Top 25 Free Online Colleges

If you are looking for free online colleges in the USA, this article will provide you with some excellent options. The concept of free online colleges is all about making higher education accessible to as many students as possible. While many colleges and universities in the country offer options for scholarships and tuition waivers, some are totally focused on offering a free college degree online to all. 

Some of these free online colleges are non-profits, some are community colleges, and some are small and local universities. You might even be surprised by some Ivy league names in the list as well. They have some solid programs to help students get the education they deserve and not let the lack of finances stand in the way of their success. 

The criteria for admission into these free online college degree programs differ, as do the requirements for getting a free online college degree. Students have to research the school, admissions, and degree criteria thoroughly. Some offer free tuition to all qualified students, some to U.S. citizens or permanent residents only, while others offer to national and global students. 

When you search for a free online university, you will find that most of these are American-accredited and known for their high-quality education. The colleges listed in this article are dedicated to opening access to higher education locally and globally. 

#25 Alice Lloyd College

Pippa Passes, KY 

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Alice Lloyd College

Visit website

Alice Lloyd College is a private work college whose mission is to educate qualified people of the Appalachia region for leadership positions. Taught with Christian values, high-quality education is offered to students regardless of their financial situation. The college emphasizes liberal arts and serves the community and mountain region through outreach programs. It is one of the few schools in the country that offers programs specifically designed to help students cut down on debt. Qualified students can receive the Appalachian Leaders College Scholarship, which covers tuition for up to 10 semesters. The scholarship amount is based upon each student’s financial need and covers the cost of tuition.

#24 Berea College

Berea, KY 

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Berea College

Visit website

Berea College is a private Christian liberal arts school that offers high-quality liberal arts education to help students pursue their personal, academic, and professional goals. Shaped by Christian values, it provides educational opportunities for students, primarily from Appalachia, who have limited economic resources. Berea’s No-Tuition Promise guarantees that students get the world-class education they need without paying tuition. On average, Berea students spend about $1,000 toward housing, meals, and fees. They can also receive financial assistance for books available. Students can focus on their goals without worrying about college debt. 

#23 College of the Ozarks 

Point Lookout, MO

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + College of the Ozarks 

Visit website

College of the Ozarks is a private Christian liberal arts college that encourages its students’ Christian, vocational, academic, cultural, and patriotic growth. The college offers a student work program and donations that allow full-time students to study tuition-free. Students can participate in the on-campus work program for two forty-hour work weeks per school year and 15 hours per week. The focus of the college is good, solid, hard work for its students.  Credits from participation in the work program, along with the Cost of Education Scholarship and any federal or state aid, cover all costs related to education. 

#22 Macaulay Honors College 

New York, NY 

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Macaulay Honors College 

Visit website

William E. Macaulay Honors College or  Macaulay Honors College is a selective, co-degree-granting honors college. It covers four years of undergraduate study, not including the fees and expenses. Promising students have the opportunity to receive financial and academic support to study and realize their leadership potential. All students can apply for and get a merit scholarship package that includes tuition, Cultural Passport, a laptop computer, and access to the Opportunities Fund. CUNY New York State residents can meet in-state tuition requirements and get the tuition scholarship to graduate free from tuition debt.

#21 Deep Springs College

Deep Springs, CA 

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Deep Springs College

Visit website

Deep Springs College is a small, private junior college that ranks among the smallest higher education institutions in the United States. Located on a cattle ranch and alfalfa farm in the high desert of eastern California, it is known for being one of the leading accredited two-year full-scholarship liberal arts colleges. All students receive a full scholarship valued at over $50,000, meeting the college’s goal to ensure that financial considerations do not burden selected applicants. The scholarship includes tuition, room, and board. Students are only required to pay for their own books, travel, medical insurance, and incidental expenses, along with a small damage deposit.

