Best Tuition Free Colleges

best_tuition_free_collegeTwo words that don't usually pair well together are "free" and "tuition," but, as impossible as it sounds, there are colleges out there that allow a select few students to attend completely tuition-free. The term "free" here is loosely defined, meaning that, for these schools, tuition itself costs nothing, but other expenditures like student fees, books, and living expenses do not. Regardless, the schools included in this list can bring a college degree within the realm of possibility for those who may have never thought they had a chance at post-secondary education in the first place.

Not all colleges that offer free tuition are small or insignificant establishments, either. These schools exist in locations all across the country, from California to Connecticut, and there are a fair amount of Ivy League schools and military institutions in the mix, as well.

Every school has requirements that students must meet to be eligible for free tuition. For example, Ivy League schools don't provide loans, but they do accept need-based grants and scholarships, and military institutions often provide free education if you serve in their branch for a certain number of years. Smaller organizations require work or some form of community service to supplant tuition costs, but there are also specific financial plans designed for students pursuing particular degrees and majors.

Each school differs in its terms and conditions, so be sure to read the fine print. If you plan carefully and do your research, you can successfully avoid the high costs of tuition and graduate with zero debt. Start your college experience off without the burden of tuition, loans, or financial insecurity. Face the world and reach for your version of success, uninhibited.

Ranking Methodology

The Best Tuition-Free Colleges ranking is based on four main data points in four categories:

  • Affordability (net price)
  • Student Satisfaction (retention rate)
  • Academic Quality (4-year graduation rate)
  • Highest Salary After Attending (the median annual earnings of former students one year after graduation. Only data from students who received federal financial aid is included in the calculation.)

Each data point is ranked with equal weight. Schools received a weighted overall ranking score for each individual point mentioned above–100 being the highest score possible.

In the case of a tie in scoring, the average net price was the determining factor for which school received the higher rank–the lower the net price, the higher the ranking.

All data was gathered from the National Center for Education Statistics website, College ScorecardPayscale, and school websites.

16 Best Tuition-Free Colleges

1. Harvard University


Score: 100

Average Net Price: $14,327
Retention Rate: 98%
Graduation Rate: 98%
Salary After Attending: $128,900

Founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1636, Harvard University is one of the most prestigious private schools in the world, known globally for its groundbreaking research and award-winning faculty. It also prides itself on being one of the oldest academic institutions in the United States. Harvard is well-known for its programs in business, computer science, history, law, economics, and medicine. Most of the school's classes contain fewer than twenty students, allowing for a more collaborative and interactive learning environment. As of 2020, the university has graduated eight U.S. presidents and hundreds of Rhodes and Marshall Scholars. For the most recent incoming class of 2023, acceptance ran just below 5%. Currently, the schoool hosts approximately 6,800 undergraduates, along with nearly 14,000 graduate-level students. Athletic teams sport Harvard red and the mascot, John Harvard--aka a founding member of the university. Harvard athletes participate in the NCAA Division I.

2. Stanford University


Score: 99.3

Average Net Price: $13,261
Retention Rate: 98%
Graduation Rate: 96%
Salary After Attending: $126,400

Founded in 1885, Stanford University is a private institution and one of the world's most respected academic establishments. It regularly ranks among the top ten universities in the United States. All Stanford alumni, attendees, and professors boast astronomical lists of achievements, and numerous Nobel Laureates, Turing Award Laureates, and Fields Medalists associate directly with the university. Stanford alumni have successfully founded many profitable businesses and companies, including Google and Hewlett-Packard, and numerous United States congresspeople are proud to call this school their alma mater. The university supports over 17,000 students, but the relatively low student-to-faculty ratio makes for collaborative and personalized education. Both undergrads and graduate students have access to a variety of prestigious degree programs in fields like business, engineering, education, law, and medicine. Computer science and biology are just a few of the most popular degree programs available. The school's athletic teams sport cardinal red and white and compete in the Pac-12 conference.

