Seven (Extreme) Ways to Go to College for Half Price or Less

College-bound students can be excused for their looming fears of dealing with student loan debt after graduation. We’ve talked about ways to get your student loans forgiven, but what about not having student loan debt at all? Here are a number of options to drastically reduce your tuition costs:

Attend a Tuition-Free College

This may cause the 40 million Americans with student loan debt to kick themselves, but yes, there are colleges that will leave you with a degree and zero debt. Keep in mind that many of them require some type of work program to help fund your tuition or other stipulations, such as specific residency or grade point average. Also, while tuition may be covered, other fees and living expenses might not be. Here is a list of American colleges that you might be able to attend for free:

Alice Lloyd College: If you live in the Central Appalachian service area and are a resident of Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, or West Virginia, you can qualify for this college’s free tuition program. Students are required to work on campus to help fund their education and also utilize a combination of donor-based scholarships and grants. Even though students are expected to pay living expenses, the financial aid office is sometimes able to assist students based on their level of need. Find more information on Alice Lloyd College.

Barclay College: This Kansas college offers all resident students a full-tuition scholarship for $11,000. The Bible-centered Christian college offers bachelor’s degree programs such as business administration, nursing, psychology and family studies, and Christian school elementary education.

Berea College: Every student receives the Tuition Promise Scholarship (an estimated value of $100,000 for four years), which works with other grants and scholarships to cover the cost of tuition. According to the Kentucky college’s website, even costs such as housing and meals can also be provided depending upon financial need.

Central Christian College of the Bible: Accepted students who attend classes on-site at this Missouri school receive a scholarship for full tuition, up to 18 credit hours per semester. To qualify, you’ll need to meet “satisfactory academic progress,” attend a percentage of chapel services, and complete a percentage of service hours.

College of the Ozarks: No tuition is charged to students; instead they work on campus to pay their way. Students work 15 hours per week and two 40-hour workweeks during the academic year. You can even participate in the summer work program to apply that income to the upcoming academic year. The work hours are combined with qualifying state and federal grants along with scholarships from the Missouri college to cover the tuition.

Cooper Union: Cooper Union, for the Advancement of Science and Arts, an all-honors private college, awards full-tuition scholarships for all undergraduate students (a $37,500 value). According to the New York City college’s website, students are still required to pay for fees and living expenses, which they estimate it at $16,358, but they encourage students to apply for financial aid to help with those costs.

Curtis Institute of Music: Music lovers need to audition to enroll in Philadelphia’s Curtis School of Music. But if you are accepted, all tuition is covered with their merit-based full tuition for both undergraduate (estimates $37,600 value) and graduate students ($50,100 value), regardless of your financial situation. Check out more information on this program.

Deep Springs College: This is a two-year liberal arts college (for associate’s degrees) in Nevada founded on academics, labor, and self-governance, according to its website. Each student receives a full scholarship (an estimated $50,000 value). Learn more about Deep Springs College.

Macaulay Honors College at City University of New York: If you meet the CUNY residency requirements for in-state tuition, you can qualify for a full-tuition scholarship plus a laptop computer, opportunities to pursue global research and internships, and a cultural passport to New  York arts venues. Check out more information on this program.

Webb Institute: This New York engineering college awards full-tuition scholarships to all accepted students who are U.S. citizens or green-card holders. Learn more about this program and how tuition is provided.

Go to College Abroad

Some foreign colleges don’t charge students for tuition. In the countries below, the government funds some of the public universities, even for international students.

While not paying tuition is tempting, keep in mind the other costs associated with living in another country, including transportation — will you need a round-trip international plane ticket home each summer? What about winter break? — and housing. Whether or not you can work while you’re there will depend on the country. You’ll also want to learn the process of applying for a student visa through the U.S. State Department.

We’ve included cost-of-living estimates, courtesy of, which compare each country’s average consumer prices, including rent, to those in the United States. A plus sign indicates that the cost of living is that much higher than in the U.S.


Cost of living: -6.5%

You can attend many German colleges for free, according to The Times of London. Colleges include Humboldt University of Berlin, Technical University of Munich, and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, which offers a large number of management, business, and psychology classes taught in English. Also, the University of Freiburg has a popular Global Studies Program that is also taught in English. Free University of Berlin has branch offices in the U.S., according to, so it could be a good place to start.


Cost of living: +8.8%

According to the Complete University Guide, France has 83 public universities that are funded by the government, such as Sorbonne University or University of Paris, and 33 undergraduate programs that are taught in English.


Cost of living index: +8.0%

According to the website Study in Finland, there are more than 400 programs in the country where you can study in English.


