Free Tuition Colleges and Work Colleges

Published by Wendy Nelson on


Have you heard of free tuition colleges and work colleges? Both are potential ways to save money on funding your kid’s college education. Some work colleges do offer free tuition, but not all. First, let’s address the term “free tuition”. You really never get “something for nothing” and this is true with free tuition colleges. These schools are going to require a lot of the student in exchange for free tuition. There are three different ways a free tuition college will require something from your student. Let’s explore these first.

Free Tuition Colleges

As I said above, these colleges will require something from your student.  There are three types of colleges that offer free tuition: Service Academies, Work Colleges and Performance Colleges. Let’s examine the three types and see what schools fall into each type.

Service Academies

There are 5 U.S. service academies that I am listing out below. For those who are admitted, it is a Full Ride (tuition and room & board). All 5 service academies require a service commitment after college in exchange for the free tuition and room & board your student will receive. Service academies are very highly regarded academically and are very hard to get admitted to. Also, 4 of these require congressional approval for appointment.






If your student is a top student who thrives on discipline and rigor and is willing to make a service commitment, aiming for service academy admission could be a great idea. They provide a top notch education, no debt and a guaranteed position after college for those who graduate.


Work Colleges

The Work College Consortium is a group of 7 liberal arts work colleges. Not all work colleges offer free tuition in exchange for work. Most only cover a portion of tuition through work. There are 3 work colleges in the consortium that offer full tuition:

  • Alice Lloyd College – This Appalachian school offers free tuition to students within a defined geographic area. In exchange, students work 10-20 hours per week.
  • Berea College – Berea awards 4-year full tuition scholarships to all students accepted. It focuses on accepting students who are not otherwise able to afford college.
  • University of the Ozarks – The full cost of tuition through work, scholarships and grants provided directly by the school.

Additional work colleges that are not part of the Consortium include:

  • Barclay College – A private Christian college in Kansas offering full-tuition scholarships to all students who live on campus. The school is very theology focused, with a small number of majors offered. It is considered a theological college.
  • Deep Springs College – A two-year liberal arts college for men in California, it offers a full ride for all students in exchange for working on the school’s cattle ranch and alfalfa farm.
  • Bethany Global University – A missions-focused Christian college in Minnesota that covers tuition through a combination of Federal grants, a work program and institutional scholarships.
  • Ecclesia College – This Christian college in Arkansas offers a bible-based education and a work-learning program to apply money earned working on campus to the cost of tuition. This school does not cover full tuition through the work program.

One thing to note about work colleges is that they are overwhelmingly Christian-focused with bible-based ideas factoring largely in all areas of campus life. Therefore, they only tend to be a good fit for a certain type of student and family.

Three work colleges that are not primarily faith-based, Blackburn College in IL, Warren Wilson College in NC, and Sterling College in VT, only cover a portion of tuition through their work programs, but also offer other scholarship opportunities.

Performance Colleges

I am terming these schools “performance” colleges because the offer of free tuition is based in some way on the student’s performance or abilities.

Curtis Institute of Music is a highly selective school offering diversified musical training. The school accepts only 4% of applicants each year. In-person auditions are the key component of admission. For those talented enough to be selected, tuition is fully covered. There is need-based aid available to help cover room and board for those who qualify.

Webb Institute is a private undergraduate engineering college in New York.  Every student receive a degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering and every accepted student receives free tuition for 4 years. There are less than 100 students total. The school has a 36% acceptance rate. It offers an amazing opportunity for students interested in this field, with a 100% job placement rate.

Macaulay Honors College – This is an honors college inside the City University of New York (CUNY) system. New York in-state students receive a full-tuition scholarship to attend for 8 semesters. The school seeks “students with leadership potential who are high achievers, intellectually curious, creative, and highly motivated.

In addition to the schools covered here, there are a number of highly selective colleges that offer free tuition to students based on financial need. Many provide a family income threshold and families with household income below that threshold qualify for free tuition. I have covered many of these a while back in this post: Best Colleges for Need-Based Financial Aid. I will update this information and add to it in an upcoming post.

Free tuition colleges and work colleges can provide an amazing opportunity for the right students to graduate from college debt free. As explained above, these schools are not for everyone and are either targeted at specific skills or abilities or are work colleges that are strongly Christian based. For those students who find any of these opportunities appealing, I recommend researching and visiting to determine if they are indeed a good fit. Although admissions tend to be highly competitive, it is worth a shot for students who are interested. Just make sure they have enough other potential schools to fall back on if they don’t make the cut for one of these free tuition schools.