Where to Find the Best Free Degrees Online 2024

tuition free online colleges

College enrollment in the United States is on the decline, in part due to exorbitant tuition expenses. Many private New England colleges are now associated with tuition numbers nearing six figures. Prospective students are shying away from admissions offices because they fear they’ll never be able to afford a degree. Luckily, some schools are beginning to offer tuition-free options.

If it sounds too good to be true, you’ll want to read on. While there may be some stipulations and proverbial hoops to jump through to qualify, tuition-free colleges are here, and they’re legitimate. In this article, we’ll list 14 colleges and universities as well as a few online learning platforms currently offering free college tuition. Many of these schools cater to online learners, and some of them will even cover fees and other expenses in addition to the cost of tuition. These institutions are listed in no particular order.

Arizona State University

Tempe, Arizona

Website

Featured Programs

Employees of Starbucks can earn a tuition-free college degree through Arizona State University. Through the Starbucks College Achievement plan, students who are admitted to ASU can have all of their tuition plus fees paid through a partnership between Starbucks and the university. This can translate to a tuition-free bachelor degree such as:

  • Online Bachelor of Arts in Applied Business and Technology Studies
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry
  • Online Bachelor of Arts in Advocacy and Social Policy
  • Online Bachelor of Arts in Counseling and Applied Psychological Science

Students may still be responsible for the cost of textbooks and other school supplies. ASU is fully accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.   

Pros:

  • Top-rated online bachelor’s degree programs
  • 24/7 tech support
  • Tuition and fees are covered

Cons:

  • Larger class sizes
  • Must be employed by Starbucks

City College of San Francisco

San Francisco, California

Website

Students looking for a free degree online may find one at City College of San Francisco. The school’s tuition-free program for San Francisco residents, called Free City, covers both credit and non-credit online courses offered through the college’s distance learning division. Some examples include:

  • Administration of Justice in the LGBTQ+ Community
  • Financial Accounting
  • Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Cosmic Evolution
  • Introduction to Nutrition for Health Sciences
  • Elements of Public Speaking

While any student is eligible to take online classes from City College of San Francisco, only residents of San Francisco can take advantage of tuition-free college online. City College is fully accredited to offer these online courses by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

Pros:

  • Diverse student body
  • Affordability

Cons:

  • Low graduation rate

City College of New York

New York, New York

Website

Residents of New York City may be eligible to pursue a free online bachelor degree from City College of New York. Prospective students interested in this opportunity must apply for the Excelsior Scholarship and commit to a full-time degree program consisting of a minimum of 30 credit hours annually. Applicants with a family income of less than $125,000 will be considered for the scholarship. The CUNY School of Professional Studies offers numerous free bachelor’s degree programs for scholarship recipients, including:

  • BA in Communication and Media
  • BA in Psychology
  • BS in Business
  • BS in Information Systems
  • BS in Nursing

Online criminal justice degrees are also available through the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. City College of New York holds its institutional accreditation through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Pros:

  • Nationally ranked public school
  • Affordability
  • Small class sizes

Cons:

  • Low graduation rate
  • More competitive

Curtis Institute of Music

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Website

Curtis Institute of Music offers both merit-based and need-based scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance for high-achieving, low-income students. As it is a music conservatory, the admissions process for Curtis is by audition only, and the school is highly competitive. Once admitted, students can pursue degree programs in music at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Diplomas and professional certificates are also available. Curtis Institute of Music is fully accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education as well as the National Association of Schools of Music Commission on Accreditation.

Pros:

  • One-on-one instruction
  • Targeted curriculum

Cons:

  • Competitive admissions
  • Less diverse

Saylor Academy

Washington, D.C.

Website

With a mission to expand access to higher education, Saylor Academy has been offering free online courses for college credit since 2008. Depending on their individual goals and interests, students can enroll in single classes, degree completion programs, or professional certification courses. Available course titles span general education classes as well as major-specific courses, including:

  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Crisis Communication
  • Organizational Culture, Diversity, and Ethics
  • American Government

Nearly 2 million students have already enrolled in a free online class or program from Saylor Academy.