Image Source

3. Yale University


Score: 98.5

Average Net Price: $18,627
Retention Rate: 99%
Graduation Rate: 97%
Salary After Attending: $120,300

Yale University was founded in 1701 in New Haven, Connecticut, and is proudly one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions for higher education in the country. The university accepts a mere 7% of applicants and currently enrolls over 13,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Yale alumni boast a wide array of accomplishments, and many MacArthur Fellows and Supreme Court Justices claim this school as their alma mater, along with five former U.S. presidents. The university routinely places among the top three schools in the United States. It also boasts one of the largest endowments of any university, maintaining one of the largest libraries in the world. Yale undergraduate plans of study are primarily liberal arts-based. Both the Yale Divinity School and the Yale School of Drama are highly well-respected in the fields of theology and performing arts, but a few of the more popular programs of study focus in the spheres of political science, biology, history, English, and economics.

Image Source

4. Princeton University


Score: 98.0

Average Net Price: $10,027
Retention Rate: 98%
Graduation Rate: 98%
Salary After Attending: $63,100

Princeton is one of the oldest higher learning institutions in the United States and has been operating as a private university in Princeton, New Jersey, since 1746. Princeton is well-known for its top-of-the-line research programs, and it routinely places among the top three universities in the country. Princeton scholars, professors, and alumni receive both national and international awards, including the Nobel Prize, the Fields Medal Award, the Turing Award, and the National Medal of Science. The school is highly-esteemed for its programs in political science, public policy, and economics. Many former and current political leaders have graduated from Princeton, including several congresspeople and members of the U.S. Cabinet. The school has also graduated many notable Rhodes, Gates Cambridge, and Marshall scholars. It supports nationally-ranked schools of study in the fields of engineering and applied science, as well as public and international affairs.

Image Source

5. Brown University


Score: 97.8

Average Net Price: $30,205
Retention Rate: 98%
Graduation Rate: 97%
Salary After Attending: $141,100

Brown University, located in Providence, Rhode Island, is a selective university that supports approximately 10,200 students. The school is well-known for its unique academic curriculum, otherwise referred to as an open curriculum, which allows students to develop their individualized core class schedules. The university consists of several well-respected schools of study, including the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and the School of Engineering, which was founded in 1847 and is among the oldest schools of its kind in the country. Brown also supports several highly-selective arts programs centering in the fields of creative writing, theatre, and playwriting. Writers associated with Brown University have won multiple Pulitzer Prizes for literature and journalism, as well as the Orange Prize--or Women's Prize for Fiction. Brown offers PhDs and master's programs in more than fifty areas of study. Among these is the medical school, a highly selective and competitive institution which often places among the top fifty in the country.

Image Source

6. MIT


Score: 96.0

Average Net Price: $20,771
Retention Rate: 98%
Graduation Rate: 92%
Salary After Attending: $120,300

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also known as MIT, is one of the most well-respected institutions in the world. The university is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and supports a population of approximately 11,500 students. It is best known for its science programs, and it operates as a leading institution in the fields of mathematics and engineering. MIT researchers, alumni, and professors have won countless academic awards, including The National Medal of Science, the National Medal of Tech and Innovation, and the MacArthur Fellowship. More than forty astronauts attended MIT, and the school has also produced more than a dozen chief scientists for the U.S. Air Force. It maintains several libraries and, in total, owns nearly three million printed volumes. The school is a leading institution in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship, spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on research. MIT faculty are also highly-distinguished among the academic community. For instance, the chemistry, biology, and physics faculty have won multiple Nobel Prizes, Wolf Prizes, and Dirac Medals.

Image Source

7. Vanderbilt University


Score: 94.5

Average Net Price: $19,959
Retention Rate: 97%
Graduation Rate: 93%
Salary After Attending: $97,800

Located in Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt University enrolls more than 13,000 undergraduates and graduate students annually. It routinely ranks among the top twenty universities in the United States and is home to some of the most prestigious research centers in the nation, including the Robert Penn Warren Center for Humanities and the Dyer Observatory. The university's professors and alumni regularly contribute generously to the school's art and humanities programs. Many Academy Award winners, Grammy Award winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, and MacArthur Fellows are proud to claim this university as their alma mater. Vanderbilt also has an active study abroad program that enables students to study in over forty countries. The university has many notable graduate-level programs, including a top tier law school program as well as well-known programs in nursing, medicine, and engineering. Undergraduate students may also study musical performance, theory, and composition at Vanderbilt's Blair School of Music.

