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Our Research

To find the best tuition-free colleges, we looked at several key factors impacting the quality of education and student life, including the number of credits required to graduate, available delivery formats (i.e., online, on-campus, or both), and the programs offered. Using these factors, we assigned each college an Intelligent Score on a scale from 0 to 100.

We also made sure to carefully review each school’s accreditation. Our list consists of schools accredited by reputable organizations like the Council for Higher Education, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Institutions like these ensure that a given college meets certain standards, giving students confidence that the colleges on our list will provide a high quality education.

  • 32 hours to write this article
  • 72 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 160 education programs we compared

The Top 50 Best Tuition-Free Colleges

Best Tuition-Free Colleges Badge
Intelligent Pick
University of the People
Best in the Midwest
College of the Ozarks
Best Small Liberal Arts College, South
Alice Lloyd College
Best Christian Option
Berea College
Best Music School
Curtis Institute of Music
Best Quaker Option
Barclay College
Best for Marine Engineering
Webb Institute
Best for Service Learning
Deep Springs College
Best Naval Academy
United States Naval Academy
Best for Vets
Stanford University
Best for Business
Duke University
Best Tech School
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Most Satisfied Students
Vanderbilt University
Best for Coastal Safety
United States Coast Guard Academy
Best Army Institution
United States Military Academy
Best Ivy League Option
Harvard University
Best for Sustainability
Cornell University
Best Faculty
Princeton University
Best for Law
Yale University
Best Public Business Program
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Best Community School
City College of San Francisco
Best Trade School
Williamson College of the Trades
Best Baccalaureate Teaching
Brown University
Best for Journalism
Columbia University
Best Merchant Marine Institution
United State Merchant Marine Academy
Student-to-Faculty Ratio
Warren Wilson College
Best for Experiential Education
Antioch College
Best Bible College
Central Christian College of the Bible
Best for Communications and Media
University of Pennsylvania
Best for Ministry
Saint Louis Christian College

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What You Should Know About Tuition-Free Colleges

An important thing to keep in mind when applying to tuition-free colleges is that these programs typically do not cover expenses such as room and board, books, supplies, transportation, food, and other costs. Students should be prepared to cover these expenses via other sources of financial aid, including scholarships, federal loans, and grants. You should also consider checking to see if your chosen college offers student work programs to help with additional expenses.

You may be worried that attending a tuition-free college means you’ll receive a lower quality education, however, some of the nation’s most prestigious schools offer tuition-free programs for students who can demonstrate financial need. Harvard, for example, offers free tuition for all students whose families make less than $65,000 per year. Make sure to fill out your FAFSA application before applying to schools, as many universities use it to determine whether or not you qualify for financial aid.

Tuition-free programs vary by school. While Ivy League schools like Harvard offer free tuition to students with significant financial needs, others utilize work programs to give students the opportunity to offset the cost of their education. For example, the College of the Ozarks gives every student the opportunity to graduate debt-free through its student work program. Students earn credits by participating in the on-campus work program for 15 hours per week and two 40-hour work weeks per school year. These credits combined with federal or state aid and the university’s cost of education scholarship cover each student’s expenses.

What’s Next?


  • Apply for financial aid. Tuition-free doesn’t mean that you won’t have any expenses. While these schools may cover your tuition, you will still likely be responsible for books, housing, transportation, and other fees. To cover these expenses, students may use a combination of grants, scholarships, and loans. Start by applying for federal student aid via FAFSA. Make sure to complete your FAFSA application as early as possible, as schools often have a limited amount of financial aid. Some schools also use your FAFSA information to determine if you qualify for free-tuition programs.
  • Check to see if your state has a tuition-free college program. Several states have programs to help students attend college without having to pay tuition. New York State offers the Excelsior Scholarship, which covers tuition for students who attend an undergraduate program at a qualifying university in New York. Other states, like California, Delaware, Oregon, Indiana, and Washington, offer similar programs for four-year universities and community colleges. Keep in mind that most of these programs only cover remaining tuition expenses after federal and state aid have been applied.
  • Review each school’s tuition-free conditions. To qualify for tuition-free college, you will likely have to meet specific conditions depending on the school. Alice Lloyd College’s tuition-free program, for example, only applies to residents of 108 counties in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Before submitting your college applications, make sure you are eligible for your chosen schools’ tuition-free programs.
  • Search for scholarships. FAFSA is a great tool for students in need of financial aid, but it may not cover all of your college expenses. College Board provides a helpful scholarship search tool to help students find scholarships and other financial aid opportunities from over 2,200 programs. You can also use the College Majors & Career Search tool to start planning your education by browsing majors and their related career paths.

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