20 Tuition-Free Colleges to Avoid Paying Student Loans
Schools Offering Free College Tuition
If you thought graduating debt-free was an impossibility these days, you’ll be glad to know that tuition-free schools do exist. While some of these schools are subject-specific, such as the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, others accept students pursuing degrees in all disciplines. Another difference in these schools is that some require students to work on campus as a way of contributing to the cost of their education, while others do not. Many Ivy League schools can be considered tuition-free colleges because they promise to meet 100% of a deserving student’s demonstrated financial need.
Student Loan Debt in the U.S.
Did you know that the average student loan holder in the United States owes more than $30,000 to private lenders and/or the federal government? Many graduate and pre-professional students owe much more. In all, over 40 million Americans have student loans, and together these loans account for more than $1.2 trillion! For many college graduates, student loan debt is such a burden that it prevents them from making other purchases such as cars and homes, for instance. There are ways to reduce your student loan burden, such as refinancing student loan debt and consolidating student loans. Still, the best way to avoid graduating with debt is never to accumulate it at all!
Student loan debt has become a major issue in American society. Some would even call it a crisis. Americans owe more in student loans than on any other types of loans except for mortgages. This hot-button topic has even become fodder for political discussions with politicians debating how best to deal with this mounting problem. The Obama administration heavily promoted income-sensitive repayment plans that take into account a graduate’s earnings when calculating his or her monthly student loan obligations, for example. These repayment plans also come with a price, however. Why? They usually work by extending the repayment period of your student loans. While the standard repayment period for federal loans is typically 10 years, the repayment period on an income-sensitive loan can be extended up to 15, 20, or even thirty years. Because interest is accruing, many borrowers who opt for extended repayment periods end up paying significantly more over the life of the loan, even though their monthly payments may drop dramatically.
Although the federal government does offer some pretty impressive interest rates and flexible repayment plans, it’s important to note that it doesn’t do so solely for your benefit. Over the next decade, the Department of Education stands to profit by approximately $127 billion from student loan borrowers. Moreover, 7 million of these borrowers on average are in default. There are many negative repercussions for defaulting on a student loan. As soon as your loan becomes delinquent, the loan holder will report the delinquency to all three major credit bureaus, meaning your credit score will take a substantial hit. Low credit scores can make it much more challenging to take out loans for big purchases like a car or house, for instance. In the event that you do qualify for these larger loans, you’ll most certainly end up paying higher interest rates as you’re considered a much bigger risk for the lender. The government can also take more drastic measures such as wage garnishment. They can even put a lien on your bank account! These frightening prospects make it perfectly understandable as to why more and more students are looking for tuition-free colleges that will allow them to graduate debt-free.
Nontraditional Schools Offering Free College Tuition
Traditionally, colleges and universities are not able or willing to provide their educational services for free. In fact, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, students attending a 4-year institution pay close to $25,000 per year to attend classes. This is nearly $10,000 more than they would have paid just a decade ago and almost $20,000 more than students were responsible for in 1983 when NCES first started collecting data on the cost of attending college. These rising costs for a university-level education in the United States force most students to take out loans to foot the bill. Thankfully, though, there are some nontraditional tuition-free colleges you can look into. We list some of them below in alphabetical order, after which we present colleges offering free college tuition based on financial need.
Alice Lloyd College
Pippa Pappa, Kentucky
Alice Lloyd College is one of the nation’s most lauded tuition-free colleges.
Alice Lloyd is a four-year liberal arts university offering free tuition to students living in one of over a hundred different counties in the Appalachians. U.S. News & World Report routinely recognizes the school as the “Top College in the Nation for Graduating Students with the Least Amount of Debt.” Not only is the school one of the best tuition- free colleges in the nation, it also serves as an inspiration for students to find their true purpose and path in life as they simultaneously pursue their academic careers. Student Population: 616
Barclay College offers free college tuition for students interested in a biblically based education.
Barclay College offers free college tuition to all students upon acceptance to the school. The $12,500 full-tuition scholarship is funded by college supporters and is designed to enable students to graduate debt-free. Barclay is categorized as a theological college, offering undergraduate degrees such as Bible/Theology, Youth Ministry, and Worship Arts as well as graduate degrees in Pastoral Ministries, Quaker Studies, and Spiritual Formation. Barclay is one of the only tuition-free colleges offering online degrees in fields such as Business Management, Christian Ministry Leadership, and Elementary Education. Student Population: 273
Berea College not only offers free college tuition but also a robust undergraduate degree program.
