Is a Tuition Free College Right for You?

College Finance
October 15, 2019
It’s No Secret: College Is Expensive...

With student debt climbing higher every year, it’s no wonder so many students are opting out of college. They may be avoiding the stress applications and grades, but most importantly, they’re trying to avoid student loans.

Despite this, college is a once in a lifetime experience where you can obtain your degree while meeting new people and discovering new interests. Upon graduation, you’ll be ready to join the workforce with your degree in your back pocket.

Yet, regardless of college’s benefits tuition costs are enough to turn many students away, but if you’ve decided to opt out of college because you can’t afford it you’re in luck!

Tuition free colleges are an option that many students are taking advantage. In lieu of tuition, students work on campus or serve in the military for a set period of time. If this sounds interesting to you, keep reading. We’ll lay out everything you need to know about tuition free colleges and if they’re the right choice for you.


What Is A Tuition Free College?

A tuition-free college is a higher education institution where, upon acceptance, students are granted a full tuition waiver. Instead of paying for their education through high tuition and loans, students must work a certain number of hours on campus or serve in the military after graduation.

Some of these colleges also grant full tuition waivers to students who are residents of the college’s state or have valid proof that they come from a low-income background. Either way, a tuition free college gives students a chance to earn their higher education degree, whether or not they can afford it.

8 Pros And Cons Of Tuition Free Colleges

Tuition free college has been revolutionary for the many students who have taken advantage of it. Without a doubt, these new programs have the power to change lives. However, there are significant pros and cons of tuition free colleges:


So many people can’t afford to go to college, so they simply don’t, even if they really need to. Many high school students don’t even qualify for financial aid due to their background or abilities. In cases like this, people simply don’t bother with getting a college degree.

However, free tuition makes college possible for those who don’t have any option other than student loans. Tuition free colleges alleviate the financial pressure of getting an education, and allow people to get their degree, even if they aren’t financially able otherwise.


Regardless of if a person can afford tuition or not, millions still opt for student loans  in order to go to college and jumpstart their career. For the class of 2019, the average individual student debt amount was $31,172. The collective student loan amount for the U.S. is $1.52 trillion, which is the second leading type of debt in the country.

After graduation, many people can’t buy a house, get married, or have children because of their crippling student loan debt. A tuition free college helps prevent the troubles of student loans for your future, leaving you free to start your life after graduation.


Since tuition free college would take out the stress of student loans, you would be free to focus on what really matters. Even if you don’t plan on opting for student loans at a public university, you still might have to work long extra hours just to pay tuition on time. With tuition-related stress out of the way, you’ll have a healthy mental state. The healthier you are, the better you’ll  perform in classes, on sports teams, and in extracurricular activities. Overall, your college experience will be both more rewarding and healthier.


Because of the high cost of tuition, many students drop out of college when they realize they can’t pay for it. They may have been able to make ends meet during their first and second year, but it’s hard work keeping up with bills in the $20-$30,000 range. However, at a tuition free college you can be rest assured that you’ll finish your degree without having to worry about tuition payments.


Tuition free colleges aren’t necessarily the most popular schools. They may not be able to provide you with connections that larger public universities or Ivy League schools can offer you.

If you attend a tuition free college, you’ll have to make connections for yourself. You may not have as many resources, but if you’re passionate about your work you should still be able to  build the connections you need to succeed.


Student loan debt and financial aid teach students about personal finance, even if it is the (very) hard way. Meanwhile, having college handed to you for free might not teach you the realities of financial management.

Student debt is the first sizable financial lesson many students will have, even if it’s an expensive lesson. You may risk graduating and not knowing how to budget when there’s more at stake like rent, and living with other people where your financial decisions directly affect other people. While this is certainly not true for all students (many of you will have already held jobs and managed your own budget before college) it’s something to consider if you’ve never been in charge of your own finances.


Tuition free colleges tend to have high acceptance rates. Since their administration isn’t selective, you may be studying and working with people from many different backgrounds. Some students may be on a lower or higher level than you, and there’s no way to prepare for that.

In the case of an Ivy League school, where admission is more selective, you may have a better idea of what your classmates will be like. If you’re up for dealing with all kinds of people with varying levels of motivation this should be no problem, but if you’re looking for a curated environment full of equally passionate self-starters, you may be better off elsewhere.


The costs of tuition free college is significantly less than those of a public university or Ivy League school. However, “tuition free” doesn’t mean “totally free”.