Cost of living: +50.0%

While studying at Norway universities such as University of Oslo, University of Stavanger, or Buskerd and Vestfold University College can be funded by the government, Study in Norway says there is often a semester fee of 300 to 600 kroner (about $40 to $80 U.S.) in order to take a specific exam. Still, that’s a pretty great bargain.


Cost of living: -25.1%

Nestled to the east of Italy, Slovenia’s recent legislative changes and developments have made it a desirable destination for many foreign students, according to its official website. Colleges include University of Ljubljana, which has a website completely in English, along with University of Maribor, University of Primorska, and University of Nova Gorcia.


Cost of living: -34.2%

Not to be outdone by its European counterparts, Brazil also offers the chance for government-funded education abroad, with a lower cost of living. Brazilian colleges include Universidade de Sao Paulo, Universidade Federal de Santa Maria, and Campus Brasil. Learn more at


Cost of living: -0.8%

Until recently, even foreign students paid next to nothing for tuition in Sweden, but a 2010 law now requires international students to pay tuition. Still, there are more than 900 programs taught in English at Swedish universities, according to the website Study in Sweden, and tuition remains relatively cheap.

Stockholm University, one of the highest-ranked universities in the world, offers 75 master’s programs taught in English, and yearly tuition for international students starts at 90,000 kroner, or about $11,500, per year.

Ireland and the United Kingdom

Cost of living: +17.7% (Ireland), +17.5% (U.K.)

Colleges in the British Isles aren’t exactly free, but they are much cheaper than U.S. colleges in many cases, even given the higher rates for international students.

Annual fees at Trinity College in Dublin, for example, were about 16,500 euros last year, or $20,200, for non-EU students pursuing an English or Psychology degree. University of Glasgow not only offers cheaper tuition, but also 60 undergraduate scholarships specifically for international students.

And tuition at Oxford — yes, that Oxford — starts at £14,845 per year, or about $23,200, depending on your degree program. Compare that to tuition at America’s Ivy League schools, which in 2014 ranged from about $42,000 to $51,000, and you could earn a world-class education for about half the price.

Attend a College That Helps

While not every college can be tuition-free, some help significantly with the financial aspect.

  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pledges the Carolina Covenant, which promises a debt-free education if your family falls at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. It boasts extensive financial aid and scholarship opportunities, providing $30 million per year on need-based scholarships.
  • Harvard University says if you qualify for financial aid, it will “cover the remainder of your need with scholarship assistance and the offer of a campus job.”
  • MIT says 61% of undergraduates receive a need-based scholarship of $32,600, on average. says family with earnings of $75,000 or less can receive free tuition at this prestigious college.
  • Vanderbilt University will meet 100% of a family’s demonstrated financial need, according to its site.
  • Cornell University offers a Parent Contribution Initiative that expects zero parent contribution with families that have an income of less than $60,000 and assets totaling less than $100,000

Join the Military

The armed forces offer soldiers, Marines, sailors, guardsmen, and airmen many programs to help fund their education, including up to 100% tuition assistance. Depending on the program and branch, you’ll need to commit to a specific amount of time you’re serving and other requirements to qualify for tuition assistance. Prestigious military academies such as West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy are also no or low cost.

Signing up for the military is a huge decision that could involve putting yourself in a dangerous, life-altering situation. But if you were already dedicated to serving your country, getting your college education paid for is a definite perk. Learn more about how to earn tuition assistance by visiting

Keep in mind that even if you already attending college, you might still qualify for student loan forgiveness for joining the military. Each program is different, with unique requirements. Plus, it will depend on what type of loans you have and whether or not they went into default, so be sure to fully understand what you’re eligible for.

Get a Job at a College

If you or a parent works for a college, you can often take advantage of free or discounted tuition at that school. But even if it’s not the college you want to attend, many schools belong to Tuition Exchange, an agreement where employees of a member school can receive free or discounted tuition at another member school (though admission isn’t guaranteed).

So you (or a parent) could get a job at Suffolk University in Boston, for example, and you could potentially go to school across town at Boston University or Simmons College for free (or Suffolk, obviously). Granted, it will be tough to get a professional job without a college degree, but it’s great for grad students — and there are plenty of entry-level jobs at colleges, too.

Two-Year Programs

Although a four-year bachelor’s degree is often touted as the best way to increase lifetime earnings and achieve a middle-class lifestyle, we shouldn’t forget about other degrees that take less time and money. Many two-year degrees can lead to jobs with excellent potential for growth and high pay, such as sonographers, dental hygienists, and even Web developers. And by their very nature, they cost about half as much as a four-year program, often less.


It’s not quite college, but an apprenticeship is somewhat similar to an internship for a specific trade, such as a carpenter or plumber. Instead of a college, you can go to a trade school, where in some cases you are getting paid to learn during those years. Check out the U.S. Labor Department’s website for information on apprenticeships and to find opportunities near you.