Top 10 Free Online Colleges 2024

free online colleges

Author: Bambi Majumdar
Reviewed by: Melissa Anderson, MSEd
Reading Level: Grade 10
Original Publication Date: August 2021
Updates: 1

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. 

Featured Programs

The criteria for admission into these tuition-free college 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. 

#10. Amarillo College

Amarillo, TX

Website

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 its financial assistance to deflect higher education costs. This 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.

Pros:

  • Open admissions policy
  • More diverse

Cons:

  • Lower graduation rate

#9. Antioch College

Yellow Springs, OH 

Website

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 work-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.

Pros:

  • Higher graduation rate
  • Experiential learning opportunities

Cons:

  • Less diverse

#8. Webb Institute

Glen Cove, New York

Website

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.

Pros:

  • Higher graduation rate
  • High ROI

Cons:

  • Less diverse

#7. Williamson College of the Trades

Media, PA 

Website

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.

Pros:

  • High graduation rate

Cons:

  • Less diverse

#6. Chandler Gilbert Community College

Chandler, AZ

Website

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. 

Pros:

  • High ROI

Cons:

  • Lower graduation rate

#5. Cochise College

Sierra Vista, AZ 

Website

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. 

Pros:

  • More diverse
  • Smaller class sizes

Cons:

  • Low graduation rate

#4. College of Southern Maryland 

La Plata, MD

Website

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.

Pros:

  • Affordability

Cons:

  • Low graduation rate
  • Less diverse

#3. El Paso Community College

El Paso, TX 

Website

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.

Pros:

  • More diverse

Cons:

  • Larger class sizes

#2. Foothill College 

Los Altos Hills, CA

Website

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

Pros:

  • More diverse

Cons:

  • Larger class sizes
  • Lower graduation rate

#1. United States Merchant Marine Academy 

Kings Point, NY

Website

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. 

Pros:

  • High graduation rate
  • Smaller class sizes

Cons:

  • Less diverse

More About Free Online Colleges

Top 25 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. 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 low-income 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 
Top 25 Free Online Colleges

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.

Top 25 Free Online Colleges

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 associated 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?

  • Accounting 
  • Business Administration
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Marine engineering
  • Merchant Marine program 
  • Air Force or Space Force programs
  • Naval Architecture 
  • Agriculture
  • Art & Design
  • Computer Science
  • Creative Writing 
  • Exercise Science
  • Graphic Design 
  • HVAC 
  • Liberal Studies
  • Music 
  • Paralegal studies 
  • Physical Education
  • Real Estate
  • Web Design 
Top 25 Free Online Colleges

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 do I 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 you 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.

Sources:

  • U.S. News & World Report