Private College on a Budget

Private schools have a — typically, well-deserved — reputation for being prohibitively expensive. Even those that offer need-blind tuition guarantees to their less than affluent students have extremely selective admissions policies and receive huge numbers of applications every year. Harvard, for example, received about 15 applications for every open seat in its 2013-2014 academic class. If you’re not too choosy about where you go to school but are really just more interested in getting a degree from an accredited institution of higher learning, there are actually some possibilities for attending college at very little (or in some cases no) cost.

Full or Partial Tuition Waivers
Among the most well-known of colleges that waive some or all tuition for incoming students are Berea College in Kentucky, which is well-known for its largesse, and Cooper Union in New York City. Berea College is a small liberal arts college that offers accredited degree programs in a several areas of study. Cooper Union, on the other hand, is limited to undergraduate degrees in fine arts, architecture and engineering. The school also offers graduate degrees in fine arts as well as in engineering. Both Cooper Union and Berea College require superior academic achievement at the high school level before a student will be considered for tuition free enrollment. Berea requires a rank in the top 20 percent. Meanwhile, Cooper Union compares its applicants against one another and makes admission decisions based on its applicant pool in a given year.

Another option for academically superior high school students who are interested in pursuing an engineering degree is the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts. Admission to the engineering school is quite competitive, but those selected are offered a four year engineering degree, which in many cases is tuition free.

Sweat Equity
A couple of colleges, Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Kentucky, and College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, both offer four year degrees to students who are willing to work during their time in school. Alice Lloyd is located in Appalachia and requires its students to work up to 20 hours each week in a work study program in order to maintain their eligibility for free tuition. College of the Ozarks will admit students tuition free if they are able to show a significant financial need. The tuition free students at College of the Ozarks typically earn their keep by working in agriculturally-related positions that are connected with the college’s programs. Both schools offer degrees in a variety of major areas.

Other private colleges offer an education with little tuition expense if students are able to conform to some very specific criteria. The Webb Institute, on Long Island in New York, offers tuition free degrees to students who major in marine engineering. If ship design is your thing, then Webb Institute may be the place for you. On the other hand, if you tend more toward the musical, Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music is a music academy that offers tuition free degrees to music and orchestra students. The institute can be very selective and waives tuition on an irregular basis depending on the needs of its programs.

For a considerably different college experience, those who are willing to check their expectations at the admissions office, may be able to exchange them for free tuition. Deep Springs College, a two year liberal arts institution located near Big Pine, California, in the desert near the Nevada border. The student offers two years of tuition free college courses to 26 male students at a time who are willing to live according to the school’s “three pillars” — academics, labor and self-governance. Deep Springs estimates the value of its two years at more than $50,000. It’s credits are transferable, and many of its students go on to complete their college degrees at other institutions after graduating from Deep Springs.

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