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 tuition-free. While the “free” colleges that are out there differ widely in curricula and the types of students they attract, a couple of generalities apply to most. First, often the free tuition is available only to economically disadvantaged or lower income students. Second, free tuition doesn’t mean that the schools are necessarily easy to get into. In fact, as you may well imagine, free tuition can attract a considerable amount of competition among potential students.
Colleges that Waive Tuition
Among the most well-known of the tuition free colleges are Berea College in Kentucky, which is somewhat renowned 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, tuition free. The City University of New York (CUNY) also offers a couple of options to talented high school students and those wishing to pursue degrees in teaching. The William Macaulay Honors College shepherds the cream of the applicant crop through their college years at CUNY with access to special advising programs and tuition waivers as long as the students continue to meet certain academic thresholds. The Teachers Academy at CUNY also waives tuition for its accepted applicants, in recognition of the valuable work (usually with little financial reward) that educators do.
A couple of colleges, Alice Lloyd College in quaintly named Pippa Passes, Kentucky, 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 colleges offer students an education without charging them tuition if the 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 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.
Two schools offer considerable different college experiences to those who are willing to check their expectations in exchange for free tuition. The first is 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.
The other college that requires a bit of an open-mind in exchange for free tuition is University of the People. With no brick and mortar campus, all instruction at the tuition free inversion is delivered online over the Internet. While the school offers degrees (both bachelors and associates) in computer science and business administration, the degrees are not yet accredited. But the instruction is real, and People University has some powerful educational partners including Yale Law School, New York University and the United Nations. The school offers a unique perspective on what the future of education could be as we’ll as a shift in the traditional college paradigm.