These days, we all know that college can be expensive. Even with external help, the costs add up quickly. What’s more, with tuition costs soaring and student debt becoming a hot-button issue, these pervasive costs have never felt steeper. Nonetheless, there are possibilities for students to afford college without breaking the bank. Here are a few lesser-known ways to attend college for free. With the right financial plan, you should be able to afford your dreams without excessive debt.
Your college funding plan
All the best masterworks start with a plan. Knowing the facts—and coming prepared—will put you ahead of the competition. When it comes to college funding, your plan should be comprehensive and organized. Combining multiple sources of funding, from scholarships to work-study, requires that you stay on top of dates and deadlines.
Let’s discuss what to include in your overall college funding plan and how to build it.
Financial aid basics
Firstly, the article “FAFSA 101” provides an excellent primer on the governmental financial aid system in the United States. After all, the FAFSA application is critical! Depending on your financial circumstances, you may receive money to use towards tuition costs to help offset the financial burden of attending college.
In fact, whether or not you think you will qualify for need-based assistance based on your family’s income, college counselors recommend all families submit a FAFSA honestly and in a timely fashion. More often than not, students are pleasantly surprised to find they qualify for unexpected help.
Individual universities may also use these documents to determine eligibility for student assistance programs within their student body. While you may not be eligible for need-based aid, you may be a contender for merit-based aid. After all, the only way to find out is to apply.
The Student Aid Report (SAR) is the official letter of your financial aid offering. This will be featured on the official FAFSA website. With this information in hand, you can start building the rest of your college funding plan!
What is a “full ride”?
Many colleges and universities in the US offer full-ride scholarships to exceptional students. So, what does this mean? In other words, it means that the student’s all-inclusive “ride” or course through school is all funded. This includes expenses such as room and board, books, tuition, travel, and other education costs.
Which schools offer this option?
To start you off, here are a few well-known institutions that have historically offered full-ride scholarships:
- Harvard University: Harvard offers need-based scholarships that cover the full cost of attendance for students from families with limited financial resources.
- Yale University: Yale also offers need-based scholarships that cover the full cost of attendance for students with demonstrated financial need.
- Stanford University: Stanford provides need-based scholarships that cover tuition, room, and board for students with limited financial means.
- Princeton University: Princeton’s financial aid program ensures that all admitted students can attend without loans. Their scholarships cover tuition, room, and board for eligible students.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): MIT offers need-based scholarships that cover the full cost of attendance, including tuition, fees, and living expenses.
- Duke University: Duke’s Robertson Scholars Program covers full tuition, room, board, and mandatory fees for selected students who demonstrate exceptional leadership, academic achievement, and community engagement.
- University of Chicago: UChicago’s UChicago Promise initiative aims to eliminate loans for students from families with incomes up to $125,000. They also offer a UChicago Empower Initiative for students from families with incomes up to $75,000.
- Washington University in St. Louis: WashU’s College Prep Program provides full scholarships to eligible students from the St. Louis region, covering tuition, room, and board.
- Cornell University: Cornell offers need-based financial aid packages that cover the full demonstrated financial need of admitted students.
- Vanderbilt University: Vanderbilt’s Opportunity Vanderbilt program meets 100% of the demonstrated financial need for admitted students without loans.
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: The Carolina Covenant program provides a full financial aid package, including tuition, to low-income students.
- University of Virginia: UVA’s AccessUVa program meets 100% of the demonstrated financial need for in-state students without loans.
Remember that many other colleges and universities across the US also offer substantial scholarships to high-achieving and/or low-income students. What’s more, even if your school doesn’t offer a full-ride scholarship, a generous financial aid letter could still help launch you forward. However, keep in mind that colleges may revoke financial aid if you receive a large external scholarship amount. Ultimately, you should discuss your options with a professional financial advisor like SmartTrack College Funding to build your best solution. Be sure to research the specific institutions you’re interested in to understand their scholarship opportunities and application requirements.
States with other free college options
Several states in the US offer tuition-free or low-cost pathways to a college degree through various resident programs. Here are a few examples, organized by state:
Alabama: Birmingham Promise provides up to four years of tuition assistance for graduates of Birmingham City Schools to attend any public college or university in Alabama.
Arizona: Arizona State University (ASU) has two tuition-free programs. The first is the ASU College Attainment Grant Program, which provides full tuition to Arizona residents who qualify.
Arkansas: The Arkansas Future Grant covers tuition and fees for students enrolling in high-demand fields at Arkansas community or technical colleges.
California: The California College Promise program, or the “California Promise,” offers free education for the first two years of community college. In addition, city-based programs like the City College of San Francisco and the University of Southern California.
Connecticut: New Haven Promise covers up to full tuition at a Connecticut public college for students attending a New Haven Public School.
Delaware: The SEED Scholarship covers tuition for full-time students for two-year programs at the University of Delaware. This applies to its Associate of Arts degree program or any program at Delaware Technical Community College.