#20 Warren Wilson College 

Swannanoa, NC

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Warren Wilson College 

Visit website

Warren Wilson College is a private liberal arts college known for its curriculum that combines work and service with high-quality academics. All first-time students who are admitted as full-time undergraduates are eligible for a tuition-free plan. Warren Wilson follows the North Carolina Free Tuition Plan, making a Warren Wilson education possible for more North Carolina students. If a federal or state need-based grant covers a part of the tuition, the college ensures that students receive the remainder of their tuition-free through Warren Wilson College scholarships, need-based grants, and the unique work grant. 

#19 University of the People 

Pasadena, CA 

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + University of the People 

Visit website

University of the People is a private non-profit, American-accredited, distance education university. It partners with top universities worldwide to expand students’ access to higher education globally. It has a tuition-free model that offers students the opportunity to earn a quality degree via an affordable solution with scholarships available and minimal fees charged. They offer degree programs in Business Administration, Health Science, Computer Science, and Education. UoPeople’s cost-effective alternative to traditional American higher education helps students to graduate without the burden of heavy student loans. Students get the skills they need to excel in varied and in-demand careers.

#18 Barclay College

Haviland, KS

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Barclay College

Visit website

Barclay College is a private Quaker college known for ministry degrees and other professional degrees. Dorm residents and full-time students can get full-tuition scholarships. They can work towards earning their bachelor’s degree without worrying about student debt. The faith-based learning environment helps students expand their outlook with a graduate degree. The academic atmosphere is broadly practical, highly professional, and deeply personal. Barclay College is committed to preparing students for varied careers and to excel in the path they choose. Their Full Tuition Scholarship supports the dreams of their students and aids them to get the education they deserve. 

#17 Cornell University

Ithaca, NY 

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Cornell University

Visit website

Cornell University is a private Ivy League university that has consistently been ranked among the top universities globally. Despite the high ranking, the school’s tuition costs and financial support for various programs are designed to support student goals. 97% of on-campus students in research Ph.D. programs receive funding packages that include tuition, health insurance, fees, and a living allowance or stipend. Many students apply for financial aid, which is competitive. They can apply for Cornell grants, which are essentially funds that do not have to be repaid. The average Cornell grant award for a first-year student in the Class of 2021 ranged between $40,686 and $76,997. 

#16 Curtis Institute of Music 

Philadelphia, PA

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Curtis Institute of Music 

Visit website

The Curtis Institute of Music is a private conservatory that offers degrees in Bachelor of Music, Master of Music in opera, performance diploma, or Professional Studies Certificate in Opera. The school has maintained an all-scholarship policy since 1928. The annual value of this scholarship was $47,143 for undergraduate students for the 2020–21 school year and $58,535 for graduate students. These merit-based, full-tuition scholarships are renewed each year of a student’s enrollment and are offered to all undergraduate and postgraduate students, regardless of their financial situation. No application for financial assistance is required for the full-tuition scholarship. Financial aid for living expenses is based on financial need alone.

 #15 United States Air Force Academy 

Air Force Academy, CO

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + United States Air Force Academy 

Visit website

The United States Air Force Academy is meant for officer cadets of the United States Air Force and the United States Space Force. Cadets receive a world-class education that prepares them for careers in the most advanced air and space forces globally. They will receive a world-class education at no cost, which is valued at more than $416,000. Moreover, they are prepared for a fulfilling career right away. Graduates are commissioned as officers in the U.S. Air Force or Space Force with benefits lasting a lifetime. Students can choose to become ]pilots and engineers, cyber specialists, and space operations officers. 

#14 City College of San Francisco 

San Francisco, CA

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + City College of San Francisco 

Visit website

City College of San Francisco is a public community college that offers free tuition for San Francisco residents. The college partners with City College and the City & County of San Francisco for its free tuition plan. 

 It offers one of the largest certificate programs in the country, along with varied and flexible options for students to earn a two-year associate degree. Its Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) program allows successful students to transfer to a 4-year college or university easily. With residents getting free tuition and financial aid recipients getting grants, the college plays an important local role in advancing higher education. 

