When considering going to college, there are many things to consider, not least of which is tuition cost. If you are looking for tuition-free online colleges in the USA, this article will provide you with some excellent options. Online tuition-free colleges are all about making higher education accessible to as many students as possible. Many colleges and universities in the country offer options for scholarships and tuition waivers, and even a few free online college courses. Some are totally focused on offering free tuition programs online to all.
Some of these online tuition-free colleges are non-profits, and some are community colleges. Still others are small and local universities. You might even be surprised by some Ivy league names on the list as well. They have some solid online degree programs to help college students get the education they deserve and not let the lack of finances hinder their success.
The criteria for admission into these tuition-free college online degree programs differ. So do the requirements for getting an online college degree for free. College students must thoroughly research the school, admissions, and degree criteria. Some offer free tuition to all qualified college students, some to U.S. citizens or permanent residents only, and others to national and global students.
When you search for tuition-free colleges, you will find that most of these are American-accredited and known for their high-quality education and free online degree programs. The colleges listed in this article are dedicated to opening access to higher education locally and globally through online learning and affordable tuition.
#25 Alice Lloyd College
Pippa Passes, KY
Alice Lloyd College is a private work college among the top free online colleges in the country. Its mission is to educate qualified people of the Appalachia region for leadership positions. Taught with Christian values, students receive a high-quality education regardless of their financial situation. The college emphasizes liberal arts. It also serves the community and mountain region through outreach programs. It is one of the few schools in the country that offers online courses and online degrees specifically designed to help students cut down on student debt. Qualified college students can receive financial aid through the Appalachian Leaders College Scholarship. This award covers tuition for up to 10 semesters. That’s more than enough time to earn a free online degree and graduate debt free. The scholarship amount is based on each student’s financial need and covers the cost of tuition for online programs.
#24 Berea College
Berea College is a private Christian school. It offers high-quality education to help students pursue their personal, academic, and professional goals. Shaped by Christian values, it provides online courses and free online degrees with educational opportunities for students. These students are primarily from Appalachia and have limited economic resources. Berea’s No-Tuition Promise guarantees that students get the world-class education they need without paying tuition. Berea students spend about $1,000 toward housing, meals, and fees. They can also receive financial assistance for books available. Free college tuition allows students to focus on their goals without worrying about college debt.
#23 College of the Ozarks
Point Lookout, MO
Another of the top free online colleges nationwide, College of the Ozarks is a private Christian liberal arts college. The school encourages its students’ Christian, vocational, academic, cultural, and patriotic growth. The college offers a student work program and donations that allow full-time students to study tuition-free. Students who desire free college tuition can participate in the on-campus work program. This free college degree program requires two forty-hour work weeks per school year and 15 hours per week. The focus of the college is instilling good, solid, hard work while educating students. College credits from participation in the work program, along with the Cost of Education Scholarship and any federal or state financial aid programs, cover all costs related to education, like tuition, room, and board.
#22 Macaulay Honors College
New York, NY
William E. Macaulay Honors College, or Macaulay Honors College, is a selective, co-degree-granting honors college offering free college tuition opportunities. It covers four years of undergraduate study, not including the fees and expenses. Promising students have the opportunity to receive financial aid and academic support to study and realize their leadership potential through a free online bachelor’s degree. All college students can apply for and get a merit scholarship package, so they graduate debt free. This package includes tuition, Cultural Passport, a laptop computer, and access to the Opportunities Fund. CUNY New York State residents who meet in-state tuition requirements and get the tuition scholarship can graduate free from tuition debt.
#21 Deep Springs College
Deep Springs, CA
Deep Springs College is a small, private junior college leading California’s top free online colleges. It ranks among the smallest higher education institutions in the United States regarding student body. The school is located on a cattle ranch and alfalfa farm in the high desert of eastern California. It is known for being one of the leading accredited two-year full-scholarship liberal arts colleges. All students receive financial aid through a full scholarship valued at over $50,000. This meets the college’s goal to ensure that financial considerations do not burden selected applicants. The free college tuition scholarship includes tuition, room, and board. Students attending free colleges like this one are only required to pay for certain expenses that their financial aid packages don’t cover, thus minimizing student loan debt. This includes their own books, travel, medical insurance, and incidental expenses, along with a small damage deposit.