Pros:

  • Self-paced
  • No admissions requirements

Cons:

  • Less structure
  • No institutional accreditation
  • Minimal engagement

State University of New York

Albany, New York

Website

The State University of New York joins the ranks of free online universities, thanks to the Excelsior Scholarship program. To qualify, students must be a resident of the state of New York and have an adjusted gross income less than $125,000 per year. Students must also maintain a courseload of at least 12 credits per academic term. The scholarship covers tuition only, so on-campus students may still be responsible for housing costs and other fees. Those who desire to pursue a free online bachelor degree have numerous options, including:

  • Online Bachelor of Science in Applied Psychology
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Business, Management, and Economics
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Emergency Management
  • Online Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies: Broadcast and Mass Communications

The State University of New York is fully accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Pros:

  • Numerous satellite campuses
  • Top-ranked global university

Cons:

  • Tuition-only award

University of the People

Pasadena, California

Website

Students who desire to attend a tuition-free college online may want to consider the University of the People. A distance learning institution, the university does not charge traditional tuition or fees. Instead, it charges assessment fees based on the type of program the student chooses to pursue. These fees are as follows:

  • $140 per course (undergraduate degree programs)
  • $200 per course (certificate programs)
  • $400 per course (graduate programs)

Unlike tuition, which is usually charged upfront, these assessment fees can be paid as students take individual courses. Scholarships are also available to cover assessment fees on a first-come, first-served basis. University of the People is dually accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.

Pros:

  • Flexible fee payment
  • Web-native programs

Cons:

  • Larger class sizes

Georgia Tech

Atlanta, Georgia

Website

There are, in fact, a couple of different ways a student could earn a tuition-free bachelor degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Undergraduate students, for example, may apply for the G. Wayne Clough Georgia Tech Promise Program. To be eligible, students must reside in Georgia and have a total family income of less than $55,000 per year. Only 75 of these full tuition scholarships are available each year, however. Nontraditional students over the age of 62 may also be eligible for a tuition waiver to take courses at Georgia Tech. The waiver applies to non-degree programs, undergraduate degrees, and graduate degrees. Georgia Tech holds institutional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Pros:

  • Top-10 public school
  • Diverse student body

Cons:

  • Competitive admissions
  • Large class sizes
  • Limited funds available
  • No online undergraduate degrees

Minnesota State University

Mankato, Minnesota

Website

Minnesota State University is a newcomer to the category of free online colleges, thanks to the state of Minnesota’s revamping of its North Star Scholarship program. Beginning in the fall of 2024, Minnesota State residents who make less than $80,000 per year will have access to free college degrees online, including associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees. Some examples of free online bachelor degree programs students can pursue include:

  • Bachelor of Science in Applied Leadership
  • Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Degree Completion Program)

To qualify, students must be a permanent resident of Minnesota. Minnesota State University is fully accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Pros:

  • Top-20 public school

Cons:

  • Limited online bachelor’s programs
  • Larger class sizes
  • Less diverse

University of Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Website

Under the updated North Star Promise program, students may qualify for free college degrees online from any of the University of Minnesota campuses. Eligibility requirements for this tuition free program include Minnesota state residency and an adjusted gross income below $80,000 annually. Online students who wish to take advantage of the state’s new initiative may pursue free online bachelor degree programs such as:

  • Online Bachelor of Agriculture Business
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Communication
  • Online BS in Criminal Justice
  • Online Bachelor of Science in International Business
  • Online BS in Software Engineering

The University of Minnesota is fully accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Pros:

  • Top-25 public school
  • High graduation rate
  • Comprehensive online program

Cons:

  • Less diverse

Purdue University

West Lafayette, Indiana

Website

Purdue University provides free online college degrees for students who meet certain income and academic requirements. In partnership with the state of Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars program, the university is able to meet the full financial needs of students whose family income is less than $50,000 per year and who have received a 21st Century Scholars award. Online courses and programs are covered by the program, meaning students can pursue a free bachelor degree online. Examples include:

  • Online Bachelor of Science in Analytics
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Emergency Management
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Health and Wellness
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Nutrition

To maintain tuition-free status, students must maintain their scholarship while taking at least 30 credit hours of coursework per year. Purdue University holds its institutional accreditation from The Higher Learning Commission.

Pros:

  • Top-20 public school
  • Numerous online degree programs
  • Small class sizes

Cons:

  • Merit scholarship required
  • Less diverse

Vanderbilt University

Nashville, Tennessee

Website

Vanderbilt University has a generous tuition assistance program that covers the full cost of tuition for accepted students with a family income of $150,000 or less. Moreover, Opportunity Vanderbilt often covers fees and other expenses beyond tuition for many students. Eligibility is determined by information on the student’s FAFSA as well as relevant tax documents. Currently, Vanderbilt only offers graduate degrees online. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges has fully accredited Vanderbilt to offer tuition free college degrees.

