How to Go to College for Free

Aaron AvatarLet's face it – the cost to attend college has gotten out of hand. I think it's utterly criminal the amount of money students are owing after they receive their degree. Something has got to give.

Fortunately – due to the digital age and a desire for change – we are seeing alternative ways to pay for college. It's now possible to educate oneself via the internet through online courses offered for free. There are even come colleges and universities offering free tuition in exchange for work-study options or simply being within a certain socioeconomic status. 

The following are some of the ways we've found you could attend college for free.

  • Attend college in high school
    I was never really smart enough in high school to qualify for this one (or so I thought) – but if you think ahead, you could attend part or most of college in your last years of high school – for free. Here in Minnesota, you can even start as a sophomore in high school. In theory, you may even be able to graduate high school as well as college at the same time – all at taxpayers expense!
  • Join the military
    This is harder to attain – but if you get appointed to the Air Force, Coast Guard, or Naval academies, you can get your education paid for after 5 years of service in your respective military arm. But you don't need an appointment to these prestigious academies to get a free ride. If you serve in many of the branches – you can qualify for tuition reimbursement or tuition forgiveness after so many years of service. For example, the Army offers a “Post 9/11 GI Bill” that provides 36 months of benefits that can go towards tuition, fees, a monthly living allowance, books and supplies for those who have 90 days or more of active duty.
  • Various scholarships and grants
    If you are a competitive speed texter, there is probably a scholarship for you. Don't neglect this search before you head off to college. is a comprehensive scholarship search that can help you find a niche scholarship for an interest, or ability that you have. I wish they had such a directory around when I was looking for a school. There are even some colleges/universities that exchange tuition for work hours (like College of the Ozarks).
  • Online self-study
    There are countless stories of self-educated people becoming successful without having obtained an accredited college degree – just through their own self-study. The digital age is certainly making this much easier to accomplish today. Many colleges have begun offering some of their courses online, free of charge (Stanford, MIT, Yale, to name a few). Visit the OpenCourseWare Consortium to find classes that are available for free.
  • Audit classes
    There are many colleges and universities that allow you to sit in on selected classes for free as long as you aren't taking the class for credit. This is a great way to see if a certain course of study is something you wish to pursue or to find out how a college runs their classes.
  • Get employer to pay
    As a benefit, many employers today offer tuition reimbursements to employees. This is a great perk and if you are thinking about furthering your education (through a master's or doctorate degree) – a real no-brainer way to get your college costs paid for.

Are there other ways you've discovered OR know of for attending college for free?

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  1. I went to a four-year private university in my home state almost for free. I had a number of academic scholarships and state grants that paid my entire tuition, and the university was close enough to where I lived that I lived at home to avoid paying room and board.

    I also took a few AP courses in high school, and I took as many courses per semester in college as I could to earn more credits in fewer semesters.

    • Man – it really does pay to do well in school – study hard and do your best. Not to mention – smart, like you :)

  2. My work gives me $2000+ in tuition credits each year. I used it to get my second degree (then promptly quit my job) and now, employed by the same employer in a different position, I’m using it to get some new certifications.

    The tuition credits are transferable to spouses and dependants, so for sure if you have kids or a spouse interested in going back to school, I would definitely consider getting a job at a university.

    • Great tip CF about working at a university!

  3. Hi Aaron – I was able to have my tuition paid for after my parents worked at my college for 2 years. I only paid Room, Board & Books which made college affordable for our family!

    • Oh – that’s awesome Savannah – another great way to attend for free!

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