In most cases, you’ll still be responsible for room and board, dining, books, and activity and health fees. If you choose to live off campus, you’ll have to consider the cost of rent and utilities. While this is nowhere near the heavy burden of yearly tuition, it’s still something to take into account before you commit to attending a “tuition free” university.

10 Tuition Free Colleges To Check Out

There are hundreds of tuition free colleges located in the U.S. Some are trade schools, military academies, and liberal arts colleges. Whatever you’re looking for, these are some great options to start with:


Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Kentucky guarantees free tuition to students who are residents of the central Appalachian service area. This area is comprised of 108 counties in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

All students are registered in the student work program where they work ten to twenty hours per week. This program is the backbone of the college, and is the main reason students can attend Alice Lloyd for free.

At Alice Lloyd College, students can pursue one of two degrees: a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Sciences. The most popular majors are:

  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Education
  • Social Sciences

Alice Lloyd is one of the smallest colleges in the U.S., with a total undergraduate enrollment of 592. Yet, they’re ranked 21st of southern regional liberal arts colleges.


The Apprentice School in Newport News, Virginia has a 100-year history of granting free tuition to its students. This trade school offers classes and full-time employment in ship-building. There’s no tuition involved in the program. In fact, you actually get paid to attend.

You earn $17.34 in the first term and can move up to a higher rate upon completion of the program. This apprenticeship can range from 4-5 years. The only requirement for applying to The Apprentice School is legally being able to work; being accepted is technically the same as being hired. Hands-on training and classes begin immediately upon hire.


Berea College in Berea, Kentucky grants every student their full-ride Tuition Promise Scholarship immediately upon acceptance.

Students must work at least 10 hours a week either on campus or at an approved off campus location, and they earn anywhere from $5 to $8 per hour. This helps students pay for their room and board. Students also receive a $1,000 scholarship for textbooks.

Students can pursue either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree, and Berea’s most popular majors are:

  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Business, Management, and Marketing
  • Computer and Information Sciences

Interestingly, Berea College is the first higher education institution to have both racially and gender mixed classes. To this day, it is still considered the most diverse liberal arts college in the U.S.

Sustainability is also a high priority for Berea College. The school has an integral learning environment called the Ecovillage and Deep Green, which trains students to bring sustainable living habits into their lives after graduation.


College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri is unique in its venture to make tuition absolutely free for all full-time students. Even more than waiving tuition, they openly discourage student debt, employ all their students in on-campus work, and do it all without loans from the U.S. government or the state of Missouri.

At College of the Ozarks, otherwise known as “Hard Work U”, their student work program, endowment, student aid, and gifts pay for every student’s tuition. Without this funding, students would pay over $19,000 a year for tuition.

The full-time student tuition waiver requires a 15-hour work week on campus with two additional 40-hour work weeks at some point over the school year. This college works with every student to ensure that they graduate without student debt.

Students can find a wide array of subjects to choose from, their most popular being:

  • Business Administration and Management
  • Accounting
  • Nursing

This college is ranked 3rd in Midwestern regional colleges, which is one of the highest ranking among tuition free colleges. The administration of the College of the Ozarks upholds Christian principles, and encourages its students to immerse themselves in culture, hard work, and a sense of duty to their country.


Deep Springs College in Deep Springs, California is a 2-year liberal arts school where students are granted free tuition, room, and board in exchange for working on the school’s cattle ranch and alfalfa farm.

Students begin their time at Deep Springs with a summer seminar which covers ethical issues, literature, philosophy, and social sciences. Their required courses include writing and public speaking, and they have course options in nearly every study you can think of, from comparative literature and poetry all the way to religious studies and political science.

In lieu of tuition, students participate in the Deep Springs’ Labor Program, in which they must work at least 20 hours a week in the school’s ranch, farm, garden, and kitchen.

Deep Springs College was founded in 1917 as a male-only school, focused on training men to become hard-working, principled members of society.  In 2013, they began making efforts to open applications to women and in 2018, they officially declared themselves a co-ed college.

Deep Springs’ campus is isolated from the rest of society, and most current students chose this school for that very reason. This college has a strong focus on politics and humanities, and clings to their tradition of training society’s next leaders.


All five of the United States Military Academies waive tuition in exchange for service in a certain branch of the military:

Admission into any of the five service academies is a long process, and includes interviews and medical examinations. In order to qualify for admission to the service academies, prospective students must be single and without children, and must complete a six-part mental and physical health test called the Candidate Fitness Assessment.

For the first four service academies mentioned, students are officially on active duty in the U.S. military on their first day of school. In the case of the Merchant Marine Academy, students can decide upon graduation whether they’d like to serve in any of the armed forces or in organizations like the NOAA.

