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Colleges with Free Tuition for Low-Income Students in 2023

What’s Covered:

 

Cost can be a formidable obstacle for many students when picking a college. The mere thought of paying for each semester or taking out student loans can seem overwhelming‚ÄĒbut while college is expensive, there are plenty of funding opportunities for low-income students.

 

In this post, we’ll cover some great college options for low-income students, including programs that offer full rides!

 

Can Low-Income Students Afford College?

 

The sticker price of a college is not what most students pay, especially at selective private schools, which often have generous financial aid programs. Some students are even able to go to college for free through financial aid or merit scholarships.

 

Financial aid offerings are different from merit scholarships. Financial aid is based entirely on demonstrated need, while scholarships are typically offered based on a student’s achievements (though need is sometimes considered). Some scholarships are only offered to students who fit certain requirements, like age, grade, relation to a certain company’s employee, ethnic background, location, gender, and more.

 

In your search for an affordable college experience, you‚Äôll also likely see the terms ‚Äúfull ride‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúfull tuition‚ÄĚ arise frequently. Full tuition is exactly what it sounds like: tuition, and tuition alone, paid in full via a scholarship. Room, board, and other external costs like school fees, book fees, and lab fees are not included. Full rides, however, are virtually all-encompassing. They cover all costs of attending, including housing, meals, transportation, and books.

 

Even when college is fully funded, there are still barriers to low-income students. Some need to support their families. There is also the opportunity cost of going to college instead of working a job right out of high school or getting a job certification more quickly through an associate’s degree or trade school.

 

That being said, if you are able to attend college and hope to do so, here are some options for you.

 

Colleges With Generous Financial Aid Programs

 

QuestBridge Partner Schools

 

QuestBridge is a college scholarship program for high-achievers from low-income families. These students are given the opportunity to ‚Äúmatch‚ÄĚ with one of 40 top universities. Matched students are offered a full ride for all four years, which covers tuition, transportation, books, and more.

 

QuestBridge-eligible students should have primarily As in the most challenging classes available to them, and they typically come from households earning less than $65,000 for a family of four. This is not a strict cutoff, however; if you’ve experienced significant financial hardship, you should review the other financial criteria carefully to see if you’re eligible.

 

Partnered schools are listed below:

 