#20 Warren Wilson College
Swannanoa, North Carolina
Warren Wilson is a private liberal arts college in North Carolina. It is known for its free college education and a curriculum that combines work and service with high-quality academics. All first-time, in-state students who are admitted as full-time undergraduate students are eligible for a tuition-free plan. Warren Wilson follows the North Carolina System Free Tuition Plan. This makes a Warren Wilson education possible for more North Carolina students through a general financial aid package. If a federal or state need-based grant covers a part of the tuition, the college ensures that students receive the rest of their tuition free. This is possible with Warren Wilson offering full-ride scholarships, need-based grants, and unique work grants. The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
#19 University of the People
University of the People is a private non-profit, American-accredited, distance education university. It partners with top universities worldwide to expand students’ access to college education globally. It has a free college tuition model for its student body. This offers students the opportunity to earn a quality degree via an affordable solution with scholarships available and minimal fees charged. They offer online courses and online degrees in several areas. Examples include Business Administration, Health Science, Computer Science, and Education. UoPeople offers a cost-effective alternative to the average tuition of traditional American higher education. This helps students to graduate without the burden of heavy student loans. Through various academic programs, students get the skills they need to excel in varied and in-demand careers.
#18 Barclay College
One of our top free online colleges, Barclay College is a private Quaker college known for ministry degrees and other professional degrees for distance learning students. Dorm residents and full-time students can get full-tuition institutional scholarships. That means qualified applicants can work towards earning their bachelor’s degree without worrying about student debt. The faith-based learning environment helps students with the potential for academic achievement to expand their outlook with a graduate degree. The academic atmosphere is broadly practical, highly professional, and deeply personal. Barclay College is committed to preparing students for varied careers and to excel in the path they choose. Their Full Tuition Scholarship supports the free college dreams of their students.
#17 Cornell University
Ithaca, New York
Considered one of the best free colleges in New York and the nation, Cornell University is a private Ivy League institution. The school has consistently been ranked among the top universities for a college education globally. Despite the high ranking, the school’s tuition costs and financial aid for various programs are designed to support student goals. This means that 97% of on-campus students in research Ph.D. programs receive funding packages. These packages include tuition, health insurance, fees, and a living allowance or stipend. Many qualifying students apply for financial aid, which is competitive. Students who want free college can apply for federal and state grants and Cornell grants, which are essentially funds that do not have to be repaid. The average Cornell grant award for a first-year student in the Class of 2021 ranged between $40,686 and $76,997.
#16 Curtis Institute of Music
One of our featured free colleges, The Curtis Institute of Music, is a private conservatory. It offers resident students degrees in Bachelor of Music, Master of Music in opera, performance diploma, or Professional Studies Certificate in Opera. The school has maintained an all-scholarship policy since 1928. This means admitted students automatically receive free college via financial aid. The annual value of this scholarship was $47,143 for undergraduate students for the 2020–21 school year and $58,535 for graduate students. These merit-based, full-tuition scholarships are renewed each year of a student’s enrollment. They are offered to all undergraduate and postgraduate students, regardless of their financial situation. No application for financial assistance is required for the full-tuition scholarship. Financial aid programs for living expenses are based on financial need alone.
#15 United States Air Force Academy
Air Force Academy, CO
The United States Air Force Academy is meant for officer cadets of the United States Air Force and the United States Space Force. Cadets receive a world-class education that prepares them for careers in the most advanced air and space forces globally. They will receive a world-class education and degree program at no cost, which is valued at more than $416,000. Moreover, they are prepared for a fulfilling career right away. Graduates are commissioned as U.S. Air Force or Space Force officers, with lifetime benefits. After earning a free college degree, students can choose from various career paths. Examples include pilots and engineers, cyber specialists, and space operations officers.
#14 City College of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA
City College of San Francisco is a public community college that offers free tuition for San Francisco residents. The college partners with City College and the City & County of San Francisco for its free tuition plan. It offers one of the most extensive certificate programs in the country. It is also home to varied and flexible options for students to earn a two-year associate degree. Its Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) program allows successful students to quickly transfer to a 4-year college or university. With residents getting free tuition and financial aid recipients getting grants, free college plays an essential local role in advancing higher education.
