Tuition-Free Online Colleges

Want to earn a degree online for free? Discover tuition-free online colleges and learn how to qualify for free college.

Updated February 22, 2024 · 3 Min Read

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Are you ready to discover your college program?

College is expensive. Earning a bachelor’s degree online costs around $51,000 on average. But attending a tuition-free online program can save you thousands of dollars.

What does “tuition free” actually mean? How do you qualify? And do you still have to pay for other expenses? Our guide to tuition-free online colleges walks through everything you need to know, along with a list of online colleges with free tuition programs.

What Are Tuition-Free Online Colleges?

Tuition makes up a large part of the cost of college. Tuition-free online colleges make earning a degree more affordable.

Colleges eliminate tuition costs in several ways. Many offer grants or scholarships that cover the cost of tuition. You typically need to apply for these programs, which often come with income eligibility requirements. Other colleges automatically award scholarships to all students or simply do not charge tuition.

Even if your tuition is free, you may need to cover other costs. For example, tuition-free online colleges may still charge fees. You’ll also need to budget for textbooks and living expenses.

List of Online Colleges With Free Tuition

What online colleges offer free tuition? And what are the requirements to qualify for free tuition? Learn more about tuition-free colleges with online programs, including which students qualify, in the following table.

Online Colleges With Free Tuition
School Requirements
Arizona State University State and ASU grants for low-income families. Must be an Arizona resident and meet income requirements.
City College of San Francisco San Francisco residents qualify for free tuition. Must be a first-time student or student returning after a one-year or longer absence.
City University of New York New York residents can earn a free college degree with the Excelsior Scholarship if their household income is under $125,000. Students must enroll full time.
Cooper Union Cooper Union currently covers 80% of tuition for all students, with the goal of fully covering tuition in the next five years. Tuition costs are frozen in the meantime.
CUNY Macaulay Honors College New York residents qualify for full-tuition scholarships if they meet residency requirements and complete the FAFSA and financial aid verification documents.
Curtis Institute of Music All students receive a merit-based scholarship that covers the full amount of tuition.
Deep Springs College The college admits 12-15 students annually with a cost-of-attendance scholarship that includes room and board.
Saylor Academy Saylor offers tuition-free college courses online.
State University of New York New York residents can earn a free college degree with the Excelsior Scholarship if their household income is under $125,000. Students must enroll full time.
University of the People All students attend tuition-free for online courses with minimal fees. Scholarship options are available on a first-come, first-serve basis each term for those who do not qualify for tuition-free courses.
Williamson College of the Trades All students receive a need-based scholarship, and students can also receive merit-based scholarships.

How to Make Online College More Affordable: 4 Tips

Whether you qualify for free tuition or not, there are always steps you can take to make online college more affordable. Here are the steps that can save you the most money.

1. Apply for Financial Aid

Financial aid like grants and loans can reduce the cost of college or even make it free. Make sure to fill out the FAFSA to qualify for federal student aid. Many state and institutional aid also use the FAFSA. Depending on your circumstances, you may qualify for need-based and merit-based financial aid. Check each prospective school's financial aid office or website for information about FAFSA deadlines.

2. Earn Credits Through Low-Cost Programs

You can explore other options to earn affordable college credit outside of tuition-free online colleges. Many community colleges offer highly affordable online classes. After completing low-division courses at a community college, many students transfer to a four-year school.

Many community colleges partner with universities so that you can easily transfer credits when switching to a four-year program. And, online learning platforms like StraighterLine and edX offer online classes that may transfer for college credit. However, you should research transfer requirements, as not all schools accept credits from these platforms.

3. Take Advantage of Flat-Rate Tuition

Most online colleges charge a per-credit rate. Flat-rate tuition means you can take more classes for the same rate. That means you can graduate faster while saving money. Online colleges sometimes also offer a flat rate for distance learners regardless of residency, which can save you money as an out-of-state student.

4. Apply for Scholarships

Scholarships are free money that you don’t need to pay back. So the more scholarships you receive, the less you’ll pay for college. Online students at accredited colleges generally qualify for the same scholarship opportunities as on-campus students.

Check out some scholarships available to online students:

Frequently Asked Questions About Tuition-Free Online Colleges

Are tuition-free colleges actually free?

Tuition-free colleges typically cover the cost of tuition through scholarships or grants. That means students do not pay tuition, but that doesn’t make college completely free. You still need to pay for textbooks and living expenses. Some tuition-free colleges also cover these costs.

Can you go to an Ivy League college for free?

Yes, you can go to an Ivy League college for free. Many Ivy League schools offer financial aid packages that cover tuition based on family income. Generally, a household income of under $100,000 per year qualifies admitted students for strong financial aid packages at Ivy League schools.

Is free online college worth it?

Free online colleges can save you money, but it’s only worth it at reputable institutions. If you’re looking at tuition-free online colleges, make sure to check accreditation status and learn whether credits transfer. Only accredited institutions qualify for federal financial aid, and many career paths require an accredited degree.

Page last reviewed October 4, 2023. All rankings and school descriptions on this page were created and reviewed independently by the ACO Rankings Team.

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