Located in Appalachia, Berea College offers free college tuition to students who demonstrate financial need and a strong potential for academic success. The school offers bachelor’s degree programs in over 30 different areas including Biology, Child & Family Studies, Psychology, and Health and Human Performance, as well as several pre-professional programs and over a dozen teacher education programs. Berea is not only one of the best tuition-free colleges in the U.S., it was also the first coeducational and interracial college in the South. Student Population: 1,643
College of the Ozarks
Point Lookout, Missouri
College of the Ozarks offers free college tuition through the “Hard Work U” experience.
The College of the Ozarks is a free college tuition option that offers students the “Hard Work U” experience. Instead of paying tuition, all students work on campus in order to earn their education. The school is routinely recognized for its affordable and quality bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degree programs by reputable publications such as U.S. News & World Report, Princeton Review, Barron’s, and Forbes. College of the Ozarks is also unique in that it is one of the only tuition-free colleges that refuses to participate in any federal, state, or private student loan programs. Student Population: 1,441
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
New York, New York
Cooper Union offers free college tuition via merit-based scholarships.
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers free college tuition to all students through merit-based scholarships. The school offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in art, architecture, and engineering. The curriculum for each of these degrees is founded in the liberal arts and includes a foundation of courses in the humanities and social sciences, including The Making of Modern Society, Text and Contexts: Old Worlds and New, and Art History. Cooper was founded in 1859 by Peter Cooper, an inventor, industrialist, and philanthropist. Student Population: 972
Curtis Institute of Music
Another of the most selective tuition-free colleges in the nation, Curtis Institute of Music accepts just 4% of all applicants.
Each year, Curtis Institute of Music offers free college tuition to 175 of the most promising young musicians in the country. The school offers a Bachelor of Music, a Master of Music for opera students, and a Professional Studies Certificate for vocal students. Curtis is home to a full symphony orchestra as well as a string quartet, and students participate in over 200 concerts each year in the Philadelphia area as well as global performances through the school’s Curtis Performs program. The institute is one of the most selective tuition-free colleges in the country, accepting only 4% of applicants. Student Population: 175
Deep Springs College
Deep Springs College is the smallest of the tuition-free colleges on our list, admitting only 12-15 new students per year.
Deep Springs College is a unique two-year school offering free college tuition to between 12 and 15 newly admitted students each year. In addition to a curriculum that focuses on the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, the program emphasizes labor. All students must work at least 20 hours a week performing farm and ranch work as well as daily work such as cooking and upkeep of vehicles and facilities. Graduates of Deep Springs have the choice to earn an Associate of Arts or apply their earned credit towards a bachelor’s degree from another school. Unlike some tuition-free colleges, Deep Spring’s scholarship covers room and board. Student Population: 27
Schools Offering Free College Tuition Based on Financial Need
Free tuition colleges are typically nontraditional schools like the ones listed above. However, there are many public universities, private liberal arts colleges, and even Ivy League schools that guarantee to meet a student’s full financial need based on their family’s income. If these schools calculate your expected family contribution to be $0, then you’re in a position to receive free college tuition. There are some caveats, however. For instance, depending on the school you’re accepted into, you may be expected to work on campus or secure a summer job to contribute to the cost of your education. Below, we’ve listed several popular choices for schools offering free college tuition based on financial need.
Providence, Rhode Island
Brown University’s free college tuition comes with the caveat that student must participate in a work study program.
Brown University was founded in 1764, making it the seventh oldest college in the country. The school guarantees that 100% of an admitted student’s financial need is met, meaning that families earning less than $60,000 a year are not expected to contribute to cost of their student’s education. Students are expected to contribute via a work study program and through summer earnings, however. This contribution can be deferred through outside scholarships. Brown boasts an extensive list of course options from over 40 different academic departments. Student Population: 9,458
New York, New York
Columbia University’s free college tuition includes funds for study abroad experiences.
Columbia University offers free college tuition to first-year students as well as transfer students working on their first degree. The criteria for the tuition free option is that parents must not make more than $60,000 with assets totaling less than $250,000. Qualified students may also receive funds to pursue study abroad programs, research, and service learning projects. Parents making between $60,000 and $100,000 enjoy a lowered expected contribution, and families earning more than $100,000 may still qualify for aid despite being ineligible for free college tuition from Columbia. Student Population: 28,086
Ithaca, New York
As one of the most comprehensive tuition-free colleges on our list, Cornell offers 4,000 different courses from 100 academic departments.
Cornell University also offers free college tuition for students whose parents earn less than $60,000 a year with assets valued at less than $100,000. Each year, the school offers 4,000 courses across 100 academic departments. Students can pursue 80 different undergraduate majors and minors as well as over 100 graduate fields of study. Cornell is known for its unique course offerings, including titles such as Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds, Introduction to Wine, and The Life of Stars from Birth to Death. Student Population: 21,904
Durham, North Carolina
Duke’s tuition-free college option does require a student contribution.
