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    A Guide To Tuition Free Online Colleges

    September 21, 2021 | Staff Writers

    Degree Finder
    BestValueSchools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

    The vast majority of students in the United States graduate college with significant student debt. College is a vital step in most people’s life plans. That said, the cost of tuition often leads to a lot of anxiety. Most graduates realize it is not going to be easy to pay back significant amounts of student debt.

    Well, as it turns out, there’s another way. Not only is it possible to graduate without student debt, but it is possible to graduate without ever paying a dime in tuition. It might surprise you to hear that some of the most respected schools in the country do not charge tuition fees or provide students with enough funding to cover them. 

    In the current era, graduating without debt should be the goal for any degree program. Though this is not necessarily an easy task, it is by no means unreachable. Believe it or not, there are free college courses available that can help you make the most of online learning as an undergraduate student.

    To help you make the best and most informed decisions possible, we’ve put together a complete guide to tuition-free online colleges. In this guide, we will go step by step through one of the most overlooked paths available. 

    First, we will break down the various types of online college programs to help you to understand which colleges offer free online courses, what types of programs are available, and how these schools can offer their students such a deal.

    Next, we cover the best tuition free online colleges and universities. This section will help you get a sense of the best and most well-respected colleges offering free online degrees. It will also give some of the benefits and drawbacks of pursuing this type of degree.

    Third, we will give a guide to the application process. This information will help you to understand the process of applying to online programs, the best methods for applying online, and some of the benefits of studying in this manner.

    Finally, we will go through the ranking methodology for online programs to provide you with a better understanding of the various ways in which online programs are rated, weighted, and measured. This section also closes with a brief look at the smaller but important details worthy of attention when heading down this path. 

    Overall, we hope to give you a thorough look at some of the many possibilities open to you. Tuition free online programs are a great option when you are looking for affordable post-secondary degrees. 

    Types of Free Online College Degree Programs

    Tuition-free online college programs are one of the best options for any student who wants to graduate debt-free. These programs are increasingly common. There is now a wide range of online programs available. These programs allow students to study everything from Business Administration to Computer Science or English Literature.

    The most important thing to consider when deciding between online degree programs is the accreditation of the college. A legitimate, reliable school will have official accreditation, which is a necessary part of post-secondary education. Accreditation essentially means that the school is recognized as a serious and authentic educational institution. For most employers to recognize your degree, it must come from an accredited institution.

    Online degree programs can be hugely beneficial. These programs can either be offered by an exclusively online school or by a school that offers online program options. Many highly respected schools offer online course options. For instance, Eastern Washington University offers a Master’s in Education that can be completed entirely online. These programs provide you with the same degree as someone who completed their studies in person on a college campus. 

    Online schools can also be a much better option for adult learners, who likely have external obligations. Many adult learners find it incredibly difficult to return to school due to the nature of traditional four-year college models. These models do not tend to allow for the flexibility necessary for most people to attend school. This is particularly true if the learner in question has pre-existing work, family, or personal obligations.

    What colleges offer free online courses?

    There are hundreds, if not thousands, of colleges offering free online courses. Some of these courses are simply recordings of in-person classes, while others are specially designed online programs designed to provide students with an equivalent experience digitally. In the first case, the courses are offered for the sake of interest and education, meaning that you do not get college credit for them, though you can still learn. In the second case, the courses are likely offered with credit, allowing you to pursue a degree.

    Many of the world’s most respected universities offer online course options. For instance, the University of Cambridge has a partnership with Apple to provide online courses for free. These courses are offered on iTunes and are available for download. Though these courses do not offer credit, they look like the halls of one of the world’s highest-ranking educational institutions, providing students with access to knowledge that was once relegated only to a privileged few. 

    Like Cambridge, Massachusetts Institution of Technology, commonly known as MIT, offers a range of free online courses. Unlike other universities that offer online courses, MIT allows the public to access its entire curriculum. This access allows anyone to develop knowledge of any subject that MIT offers. Also, the school offers a behind the scenes look at some of how its curriculum is crafted. 