Pros:

  • Top 10 best value school
  • Small class sizes
  • Tuition and fees often covered

Cons:

  • Undergraduate degrees not offered online
  • Highly selective admissions

Texas A&M University

College Station, Texas

Website

Texas A&M University can be considered a tuition free online college, thanks to the Aggie Assurance program. Through this program, students with a family income of less than $60,000 will have their full tuition and fees paid through grants and scholarships. Students from families who earned more than $60,000 but less than $130,000 may also receive some tuition support.  Just last year, the program was expanded to support students at Texas A&M Galveston as well as the Health Science Center. With Aggie Assurance, eligible students can earn a free online bachelor degree in nursing (BSN). Various diplomas and certificates as well as graduate degrees are also available via distance education. Texas A&M University is fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Website

A newcomer to tuition-free online universities, the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill just recently announced that it would cover the cost of tuition and fees for eligible North Carolina residents interested in earning a college degree. To qualify, prospective students must have a total family income of less than $80,000 per year. This new initiative will allow undergraduate students to pursue some of their bachelor’s level courses online free of charge, including:

  • Management for Information Professionals
  • Digital Health Innovations
  • Introduction to Interpersonal and Organizational Communication
  • Parenting and Family Life Education

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges has accredited UNC-Chapel Hill to offer these online courses and degree programs.

Pros:

  • Top-5 public school
  • Small class sizes

Cons:

  • Highly selective admissions
  • Full bachelor’s degree program not available online

Online Learning Platforms Offering Tuition-Free College Online

The landscape of higher education is ever-changing, thanks to advancements in educational technology. Today, it’s possible to take online college courses without ever applying to an actual college or university. Platforms like Coursera and edX have transformed the world of online learning by offering these advanced classes for cheap or even free tuition. And these aren’t just individual classes –in many cases, it’s possible to earn a diploma, certificate, or even degree through one of these sites.

Coursera

Coursera has been offering online college courses since 2012. Today, courses from more than 200 accredited universities can be found on the platform. This includes classes straight out of well-known universities like the University of Michigan, University of California-Berkeley, University of Illinois, and University of Colorado, just to name a few. Here are some of the free online college classes you can take from Coursera right now:

  • Introduction to Psychology (Yale University)
  • Introduction to Human Physiology (Duke University)
  • Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills (University of Michigan)

edX

edX also opened its doors in 2012 and follows a very similar model as Coursera. Here, students can earn free or cheap college credits or take online classes for personal or professional development. The platform has more than 260 esteemed partners, including accredited colleges and universities like the University of Texas, Harvard University, Arizona State University, MIT, and more. Below are some examples of online classes currently available via edX for free:  

  • Introduction to Computer Science (Harvard University)
  • Creating Innovative Business Models (University of Maryland)
  • Storytelling in the Workplace (Rochester Institute of Technology)

What Are Tuition Free Online Colleges?

Tuition is a higher education term used to refer to the amount of money a college or university charges for enrollment in their classes. Tuition can vary widely, depending on what type of school you attend, whether it be a public or private school, community college, or four-year university. Other factors can affect the amount of tuition an individual student pays. These could include financial aid, the number of courses you take per term, and whether you study online or on campus, for instance.

Tuition is just one type of expense associated with college, however. There are several other costs you’ll want to consider when deciding on whether to attend a particular college or university. For example, many colleges have a long list of fees you could be responsible for, including lab fees, technology fees, parking fees, and more. Then, there are related school expenses to consider, including textbooks, computers, school supplies, etcetera.  

If you decide to live on campus, then there are plenty of other expenses to account for such as housing fees and the cost of the commute.

When a college describes itself as tuition free, it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t have any expenses to pay. Read the fine print and speak to an enrollment counselor to get the full story.

Why Attend A Tuition Free Online College?

A recent study conducted by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation revealed that most students who decide not to attend college make this choice because they fear they won’t be able to afford school. And it’s true that college costs are on the rise. Some private schools are charging nearly six figures per year for college courses.

Tuition free online colleges take financial worries out of the equation when deciding whether higher education is right for you. Imagine being able to weigh the pros and cons of a college degree without having student debt to worry about. That’s what tuition free online colleges can do—level the playing field for all students, despite socio-economic status.

In the past, tuition free colleges were still problematic because students often had to fork over money for room and board, even after receiving tuition waivers. Since housing costs can rival tuition at some schools, many students still came up empty-handed. Tuition free online schools eliminate other costs associated with a traditional degree, including expensive leases and commuting costs.

Are Tuition Free Colleges and Universities Actually Free?

