Going to college can be so expensive it's shocking. During the 2018-2019 academic year, the published tuition and fees at four-year nonprofit private institutions have averaged a staggering $35,830, according to the College Board.
But several schools offer a good education and the promise that you won't find yourself sandbagged with oppressive debt after graduation. In fact, they promise every student a free ride.
Dig deep enough through your higher education choices and you'll find these 14 tuition-free gems.
1. Alice Lloyd College
- Pippa Passes, Kentucky
Alice Lloyd College in eastern Kentucky guarantees free tuition to students from throughout the Central Appalachian region. Eligible applicants must come from any of 108 counties in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee.
As a condition for their scholarships, all students must work their way through school, up to 20 hours per week.
Not only do you get a free education, but you also earn real-life work experience.
2. Barclay College
- Haviland, Kansas
Barclay College is a four-year private Christian institution that was founded by Quaker settlers in Kansas during the early 20th century. The school offers $15,000 full-tuition scholarships for all students.
They must live on campus and pay for room and board, though Barclay even provides partial scholarships for part-time students. Many of its academic programs are focused on community service and ministry-related work.
Even at a free college, a student needs money for incidental stuff, like late-night snacks and tickets to the big game. A high-interest savings account can provide money for those things.
3. Berea College
- Berea, Kentucky
Another Appalachian school, Berea College boasts "the best education money can’t buy." The college makes a no-tuition promise, in hopes that student will graduate debt-free after four years.
They also receive laptops, which they can keep after graduation. And, since Berea is known as a liberal arts work college, students are required to participate in work-study.
Famous alumni include John Fenn, the 2002 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, and Juanita Kreps, the U.S. commerce secretary under President Jimmy Carter.
4. College of the Ozarks
- Point Lookout, Missouri
The College of the Ozarks calls itself "Hard Work U." It prides itself on requiring full-time students to work 15 hours per week at campus jobs during the school year, and put in two 40-hour work weeks during times when classes aren't in session.
In exchange, the school pulls together grants and scholarships for each student, so that tuition is always free.
The Christian college places a strong emphasis on service. The broad range of available majors includes: agriculture; art; Biblical and theological studies; hotel and restaurant management; and military science.
5. William E. Macaulay Honors College
- New York
Part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system, this college in Manhattan was founded to provide New York's highest academic achievers with an outstanding college education, regardless of whether they can pay tuition.
Applicants must meet New York state residency requirements and make it through what the school's website describes as a "highly selective" admissions process. Students receive full scholarships, plus Apple MacBook Air laptops to help with course work.
Macaulay reported that it had more than 2,000 students in 2019.
6. Curtis Institute of Music
The Curtis Institute of Music is a conservatory that was founded in 1924 and is considered one of the most exclusive schools in the U.S.
Any student talented enough to earn acceptance receives a full-tuition scholarship. To be admitted, you'll need to pass an in-person audition.
Each year, the college accepts only enough students to complete an orchestra: between 150 and 175. Curtis' alumni list is filled with distinguished musicians and composers, including Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber.
7. Deep Springs College
- Big Pine, California
A tiny two-year private school located on a cattle ranch in eastern California's high desert, Deep Springs College is tuition-free. Enrollment is the smallest of any college in the U.S., with current levels at no more than 30.
To receive their full ride, students are required to put in at least 20 hours of work each week. Most jobs involve cattle ranching, though assignments also are available doing cooking, cleaning, and maintaining facilities and vehicles.
Deep Springs' website acknowledges that "weird" essay questions are part of the quirky admissions process. For example, applicants in 2013 were asked: What does it mean to "grow up"?
8-12. U.S. military service academies
- U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado
- U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut
- U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, New York
- U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York
- U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland
The academies are separate military colleges that provide students with a top-tier education in exchange for service to their country after graduation.
The U.S. Military Academy at West Point also requires its cadets to play on a sports team each semester.
Besides tuition-free education, the five schools provide invaluable experience and opportunities to see other parts of the world.
13. Webb Institute
- Glen Cove, New York
Every student at the Webb Institute on New York's Long Island receives a tuition-free education — in a double major of naval architecture and marine engineering. That's the only choice.
But the school touts its 100% percent job placement for graduates, thanks to the institute's long history and connection to the shipping industry.
Webb says its alumni now work: in government and military; for naval architecture and marine engineering firms; at shipyards and shipbuilding businesses; and for technology companies, including Apple.
14. Williamson College of the Trades
- Media, Pennsylvania
The all-male Williamson College of the Trades in the Philadelphia suburbs offers all of its students full scholarships covering tuition, books, and room and board.
Programs of study are limited to trades, such as carpentry, landscaping, horticulture, machine tool technology, and paint and coatings technology.
This three-year junior college offers its small (currently around 265) student body associate degrees and craftsman diplomas. Students must live on campus and abide by a code of conduct.