    One of the most interesting universities offering online programs is the University of the People,  the world’s first free, fully-accredited online university. The Department of Education in the United States recognizes this school as an accredited institution. University of the People offers courses in many areas, like Computer Science, Education, Business Administration, and Health Science. The University of the People was developed to help students access education, even if they do not have the same amount of financial support as those who pursue traditional degrees. It offers both bachelor’s and master’s degrees

    Some of the other popular online schools offering degree programs for free include:

    • PDMF University
    • Alice Lloyd College
    • Community College of Rhode Island
    • Brown University
    • College of the Ozarks
    • Barclay College
    • City College of San Francisco
    • Deep Springs College

    What types of free online college degree programs are available?

    There is a wide range of degree programs offered by free online colleges. These programs tend to be more practically minded and career-focused. For instance, many colleges offer programs in Computer Science, Business Management, or Business Administration. People often attend programs like this to streamline the graduate into a job. Many of the programs which offer free online courses without a degree option place a lot of focus on Humanities, Social Sciences, and Mathematics. These programs are usually offered as educational and information classes and do not qualify for college credits.

    Some of the degrees offered at various institutions are broken down below:

    • Alice Lloyd College offers a four-year program in liberal arts. Students can choose to focus on a range of subjects, choosing to major in areas such as Accounting, Business Management, History, English, Sociology, Nursing, Education, and more. This university is entirely tuition-free for students within the Appalachian region.
    • Berea College is another four-year college that charges no tuition to students. Like Alice Lloyd, Berea mainly focuses on students from the Appalachian Region. This college is nearly two centuries old and offers well-respected programs in Education, as well as a range of other fields.
    • College of the Ozarks is another liberal arts institution. It offers full degree programs in over 30 different majors. Currently, the College of the Ozarks has about 1,500 undergraduate students. 

    How do free online college degree programs make money?

    Online degree programs can offer free tuition for many reasons. Many of the programs listed above operate on a system of work-study, which means that students can study for free, without any tuition costs, but they are expected to work a certain amount while they are undertaking their studies. Often, students are required to pay other costs. They will have to pay for room and board if they live on campus, and there may be other fees associated with enrollment. 

    Best Tuition-Free Online Colleges and Universities

    As we’ve demonstrated above, some of the best universities in the world allow students to access their courses for free online. However, most of these universities do not provide credit for doing so. As a result, this is a great opportunity and allows students to develop a broad base of knowledge but does not allow students to receive post-secondary certification. Unfortunately, this certification is usually required to demonstrate your practical skills. 

    That said, many colleges and universities offer tuition free degree programs. Some of these colleges are listed above. 

    It might be a shock to hear that many Ivy League schools do not typically charge tuition to students. In these cases, tuition free college clearly comes without compromise. Many Ivy League and top tier colleges provide financial aid to reduce the tuition costs for qualified students. Some schools, such as Princeton, provide full funding to students whose family income is less than $60,000 a year. For some, this means graduating without spending a dime. 

    To demonstrate that it is possible, and can be very beneficial, to pursue a tuition-free degree at an accredited online school, we’ve put together a guide to some of the best online colleges and universities offering these programs. 

    What are the best accredited, tuition-free online associate’s degree programs?

    An associate’s degree is one of the most common types of degrees sought out by students at online colleges. An associate’s degree is a form of an undergraduate degree. It is a degree situated somewhere between a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree. 

    Most students complete associate’s degree programs in two to three years of study. Generally, community colleges are the most common places to pursue an associate’s degree, though they are also available from some universities or technical colleges. For the most part, people pursue associate’s degrees when they are studying areas such as Engineering, Nursing, Business Administration, Applied Technology, or Applied Science. Associate’s degrees are also available in fields such as Arts, Humanities, Computer Technology, and Forestry.