School 

Location

Type of School

Amherst College

Amherst, MA

Liberal arts college 

Barnard College 

New York, NY 

Liberal arts college 

Boston College

Chestnut Hill, MA

Research university 

Boston University | BU

Boston, MA

Research university 

Bowdoin College

Brunswick, ME

Liberal arts college 

Brown University 

Providence, RI

Research university 

California Institute of Technology | Caltech

Pasadena, CA

Research university 

Carleton College

Northfield, MI

Liberal arts college 

Case Western Reserve University 

Cleveland, OH 

Research university 

Claremont McKenna College | CMC

Claremont, CA

Liberal arts college 

Colby College

Waterville, ME

Liberal arts college 

Colgate University 

Hamilton, NY 

Research university 

College of the Holy Cross | Holy Cross

Worcester, MA

Liberal arts college 

Colorado College

Colorado, CO

Liberal arts college 

Columbia University 

New York, NY 

Research university 

Dartmouth College

Hanover, NH 

Research university 

Davidson College

Davidson, NC

Liberal arts college 

Denison University 

Granville, OH

Liberal arts college 

Duke University 

Durham, NC

Research university 

Emory University

Atlanta, GA

Research university

Grinnell College 

Grinnell, IA

Liberal arts college 

Hamilton College

Clinton, NY

Liberal arts college 

Haverford College

Haverford, PA

Liberal arts college

Johns Hopkins University 

Baltimore, MD

Research university

Macalester College

Saint Paul, MN

Liberal arts college

Massachusetts Institute of Technology | MIT

Cambridge, MA

Research University 

Middlebury College

Middlebury, VT 

Liberal arts college

Northwestern University 

Evanston, IL

Research university 

Oberlin College

Oberlin, OH

Liberal arts college

Pomona College

Claremont, CA 

Liberal arts college

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ 

Research university 

Rice University

Houston, TX

Research university 

Scripps College

Claremont, CA 

Liberal arts college

Smith College

North Hampton, MA

Liberal arts college

Stanford University 

Stanford, CA

Research university 

Swarthmore College

Swarthmore, PA

Liberal arts college

Tufts University 

Medford, MA

Research university 

The University of Chicago

Chicago, IL 

Research university 

University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame, IL 

Research university 

University of Pennsylvania | UPenn

Philadelphia, PA

Research university 

University of Southern California | USC

Los Angeles, CA

Research university 

University of Virginia | UVA

Charlottesville, VA

Research university 

Vanderbilt University

Nashville, TN

Research university 

Vassar College 

Poughkeepsie, NY 

Liberal arts college

Washington and Lee University

Lexington, VA

Liberal arts college

Washington University in St. Louis | WashU

Saint Louis, MO 

Research university 

Wellesley College

Wellesley, MA

Liberal arts college

Wesleyan University

Middletown, CT 

Liberal arts college

Williams College 

Williamstown, MA 

Liberal arts college

Yale University

New Haven, CT 

Research university 

 

Colleges That Meet 100% Need

 

Colleges that meet 100% of demonstrated need cover the difference between the cost of attendance and your family’s Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). As part of your financial aid package, you will receive grants (which don’t need to be repaid) and sometimes loans. In some cases, you may be expected to contribute toward meeting this need through a work-study program.

 

The following colleges meet 100% of demonstrated need with a no-loan policy:

 

School 

Location

Type of School

Amherst College

Amherst, MA

Liberal arts college 

Berea College

Berea, KY 

Liberal arts college 

Bowdoin College

Brunswick, ME

Liberal arts college 

Brown University 

Providence, RI

Research university 

Colby College

Waterville, ME

Liberal arts college 

College of the Ozarks

Point Lookout, MO

Liberal arts college 

Columbia University 

New York, NY 

Research university 

Dartmouth College

Hanover, NH 

Research university 

Davidson College

Davidson, NC

Liberal arts college 

Emory University

Atlanta, GA

Research university

Grinnell College 

Grinnell, IA

Liberal arts college 

Harvard University 

Cambridge, MA

Research university

Johns Hopkins University 

Baltimore, MD

Research university

Massachusetts Institute of Technology | MIT

Cambridge, MA

Research University 

Northwestern University 

Evanston, IL

Research university 

Pomona College

Claremont, CA 

Liberal arts college

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ 

Research university 

Rice University

Houston, TX

Research university 

Smith College

North Hampton, MA

Liberal arts college

Stanford University 

Stanford, CA

Research university 

Swarthmore College

Swarthmore, PA

Liberal arts college

University of Chicago

Chicago, IL 

Research university 

University of Pennsylvania | UPenn

Philadelphia, PA

Research university 

United States Air Force Academy | Air Force

USAF, Colorado 

Liberal arts college

United States Military Academy | Army

West Point, NY 

Liberal arts college

United States Naval Academy | Navy

Annapolis, MD

Liberal arts college

Vanderbilt University

Nashville, TN

Research university 

Washington and Lee University

Lexington, VA

Liberal arts college

Williams College 

Williamstown, MA 

Liberal arts college

Yale University

New Haven, CT 

Research university 

 

The following schools have a policy of charging nothing at all for students whose families make under a certain amount:

 

  • Colgate University: Students with annual family income below $80,000 attend tuition-free while students with annual family incomes between $80,000 and $175,000 pay a percentage of annual income toward tuition.

 

  • Cornell University: Students with a total family income of less than $60,000 and total assets below $100,000 require no parental contribution.

 

  • Haverford College: Students with family income below $60,000 a year will not have loans included in their financial aid package.

 

  • Lafayette College: Has no loans for students with total family incomes up to $150,000 and with typical family assets for their income levels.

 

  • Texas A&M University: Students whose family income is $60,000 or less attend tuition-free while tuition support grants are available to students from families with income between $60,000 and $130,000.