Students of the military academies can choose from a broad range of majors while taking required courses necessary for their military service. The three most popular majors among the service academies are:

  • Engineering
  • Economics
  • Political Science

Alongside academics, students experience hands-on military training and the opportunity to play sports in their NCAA Division I leagues. However, because of a rigorous academic schedule, dedication to athletics, and military training, students rarely have free time for the numerous extracurricular activities offered by the academies.


The Curtis Institute of Music is a private arts institution located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. All accepted students who successfully pass rounds of auditions are offered artistic merit-based scholarships that waive the full cost of tuition.

Students at Curtis can pursue any of the following degrees with their instrument:

  • Bachelor of Music
  • Master of Music
  • Diploma
  • Post-Baccalaureate Diploma
  • Professional Studies in Opera
  • Certificate in Improvisation

Curtis is considered the most selective music institute in the United States, and students must demonstrate exceptional talent and artistry in their audition in order to be considered. While students are studying at Curtis, they have numerous opportunities to showcase their talents in performances, recital series, and musical groups.

The Curtis Institute has no minimum age requirement, meaning that they accept gifted children who would like to pursue their high school diploma while simultaneously receiving training in their chosen instrument.


Barclay College in Haviland, Kansas was formerly known as the Friends Bible College until 1990. It was founded by Quakers in 1917, and has since continued its tradition of incorporating biblical principles alongside their academic curriculum.

Barclay offers both undergraduate and graduate programs, free of tuition thanks to Federal Pell Grants and Institutional Scholarships. In order to be eligible for a full tuition waiver, students must live on campus and be enrolled full-time.

Barclay offers 11 majors for undergraduate students, but their most popular are:

  • Biblical Studies
  • Pastoral Studies
  • Business

Barclay offers minors, extra electives, extracurricular activities, and opportunities to participate in their NCAA Division II Athletic Program.


The Webb Institute of Engineering is located in Glen Cove, New York, and has an undergraduate enrollment of 104. At Webb, students are granted full tuition scholarships immediately upon acceptance. Each scholarship is valued at over $50,000 per year.

The academic curriculum at Webb centers on Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. Students take classes in Mathematics, Calculus, Engineering, Ship Design and Manufacturing, and participate in a required internship aboard a marine vessel.

In addition to learning everything there is to know about marine engineering, students have opportunities to play sports like soccer, basketball, tennis, and even sailing on varsity and intramural teams.

One factor that makes Webb unique is their study abroad program. Every year, select students have the opportunity to spend a semester studying with the University of Southampton in England. This program gives students even more hands-on training in another country, expanding their horizons and giving them rich cultural experiences.

The Webb Institute makes studying marine engineering possible for students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. Without a doubt, this school is one of the leading organizations that contribute to the ship-building and marine engineering industry.


Many tuition free colleges require that students live on campus in order to receive a full tuition waiver. For people who work full-time, moving on to a college campus may not be feasible. Our final tuition free college on this list, University of the People, saw this issue and decided to do something about it.

This college is the first of its kind: a completely online, accredited, tuition-free, higher education system that grants students a college degree upon completion of the program. Over 20,000 students are currently enrolled in a UoPeople degree program.

Students can choose from four degree programs:

  • Business Administration
  • Computer Science
  • Health Science
  • Education

All four programs set students up to join the workforce in a field that offers competitive salaries. Within these degree programs, UoPeople offers both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.

In order to be eligible for acceptance, students must have a high school diploma and a willingness to work hard in their online classes. Since the university is completely online, students must be self-starters and be able to discipline themselves to finish their work.

While tuition is free, UoPeople requires some fees in order to keep the program running:

  • $60 application fee
  • $100 assessment fee per course (undergraduate)
  • $200 assessment fee per course (graduate)

While this may require some saving, that is the extent of payments owed to UoPeople. They don’t charge enrollment or course material fees, including books.

Is Tuition Free College Right For You?

If you want to pursue a higher education degree, but simply can’t afford it or qualify for financial aid, attending a tuition free college might be a great opportunity for you. While most tuition free colleges don’t cover every major or area of study, the waived tuition cuts the cost of college significantly and allows you to put more focus on whatever you do choose to study. In the process, you’ll be avoiding crippling student loan debt.

Of course, if you’re struggling to figure out how to pay for college, consider reaching out to one of WeAdmit’s counselors. We can help you not only identify which colleges fit best with your future plans, but help you pursue financial aid and scholarship options that might expand your options.

After All, College Only Happens Once, And Now Anyone Can Experience It For Themselves!



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