With costs soaring and $1.4 trillion in outstanding student debt, some colleges have carved out a unique spot in academia. For starters, tuition is $0.
Getting in, though, is no small feat.
Each school is geared to determined young scholars eager to challenge themselves throughout their academic years. In return for a degree at no tuition cost — and with little or no debt burden — the commitment they require, even after graduation, is steep.
"These are particular kinds of schools that are not for every student," said Robert Franek, editor -in-chief at The Princeton Review. "For those students that fit into this cohort, it will be such a great coup."
Feeling up to the task? Then here are nine institutions that don't charge for tuition:
This small school in Kentucky has a singular mission: to attract underprivileged students committed to working hard. Only those who have financial need are admitted, and every student is awarded a four-year scholarship and a laptop. Tuition costs: $0.
The catch? No slacking off is allowed — classroom attendance is mandatory and every student must work on campus for a set number of hours every week. The scholarships also don't cover room and board or other expenses, although additional financial aid is available to help with those costs.
Deep Springs College
This incredibly small all-male liberal arts college is in California's remote High Desert. Although obtaining a spot is highly competitive, every student is awarded a scholarship that covers tuition and room and board. Since Deep Springs is a two-year school, many graduates transfer to elite schools after completion.
The catch? The college admits only 22 to 25 men a year, on average, and the school's academic demands are intense. This is a "very nontraditional college experience, and students must forgo a lot of the comforts of a typical college dorm," said David Soto, co-author of the Princeton Review book "Colleges That Pay You Back."
College of the Ozarks
Dubbed Hard Work U, this is one of the most difficult Midwestern schools to get in to, with an 8 percent acceptance rate. Students don't pay a penny for tuition. Scholarships and grants completely cover the cost of tuition at this Christian school in rural Missouri.
The catch? Every student is required to work 15 hours a week plus two 40-hour weeks as part of the school's work education program. Although there is no tuition, underclassmen must still pick up the tab for room and board and other expenses.
U.S. Air Force Academy
In addition to free tuition, students receive a stipend to cover all other costs at this prestigious academy in Colorado. There are very high standards for applicants and students straight through to graduation. After four years, graduates are commissioned as second lieutenants in the Air Force.
The catch? Each cadet will serve at least five years as an active duty officer after graduation, although many opt to stay in the military for much longer.
U.S. Coast Guard Academy
This Connecticut-based service academy is also quite selective and rigorous. Many students study engineering and environmental science during the highly structured four-year program. Aside from purchasing uniforms, all students receive scholarships to cover tuition and room and board.
The catch? Students must commit to five years of service after completing their schooling. About 80 percent of cadets go to sea after graduation.
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
Tuition, room and board, uniforms and books are all covered at this service academy in New York. It's known for having the hardest academic standards but the widest variety of career options of all the service academies. After graduation, cadets can enter any branch of the armed forces as an officer.
The catch? Every graduate must maintain their merchant marine officer's license for six years and there is a service obligation, which varies depending on what type of job they choose.
U.S. Military Academy – West Point
This highly competitive military academy has a 9 percent acceptance rate. Students are focused and work hard without exception. In return for a stellar education and training, West Point is fully funded. Students receive free tuition in addition to a stipend of about $10,000 a year. After their years of military service, many graduates go on to successful careers in politics and business, Soto said.
The catch? Graduates must serve at least five years of active duty and three years in the reserves.
U.S. Naval Academy
The Navy picks up the tab for tuition and room and board for all students at "The Yard" in Annapolis, Maryland. Midshipmen are highly motivated and disciplined, and many go on to have prominent careers within and outside the military.
The catch? All graduates must serve at least five years as an officer followed by the reserves.
Founded by the shipbuilder William Webb, this little engineering college in New York is tailor-made for those who want to pursue a very specific career. Every student receives a full scholarship to cover tuition to study naval architecture and marine engineering. Because of the school's reputation, graduates are highly employable. In fact, there's generally a 100 percent placement rate after graduation.
The catch? Webb offers only one academic major and one degree, and "students eat, sleep, study ship design," said Soto.
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