The prospect of attending college can be both exciting and daunting, particularly given the current cost of tuition. Tuition costs often exceed $38,000 for a four-year degree for students attending a school in state, according to The College Board. And on average, tuition is more than twice that amount for students attending a school out of their home state. This can make higher education seem entirely out of reach for many students.
However, there are some colleges and universities that offer free college tuition to eligible applicants. Typically, tuition-free colleges serve students who can verify their low-income status in a particular region or state. Admission is highly competitive, and many schools require admitted students to uphold a demanding work-study schedule while earning their degree, as well as meet stringent service commitments after graduation. Below are the top 10 schools offering free college tuition in 2017:
10. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY — New York City, New York
Applicants to Macaulay Honors College at CUNY who meet CUNY’s New York state residency requirements will receive a full scholarship, which covers all tuition costs upon acceptance to the school. In addition to this free college tuition coverage, CUNY students may apply for benefits, including the Macaulay Opportunities Fund, which offers a standalone grant of up to $7,500 to be used toward supplemental learning experiences, such as a study abroad, internship, or professional development project. It may also be applied to the Cultural Passport, which offers student discounts to area cultural attractions, including museums and arts events. In addition, freshmen receive a free laptop computer during their orientation course.
Acceptance Rate: 20%*
Student-Faculty Ratio: 11:1*
Graduation Rate: 83%*
Degrees Offered: Interdisciplinary seminar-based program in four parts over four years, in over 475 majors and customizable concentration options*
* all information taken from the Hunter School, which is included in the Honors Program
9. U.S. Air Force Academy — Colorado Springs, Colorado
A dedicated military academy focused on preparing its students to serve as officers in the Air Force, USAFA upholds highly competitive admissions requirements. Applicants must be nominated for admission by a member of Congress or the Vice President of the United States, though limited nominations will also be accepted in military-affiliated, U.S. territory, and international categories. Upon acceptance into the Academy, students receive a scholarship valued at over $400,000, which covers tuition and room and board costs for all four years of their training experience. To further earn this free college tuition, cadets are expected to complete a service commitment of several years on active duty and in the reserves after graduation.
Acceptance Rate: 80%
Student-Faculty Ratio: 8:1
Graduation Rate: 79%
Degrees Offered: Offers bachelor’s degrees in more than 27 majors at 18 research centers
8. U.S. Merchant Marine Academy — Kings Point, New York
One of five United States Military Academies, the Merchant Marine Academy prepares students for careers in the maritime industry and within the armed forces. The Marine Academy is unique among U.S. military schools for its flexible post-graduation service options. While other Academies require graduates to enlist in a branch of the U.S. armed forces, Merchant Marine Academy graduates can fulfill their service obligation through private employment in the maritime or transportation industry, if they so choose. As one of a few tuition-free colleges, this school does not charge students for classes, but students are responsible for other expenses, such as a laptop computer for classwork. However, they may apply for need-based financial aid to help cover these non-tuition expenses.
Acceptance Rate: 71%
Student-Faculty Ratio: 13:1
Graduation Rate: 68%
Degrees Offered: Offers five undergraduate programs, including sea training and licensure options, as well as graduate programs and certificates
7. Webb Institute — Glen Cove, New York
Webb is the oldest school to exclusively offer naval architecture and marine engineering programs in the U.S. Upon acceptance into the college, Webb students receive a full-tuition scholarship and are responsible only for supplemental costs, such as room and board, books, and additional learning and living expenses, making for a largely free college experience. A one-time laptop fee is required during the first year and can be paid in two installments. Those seeking federal aid to help cover these additional costs are required to complete the FAFSA to determine eligibility for the Pell Grant, NY State TAP, or Federal Direct Loan Program. Institutional and federal scholarships are also available to help students truly earn a free bachelor’s degree. Graduates of Webb Institute also enjoy success in the job market with a 100% job placement rate.
Acceptance Rate: 23%
Student-Faculty Ratio: 8:1
Graduation Rate: 74%
Degrees Offered: Offers a dual BS in naval architecture and marine engineering, including four required internship experiences
6. Barclay College — Haviland, Kansas
Kansas’ premier Christian institution is one of the country’s tuition-free colleges, Barclay offers full-tuition scholarships to all students living on campus, including international students studying in the U.S. To remain eligible for the scholarship, students must fulfill Christian service requirements of at least 12 clock hours each semester for the duration of their four-year degree at Barclay. Students who live off campus are eligible for tuition scholarships covering about one-third of the total tuition cost. Additional scholarships are also available to all students seeking financial aid for expenses beyond tuition costs.
