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10 tuition-free colleges

Avoid student debt altogether by applying to these schools.

One way to avoid piling on student loans is to attend a school that offers free tuition to all students. These school will give you a full ride — sometimes even more — as long as you can get in. Start your search locally, since many only offer full funding to students from the area.

1. Deep Springs College

  • Where it is: California
  • Who gets free tuition: Anyone under 23 who doesn’t already have a four-year degree

Deep Springs College doesn’t work like your average liberal arts school. It only accepts between 12 and 15 students each year who are under 23 years old and don’t already have a four-year degree.

If you get in, you get a free ride to spend the next two years studying a liberal arts curriculum and working at least 20 hours a week on the school’s farm and ranch. Students also have a lot more authority than they might in other institutions — they’re partly in charge of running the college, from overseeing admissions to hiring faculty.

The downside is that it’s only a two-year program. Most students transfer to another university to finish a four-year degree, such as a BA or BS. But it can still cut your degree costs in half.

2. Alice Lloyd College

  • Where it is: Kentucky
  • Who gets free tuition: Students who live in an eligible Appalachian county

Alice Lloyd College is a work college that requires full-time students to work between 10 and 20 hours a week to help offset the cost of attendance.

If you live in a qualifying area of the Appalachian region, you’re eligible for the Appalachian Leaders Scholarship, which covers most tuition costs. Students are also open to other scholarships and grants to help cover the cost of room and board, books and other college expenses.

After you graduate, you can apply for additional funding to complete a graduate or professional degree — as long as you plan to come back to the Appalachians when you start your career.

3. Curtis Institute of Music

  • Where it is: Pennsylvania
  • Who gets free tuition: All admitted students

Curtis Institute of Music is one of the most prestigious conservatories in the country — which also happens to be free for all admitted students. It only enrolls enough students to fill a symphony orchestra, so admissions are highly competitive.

Like most top-ranked music conservatories, you must audition in person as part of the application process. And finalists must return to the school for an interview.

4. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY

  • Where it is: New York
  • Who gets free tuition: Students who qualify for in-state tuition

This competitive program at City University of New York offers free tuition to New York residents, plus a grant between $1,500 and $5,000 to cover the cost of studying abroad, a research project or an unpaid internship.

Some nontuition benefits include first pick when it comes to registering for courses and access to higher-level classes only for honors students. Students also get free or discounted admission to a wide range of cultural institutions across New York, from MOMA Ps1 to the Goethe-Institute.

However, you’re responsible for covering fees and housing costs.

Case study: Anna’s experience at Macaulay

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Anna Serio

I went to Macaulay when it was a new program — and a lot more generous. Students from out of state could get a full ride, plus everyone got free housing and a free laptop when they started.

While its scholarship program is more limited now, being able to graduate without student debt was a huge advantage. I didn’t fully appreciate that until I went on to graduate school, which I likely wouldn’t have been able to afford if I’d gone to a different school for undergrad. Plus, having extra funds to study abroad was life-changing.

5. Berea College

  • Where it is: Kentucky
  • Who gets free tuition: All admitted students

The first coed and interracial college in the South, Berea is a top-ranking liberal arts school that was founded to serve low-income students. While it doesn’t have any income requirements, most students are eligible for the Federal Pell Grant. Most are also from the Appalachian region or Kentucky.

Like many other schools on this list, students are required to work between 10 and 15 hours a week in exchange for free tuition. If you get in, you’ll also get a free laptop — though you’re responsible for covering housing and fees.

6. Webb Institute

  • Where it is: New York
  • Who gets free tuition: All admitted students who are US citizens or permanent residents

Webb Institute is one of the few engineering schools on this liberal arts-heavy list. All students get a full-tuition scholarship as long as they’re US citizens or permanent residents.

But you’ll have to cover the cost of housing, textbooks, software and the laptop that all students are required to have for school. It still might be worth it, though — it claims to have a job placement rate of 100%.

7. College of the Ozarks

  • Where it is: Missouri
  • Who gets free tuition: All admitted students

Also known as Hard Work U., College of the Ozarks is a four-year Christian college that offers students a free ride in exchange for working on campus.

You must be over 17 years old and have a 3.0 GPA, ACT score of 20 or an SAT score of 1030 to meet its minimum admissions requirements. Most students also must demonstrate financial need to be admitted.

While students across the country can apply, preference is given to those who live in the Ozarks region, including parts of Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma and Kansas.

8. Barclay College

  • Where it is: Kansas
  • Who gets free tuition: All resident students

Another Christian college, Barclay offers a Bible-centric four-year degree with programs such as Youth Ministry, Family Studies, Worship Arts and Business Administration.

All students who live on campus get a full-tuition scholarship — including graduate students. Students who enroll in the online degree program will have to cover all tuition costs, however.

9. The Apprentice School

  • Where it is: Virginia
  • Who gets free tuition: All students

This school gives you the academic foundation and hands-on experience you need to become a shipbuilder. It’s a full-time apprenticeship program where students are treated as employees.

This means you get paid an hourly rate for all course work — including class time — paid vacation and holidays, a pension plan, insurance and more.

You won’t exactly graduate with a degree, but you’ll get a certificate of apprenticeship and four or five years of work experience under your belt.

10. Warren Wilson College

  • Where it is: North Carolina
  • Who gets free tuition: North Carolina residents eligible for need-based aid or low-income students

Warren Wilson College is a small liberal arts college near Asheville, North Carolina. All students receive some kind of financial aid, though all North Carolina residents get a full-tuition scholarship.

Out-of-state students with strong academics might also qualify for a full-tuition scholarship if their families make less than $125,000 a year. Many of its academic programs focus on environmental sustainability, and its campus contains a student-run farm.

Where to get a free degree in Europe

Look to your state for more full-ride scholarships

Some states offer full tuition to residents who attend public schools and meet certain income requirements. For example, New York residents whose families bring in $125,000 a year or less can attend any state or city public university without paying tuition. New Mexico residents of all income levels can attend any state school for free. In Nevada, residents can get a full ride at certain community colleges.

Check with your state’s scholarship programs to make sure you’re considering all of your tuition-free options.

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Bottom line

Going to a tuition-free school can be a great way to save on college costs. However, most aren’t entirely free — you’ll likely have to pay for housing, meals and additional fees. Most schools also come with a work requirement, so be prepared to work at least 10 hours a week.

You can learn more about paying for school by reading our guide to student loans.

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