#13 Gateway Technical College

Racine, WI 

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Gateway Technical College

Visit website

Gateway Technical College is a public technical college and is one of the largest members of the state-run Wisconsin Technical College System. It offers eligible students two unique opportunities to attend Gateway tuition-free through its Gateway Promise program. The first is the high school Promise program is for seniors, offering them cutting-edge programs, classrooms, and learning opportunities. Promise 2 Finish, the second program, is for returning adults who have been out of college for over two years and want to finish their degree. Between financial aid and Gateway’s tuition and fees, the college covers the cost gap so that students can earn their degrees tuition-free.

#12 Allen Community College 

Iola, KS

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Allen Community College 

Visit website

Allen Community College offers both online and in-person courses for incoming students. The college is committed to providing quality educational and support services for the local community allowing students to reach their academic, occupational, and personal potential. All Allen students can apply for Kansas Promise Scholarships.  It covers the cost of tuition, fees, book rental, and required course materials that are not covered by other scholarships and grants. Among other requirements for the scholarship, students have to be Kansas residents and plan to live and work in the state for two years upon completion of degree/certificate. 

#11 Amarillo College

Amarillo, TX

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Amarillo College

Visit website

Amarillo College is a public community college that enrolls over 10,000 students and has six campuses. It seeks to help learners identify an educational pathway that will lead to successful careers. To enrich the lives of local students and the community, the college offers several Exemptions as part of their financial assistance. It reflects the state’s financial aid that allows some Texas residents to attend a public college or university without paying tuition or fees in some cases. By helping students get a quality education at no or low cost, they seek to advance student success and develop and educate the future workforce.

#10 Antioch College

Yellow Springs, OH 

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Antioch College

Visit website

Antioch College is a private liberal arts college that is grounded in experiential learning. Their learning by doing approach involves:

  • Problem-based projects.
  • Freedom to experiment.
  • Cultural immersion to worked-based co-op education.
  • Participation in the design and governance of the College.

The College calls itself a laboratory college where students learn by working in a collaborative atmosphere and prepare to live lives of intention. 

Antioch College aims to provide students with the maximum need- and merit-based aid for which they are qualified. Full-tuition scholarships are offered to all students eligible for the Federal Pell Grant. All students received some need- or merit-based financial aid in the 2017-2018 school year.

#9 Webb Institute

Glen Cove, NY

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Webb Institute

Visit website

Webb Institute is a private top-ranked undergraduate engineering college. It is unique because it offers a dual bachelor’s degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. The rigorous curriculum includes the fundamentals of naval architecture, marine engineering with engineering principles, and related marine technologies. Students develop the skills to become leaders in their chosen profession. The college is also the only full-tuition scholarship private undergraduate program of its kind in the nation. All successful candidates for admission who are US citizens and Permanent Residents receive full tuition for four years. The college offers need-based aid to help cover the additional costs of attending.

#8 Williamson College of the Trades

Media, PA 

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Williamson College of the Trades

Visit website

Williamson College of the Trades is a private men’s junior vocational college founded by Philadelphia merchant and philanthropist Isaiah Vansant Williamson. It provides students with academic, trade, technical, moral, and religious education. Students are qualified to become productive members of society, lead and excel in their chosen profession. All enrolled students can attend on full scholarships that cover tuition, room, board, and textbooks. They just have to pay for annual fees, breakage and yearbook, certain equipment and books that they retain for personal use, and other personal items. They thrive in a Judeo-Christian environment that fosters the values of faith, diligence, integrity, excellence, and service.

#7 Maricopa County Community College

Chandler, AZ

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Maricopa County Community College

Visit website

Maricopa Community Colleges, located across 10 campuses, offer nationally recognized programs to help students achieve their academic and professional goals. They learn in an educational environment that’s rich with civic engagement. The college offers tuition waivers for eligible applicants; eligibility is set upon specific conditions and requirements for recipients. Tuition waiver categories include:

  • Eligible employees of Maricopa Community Colleges
  • Children or dependents of Maricopa Community Colleges employees 
  • Adjunct faculty employed on a semi-regular basis
  • Purple Heart recipients and dependents of police and firefighters who have lost a parent or spouse in the line of duty.
  • Students from certain smaller Arizona counties 

With 60 degree offerings, the college prepares students for the workforce and advanced degrees. 