8. Cornell University


Score: 94.0

Average Net Price: $31,230
Retention Rate: 97%
Graduation Rate: 94%
Salary After Attending: $116,300

Cornell University is a private school that consists of several colleges and graduate programs. The institution originated in 1865 in Ithaca, New York, and today, approximately 24,000 students call it home. With more than 1,000 campus organizations, the university prides itself on student involvement in clubs, sports teams, and Greek life. Cornell has several nationally-ranked graduate programs, including its College of Engineering and the S.C. Johnson School of Management. The university also supports a well-respected law school as well as the Weill College of Medicine. Students may choose to study at the College of Veterinary Medicine, which is one of the top vet schools in the nation. The Cornell Botanic Gardens, located adjacent to campus, serve as a beautiful backdrop for student recreational activities, as well as conservation research. Cornell is widely-recognized for its contributions to science and technology, and due to its extensive conservation efforts, it also qualifies as a top-ranked green college.

Image Source

9. Duke University


Score: 94.0

Average Net Price: $36,415
Retention Rate: 97%
Graduation Rate: 96%
Salary After Attending: $99,600

Established in 1838 on 8,600 acres of rural Durham, North Dakota, Duke University is a nationally-ranked major research institution that hosts over 15,000 students, which includes nearly 9,000 graduate students. The university boasts a low student-to-faculty ratio, and most classes have fewer than twenty students, making it easy to personalize your education. The university maintains a marine laboratory in the coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina, as well as the Duke University Medical Center, which operates from the main campus. This center comprises the medical school and the school of nursing, along with hospitals and clinics that constitute the entirety of the Duke University Health System. Duke's university health programs focus on education, research, and clinical care. The school often ranks among the top schools in the nation in terms of its undergraduate programs and, in addition to its highly esteemed medical and law schools, Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy and the Fuqua School of Business are also both nationally ranked. The university is well-known for its athletic teams, which play by the blue devil mascot and participate in NCAA Division I sports.

10. Columbia University


Score: 93.8

Average Net Price: $24,231
Retention Rate: 97%
Graduation Rate: 93%
Salary After Attending: $96,400

Founded in 1754, Columbia University operates as a private university in the heart of New York City. The school's researchers and professors take credit for a wide variety of scientific innovations in brain-computer interfaces and nuclear magnetic resonance. The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies are a few of the school's most significant research centers. Columbia University annually hosts the Pulitzer Prize ceremony, celebrating achievements of professionals in letters and music. The Columbia Daily Spectator operates as a student-run newspaper and one of the many student-run periodicals supported by the university. A few of the more political publications, such as The Current and the Columbia Political Review, are also student-operated. Columbia engineering graduates have founded more than one hundred different tech companies. They have made impacts in the fields of business, political science, art, and music, and multiple U.S. Poet Laureates, successful authors, and Academy Award winners laud the university as their alma mater. Columbia continuously works to reduce its carbon footprint, and it established the Office of Environmental Stewardship in 2006 to implement more environmentally-friendly programs.

Image Source

11. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Score: 93.5

Average Net Price: $14,163
Retention Rate: 96%
Graduation Rate: 90%
Salary After Attending: $71,800

The University of North Carolina's main campus is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and it serves nearly 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students across seventeen different campuses. Well-respected graduate programs at UNC include the Kenan-Flagler Business School, the School of Education, the School of Law, and the School of Medicine. The school also supports a variety of esteemed programs in the fields of social work, public health, pharmacy, and government. UNC faculty and alumni boast vast arrays of achievement within the political and business fields, and several graduates have become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, state governors, or even U.S. Congress and Cabinet members. The university publishes a student-run newspaper and operates a student-organized radio station. UNC athletes, aka the Tar Heels, compete in NCAA Division I sports.

12. City College of San Francisco

Score: 92.0

Average Net Price: $3,373
Retention Rate: 72%
Graduation Rate: 22%
Salary After Attending: $68,300

Founded in 1935, the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) operates as a community college with several locations throughout the greater San Francisco region. Students can choose from over fifty different programs, and the school is accredited to award associate's degrees. CCSF students can transfer their credits to 4-year colleges or choose to take some non-credit courses in adult education subjects ranging from citizenship to ESL. The school's most popular majors include natural sciences, liberal arts and humanities, and scientific research methods. The school supports approximately 23,000 students, most of whom enroll part-time. The school offers a wide range of student support programs, and the Student Activities Office has resources and leadership training for the student councils, as well as dozens of other student organizations. The college funds the Betty Shabazz Family Resource Center, the Queer Resource Center, the Student Health Center, the Women's Resource Center, the Multi-Cultural Resource Center, and a student mentoring program.

