“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” –Winston Churchill
I love finding a deal. While researching my first book, Homeschooling for College Credit, I stumbled upon special programs that provided free college tuition for high school students. Later, while plowing through the U.S. Department of Education’s database of 39,000 accredited college programs, I started to notice many colleges could be tuition-free in specific circumstances. In other words, if you were willing to move to another city, work for a specific company, met income criteria, or study a certain major, your tuition could be waived.
Unfortunately for students and parents, this information isn’t really advertised. I began collecting and organizing every possible way a student could earn college credit and a degree without paying cash, and it became the foundation for my work on this book, Completely FREE Tuition. (The 1st Edition version was called Completely FREE Colleges but I changed the title for this edition. It’s much better, don’t you think?)
What do you mean by free? My definition of “free” means 100% free tuition. Colleges still charge fees for all sorts of things (application, labs, technology, recreation, etc.) but we’re focusing on the big one: tuition. Every college scenario in this book has free tuition. In some cases, you may have to give your time or complete a service contract, but you won’t pay cash.
What isn’t free? Now, no matter where or how you spend your college years, you’ll have living expenses, and living expenses aren’t free. Your living expenses are a variable beyond the scope of this book, however, a frugal student with a part-time job during the school year and full-time work during the summer can cover modest living expenses and graduate without student loan debt. A few programs we’ll look at even cover the student’s living expenses, but that’s the exception, not the rule. I anticipate the reader of this book is probably already frugal, but the costs associated with maintaining your lifestyle are up to you. In addition, you’ll have to factor in the cost of textbooks, school supplies, and technological needs like the internet or computer access.
What kind of tuition do you explore? There are two types of tuition: for-college-credit, and noncredit (also called professional development or continuing education.) Non-credit tuition doesn’t result in a degree, though it may result in a certificate or credential. In the 1st edition, I didn’t share any of the free non-credit options since they didn’t result in a degree, but for this edition, I’ve selected a few really good ones for Chapter 14! Besides the addition of Chapter 14, everything other option here results in a full degree. We’ll look at free tuition programs that award an Associate’s (2 years), Bachelor’s (4 years), or Master’s degree.
So, who pays my bill? It depends. Tuition costs will either be covered up front, or reimbursed to you upon completion. Chapters 2-13 explore “no cash up front” options, while chapters 11 and 12 are “reimbursement” programs.
What about scholarships? There are a handful of fantastic scholarship programs out there, but most scholarships, are not fantastic. Most scholarships give you the illusion of saving money while putting you into student loan debt. All too often a scholarship is a marketing tool used to boost enrollment or small token awards given by local community groups. A student who receives a $500 or $1000 scholarship, but chooses to attend a college they can’t afford, will repay their “scholarship” dozens of times over in student loan interest. Don’t step over dollars to pick up pennies. I omitted scholarship information in the first edition, but in this edition, we’ll dedicate Chapter 13 to this subject.
Will you tell me how to go to _specific college_ for free? Unfortunately, no. Flexibility is your friend. This book is written under the premise that judicious spending and pragmatic pursuit of a degree are more important than where a degree is earned. While many of the colleges in this book are of exceptional brand-name and quality, that’s not the focus of my work.
This can’t be true, nothing is ever free. Clearly, someone is paying your tuition. The focus of this book is to find the scenarios in which you won’t have to pay your tuition. On occasion, businesses supply grants to help generate a skilled workforce, establish training programs in fields where a severe shortage can hurt an essential segment of the industry, or simply to repopulate a community. Some cities have instituted programs for their residents. For private schools, large endowments and private donations of wealthy alumni help fund scholarships and tuition-free programs. Most of the colleges in this book also participate in the Title IV Financial Aid program, so in cases where unfunded expenses exist (ex. textbooks, meals, dorms or rent) a student can use cash from working, grants, and scholarship to cover the difference.
Some of the colleges in the 1st Edition are gone. Why? Unfortunately, some of the colleges in the first edition no longer offer free tuition. On the bright side, there are several new ones!
What about deaf or blind students? Most public colleges and universities in the United States will waive tuition for students who are legally blind or deaf. If you live in Texas, it’s the law! If you are blind or deaf, be sure to investigate free tuition waivers in your state before chasing down scholarships and loans.
Is this book for homeschoolers? No, there are opportunities I uncovered that are for other demographics, so I’ve included them too. For instance, there are some dual enrollment programs that don’t allow homeschoolers to participate, and some programs for adults, seniors, or veterans. It would be silly to leave these out.
In summary, there are many ways you can earn a college degree for free, but your talents, goals, and dedication will determine which options make sense for you. We’ll dissect each of these strategies as we go. Have no fear, there are many ways for the resourceful student to earn their degree tuition-free!
ACT: American College Testing. A popular college admissions exam. Visit www.actstudent.org for more information.
AP: Advanced Placement Test. High school students achieving certain scores may be eligible for advanced standing or college credit from their college. Visit www.collegeboard.org for more information.*
CLEP: College Level Exam Program. Open to all ages, students achieving a certain score may be eligible for college credit. Visit http://www.collegeboard.org for more information.*
Distance learning: Instruction that does not require the physical presence of the student. Distance learning can be synchronous (all students viewing streamed content at the same time) or asynchronous (student view pre-recorded lectures or studies on their own).
Dual enrollment: When a high school student is enrolled in one class, but earning credit at two schools for their work. In most cases, the two schools are your high school (or homeschool) and a local college.
Graduate degree: A master’s or doctorate degree.
National Accreditation (NA): Not to be confused with regional accreditation, colleges that have national accreditation are generally non-traditional programs, faith-based institutions, or career schools. Credits earned at a nationally accredited college don’t usually transfer “up” into regionally accredited colleges, or qualify toward licensed professions (teacher, doctor, nurse, etc.). NA colleges are considered acceptable in many fields, including trade or religious occupations.
Open Enrollment: Non-competitive college admissions. Any student meeting the entrance requirements may enroll. Community colleges are open enrollment colleges.
Regional Accreditation (RA): Considered the gold standard. Regionally accredited colleges readily transfer credits between each other and participate in federal financial aid programs. Regionally accredited degrees are required for most state-governed licenses (teacher, doctor, nurse, etc.). If a college you are considering is not regionally accredited, be sure to understand the limitations of that deficiency. All colleges in this book are regionally accredited unless otherwise noted.
SAT: Student Aptitude Test. A popular college admissions exam. Visit www.collegeboard.org for more information.
Tuition: The cost charged by a college for a course. Tuition fees are typically based on a “per credit” system. A course that is 3 credit hours would cost the rate of tuition times three.
Undergraduate degree: An associate’s or bachelor’s degree. “Under” the graduate level of study.
*For help using “credit by exam” strategies, check out my first book, Homeschooling for College Credit. and follow this blog!