#13 Gateway Technical College
Another of our top free colleges, Gateway Technical College, is a public technical college. It is also one of the most significant members of the state-run Wisconsin Technical College System. It offers eligible students two unique opportunities to attend Gateway tuition-free through its Gateway Promise program. The first is the high school Promise program for seniors. This program offers cutting-edge programs, classrooms, and learning opportunities. Promise 2 Finish is the second free college program. This program is for returning adults who have been out of college for over two years and want to finish their degree through an online course of study. Between federal financial aid and Gateway’s tuition and fees, the college covers the cost gap associated with educational costs. That way, qualifying students graduate without worrying about tuition costs.
#12 Allen Community College
Allen Community College offers both online school and in-person courses for incoming students. The college is committed to providing quality educational and support services for the local community, including middle-income families. Doing so allows students to reach their academic, occupational, and personal potential. All Allen students can apply for Kansas Promise Scholarships. This financial aid award covers the cost of tuition, fees, book rental, and required materials not covered by other scholarship programs and grants. There are other requirements for the scholarship. For example, qualifying students must be Kansas residents and plan to live and work in the state for two years upon completing an associate’s degree/certificate. Out-of-state students do not qualify for admission to online programs.
#11 Amarillo College
Amarillo College is a public community college with over 10,000 students and six campuses. This undergraduate college seeks to help learners identify a degree program that will lead to successful careers. To enrich the lives of local students and the community, the college offers several Exemptions as part of their financial assistance to deflect higher education costs. It reflects the state’s financial aid that allows some Texas residents to attend a public college or university without paying tuition or fees in some cases. By helping students get a quality education at no or low cost, they seek to advance student success and develop and educate the future workforce via an online course of study.
#10 Antioch College
Yellow Springs, OH
Antioch College is a private liberal arts college that is grounded in experiential learning. Their learning-by-doing approach involves:
- Problem-based projects.
- Freedom to experiment.
- Cultural immersion to worked-based co-op education.
- Participation in the design and governance of the College.
The College calls itself a laboratory college. Students learn by working in a collaborative atmosphere and prepare to live lives of intention. The school aims to provide students with the maximum need- and merit-based aid for which they are qualified. Full-tuition scholarships are offered to all students eligible for the Federal Pell Grant. All students received some need- or merit-based financial aid in the 2017-2018 school year.
#9 Webb Institute
Glen Cove, New York
Webb Institute is a private, top-ranked undergraduate engineering college. It is unique because it offers a dual bachelor’s degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. The rigorous curriculum includes several standout courses. These include:
- The Fundamentals of Naval Architecture
- Marine Engineering with Engineering Principles
- Related Marine Technologies
High school students admitted go on to develop the skills to become leaders in their chosen profession. The college is also the only full-ride scholarship private undergraduate program of its kind in the nation. All successful candidates for admission who are US citizens and Permanent Residents receive full tuition financial aid packages for four years. The college offers need-based aid to help cover other costs of attending.
#8 Williamson College of the Trades
Williamson College of the Trades is a private men’s junior vocational college and one of our top free colleges and universities. It was founded by Philadelphia merchant and philanthropist Isaiah Vansant Williamson. The school provides students with academic, trade, technical, moral, and religious education. Students are qualified to become productive members of society and lead and excel in their chosen professions. All enrolled students can attend on full-ride scholarships that cover tuition, room, board, and textbooks. They have to pay for annual fees, breakage and yearbook, certain equipment and books that they keep for personal use, and other personal items.
#7 Maricopa County Community College
Maricopa Community Colleges are located across 10 campuses. Here, they offer nationally recognized tuition-free programs to help students achieve their academic and professional goals. They learn in an educational environment that’s rich with civic engagement. The college offers generous financial aid through tuition waivers for eligible applicants. Eligibility is set upon specific conditions and requirements for recipients. Tuition waiver categories include:
- Eligible employees of Maricopa Community Colleges
- Children or dependents of Maricopa Community Colleges employees
- Adjunct faculty employed on a semi-regular basis
- Purple Heart recipients and dependents of police and firefighters who have lost a parent or spouse in the line of duty.