Perhaps the most common questions prospective students ask about tuition free colleges and universities is: are they really free? This can be a complex issue, and the answer depends on the particular school in question. Still, it’s best to think about tuition as just one of the many costs of attending college. There are other related expenses to consider as well, including fees, room and board, and the cost of supplies, for example. With this in mind, not all colleges that proclaim to be “tuition-free” are completely free. Students may still be responsible for extraneous expenses, despite qualifying for free tuition.

Types of Tuition Free Colleges

The label “tuition free online colleges” encompasses several different types of schools. In this section, we’ll help you identify them by discussing some of their key features.  

Work Colleges

Work colleges don’t charge tuition because they use a different type of currency—good old fashioned hard work. If you choose to apply to one of these tuition free schools, don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. You may just be spending your afternoons tending to cattle or working in the garden after classes end. The downside is that these schools often have residency requirements, so they aren’t ideal for distance learners.

Scholarship-Based Schools

Several of the schools listed in our ranking of tuition free online colleges do charge tuition, but also offer scholarship programs that cover the full cost of tuition. Many of these programs are need-based, meaning students must fall within a certain income category in order to qualify. While these scholarships don’t evaluate a student’s academic performance for eligibility, they will often require students to maintain satisfactory academic progress in order to keep the scholarship. This could mean that they will have to maintain a certain grade point average or simply pass each course they enroll in.

Ivy League Schools

Did you know that all of the Ivy League schools in the U.S. are tuition free for eligible students? Because these universities hope to attract the nation’s brightest and best, they eliminate any financial obstacles that may impede high-achieving students from applying for admissions. To qualify, you’ll need to meet certain income requirements set by the individual school you’re applying to. And of course, you’ll need to get in, which will require an impeccable academic record among other competitive requirements.  No tuition Ivy League schools include:

  • Harvard University
  • Princeton University
  • Brown University
  • Cornell University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Dartmouth College
  • Columbia University
  • Yale University

What Kind Of Online Degree Can I Earn Tuition Free?

Just as there are different types of tuition-free online colleges and universities, there are also different types of credentials you can earn from these various schools. Compare the types of available online degrees that you can earn tuition free before you enroll to make the best of your higher education experience.

Tuition-Free Online Bachelor Degree Programs

Bachelor’s degrees are among the most common types of credential students can earn tuition free. These programs typically consist of 120 credit hours of coursework and take four years of study to complete. Students who already hold an associate’s degree may be able to find degree completion programs that take significantly less time to complete.

Tuition-Free Online Associate Degree Programs

Associate degree programs are often found at community colleges and technical schools, but they are sometimes offered by universities as well. These two-year programs require approximately 60 credit hours of study. Often, credits earned in an associate’s degree program can be transferred to a bachelor’s degree program for further study.

Tuition-Free Online Graduate Programs

Tuition-free online graduate programs are less common, but they do exist. Many state-funded scholarship programs exclude students pursuing advanced degrees, but other programs may allow graduate study. Georgia Tech’s 62 and Older program allows senior citizens to pursue master’s degrees tuition free, for example.

What If I Don’t Want A Degree? Tuition-Free Online Diplomas and Certificates

If you prefer a free online diploma or certificate from an accredited school, you’re in luck. Many of the tuition free online universities in this ranking allow students to earn non-degree awards like professional certificates and diplomas. These are ideal for students who want to learn work-ready skills and find a job quickly. Diplomas and certificates often require a year (or even less in some cases) of online coursework. As an added benefit, many of these vocational and professional programs include coursework that can be transferred to a degree program down the line. This is a good way to begin a career in the short term while keeping your higher education options open for the future.

How To Take Advantage of Tuition Free Online Universities

If everyone took advantage of free online college tuition, then no one would be complaining about the rising costs of a college degree, right? So, how do you join the relatively small group of students who do attend college for free? There are some ways that you can position yourself for success when it comes to qualifying for free tuition. These aren’t guaranteed strategies, but they’re worth keeping in mind as you search for free and low-cost tuition options.

Keep Your Grades Up

Despite the fact that many colleges grant tuition assistance based on income, not merit, grades still matter. After all, if your GPA isn’t high enough to be accepted, then it won’t matter how much tuition help you qualify for.

Moreover, many colleges mandate that you keep your grades up to maintain a tuition waiver once you receive one. Schools refer to this as “satisfactory academic progress,” and it can mean different things depending on the college or university you attend. Some schools may require a minimum GPA, for instance, while others may be satisfied with a passing grade in all of your classes. Either way, you’ll need to study hard to get—and keep—free college tuition. After all, schools don’t want to waste their resources on someone who isn’t willing to do the required work.