    With an associate’s degree, it is possible to enter directly into the workforce. Many people choose to pursue associate’s degrees because they allow for a shorter course of study, which means that they can complete school and start working faster. This degree is a trade-off, of sorts, which relies upon the notion that practical work experience may be more beneficial to the person in question than further education. Other people pursue associate’s degrees with the understanding that they can transfer into a four-year program after completion.

    Some of the best accredited tuition-free online associate’s degree programs include:

    • Albany Technical College
    • Holmes Community College
    • Williamson College of Trades
    • Haskell Indian Nations University
    • University of the People

    Which highly respected schools offer free tuition?

    Prestigious schools that offer a tuition-free experience include Brown, Cornell, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Duke, Dartmouth College, and Vanderbilt University. Of course, these schools are not exclusively online colleges, though many do offer online course options. 

    Some of the most highly respected four-year colleges offering free online degrees include:

    • University of Missouri
    • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    • Antioch College
    • Barclay College
    • University of the People
    • CUNY Macaulay Honors College
    • Berea College

    What are the pros and cons of tuition-free online college programs?

    There are benefits and drawbacks to pursuing your post-secondary degree at a tuition-free online college. 

    Though the stigma is not what it used to be, some employers believe that online education is a gimmick rather than a legitimate educational path. Though this is not the case, it is important to be aware of this perception. One way to demonstrate the value of an online degree is to take a close look at its benefits. Some of the main ones include:

    Pros:

    • Many online courses and programs are far more flexible than in-person alternatives. These programs often allow students to study at their own pace and on their schedule which is particularly beneficial to those with families or jobs.
    • Free online courses not only come without tuition, but they also come without relocation costs, residence fees, meal plans, and other fees associated with the study. As most students are aware, the extra costs can outweigh tuition fees significantly.

    Cons:

    • Online courses do not tend to offer the same potential for networking. Often, networking is the best way to make connections with future employers, peers, and professors. 
    • In the same vein, online courses do not tend to come with the same sense of community offered at a physical campus. Many students enjoy meeting their peers, joining clubs and societies, living in residence, and playing on sports teams. 

    How to Apply to Free Online Colleges

    The process of applying to college is never easy, which is particularly true if you are unfamiliar with the particular form of college. For people who have no experience with online school, online college can seem a bit overwhelming. However, these schools try to make application easy. After reviewing the steps, it becomes a lot less daunting.

    It is also important to apply for as much financial aid as possible, including federal, regional, and institutional scholarships, bursaries, and grants. Some grants, such as the Federal Pell Grant Program, help students offset the cost of their degrees provided they meet the criteria. 

    How do you apply to a free online college?

    The application process itself will differ depending upon the school in question. However, there are often similarities between the application processes at these different schools. To give a sense of the typical process, it can help to walk through the application process at a couple of institutions. If you already have a particular college in mind, try looking for a subsection on their website titled “Admissions” or “Application.” This section will likely provide a step by step guide to the basic process. 

    Before applying to a school, it is helpful to have all of the correct documentation handy. You may need papers like high school grades and diplomas, reference contact information, program information, and documents relating to personal history.

    At Alice Lloyd College, the application process can be viewed here: How to Apply | Alice Lloyd College (alc.edu).

    At the University of the People, the application process can be viewed here: How to Complete the Online Application | University of the People (uopeople.edu)

    As you will likely notice, the basic process involves providing personal, professional, and academic information to the school. It also involved providing evidence of grades, college entrance exams, and any awards that you have received. 

    How can you use free courses for credit?

    If you are taking the time to work through online courses, it can seem silly to miss out on course credit. Just because you haven’t been in the classroom doesn’t mean that you haven’t been learning. 

    Different courses will have different methods of obtaining credit. Sometimes, it is just not possible to do so. Other times, it is possible to obtain credit and even use this credit towards a degree or transfer. 

    Occasionally, a free online program will allow you to take a course without charge but will require a small payment for you to receive any certification of completion. It is worth looking into the particular method of certification at the school you are considering before pulling the trigger. 

