Bargain Basement Bachelor’s – Where to Find Free College

May 10, 2013

With student loan debts averaging $27,000 for recent grads, how great would it be to graduate with a bachelor’s owing a big fat goose egg? No matter what your starting salary, it will feel like thousands more because you won’t be shelling out hundreds each month to service your educational debt! But without independently wealthy parents or a sugar daddy (or mama) how is it possible? Read on to learn more about free college!

For many of us, paying for school involved maxing out student loans and subsisting on affordable extreme diets of Ramen-only meals. But with most schools now costing $20,000-$40,000 per year, getting a gratis degree is the smarter way to go. There are schools (not a ton, but several) around the US that offer tuition free degree programs for students willing to work hard and who have an excellent academic track record. A dose of talent doesn’t hurt either. Here are five programs to consider:

#1 Berea College (Kentucky )

Berea College offers tuition free degrees in 28 fields. The school charges only room and board of less than $6,000 per year which Pell Grants and other scholarships can easily cover. In many cases, Berea will even kick in to cover these costs as well. All undergrads must live on campus and are required to work 10 hours per week on campus. You’ve got to be broke to get in and the private liberal arts school is quite competitive, only accepting 11% of applications. As a good school with a bargain price tag, it’s worth a look-see!

#2 College of the Ozarks (Missouri) 

This small Christian school occasionally admits student from outside the Ozarks, but prefers students from that area which includes regions of Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma and Kansas. You’ll work 15 hours each week on campus plus another two weeks of full time hours (80 hrs total) during off weeks. Room and board runs less than $6,000 annually, but can be covered by a summer work scholarship. Hard work is the order of the day at this school, but free school is free school!

#3 Cooper Union (NYC)

This fab engineering, architecture and art school has a rigorous admissions process and only accepts about 10% of applicants. Tuition is covered by a scholarship provided by the school for those with high need and on a sliding scale for those who can afford to pay. There are $1,500 in fees and roughly $10,000 in room and board not covered, but Pell Grants and other scholarships can whittle this down to zip in out of pocket costs to you. Prior to 2013, they offered the free for all to all who were admitted, but they’ve tightened the scholarship criteria starting this year. If you’re interested in any of these programs, it’s worth a look-see!

#4 Deep Springs College (California)

This liberal arts school is male only, but the school’s Trustees are fighting in court to modify the founding trust terms so they can make their school co-ed. Fingers crossed for ladies to be admitted in 2014 to this dude ranch-based college in the desert. The school offers a free ride for the first two years of school and was dubbed “one of the most selective and innovative colleges in the world” by the New York Times. Lots of manual labor and self-discipline is at the core of their program, but every penny of cost is covered!

#5 Military Service Academies

Speaking of free school in exchange for work – there are five service academies associated with the armed forces that will give you a top-notch no-cost education if you have good grades, high SATs and are willing to spend some time in uniform after you graduate. And with post-grad unemployment on the rise and many others working for minimum wage – a guaranteed job as an officer with great benefits is a perk to be seriously considered as a plus rather than a minus.

Degrees are offered in a wide variety of majors and you never have to worry about what to wear to class – uniforms are provided! The five service academies are: Army (West Point, NY), Navy and Marines (Annapolis, MD), Air Force (Colorado Springs, CO), Coast Guard (New London, CT) and Merchant Marines (Kings Point, NY).

If you combine research, willingness to work while in school with a determination to get a degree not at any cost but at no cost, you can likely find a debt free (or very affordable) degree! Ivy League schools also kick in a good bit of funding for high-performing, high-need students, but you have to be careful. Often, when private schools say they offer 100% financial aid, they require you to max out your federal student loans as a condition – and that’s what you’re trying to avoid!

If you are in school now and have started borrowing or are an alumnus juggling student loans and wishing you had a low -cost education, here’s something free you can enjoy: Tuition.io’s student loan management and optimization tool is totally free and can help you get a better grip on your loans!

Also enjoy these other recent blogs on college costs, affordability and student loans:

 4 Ways to Get Your Bachelor’s on the Cheap

Get a College Reality Check – Chronicle of Higher Ed Launches Insightful New Tool

Stop Student Loan Problems Before They Start – Financial Education Is Key

Pay As You Go – A More Affordable Student Loan Model

Could a $10k BA Fix Our Broken Student Loan System?