- Students attending from certain smaller Arizona counties
With 60 degree offerings, the college prepares students for the workforce and advanced degrees.
#6 Cochise College
Sierra Vista, AZ
Cochise College is a public college with campuses in Douglas and Sierra Vista. It aims to provide accessible educational opportunities for a diverse population. As a result, students attend college to build meaningful careers through lifelong learning. The college is recognized nationally for its cost, high success rate, and return on investment. The college is a Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) program member. This program offers a reduced tuition rate of 150% of in-state tuition. The college also awards grants to qualified traditional and nontraditional undergraduate students, including low-income students who demonstrate financial need. The Pell Grant is awarded based on information provided on FAFSA’s student aid report and a student’s enrollment status.
#5 College of Southern Maryland
La Plata, MD
The College of Southern Maryland is a public community college. It serves students living in Southern Maryland’s St. Mary’s, Charles, and Calvert counties. The school has Hughesville, Leonardtown, La Plata, and Prince Frederick, Maryland campuses. The college is dedicated to making education affordable for all. Enrolled students can apply for grants that are offered based on financial need and generally do not have to be repaid. CSM is the intelligent choice for credit or degree-seeking students interested in undergraduate programs. The annual tuition cost is less than half of a public four-year university in Maryland.
#4 El Paso Community College
El Paso, TX
El Paso Community College is a community college district headquartered with five campuses in the Greater El Paso area. The mission of the college is to ensure high-quality, affordable education for all. The college offers a series of aids and tuition waivers to make higher education affordable. One of them includes the Exemptions that allow some Texas residents to attend a public college or university in Texas without paying tuition or tuition and fees in some cases. In addition to full-ride scholarships, the college also offers a series of grants so that students can graduate with limited student loans. Besides that, there’s financial aid for veterans and college work-study programs. El Paso Community College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
#3 Foothill College
Los Altos Hills, CA
Foothill College is a public community college that is part of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District. It offers 79 Associate degree programs, 107 certificate programs, and 1 undergraduate degree program. The Foothill College Promise offers free tuition for a period of two years. This award is available to all first-time, full-time students. Students taking 12 units or more are eligible to have the cost of tuition and fees fully paid for their first two years. This includes fall, winter, and spring quarters, but the summer session.
#2 St. Louis Christian College
One of the best online colleges in our ranking, St. Louis Christian College, is a private Bible college. The Association for Biblical Higher Education accredits it. The school is ecclesiastically and theologically associated with the Restoration Movement of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. The college offers several federal programs and scholarships to qualified students. These scholarships are both endowed and institutionally funded awards. The Academic Merit Scholarship program and Grant are awarded to all full-time traditional day students. To be eligible, these students must complete a FAFSA and have a cumulative GPA above 2.0. It offers other aid as well. Examples include the National Bible Bowl Scholarship, Veterans Educational Benefits, and Alternative Education Loans.
#1 United States Merchant Marine Academy
Kings Point, NY
The United States Merchant Marine Academy is a United States federal service academy. It trains cadets to serve as officers in the United States Merchant Marine, branches of the military, and the transportation industry. The institute is known for its rigorous academic program. A baccalaureate degree requires more credit hours than any other federal service academy. The academy aims to ensure that all accepted students attend and earn their degrees, regardless of financial need. Midshipmen receive free tuition, uniforms, room and board, and textbooks. They are responsible for the payment of Midshipman Fees and other costs.
More About Free Online Colleges
What do free online colleges mean?
Free online colleges offer students a range of financial aid and tuition waivers so that they get a college degree without worrying about costs. The concept behind a free online college degree is that a student graduates without the burden of immense college debt like most students. Many free online colleges exist in the USA. These schools are focused on making higher education accessible to students in their communities or even to international students. Some offer scholarships, grants, and tuition waivers, while others offer one or the other. All in all, they ensure that a student’s out-of-pocket expenses toward college tuition are kept to the minimum. That way, they get the education they deserve without the constant worry about finances.
