How to Go to College For Free
College tuition hasn’t stopped rising—and neither has student debt. Students owe more than $1 trillion in student loans these days—and default rates are as high as 13%, according to the Project on Student Debt*.
However, it’s still possible to go to college for completely free—even in this day and age. Here are a few ways to do it.
Find a school that doesn’t charge tuition
They do exist. They’re called “automatic scholarship schools,” and they grant exactly what the name promises—automatic merit scholarships for all four years to students who are accepted. Some also provide additional money to students to cover living and education costs. For example, Macaulay Honors College offers $7,500 in “opportunities funds” and a laptop. You can also go to school for free at College of the Ozarks, Berea College, and the Webb Institute. Some colleges require a certain amount of work-study in exchange for free tuition.
See Also: Online College Degree Programs
Enroll in the military
The military is famous for providing tuition benefits for veterans and active-duty troops, through the Montgomery GI Bill and a diverse list of other programs. With all the funding options, determining the amount you qualify for can be complicated—and the programs often offer only up to a limited amount. But the amounts are fairly generous much of the time, and with many schools willing to reduce their tuition to make up the difference between what your benefits pay and what they charge, members of the military often wind up getting their degrees for free.
See Also: Online Military Education
Come from a low-income background
Low income students qualify for a certain amount of federal aid in the form of grants—especially the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant usually doesn’t cover all tuition—but some schools will step in to offer grants to cover the difference. For instance, Soka University of America, Texas A&M, and Columbia University provide free tuition automatically for families that earn less than $60,000 per year—although room and board isn’t always covered.
Come from a specific ethnic background
Some colleges work hard to promote diversity on campus—including offering free tuition to minority groups they want to attract. For instance, some states offer free in-state tuition for all students of Native American ancestry.
Survive a catastrophe
In some states, grant tuition waivers are available to students who survive a significant natural disaster. The State of Massachusetts [http://www.gsmr.org/mng_forgveparspouse.asp] provides free tuition to in-state public colleges to spouses and children of September 11 victims. The federal government also offers loan forgiveness for the families of September 11 victims.
Get a job with tuition reimbursement
Some employers will provide partial or full tuition reimbursement to employees who want to go back to school. There is usually a catch, however; you may be limited to earning a degree that’s applicable to your job or another at that company, and you may be required to sign a contract stating that you will work for the company for a certain period of time after graduation.
Work in public service
Certain public-sector jobs come with loan forgiveness programs, either offered by the state or the school itself. For example, volunteer firefighters and rescue squad workers can go to school for free at Middlesex County College in New Jersey [http://www2.middlesexcc.edu/]. And the federal government offers TEACH grants of up to $4,000 per year for teaching programs. You may not be able to afford an expensive private school with that much—but it might cover tuition at a cheaper in-state public or community college.
Be good at sports
Really good. Many schools—especially those with high-profile sports programs—will give full ride scholarships to student athletes. The benefit to the college is that they get another star athlete to boost the school’s sports performance—and the athlete gets a free college education. There have been controversies about schools offering cash, cars, and other incentives to students as an enrollment incentive, and schools are technically not allowed to offer bribes for enrollment—but many still offer full scholarships.
Be a foster child or ward of the state
If you grew up in the foster care system, there are full-ride scholarships for you from both the state and individual schools. The same goes for orphaned students or those who have ever been wards of the state. If that’s your background, the Department of Education may look at you as an independent student—meaning your parents’ income won’t be counted in your financial aid assessment, and you may be eligible for the full amount of need-based aid. However, there are strict rules for being considered an independent student—so make sure you qualify.
It’s not easy paying for traditional or accredited online school. Even so, some schools will give you a free ride—if you meet their qualifications. It’s often not easy to do this, as schools and funding institutions have to limit the number of students they fund. But if you qualify, you could wind up going to school for free.
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