Florida: The Florida Bright Futures Scholarship program has different award levels, each with its eligibility criteria and award amounts. The Florida Academic Scholars will receive an award amount equal to 100% of tuition and fees.
Hawaii: The Hawaii Promise Scholarship is a last-dollar need-based scholarship to attend the University of Hawaii Community Colleges.
Indiana: The 21st Century Scholarship provides Indiana students with up to four years of tuition at participating public Indiana schools.
Iowa: The All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship is offered to Iowa residents attending an eligible in-state institution within two years of their high school diploma.
Kansas: The Kansas Promise program is a “last dollar” grant, covering tuition, fees, and books after other aid is applied. Students who receive the scholarship must live and work in Kansas for at least two consecutive years after graduating.
Kentucky: The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship covers tuition for eligible certificate and diploma programs at Kentucky community and technical colleges.
Louisiana: The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) provides merit-based scholarships for tuition and certain fees. TOPS can be used at any Louisiana public college or university, or community and technical college system.
Maine: High school graduates pursuing education at an in-state community college are eligible to apply for Maine’s last-dollar Free College Scholarship.
Maryland: The Maryland Community College Promise Scholarship offers tuition-free community college for eligible students.
Massachusetts: The MASSGrant Plus program provides students who are legal permanent residents of Massachusetts with need-based financial assistance. Plus, Boston Bridge, a last-dollar free college program, is available to all Massachusetts high school graduates living in the city.
Michigan: The Michigan Reconnect program provides free tuition for eligible adults to pursue an associate degree or skill certificate at a community college.
Minnesota: The Minnesota State Grant program provides need-based financial aid to eligible students attending Minnesota colleges and universities.
Missouri: The A+ Scholarship Program is a renewable scholarship program that provides funds to graduates of eligible Missouri high schools. Students who attend a participating public community college or vocational school in the state are eligible.
Montana: The Montana Promise Act is a community college grant program for Montana residents enrolled in two-year colleges.
Nevada: The Nevada Promise Scholarship enables Nevada residents to attend any of the state’s four community colleges for free.
New Hampshire: The University of New Hampshire (UNH) announced that it would charge residents receiving Pell Grants no tuition. For eligible students, this would alleviate significant costs.
New Jersey: The Community College Opportunity Grant is a “last dollar” program covering any remaining tuition and fees at any in-district community college in New Jersey.
New Mexico: This state’s Opportunity Scholarship allows students in New Mexico to attain any degree cost-free. Browse degree options on the scholarship site.
New York: The Excelsior Scholarship provides tuition-free education at SUNY (State University of New York) and CUNY (City University of New York) colleges for families with income below a certain threshold.
North Carolina: Through the Carolina Covenant, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) guarantees that eligible students can attend UNC without taking out any loans.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma’s Promise means that state residents can receive tuition at an Oklahoma public college or university. It would also cover a portion of tuition at an Oklahoma-accredited private college or university.
Oregon: The Oregon Promise program provides recent high school graduates with grants that cover most tuition costs at Oregon community colleges.
Pennsylvania: The 50th Anniversary PROMISE Scholarship allows Philadelphia High School graduates to attend the Community College of Philadelphia completely free of charge if they are Pell Grant eligible.
Rhode Island: The Rhode Island Promise program provides free tuition for the first two years at the Community College of Rhode Island.
South Carolina: The South Carolina Workforce Scholarship covers the tuition and required fees at any of the state’s 16 technical colleges for residents majoring in a top field of study, like health care, construction, or education.
South Dakota: Build Dakota is a scholarship program for tuition, fees, books, and other required program expenses in eligible technical institute programs for students who intend to work in a high-need field in South Dakota.
Tennessee: The Tennessee Promise program offers tuition-free community college or technical school education to recent high school graduates.
Vermont: The 802 Opportunity Grant provides students with a family income under $75,000 the ability to attend the Community College of Vermont tuition-free.
Virginia: G3 is a “last-dollar” tuition assistance program that can be used for one of the designated programs.
Washington: The College Bound Scholarship Washington is a need-based scholarship that covers tuition, some fees, and a small book fund for four years of college. Students must apply early — by June 30 of the student’s 8th grade year. Students may also qualify for the Washington College Grant, which covers fees at public four-year colleges.
West Virginia: The West Virginia Invests program offers free tuition for in-state students to attend community and technical colleges.
Wyoming: The Hathaway Scholarship program is made up of both merit- and need-based awards at the University of Wyoming.
No matter what, you can contact your state education department to learn more about your specific opportunities.
How to attend college on a budget?
In conclusion, in a time when college expenses are widely acknowledged as a significant financial burden, the escalating tuition fees and growing student debt have made the pursuit of higher education seem more daunting than ever. However, it’s crucial to recognize that there are lesser-known avenues to make college affordable and even attainable without incurring overwhelming debt. By implementing the appropriate financial advice and exploring these alternative options, you can turn your dreams into a reality.