#6 Cochise College

Sierra Vista, AZ 

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Cochise College

Visit website

Cochise College is a public college with campuses in Douglas and Sierra Vista. It aims to provide accessible educational opportunities for a diverse population to build meaningful careers through lifelong learning. The college is recognized nationally for its cost, high success rate, and return on investment. The college is a member of the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) program. Under this program, it offers a reduced tuition rate of 150% of in-state tuition. The college also awards grants for qualified traditional and nontraditional undergraduate students. The Pell Grant is awarded based on information provided on FAFSA and a student’s enrollment status. 

#5 College of Southern Maryland 

La Plata, MD

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + College of Southern Maryland 

Visit website

The College of Southern Maryland is a public community college that serves students living in Southern Maryland’s St. Mary’s, Charles, and Calvert counties. It has campuses in Hughesville, Leonardtown, La Plata, and Prince Frederick, Maryland. The college is dedicated to making education affordable for all. Enrolled students can apply for grants that are offered based on financial need and generally do not have to be repaid. CSM is the smart choice for credit or degree-seeking students for the annual tuition cost is less than half of a public four-year university in Maryland.

#4 El Paso Community College

El Paso,  TX 

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + El Paso Community College

Visit website

El Paso Community College is a community college district headquartered with five campuses in the Greater El Paso area. The mission of the college is to ensure high-quality, affordable education for all. The college offers a series of aids and tuition waivers to make higher education affordable. One of them includes the Exemptions that allow some Texas residents to attend a public college or university in Texas without paying tuition or tuition and fees, in some cases. The college also offers a series of grants. Other than that, there’s financial aid for veterans and college work-study programs. 

#3 Foothill College 

Los Altos Hills, CA

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + Foothill College 

Visit website

Foothill College is a public community college that is part of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District. It offers 79 Associate degree programs, 107 certificate programs, and 1 Bachelor’s degree program. The Foothill College Promise offers two years of tuition-free education to all first-time, full-time students. Students taking 12 units or more are eligible to have the cost of tuition and fees fully paid for their first two years in the fall, winter, and spring quarters, but not for the summer session. 

#2 St. Louis Christian College

Florissant, MO

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + St. Louis Christian College

Visit website

St. Louis Christian College is a private Bible college accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education. It is ecclesiastically and theologically associated with the Restoration Movement of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. The college offers several federal programs and scholarships to qualified students. These scholarships are both endowed and institutionally funded awards. The Academic Merit Scholarship and Grant are awarded to all full-time traditional day students who complete a FAFSA and have a cumulative GPA above 2.0. It offers other aids like the National Bible Bowl Scholarship, Veterans Educational Benefits, and Alternative Education Loans. 

#1 United States Merchant Marine Academy 

Kings Point, NY

Top 25 Free Online Colleges + United States Merchant Marine Academy

Visit website

The United States Merchant Marine Academy is a United States federal service academy that trains cadets to serve as officers in the United States Merchant Marine, branches of the military, and the transportation industry. The institute is known for its rigorous academic program and requires more credit hours for a baccalaureate degree than any other federal service academy.  The academy’s goal is to ensure that all accepted students attend and earn their degrees, regardless of financial need. Midshipmen receive tuition, uniforms, room and board, and textbooks at no cost. They are responsible for the payment of Midshipman Fees and other costs. 

More About Free Online Colleges

Top 25 Free Online Colleges

What do free online colleges mean?

Free online colleges or a free online university offers students a range of financial aid and tuition waivers so that they get a college degree without worrying about costs. The concept behind a free online college degree is that a student graduates without the burden of immense college debt, like so many of their peers. Many free online colleges in the USA are focused on making higher education accessible to students in their communities or even to international students. Some offer scholarships, grants, and tuition waivers, while others offer one or the other. All in all, they ensure that a student’s out-of-pocket expenses are kept to the minimum so that they get the education they deserve without the constant worry about finances. 

