Everyone deserves a college education, but with the escalating cost of tuition, few can easily afford the price. These days, public school students pay more than $32,000 for a 4-year degree, according to the College Board. For private school students that figure more than triples to $114,000, not including room, board or books.
But there are some exceptions to this pricing madness, including paying close to nothing and scoring free tuition.
Recent graduate Greg Serrao saved nearly $150,000 earning his college degree by attending one of the country’s tuition-free universities.
The 23-year-old just finished his degree at Cooper Union in New York City, where tuition is technically listed as $37,500 per year. But for the approximate 8% of applicants who get accepted each year, that cost disappears, thanks to a four-year scholarship.
“I still had to pay for room and board, which can be expensive living in New York City, but tuition was covered fully by the scholarship. Other students…went completely for free either by working as a resident assistant in exchange for free housing, qualifying for scholarships or by living at home,” says Serrao.
On the country’s shortlist of colleges and universities offering free tuition, there’s Alice Lloyd College in Kentucky, Curtis Institute of Music in Pennsylvania, Deep Springs College in California and St. Louis Christian College in Missouri.
Staying on top of the news may also help you come across free tuition opportunities. For example, a quick news search of ‘free college tuition’ leads to an announcement called ‘Michigan 2020,’ a new plan in 2012 that gives the state’s resident high school seniors a $9,500 grant each year – roughly the cost of attending a local state school or community college.
Watch For Full Scholarships at New Schools
Keep an eye out for brand new institutions offering inaugural classes where they lure in students with free tuition deals. For example, after going out of business in 2008, Antioch College in Ohio re-launched its curriculum last year and now promises a 4-year tuition scholarship to the fall classes in 2012, 2013 and 2014, a savings of more than $100,000.
Cast a Wide Scholarship Net
If your dream school doesn’t offer a full scholarship like Antioch, remember there are millions of dollars worth of other academic scholarships awarded each year. To win as much as possible, you need to act fast and cast a wide net.
“People should start searching for scholarships as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the spring of your senior year in high school because by then you’ll have missed half the deadlines during the senior year alone,” says Mark Kantrowitz, founder of FinAid.org and author of the book, Secrets to Winning a Scholarship (CreateSpace, $9.95).
One myth many have about scholarships, says Kantrowitz, is that you need to be a top student or have years of community service to qualify. Not true. The AXA Achievement Scholarship, for example, doesn’t require straight A’s, and winners receive up to $25,000. Other generous scholarships include the Intel Science Talent Search, where the top award is $100,000, and the Coca-Cola Scholars Program, which gives $20,000 to the top 50 finalists.
“You also want to apply for every scholarship for which you’re eligible. It’s a bit of a numbers game,” adds Kantrowitz. “Even among the most talented students, winning involves a bit of luck, not just skill.”
Check out free scholarship databases online at Fastweb.com and Scholarships.com.
Join the Army
One final strategy for those seeking free tuition is to join the army. It’s not for everyone, but there are various armed forces colleges that charge no tuition in exchange for active service after graduation, including: The U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
What are some ways we can reduce the cost of college and maybe even earn a degree for free? Connect with me on Twitter @Farnoosh and use the hashtag #FinFit.