.
Information advertised valid as of 4/22/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.29% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.76% – 7.14% (2.76% – 7.14% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.01% – 7.50% (3.01% – 7.50% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.19% – 6.73% (2.19% – 6.73% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 2.89% – 7.09% (2.89%-7.09% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 9.54% (1.36% – 8.82% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.13% – 9.84% (4.13% – 9.12% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 8.34% (1.36% – 8.04% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.03% – 8.64% (4.03% – 8.34% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.10% – 7.41% (2.10%-7.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.69% – 7.83% (4.69% – 7.83% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.45% – 9.60% (4.45% – 9.53% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.38% – 12.81% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.55% – 7.05% (3.55% – 6.77% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.07% 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 March 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.11%. 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.
7 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.