Fill Out the FAFSA Now

Most, if not all, accredited colleges and universities rely on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid, including tuition waivers and tuition assistance programs. This is the first step to obtaining a free online college degree, no matter what school you choose to attend. Don’t procrastinate on this important step as doing so could cost you. Some schools administer need-based financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis, so if you don’t get your information in early, you could miss out on free tuition.

Do Your Research

To be eligible for free online college tuition, you’ll need to know which programs and schools to apply for. This will require some research on your part—reading this article is a good first step! Still, schools can change their tuition assistance programs every year (sometimes more), so you’ll have to do your due diligence to stay in the game. Visiting websites like this one with the latest information on higher education, consulting with your school or career counselor, and speaking with school representatives are all good ways to stay abreast of current developments regarding financial aid programs.

We also recommend making two lists as you prepare to secure college funding—one for schools that you know offer free tuition programs and one for those schools you want to learn more about. This latter list can include schools you want to attend, but aren’t sure you can afford. Then, check the schools’ websites regularly to look for updates on financial aid awards and programs.

Be Flexible

Students who are willing to be flexible when it comes to where and how they’ll study may be more likely to secure a no-tuition program. Even if you have a school of choice, you may want to consider other options as well. Decide whether you’d be willing to settle for a different school or program if it meant saving thousands of dollars per term.

Choosing to study online versus on campus could also save you a significant amount of money. You may not have envisioned yourself as a distance learner when you first thought of attending college, but more and more students are skipping the commute/dorm room and logging into class virtually instead. Some schools offer tuition discounts for distance learners, including in-state tuition rates for non-residents. Of course, you’ll also save money by living off campus and eliminating the drive to class each day.

Don’t Give Up

When it comes to finding colleges and universities that offer free online tuition, persistence could pay off big. Some students make the mistake of throwing in the towel when denied aid or admission to a chosen college or university. While rejection can be discouraging, it’s important to keep pressing forward. Many of the same schools that offer tuition free programs will also waive application fees for some students. If you qualify for an application fee waiver, then there’s no harm in applying to as many schools as you can. Doing so will increase your chances of being admitted and receiving tuition assistance.  Just remember to take your time and prepare an impressive application package that’s customized to each school.

A Word of Caution Regarding Free Online Tuition

While many tuition free online colleges are legitimate, others may not be what they seem. To avoid being scammed, wasting your time, or receiving a credential that is worthless, you’ll want to look closely into the school you’re considering attending. One of the best ways to confirm a college or university’s legitimacy is to check its accreditation. You can do this easily by visiting the National Center for Education Statistics website and clicking on College Navigator. From there, you can scroll down to “Accreditation” and see which accrediting body has approved the school’s programs. You can also check the date to ensure the accreditation is current.

Keep in mind that third-party online learning platforms like Coursera and edX are not eligible for accreditation since they are not technically colleges.   

Frequently-Asked Questions About Tuition Free Online Colleges

Since the notion of tuition free colleges can sometimes seem too good to be true, it’s not uncommon for students to have many questions about schools that claim to be tuition free. Below, our editors will address some of these questions with general information gathered through our extensive research process. Note that this information is not meant to reflect knowledge of any particular school or program. For more precise information, it may be best to visit the school’s website and/or contact an official school representative such as an admissions counselor.

What state has free college?

There are many states in the U.S. that fund need-based scholarship programs and incentives that can help pay some or all of the tuition for certain public schools within state lines. Some of these states include:

  • California
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Minnesota
  • New York

If you don’t see the name of your state on the list, don’t worry. This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t access tuition free college if you live elsewhere in the country. Some colleges and universities offer free tuition and assistance without relying on state funding. Some of these schools are included above in our ranking of tuition free online colleges.

What’s the easiest bachelor’s to get?

It depends on what you mean by easy. If you’re seeking a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university (which we highly recommend), you will need to expect a certain level of academic rigor. In this sense, no legitimate bachelor’s degree program is truly easy. Still, you can opt for a convenient online bachelor’s degree program so that you can study and attend classes according to your own schedule. You may also want to consider a tuition free online degree to make your program easier to pay for.

Can I study bachelor’s in the USA for free?

Yes, it’s possible. While most American students will pay some college expenses in the form of tuition and fees, others may be able to earn a free college degree online. Both associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees are often eligible for tuition waivers. It may be more difficult to find tuition-free graduate degree programs like master’s degrees or doctoral degrees. On the other hand, non-degree awards like diplomas and certificates with no tuition may be even easier to locate.

Sources

  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Continuing to Explore the Exodus From Higher Education
  • National Center for Education Statistics: College Navigator