13. College of the Ozarks

Score: 92.0

Average Net Price: $8,352
Retention Rate: 74%
Graduation Rate: 69%
Salary After Attending: $48,500

The College of the Ozarks is a small, selective institution that operates from its main campus in Point Lookout, Missouri. The school enrolls approximately 1,500 students annually, maintaining a relatively low student-to-faculty ratio. The school accepts only 13% of applicants and the majority of those accepted display financial need. The college aims to support students who cannot otherwise afford a college education. Most students participate in the school's work-study program that covers the price of their tuition and fees, which makes it one of the best tuition-free colleges in terms of minimizing student debt. Most students work in the campus museum or the clinic, but many take part in the numerous grant and scholarship programs. Students can choose from more than thirty majors to earn either a B.A. or a B.S. degree. The College of the Ozarks affiliates with the Presbyterian church, offering numerous faith-based programs. Many students pursue majors in business, agriculture, or public relations.

14. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Score: 91.5

Average Net Price: $14,981
Retention Rate: 96%
Graduation Rate: 84%
Salary After Attending: $21,600

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art is a private college in New York City with a small student body of just 900 students. The school is best-known for cultivating masters in the arts and sciences. Because of its optimal location, students have many opportunities to attend events at local film houses, galleries, and other cultural events. Cooper Union has three schools: the School of Art, the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, and the Albert Nerken School of Engineering. Students working in the fine arts department can apply for private workspaces and cubicles, and they also have access to onsite galleries and studio classrooms. Art and both electrical and mechanical engineering are among the most popular majors the university has to offer. The architecture school is also well-respected and considered to be one of the best of its kind in the United States. Previously, Cooper Union was considered one of the best tuition-free colleges in the United States. It awards half scholarships to nearly all of its enrolled students, and some also qualify for need-based financial aid. The amount of financial assistance offered makes the university highly popular among those seeking tuition-free colleges.

15. University of Missouri- Columbia

Score: 91.5

Average Net Price: $18,602
Retention Rate: 86%
Graduation Rate: 69%
Salary After Attending: $68,300

Founded in 1839 in Columbia, Missouri, The University of Missouri (also called MU) is is the largest public higher education institution in the state, enrolling over 30,000 students in total. MU students can choose from more than 300 different degree programs. The university's accompanying Missouri School of Journalism, which was founded in 1908, is one of the oldest journalism schools in the world. MU is a major research university. Its science department supplies isotopes used in the field of nuclear medicine. MU also has a tier 1 law school and a variety of popular graduate programs in education, business, and medicine. The university houses both the Museum of Art and Archaeology as well as the State Historical Society of Missouri. Its historic center, Francis Quadrangle, is part of the National Historic District. Students may choose to participate in any of MU's 600 registered clubs and organizations, making life at MU both educational and enjoyable.

16. Warren Wilson College

Score: 87.8

Average Net Price: $25,117
Retention Rate: 61%
Graduation Rate: 54%
Salary After Attending: $18,300

Warren Wilson College is a private institution located in Swannanoa Township, North Carolina. The college is small, enrolling only around 600 students, most of whom are undergraduates. WWC utilizes an active work-study program that requires students to participate in work-study 10-20 hours weekly, in addition to participating in community service activities. These programs offset the cost of attendance for students, making Warren Wilson one of the best tuition-free options in the nation. Students generally satisfy the work-study requirement by working on the campus farm or forest, but some complete their community service through projects related to preserving the environment, establishing food security, fighting homelessness, tackling immigration, or advocating for youth education. Warren Wilson is sought after for its liberal arts programs, and students are required to take courses in language, literature, math, political science, natural science, artistic expression, history, philosophy, and religion. Some of the most popular majors, however, are biology, environmental science, and psychology.


Take the next step toward your future with online learning.

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.