Many of these tuition-free online colleges are small and local universities, community colleges, and nonprofit institutes. Some are faith-based universities that focus on helping as many students as they can. However, it is not only the smaller colleges that offer free online college degree programs. A number of top-ranked universities also offer free online college courses with no credit options for qualified students who lack the funds to attend. Students have to do thorough research to see whether they qualify and how to apply to these colleges. Quite a few aid/grant programs help students get into a top-ranked college or university. Students looking for free online colleges in the USA may find the above information and listed colleges helpful. 

How do you get information on the admission criteria for free online colleges in the USA?

Every college has an admissions page that students should check out. Each free online university or college will have its own set of criteria and rules for application. They typically do not charge students for taking courses or even enrolling. Some of these tuition-free online colleges also ensure that students do not have to pay for books or other course materials. Depending on the college policies, students may have to pay a minimal application fee and an assessment fee per completed course. Students who are unable to afford these fees can apply for further aid. In most cases, the fees are not charged in advance and almost always follow a payment plan. That means students have the option to pay on a course-by-course basis at the end of each term.

The admission process for a free college degree online is quite simple. Students can begin by applying online in just a few simple steps. All they have to do is complete a short online application form, choose their admissions pathway, and make their academic selection. Once they do so, they are connected to an admission counselor who can help them with the application process and prepare them to start studying. They also explain the foundational courses, their elective or specialization options, and how online learning will help them. 

Do the admissions criteria vary between the tuition-free online colleges?

The criteria for admission into these free online college degree programs differ from one college to the other. Students have to research the school, admissions, and degree criteria thoroughly. Some colleges offer a mandatory foundation course that all students have to complete. Other than that, students have to show proof of high-school completion to be eligible for a free online college degree. Some offer free tuition to all students, and some offer to students who are financially challenged. Some free online colleges are for U.S. citizens or permanent residents only, while others are open to all U.S. and global students. However, some basic criteria for international students may differ from domestic students. Typically, admission requirements are: 

  • Basic information such as name, address, and date of birth
  • Complete admission forms 
  • Education history information, such as high school or Bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) name, location, and completion dates
  • English proficiency–completion and score, mostly needed for international students
  • Two Teacher Recommendations 
  • One-time non-refundable application fee though many colleges waive these as well 
  • Financial Aid Forms
  • SAT and/or ACT Scores for undergraduate applicants 
Top 25 Free Online Colleges

Are free online degree programs accredited?

Accreditations ensure that the free online college degree programs meet specific quality standards laid down by the state and the industry. Most of the free online colleges are accredited and recognized. Accreditation is essential as it makes a program credible and improves job prospects. Students need to check out the college website to ensure and check the accreditation status of the prospective school and the program. They should also look into the school’s recognition and rankings, regional reputation, and national rankings.

Most free online colleges in the USA hold regional or national accreditation from an independent, nonprofit agency. When you search for a free online university, you will find that most of these are American-accredited and known for their high-quality education. Students at regionally accredited institutions often qualify for further federal financial aid. The colleges listed above are dedicated to opening access to higher education locally and globally. 

In addition to institutional accreditation, students can also look for free online degree programs accredited in their own right. Many programs lead to vocational careers and practice areas that affect a large percentage of the population. Graduates must hold accredited degrees so that they can get a license to serve and practice. The process for programmatic accreditation ensures the quality of the program, recognition of the school, and quality course delivery. It involves regular reviews to ensure programs maintain their high academic standards, thereby adding to the overall value of the degree.

Is a free college degree online worth it?

Depending on the student’s circumstances, free online college degree programs are absolutely worth the time and effort. There are some common misconceptions about free online degrees. Most people think that the quality of education they offer is not at par with regular universities. They are not sure about all the costs involved and fear there may be hidden costs, and also have doubts about how they are received or respected by employers after graduation.

Contrary to popular belief, these tuition-free online colleges and the degrees they offer are by no means undervalued by employers. Also, none of these free online college degrees are easier than regular online or on-campus programs. Students have to undergo the same rigor and curriculum as the regular programs, which is why these degrees are widely respected by employers.

Top 25 Free Online Colleges

Can I attend a free online university and still work?

