6 Ways To Go to College for Free

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College is expensive, and it’s getting more so every year. But there is a lot of aid available if you know where to look for it. With some hard work and creativity, there are ways to get a college education for less — or even for free.

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Here are some ways to go to college for free.

1. Scholarships

Scholarships are available from non-profit organizations, fraternal organizations, companies and other sources. Scholarships may be offered for students who will study a certain subject, who participate in certain extracurricular activities in high school or who have some affiliation with the awarding organization.

When you apply for a scholarship, you’ll need to fill out an application, and you may need to write an essay or provide documentation that you meet the eligibility requirements. Many scholarships are for relatively small amounts of money — say, $1,000 per year — compared to the cost of college, but there’s no limit to the number of scholarships you can apply for and receive.

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Scholarships.com is a free service that will match you to scholarships you may be eligible for, but it’s not the only one. Searching for and applying to scholarships may be time-consuming, but it can be well worth the time and effort if you end up with a free degree.  

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2. Tuition Reimbursement

Companies like Apple, Google, Bank of America, Disney, and FedEx offer tuition reimbursement programs to their employees. You have to pay for your courses and the company will pay you back, in some cases requiring that you get a minimum grade in the class. Some companies have specific requirements for tuition reimbursement, so be sure you understand the rules.

For example:

  • You may need to be a full-time employee, which means you need to go to school part-time.
  • The courses you take may need to be relevant to your job.
  • There may be a limit to the amount of money a company will reimburse per year.
  • You may need to agree to stay with the company for a specified number of years after you get your degree.
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3. Military Service

If you are currently serving in the military or are planning to enlist, you may be eligible for tuition assistance. Each branch of the service has its own programs for tuition assistance, and some programs require that you enroll in specific schools.

Veterans who served after September 11, 2001, with at least 90 days of continuous service, as well as members of the reserves and National Guard, are eligible for the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. This bill pays all public school in-state tuition and fees, a living stipend and an allowance for books and supplies.

The maximum benefit is paid for those who have served at least three years, or 30 continuous days prior to a disability discharge. Those who have served less time may receive a smaller benefit.

Some private colleges and universities participate in the Yellow Ribbon program, providing additional funds that enable G.I. Bill recipients to attend these more expensive private institutions.

4. State-Specific Scholarships

Public colleges and universities may struggle to compete with their elite, private counterparts to attract talented students, so they may offer significant merit scholarships.

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For example, high school students in Massachusetts who score in the top 25% in their district on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) standardized test are eligible for the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship. The scholarship is a four-year award that represents up to 12% or more of total student charges at the University of Massachusetts, or any state university or community college.

Students in New Haven, Connecticut who attended New Haven public school, have a clean disciplinary record, completed community service and have a GPA of at least 3.0 qualify for free tuition to any two- or four-year college or university in Connecticut.

In Indiana, students who commit to the program in the 7th or 8th grade can get up to four years of tuition as long as they graduate with at least a 2.5 GPA and have no disciplinary issues.

Louisiana state residents can get grants for full tuition to a public university or community college if they meet academic requirements.

5. Community College

Some states offer free tuition to two-year community colleges. If you’re looking for a four-year degree, you can transfer your community college credits to a four-year institution, effectively cutting your college costs in half.

Each state has their own criteria for these grants, and some of them have financial or educational eligibility requirements.

Students in Arkansas who have lived in the state for at least three years, have graduated from an Arkansas public school or have a GED and who will enroll in a two-year program in science, technology, engineering or math are eligible. Students will receive a grant equal to the amount of their tuition after any other scholarship awards have been applied.

  • Full time students in California are eligible for tuition-free community college, regardless of any other scholarship awards they may receive.
  • Delaware students seeking an Associate of Arts at the University of Delaware or any degree program at Delaware Technical Community College are eligible for a tuition grant if they meet academic criteria.
  • Students at a University of Hawaii Community College who are Hawaii residents will receive a grant for tuition fees, books, supplies and transportation after other grants and scholarships have been applied.
  • Students in Kentucky who pursue a degree in high-demand fields like healthcare, construction, transportation/logistics, advanced manufacturing or IT can get free community college tuition.
  • The Nevada Promise School program provides up the three years’ full tuition for students enrolled in any of the state’s community colleges. Students must complete a community service requirement.
  • Rhode Island high school graduates can get a two-year degree at the Community College of Rhode Island tuition-free.
  • In Tennessee, eligible high school students pay no tuition at 13 community colleges and 27 technical colleges in the state. The grant also applies at eligible public and private institutions that have two-year programs.
  • In Virginia, community college is tuition-free for low- and middle-income students pursuing degrees in healthcare, computer science, information technology and other high-demand fields.
  • In Washington State, low-income students pay no tuition for up to two years of college, after other awards have been applied.

6. Financial Aid

Colleges and universities offer financial aid to students who have excellent academic records or who might otherwise not be able to afford to attend. By completing the Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA), schools you apply to may offer you financial aid so that you can attend their school.

Some financial aid may be in the form of loans that will need to be paid back, but some aid could be grants, which will not need to be repaid. Even if loans are part of your financial aid package, you may be eligible to have them forgiven if you work in certain high-need professions after graduation.

FAQ

  • Are there any free colleges in the U.S.?
    • Yes. These colleges do not charge tuition:
    • Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, KY
    • The Apprentice School in Newport News, VA
    • Barclay College in Haviland, KS
    • Berea College in Berea, KY
    • City College of San Francisco in San Francisco, CA
    • College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, MO
    • Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, PA
    • Deep Springs College in Inyo County, CA
    • Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, NC
    • Webb Institute in Glen Cove, NY
    • Williamson College of the Trades in Media, PA
    • Some of these schools may require that students work on campus, study a specific major, or be from the local area.
  • How do you get free college?
    • There are several ways: You can get grants, scholarships, financial aid, tuition reimbursement from an employer or agree to military service.
  • Where is college free in the U.S.?
    • In addition to a handful of tuition-free colleges, several states offer free community college.
  • Is there a free university?
    • There are no universities that offer free tuition to everyone; however, financial aid, grants and scholarships are available at every university and from other sources.

Final Take

College is expensive, but there is help available. Do your research and you may be surprised at how much help is available to you.

Information is accurate as of Aug. 12, 2022.

Our in-house research team and on-site financial experts work together to create content that’s accurate, impartial, and up to date. We fact-check every single statistic, quote and fact using trusted primary resources to make sure the information we provide is correct. You can learn more about GOBankingRates’ processes and standards in our editorial policy.

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About the Author

Karen Doyle is a personal finance writer with over 20 years’ experience writing about investments, money management and financial planning. Her work has appeared on numerous news and finance websites including GOBankingRates, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, USA Today, CNBC, Equifax.com, and more.
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