Tuition-free online colleges include small and local universities, community colleges, and nonprofit institutes. Some are faith-based universities that focus on helping as many students attending college as they can. Still, it is not only the smaller colleges that offer free online courses and college degree programs. Several top-ranked universities also offer free online programs and college courses with no credit options. These are designed for qualified students who lack the funds to attend. Students have to do thorough research to see whether they qualify and how to apply to these colleges. Quite a few aid/grant programs help low and middle-income students get into a top-ranked college or university. Students looking for free online colleges in the USA may find the above information and listed colleges helpful.
How do you get information on the admission criteria for free online colleges in the USA?
Every college has an admissions page that students should check out. Each free online school or college will have its own set of criteria and rules for application. They typically do not charge students for taking courses or even enrolling. Some of these tuition-free online colleges also ensure that students do not have to pay for books or other course materials. Depending on the college policies, students may have to pay a minimal application fee and an assessment fee per completed course. Students who are unable to afford these fees can apply for further aid. The fees are usually not charged in advance and almost always follow a payment plan. That means students attend and have the option to pay on a course-by-course basis at the end of each term.
The admission process for an online free college is quite simple. Students can begin by applying online in just a few simple steps. All they have to do is complete a short online application form. Then, they can choose their admissions pathway and make their academic selections. Once they do so, they are connected to an admission counselor who can help them with the application process and prepare them to start studying. They also explain the foundational courses, their elective or specialization options, and how online learning will help them.
Do the admissions criteria vary between tuition-free online colleges?
The criteria for admission into these free online programs differ from one college to the other. Students have to research the school, admissions, and degree criteria thoroughly. Many schools offer a mandatory foundation course that all students have to complete. Students must also show proof of high-school completion to be eligible for a free online college degree. Some offer free tuition to all students, and some offer it to financially challenged students. Some free online colleges and universities are only for U.S. citizens or permanent residents, while others are open to all U.S. and global students. Still, some basic criteria for international students may differ from domestic students. Typically, admission requirements are:
- Basic information such as name, address, and date of birth
- Complete admission forms
- Education history information, such as high school or Bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) name, location, and completion dates
- English proficiency–completion and score, mostly needed for international students
- Two Teacher Recommendations
- One-time non-refundable application fee though many colleges waive these as well
- Financial Aid Forms
- SAT and/or satisfactory ACT Scores for undergraduate applicants
Are free online degree programs accredited?
Accreditations ensure that the free online college degree programs meet specific quality standards. These are standards established by the state and the industry. Most of the free online colleges are accredited and recognized. Accreditation is essential as it makes a program credible and improves job prospects. Students should also look into the school’s recognition and rankings. This includes both regional reputation and national rankings.
Most free online colleges in the USA hold regional or national accreditation. When you search for a free online university, you will find that most of these are American-accredited. Many may also be known for their high-quality education. Students at regionally accredited institutions often qualify for further federal financial aid. The colleges listed above are dedicated to opening access to higher education locally and globally.
Aside from institutional accreditation, students can also look for free degree online programs accredited in their own right. Many programs lead to vocational careers and practice areas that affect a large percentage of the population. Graduates must hold accredited degrees to get a license to serve and practice. Programmatic accreditation ensures the quality of the program, recognition of the school, and quality course delivery. It involves regular reviews to ensure programs maintain their high academic standards. This only adds to the overall value of the degree.
Is a college degree online that is free worth it?
Free online programs can be worth the time and effort depending on the student’s circumstances. There are some common misconceptions about free online degrees. Most people think that their education quality is not at par with regular universities. They are not sure about all the costs involved. They may fear hidden costs. Or, they may have doubts about how they are received or respected by employers or graduate school admissions officers.
Contrary to popular belief, employers do not undervalue these tuition-free online colleges. Also, none of these free online degrees are easier than regular online or on-campus programs. Students have to undergo the same rigor and curriculum as the regular programs. This is why these degrees are widely respected by employers.
Can I attend an online university with free tuition and still work?