Online degrees are known for their flexible formats, and free online college degrees are the same in this regard. Courses are more convenient to access through user-friendly learning platforms, and students can choose from a wide array of programs. Since they are online with mostly no campus visits required, they make it easy for working adults to attend and work simultaneously. There is still a commitment of time each week when students have to take classes, review course materials, participate in various class activities, coordinate with peers for projects, complete required assignments, and prepare for exams. Having said that, these free online college degrees offer a lot of convenience and flexibility since most of them are asynchronous in nature. This means that students can do all of the above but at their own time and pace. They can continue with the day jobs, study and complete their education without worrying about schedules or the costs. 

Can the scholarship or aid received for free online degrees be used to cover expenses for rent or books?

Most free online colleges offer a No-Tuition Promise that guarantees no student has to pay tuition. They are committed to offering deserving students with limited economic resources a world-class education. At times, students pay minimal amounts toward housing, meals, and fees, with financial assistance for books available. 

A number of free online colleges in the USA offer Federal Grants, with the Federal Pell Grant program being the largest grant resource for needy students. These grants provide college students with the cash to cover various expenses and tuition like room and board and other living expenses. Grants are a form of gift money that students don’t have to worry about paying back. Many grants consider all possible college expenses and will pay out a flat rate directly to either the college or the student to support them while attending college. If a student’s financial aid award does not cover room and board expenses, they can talk to their counselors about other options. The cost of education is guaranteed for all students due to the generosity of donors. These could include: 

  • Free campus apartments with a commitment to apply and board early
  • Free student loans or low-interest student loans 
  • Student work programs that require students to participate in the on-campus work programs and earn credits toward their free education

While the exact nature of the program differs between the tuition-free online colleges, they typically cover all college expenses for students. 

What programs are offered as free online college degrees?

  • Accounting 
  • Education
  • Marine engineering
  • Merchant Marine program 
  • Air Force or Space Force programs
  • Naval Architecture 
  • Agriculture
  • Art & Design
  • Creative Writing 
  • Exercise Science
  • Graphic Design 
  • HVAC 
  • Liberal Studies
  • Music 
  • Paralegal studies 
  • Physical Education
  • Real Estate
  • Web Design 
Top 25 Free Online Colleges

What foundational topics are covered in free online college degree programs?

Free online college degrees can be offered as associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s degrees, and certificate programs. All colleges have some foundational or core courses that require students to complete. These vary depending upon the liberal arts or STEM foundation of the degrees. 

A bachelor of arts focuses on liberal arts studies. The well-rounded curriculum includes courses in humanities and fine arts, social sciences, and foreign languages. Students have to complete course sequences related to their academic major.

A bachelor of science degree focuses on a scientific or technical field. Coursework includes practical areas as well as fieldwork. They typically have longer major course sequences than B.A. or BFA degrees. 

Online bachelor’s in engineering programs typically require strong standardized test scores and a solid high school GPA. They take four years to complete and prepare students to excel in various engineering careers. 

How to search for the best free college degree online?

The most obvious criterion to look at is whether a free college online offers a free tuition promise. That will give an idea of whether all or some of the college costs are covered. Choosing the right free online university, however, means more than looking at the cost. Students have to do thorough research about the free online college degree, the school, the time it takes to graduate, and all other associated costs along with the tuition. 

The degree type offered would vary between free online colleges, but most offer similar format and flexibility, student support, and options to graduate early or late. These options are designed with working adults in mind who enroll to get a college education as they continue with their day jobs. Students also need to consider if the free online degree programs are accredited and recognized. Considering all their options before committing to a particular free college degree online is important. The program needs to align with career goals along with being flexible and student-friendly. 

Students should carefully review the coursework before enrolling in free online college degree programs. The course topics and choice of specializations are important as well. Choosing the right specialization or concentration is important since it needs to lead to a specific master’s degree in social work and align with one’s interests. While most free online colleges are 100% online, some schools may have in-person requirements, so students need to check if their grants cover those commute costs. It is crucial to connect with enrollment advisors and find out about these criteria.

Sources: 

U.S. News & World Report

Related Resources:

Bambi Majumdar
Author

Melissa Anderson
Expert

Julie McCaulley
Editor-in-Chief