Duke University is one of the unique non-Ivy League tuition-free colleges committed to meeting 100% of a student’s financial need. The amount given to students varies depending on income. Families with an annual income of $60,00 or less will have no expected parent contribution, and students are expected to contribute $2,600 per year regardless of income. This summer income requirement can be waived if students take a summer internship required for graduation. Unlike many other schools, Duke provides this free college tuition not only for eight semesters, but also for two summer terms. Duke also provides aid for approved study away programs such as the Duke Marine Lab and Duke-In Global Education. Student Population: 15,984
Harvard University’s tuition-free college offering allows for degree customization.
As one of the premier tuition-free colleges on our list, Harvard University works closely with families to determine financial need, promising to meet 100% of students’ needs for all four years of their undergraduate education. Retirement assets and home equity are not considered during the university’s assessment of financial need. Parents with total incomes of less than $65,000 are not expected to pay anything. However, students are still expected to contribute to the cost of their education through summer employment and term-time. Harvard’s academics are focused around interdisciplinary concentrations. There are 49 defined concentrations, but students whose interests and career goals don’t fit into an existing concentration can apply to undertake a custom, specialized concentration. Student Population: 29,652
Macaulay Honors College—CUNY
New York, New York
As one of the most elite tuition-free colleges on our list, Macaulay Honors College accepts only the most promising students.
Macaulay Honors College is part of the City University of New York system and offers free college tuition to only the most promising students. Students take four interdisciplinary seminars during their freshman and sophomore years and five upper-level seminars in their junior and senior years. Specific course titles include The Peopling of New York City, Sexuality and American Culture, Science Forward, and Imagining the End of the World. Macaulay students enjoy exclusive access to top-level internships, national and international service projects, and study abroad opportunities. Student Population: 972
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
As one of the most flexible tuition-free colleges on our list, MIT offers students various types of financial aid.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers its students multiple types of financial aid, but the largest source of financial aid for undergraduate students is the MIT Scholarship, which has the potential to provide free college tuition. The amount of this scholarship varies based on expected family contribution, however. Students are expected to earn at least $2,000 over the summer and meet the first $5,500 of their need through outside sources such as the Pell Grant. Most students can meet this amount, and if their need exceeds this amount, the remainder is paid for by the MIT Scholarship. Student Population: 11,331
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas
Texas A&M’s free college tuition option is referred to as the Aggie Assurance program.
Texas A&M University offers several scholarships as well as grants and student employment opportunities leading to free college tuition. One of its most significant programs is the Aggie Assurance program. This program covers tuition for Texas residents whose family’s adjusted gross income is less than $60,000. Students can receive Aggie Assurance for up to four years. They are also offered several exciting opportunities: they can choose from 130 different undergraduate degree programs, study abroad, participate in research, and gain experience through community service. Student Population: 63,813
University of North Carolina
Wilmington, North Carolina
The University of North Carolina provides free college tuition through need-based scholarships.
As a promising free college tuition option, the University of North Carolina is well-known for both its affordability and its quality. It offers students need-based scholarships and grants based on their FAFSA. The UNC need-based grant ranges from $500 to $4,200, which can cover most of the $4,356 resident tuition. However, students will need to use other sources such as federal grants and on-campus employment to pay for other costs. UNC’s academic programs are student-centered and emphasize experiential learning opportunities such as internships and research. Student Population: 14,918
Vanderbilt’s tuition-free college option provides students with on-campus work opportunities.
Vanderbilt University has a program called the Opportunity Vanderbilt initiative, which works to replace need-based loans with grant assistance. The university’s main grants come from two different sources: the university itself and Vanderbilt alumni and friends. The university-sourced grant is based only on need, whereas the alumni-sourced grant is based on both need and academic performance. Both grants are reserved for students pursuing their first baccalaureate degree. Vanderbilt’s need-based award also typically includes on-campus work opportunities. Student Population: 12,567
New Haven, Connecticut
Students looking for free college tuition through Yale should be prepared to contribute via summer jobs or outside scholarships.
As a robust option for tuition-free college, Yale University meets the full demonstrated need of its undergraduate students for all four years. Need is calculated based on annual income, typical assets, and eligibility for non-Yale grants. No contribution is expected from families with income and assets totaling less than $65,000. Students are expected to contribute between $1,625 and $2,600 every year from summer jobs, but this this can be covered by outside merit scholarships. Students can also find term-time jobs on campus, and hiring preference is given to students receiving financial aid. Student Population: 12,385