Acceptance Rate: 70%
Student-Faculty Ratio: 11:1
Graduation Rate: 45%
Degrees Offered: 12 bachelor’s degrees with a focus in Bible studies, ministry, theology and pastoral training programs
5. Curtis Institute of Music — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
For students who are gifted in the musical performing arts, the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia has offered merit-based, full scholarships to all students — regardless of financial need — since 1928, making it effectively one of the nation’s tuition-free colleges. Admission is highly competitive, with a total enrollment of only 165 students. An in-person audition is required for all areas of study except vocal studies, for which a recorded submission will be accepted in lieu of an on-site performance. True to its mission to recruit students solely based on artistic merit, the Institute does not specify a minimum or maximum age to audition. Upon acceptance, all students are automatically awarded the full scholarship, though they must demonstrate financial need to receive additional assistance for living expenses through grants, loans, or work-study opportunities.
Acceptance Rate: 4%
Student-Faculty Ratio: 2:1
Graduation Rate: 86%
Degrees Offered: 12 programs in specialized musical instrument and vocal training, composition and conducting
4. Alice Lloyd College — Pippa Passes, Kentucky
Alice Lloyd College offers a tuition-free education to applicants from 108 counties in the Central Appalachian region, including residents of Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, and Tennessee. All students must participate in the college’s Student Work Program as a condition of earning the financial award. A minimum of 10-20 work hours per week (or 160 hours per semester) on a job — whether on campus or in the local community — are required. A lasting mission of the school’s founders, the school aims to strengthen students’ work ethics above all else, and remains one of only seven work colleges nationwide. Applicants are strongly encouraged to return to the school’s Kentucky service area to practice in their respective field of study.
Acceptance Rate: 11% acceptance rate
Student-Faculty Ratio: 18:1
Graduation Rate: 28%
Degrees Offered: Offers a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science with a focus in education, healthcare and the liberal arts
3. Cooper Union — New York City, New York
Founded in 1859 by Peter Cooper, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art has offered a full-tuition scholarship to every student since its inception, helping students to effectively earn a free bachelor’s degree or graduate degree. However, as of the 2014-2015 academic year, each accepted student is awarded a half-tuition scholarship, valued at approximately $20,000, per each year of study. Merit scholarships may be awarded to students with exceptional artistic ability. Need-based federal financial aid, as well as institutional scholarships and grants, are available to eligible students to help cover the remainder of tuition costs, as well as room and board and other learning expenses.
Acceptance Rate: 13%
Student-Faculty Ratio: 9:1
Graduation Rate: 81%
Degrees Offered: Offers bachelor’s programs in architecture, fine arts and engineering, and master’s programs in architecture and engineering
2. Berea College — Berea, Kentucky
Primarily serving the Appalachian region and the commonwealth of Kentucky, Berea College’s substantial endowment allows the school to offer each student a full-tuition scholarship of nearly $100,000 for four years, as well as a laptop computer that each student can keep after graduation. Berea was the first interracial, co-ed college in the South and is among only seven remaining work colleges in the U.S. Each student participates in the college’s Work Program by serving 10-15 hours per week in one of more than 100 available employment positions on and off campus. This also allows them to earn additional funds to cover room and board and other expenses incurred during the school year.
Acceptance Rate: 72%
Student-Faculty Ratio: 10:1
Graduation Rate: 63%
Degrees Offered: Offers bachelor’s degrees in 32 majors in liberal arts and sciences and professional programs
1. College of the Ozarks — Point Lookout, Missouri
Dubbed “Hard Work U,” College of the Ozarks provides students with a tuition-free education in exchange for full-time weekly work on campus. To be eligible for acceptance into C of O, applicants must demonstrate financial need and verify their location of residence. Though otherwise-eligible students from outside of this service area may be considered on a case-by-case basis, applicants who reside within the Ozarks area of Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Kansas are shown preference. Once accepted, students must work 15 hours each week during the school year, and two 40-hour weeks when school is not in session to earn their otherwise free bachelor’s degree. The college does not participate in federal aid programs in an effort to eliminate student debt. However, students may apply for Pell Grants, if deemed eligible by the FAFSA, to offset non-tuition expenses.
Acceptance Rate: 89%
Student-Faculty Ratio: 13:1
Graduation Rate: 73%
Degrees Offered: Offers a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in more than 25 majors in the liberal arts and sciences