Online degree programs are known for their flexible formats, and free online college degrees are the same in this regard. Courses are more convenient to access through user-friendly learning platforms. And students can choose from a wide array of programs. Since they are online with mostly no campus visits required, they make it easy for working adults to attend and work simultaneously. There is still a commitment of time each week. The enrolled student has to take classes, review course materials, coordinate with peers for projects, complete required assignments, and prepare for exams. Having said that, these free online college degrees offer a lot of convenience and flexibility. Most of them are asynchronous in nature. This means that students can do all the above but at their own time and pace. They can continue with their day jobs, study and complete their education without worrying about schedules or costs.
Can scholarship programs or aid received for tuition-free college degrees online be used to cover expenses for rent or books?
Most free online colleges offer a No-Tuition Promise that guarantees no student has to pay tuition costs. They are committed to offering deserving students with limited economic resources a world-class education. In some cases, students pay minimal amounts. This could include funds for housing, meals, and fees.
Many online colleges associates with a debt-free education in the USA offer federal student aid in the form of Federal Grants. The Federal Pell Grant program is the largest grant resource for needy students. These grants give college students the cash to cover various expenses and tuition. Examples include room and board and other living expenses. Grants are a form of gift money that students don’t have to worry about paying back. Many grants consider all possible college expenses. They will then pay out a flat rate directly to either the college or the student to support them while attending college. If a student’s financial aid award does not cover room and board expenses, they can discuss other options with their counselors. The cost of education is guaranteed for all students due to the generosity of donors. Financial aid awarded could include the following:
- Free campus apartments with a commitment to apply and board early
- Free student loans or low-interest student loans
- Student work programs where students take part in the on-campus work programs and earn credits toward their free education
While the exact nature of full-ride scholarship programs varies among tuition-free online colleges, they typically cover tuition costs and all college expenses for students.
What programs are offered as tuition-free online college degrees?
- Business Administration
- Early Childhood Education
- Marine engineering
- Merchant Marine program
- Air Force or Space Force programs
- Naval Architecture
- Art & Design
- Computer Science
- Creative Writing
- Exercise Science
- Graphic Design
- Liberal Studies
- Paralegal studies
- Physical Education
- Real Estate
- Web Design
What foundational topics are covered in tuition-free education programs?
Tuition-free online college courses can lead to various credentials. These include associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees and certificates. All colleges have some foundational or core courses that require students to complete. These vary depending on the foundation of the degrees.
A bachelor of arts focuses on liberal arts studies. The well-rounded curriculum includes courses in humanities and fine arts. Other classes may comprise social sciences and foreign languages. Students have to complete course sequences related to their academic major.
A bachelor of science degree focuses on a scientific or technical field. Coursework includes practical areas and fieldwork in areas such as computer science. They typically have longer major course sequences, meaning more online classes, than B.A. or BFA degrees.
Online bachelor’s in engineering programs typically require strong standardized test scores and a solid high school GPA. They take four years to complete and prepare students to excel in various engineering careers.
How to search for the best free tuition college degree online?
The most apparent criterion is whether online tuition-free colleges offer free online courses and a free tuition promise and/or full-ride scholarship. That will give an idea of whether all or some of the college costs are covered for prospective students. Choosing the right free online university means more than looking at the cost versus tuition assistance. Students have to do thorough research about the free online college degree. This could include the school, the time it takes to graduate, and all other associated costs along with the tuition.
The degree type offered may vary among free tuition online colleges. Still, most offer similar formats and flexibility, student support, and options to graduate early or late. These options are designed with working adults in mind who enroll to get a college education as they continue with their day jobs. Students must also consider whether the free tuition programs are accredited and recognized. The free tuition program must align with career goals and be flexible and student-friendly.
Students should also carefully review the coursework before enrolling. The course topics and choice of specializations are essential as well. Choosing the right specialization or concentration is also vital. Most free tuition online colleges are 100% online. But some schools may have in-person requirements, even for so-called “online degrees,” so students need to check if their grants cover those commute costs. It is crucial to connect with enrollment advisors and learn about these criteria.
- 100 Best Online Colleges and Universities
- Free Online College Courses and Platforms
- 50 Best Online Colleges Near Me (AL – MO)
- 25 Best Online Colleges for Military Spouses
- 25 Free Online Ivy League Courses
- 25 Free Online College Courses for Adults
- Advantages of Online Courses for Credit
- Online Christian Colleges
- Other Rankings