- For families who can’t afford higher education, a select few schools don’t charge tuition.
- Tuition-free universities include smaller schools like Barclay College and Webb Institute, as well as military academies like West Point and the United States Coast Guard Academy.
- Some graduate programs, like Weill Cornell Medical College and NYU School of Medicine, now offer full rides as well.
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The average tuition cost for public universities increased by 4% for the 2019-20 school year, according to US News & World Report. And with total student debt surpassing $US1.5 trillion this year, college has never been a greater financial burden.
Thankfully, for families who simply can’t afford higher education, a select few schools charge nothing for tuition. However, there are still outside costs like room and board and the cost of books.
Unlike many European countries where free (or ultra-low cost) higher education is widely available, there are only a handful of tuition-free undergraduate universities and graduate programs across the US. The most recent addition is Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University’s New York City-based medical school, which announced in 2019 that it would waive tuition and all other costs (like housing, books, and food) for those who qualify for financial aid.
Other free schools include smaller institutions (like Barclay College and Webb Institute), as well as some prestigious military academies (like West Point and the United States Coast Guard Academy).
Interestingly, some previously tuition-free schools are finding it untenable to remain so. For example, The Cooper Union in New York City didn’t charge for tuition until 2013, at which point it began charging students for the first time in over 100 years. (The university is planning to go tuition-free once again within 10 years.)
Here are 14 American universities and graduate programs where tuition is covered.
1. Macaulay Honours College at City University of New York (CUNY) — New York, New York
Acceptance rate: 29%
Since 2001, this prestigious honours college has offered tuition-free admission to schools in the City University of New York (CUNY) system for New York residents. Macaulay honours students can attend any four-year university of the eight currently in the CUNY system, including the City College of New York, Hunter College, and Baruch College.
Source: Public University Honours
2. Weill Cornell Medical College — New York, New York
Acceptance rate: 5%
Total enrollment: 405
In September 2019, Weill Cornell announced that it would provide funds for students with financial need. That includes tuition, housing, books, and food.
Source: The Princeton Review
3. New York University School of Medicine — New York, New York
Acceptance Rate: 6%
Total enrollment: 711
Unlike Weill Cornell, NYU’s medical school offers full rides to all medical students enrolled each year. NYU announced the plan in August 2018, saying it had raised $US450 million of the desired $US600 million to make its medical school free for the foreseeable future.
The Princeton Review
4. Webb Institute — Glen Cove, New York
Acceptance rate: 33%
Total enrollment: 104
Webb Institute, an undergraduate school, only has 98 students, and it covers tuition for all of them. Students at this college only have one program to choose from: a double major in naval architecture and marine engineering.
5. Barclay College — Haviland, Kansas
Acceptance rate: 45.8%
Total enrollment: 213
This private Christian college offers free tuition for undergraduate students who live on campus, including international students.
6. Berea College — Berea, Kentucky
Acceptance rate: 38%
Total enrollment: 1,615
Berea College offers the Tuition Promise Scholarship, worth over $US176,000, to every admitted student. Students may be getting a full ride, but they’re also required to work on campus at least 10 hours per week.
7. Curtis Institute of Music — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Acceptance rate: 4%
Total enrollment: 175
Unlike the other schools on this list, Curtis Institute of Music requires an audition, which explains why the acceptance rate is among the lowest in the nation. Once students get accepted, they only pay an annual $US1,750 comprehensive fee.
8. Alice Lloyd College — Pippa Passes, Kentucky
Acceptance rate: 26%
Total enrollment: 592
Students from 108 Central Appalachian counties – in states like Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia – qualify for a full ride at Alice Lloyd College. All students at the college are required to join the student work program.
9. College of the Ozarks — Point Lookout, Missouri
Acceptance rate: 12%
Total enrollment: 1,533
This Christian private college charges no tuition, and like other schools on this list, students are required to work – at College of the Ozarks, students work 15 hours a week plus two 40-hour weeks at some point during the academic year.
10. United States Air Force Academy — El Paso County, Colorado
Acceptance rate: 11%
Total enrollment: 4,336
Cadets at USAFA pay no tuition, but are required to serve in the military upon graduation. According to the academy’s site, to be accepted, students must be “of good moral character” and be between the ages of 17 and 23.
11. United States Coast Guard Academy — New London, Connecticut
Acceptance rate: 19%
Total enrollment: 1,071
Cadets at the USCGA pay no tuition, but are required to serve in the US Coast Guard for five years upon graduation. Cadets also earn a “modest paycheck,” according to the academy’s site.
12. United States Merchant Marine Academy — Kings Point, New York
Acceptance rate: 22%
Total enrollment: 996
Like other military academies, students serve in the military in exchange for waived tuition. Students at USMMA, however, have a “Sea Year,” where they travel the world aboard commercial vessels.
13. United States Military Academy at West Point — West Point, New York
Acceptance rate: 11%
Total enrollment: 4,589
West Point is known for being one of the most rigorous military academies in the US. According to its site, “It’s where America cultivates leaders for our nation’s future generations.” Notable alumni include Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight Eisenhower, and Douglas MacArthur.
14. United States Naval Academy — Annapolis, Maryland
Acceptance rate: 9%
Total enrollment: 4,512
Students at USNA, also called midshipmen, must serve five years as an officer in the Navy or Marine Corps after graduation, followed by the reserves.