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Published on January 8, 2021

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This guide details online tuition-free colleges and programs. You can find information explaining how tuition-free colleges work and which states offer tuition-free programs. You can also learn about requirements for tuition-free programs and what kinds of costs you may still be responsible for.

You should always research the requirements for individual schools to determine if you qualify for a tuition-free program.

The following colleges offer their own tuition-free programs. Some of these schools promise no tuition charges for all students, while others set some residency requirements for students seeking a tuition-free experience. Students should expect to participate in a work-study program, and they may need to pay for other expenses like room and board.

Top Online Tuition-Free Colleges

Curtis Institute of Music View School Profile Philadelphia, PA

A tuition-free college for musicians, Curtis ensures that none of its students pay out-of-pocket tuition. The college achieves this feat by connecting degree-seekers with on-campus employment opportunities, institutional scholarships, and federal grants.

Curtis offers both a bachelor's and a master's in music. The bachelor's degree features coursework in post-tonal harmony, advanced dictation, and music history. Students also complete a robust general education curriculum.

Curtis alumni have gone on to find careers as musicians and conductors at some of the world's top orchestras. The institute also provides free recording time at its on-campus recording studio and gives students access to an extensive alumni network.

Berea College View School Profile Berea, KY

Berea offers a full-tuition scholarship to all learners and provides financial assistance for textbooks. Before awarding funding, the college assists students in researching and applying for outside aid, such as state and federal grants. Most students at this tuition-free college pay no more $1,000 per year on education-related expenses.

At Berea, learners in the education studies department can select from approximately 25 online courses. Current online courses include extended school experience, science for teachers, and integrated curriculum.

Berea provides its students with access to Handshake software, which details career opportunities and job-hunting best practices. The college also provides learners with internship opportunities and a career development program.

College of the Ozarks View School Profile Point Lookout, MO

C of O requires that each learner spend 15 hours per week working on campus to qualify for the Cost of Education Scholarship. Students at this tuition-free college take advantage of institutional and private financial aid resources to ensure that no student goes into debt to pay for a degree.

C of O offers 28 undergraduate majors, including child studies, culinary arts, and hotel and restaurant management. The college features multiple minors in Christian topics, such as theological studies and Christian mission. Additionally, the college's teaching programs prepare students for initial Missouri teaching licensure.

The college's career center offers one-on-one advising sessions, internship opportunities, and an annual career day. These services help approximately 75% of alumni find a job soon after graduation.

Blackburn College View School Profile Carlinville, IL

Illinois residents in Macoupin County who are interested in tuition-free college should consider Blackburn. The college's Macoupin Promise offers free tuition to eligible students who graduated from an in-county high school, can participate in a work-study program, and have a household income that is less than $60,000 per year. Blackburn also extends the Macoupin Promise to nontraditional learners.

Blackburn features dozens of undergraduate degrees, including programs in environmental biology, computer science, and political science. Additionally, the college's work-study program pairs students with a job that aligns with their academic major.

Blackburn helps students find jobs by providing interviewing guides, a graduate school application reference guide, and links to job sites.

Alice Lloyd College View School Profile Pippa Passes, KY

ALC's Tuition Guarantee covers all tuition costs for residents of 108 counties in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. This tuition-free college also allows students who need more than four years to graduate to do so at no extra cost. However, ALC's students do pay for housing and fees.

ALC offers a variety of bachelor's programs, including biology, criminal justice, and an education degree that features 17 concentration options. With an average class size of 18 students, the college ensures that professors can give each learner a personalized educational experience.

The college offers incoming first-year students a four-year career success plan that emphasizes career exploration and career implementation. ALC also provides all learners with access to a job board.

What Does Tuition-Free College Mean?

Tuition-free colleges offer students the chance to earn a postsecondary education without paying tuition costs. However, keep in mind that "free tuition" does not mean free books/school supplies, room and board, and transportation.

Each tuition-free university sets its own policies for students, including what costs are covered and how they help students afford college.

In general, students attending the best online tuition-free colleges do not pay any tuition costs. Universities may provide financial aid themselves or they may help students find scholarships, grants, and other aid opportunities through state and federal initiatives.

How Do Tuition-Free Colleges Work?

Colleges and state governments offer tuition-free programs. Colleges that offer tuition-free programs often require students to participate in work-study programs. Tuition-free programs run by state governments typically offer "last dollar" aid, which only kicks in after students use all of their other grants and scholarships.

Tuition-free programs hosted by state governments may also set stricter requirements for participation in a program. These requirements often include maintaining a certain GPA and remaining in the state for a certain number of years after graduation. In some cases, if students do not meet these requirements, tuition-free aid may convert to an interest-free loan.

What States Offer Free Tuition?

Seventeen states offer tuition-free college programs. Each state sets its own requirements and standards for tuition-free aid.

Some states only offer "promise programs," which typically fund two years of tuition at a community college. These states include Arkansas, Delaware, New York, Oregon, and Tennessee. Other states provide four-year tuition aid, although students can only attend participating community colleges and public schools.

Most states ask applicants to demonstrate financial need before awarding tuition-free aid. Students without sufficient need do not receive tuition-free status, although they may still qualify for other grants and scholarships.

Are There Other Costs to Consider When Attending a Tuition-Free College?

Although each college and program offers different types of aid, "tuition-free" often only applies to the cost of tuition. These programs generally do not cover any of the other expenses associated with college.

For example, room and board can take up a significant portion of a student's budget, even if the student doesn't use university-provided housing and meal plans. Students who don't live on or near campus must also consider transportation expenses.

Buying books and other school supplies can also add up. Students can find ways to minimize these costs, such as renting textbooks instead of purchasing them outright and selling them back later to recoup a portion of the original cost.

Can You Get a Good Education at a Tuition-Free College?

Students can get a good education at a tuition-free college or through a tuition-free program run by a state government. Students who qualify for tuition-free college receive the same education as students who pay tuition at the school. Tuition-free programs aim to make college a more affordable option for students from low-income households.

When considering a tuition-free college, students should determine whether the school offers a program that matches their interests and eventual career goals. If not, students should consider looking into a state-run tuition-free program instead and attend one of the state's partnering community colleges or public institutions.

Find Additional Resources

Planning Your Online Education

Your Guide to Saving for College

The Debt-Free Degree

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