    Ranking Methodology for Free Online Colleges

    When you’re looking at universities and colleges, you’ll likely notice that certain schools consistently rank highly on lists. Other schools will have statistics to demonstrate their value according to certain bodies. With everyone claiming to be one of the best schools in the world, it can be tough to determine which claims carry weight.

    To make things easier, take a quick look at the most common ranking methodologies for universities and online colleges. Understanding the various college ranking systems is a great way to understand how colleges compare to one another, which is an important part of making sure you choose the right school.

    How are free online colleges ranked?

    There are many college ranking systems out there. If you look up something like “best online colleges” on the internet, you will be flooded with lists. Many of these lists will not have any basis. Others might be legitimate but still differ hugely from another legitimate source’s top picks. 

    Some of the most popular ranking systems include Wall Street Journal/ Times Higher Education, U.S. News & World Report, Washington Monthly, Money, and the QS World University Rankings. In Canada, the most popular ranking list is Maclean’s

    Generally, these rankings take stock of the university’s resources, financial aid, environment, instructor quality, outcome, and student excellence. 

    Why is it important to read the fine print when applying to any free online college?

    It is very important to read the fine print when applying to a free online college. This is to ensure that the college in question is an officially accredited institution. If it is not, you might spend a lot of time and effort on a degree that doesn’t end up paying off. 

    It is also very important to read the fine print to ensure that the school in question is free. Many colleges claim to offer free programs but simply offer free tuition. In these cases, it is often required to pay large external fees. It might also be required that the student pays a fee to receive certification. To avoid such situations, it is necessary to do your research.

    What else do you need to know about free online colleges?

    It is important to know that a college is not a lesser institution simply because it costs less money. As long as they are accredited, free online colleges will provide you with a legitimate and authentic degree. This degree is the same as any degree offered by another institution. The difference simply comes down to the prestige of the institution and the quality of education. 

    A lower-cost school can end up being a far better move when it comes to your return on investment. If a higher cost school ends up casting you into debt, it may not pay off in the long run. 

    Conclusion

    Well, we’ve reached the end of the line. By this point, we hope that you’ve developed a stronger understanding of tuition-free online programs. If you hope to graduate from university or college without excessive student debt, a tuition free online program is one of the best options open to you. Also, these programs are much more flexible, more convenient, and better suited to certain learning styles than traditional in-person courses. 

    To quickly recap, it is possible to pursue a master’s, bachelor’s, and associate’s degrees online. The programs available are wide-ranging. For instance, many people take Business Administration, Computer Science or Information Technology, and Education online. It is also possible to study everything from Nursing to Forestry

    Many of the best and most well-respected universities in the country offer tuition-free options. These schools include Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Stanford. These schools offer some online programming but are not exclusively online schools. Some of the best and most well-respected tuition-free online programs are University of Missouri, University of North Carolina, Antioch College, Barclay College, University of the People, CUNY Macaulay Honors College, and Berea College. 

    The University of the People is a particularly interesting school as it is the first entirely free accredited online university. It offers students the ability to take degrees from associate’s to master’s and offers programming in a range of subjects, from Computer Science to Health Sciences.

    Applying to university programs can be a confusing and somewhat overwhelming process. However, once you have the knack of it, it can become fairly straightforward. When applying, it is important to highlight your strengths, your interests, and your future goals.

    In your life journey, post-secondary education is often one of the most important steps along the way. Unfortunately, for many people, it can derail their plans. Being weighed down with excessive student debt can lead to financial strain, career restriction, and delayed plans. It can be difficult to save for a home or start a family when paying off significant amounts of student debt.

    For that reason, it is important to consider your options when applying to schools. Choosing more affordable options is not selling yourself short. It can often be the best thing that you can do in terms of return on investment. If you manage to get through university without dipping into the red, you are already well ahead of the curve. 

    Online schools offer one of the best possible routes when it comes to graduating debt-free. This is even more true when the school in question keeps its costs low by offering free tuition. If you are planning to attend an online school, make sure that you have prepared yourself to decide by thoroughly looking over any information available to you. As the old saying goes, knowledge is power.

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