 

  • Texas State University: Students from families with adjusted gross incomes less than $50,000 receive free tuition and mandatory fees for up to 15 credit hours.

 

  • Tufts University: Students with an annual family income of less than $60,000 typically receive a financial aid package with no student loans.

 

  • University of California System: The nine schools of the University of California System‚ÄĒBerkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles (UCLA), Merced, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz‚ÄĒwaive tuition and fees for state residents with total family incomes less than $80,000 a year.

 

  • University of Chicago: Students from families earning less than $60,000 per year will have tuition, fees, and room and board covered by financial aid while students from families earning less than $125,000 per year (with typical assets) receive financial aid awards covering the full cost of tuition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • University of Tennessee: Tuition and mandatory fees are covered for students whose family income is under $60,000 a year.

 

  • University of Vermont: College-bound Vermont students whose parents‚Äô adjusted gross income is $60,000 or less have their tuition and comprehensive fee waived.

 

  • Washington University in St. Louis: Full-time students from Missouri and southern Illinois students who are either Pell Grant-eligible or come from families with $75,000 or less annual income receive a free undergraduate education (tuition, fees, housing, and food).

 

  • Wellesley College: Students with parental income under $100,000 receive a financial aid package with no loans.

 

  • Wesleyan University: The university has a no-loan policy for students whose parental income is $120,000 or less, with typical assets of $400,000 or less.

 

Schools With Generous Merit Aid

 

While merit aid isn’t usually income-based, low-income students can also get full rides based on their academic and extracurricular performance alone. High-achieving students with a lower chance of receiving financial aid from a college or their families may benefit from these opportunities as well.

 

A number of generous scholarships are available to National Merit Finalists at schools like Texas Tech, the University of Idaho, the University of Arkansas, the University of Houston, and the University of New Mexico. Similarly, National Merit Semifinalists can get full rides at the University of Alabama and the University of Arizona. Fordham University offers up to full tuition for semifinalists.

 

Meanwhile, other schools offer full rides based on standardized test scores alone. Some colleges also offer full rides on a more holistic basis.

 

Community College

 

While not a four-year college, community colleges can be an excellent way to get an affordable (and sometimes free education) while staying close to home.

 

These 33 states offer free community college, though eligibility may depend on academic merit, income, degrees pursued, and other factors:

 

  1. Arkansas
  2. California
  3. Connecticut
  4. Delaware
  5. Georgia
  6. Hawaii
  7. Indiana
  8. Iowa
  9. Kansas
  10. Kentucky
  11. Louisiana
  12. Maine
  13. Maryland
  14. Michigan
  15. Mississippi
  16. Missouri
  17. Montana
  18. Nevada
  19. New Jersey
  20. New Mexico
  21. New York
  22. North Carolina
  23. Oklahoma
  24. Oregon
  25. Rhode Island
  26. South Carolina
  27. South Dakota
  28. Tennessee
  29. Vermont
  30. Virginia
  31. Washington
  32. West Virginia
  33.  Wyoming

 

If you have your sights set on a four-year university, community college is also an excellent way to take care of your general education requirements on the cheap before transferring to a great four-year school. Some schools even offer guaranteed transfer programs, in which community college students who meet a certain university’s academic requirements are offered an automatic spot as collegiate upperclassmen.

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?

 

Many of the schools listed above, especially the ones with generous financial aid offerings, are highly selective, and are reach schools for most students. We recommend a balanced list of 8-12 schools, with 25% being safety schools, 40% target schools, and 35% reach schools.

 

At least two of your safeties should offer sufficient aid, whether merit- or need-based. Many smaller, lower-ranked schools will give generous merit aid to top students, and some in-state public schools have tuition assistance for low-income families.

 

It‚Äôs often tricky to gauge which schools are safeties, targets, and reaches, especially because a school‚Äôs posted acceptance rate doesn‚Äôt truly reflect your individual shot at attending. Our free chancing engine considers your stats, background, and extracurriculars and can help you more accurately assess your odds of acceptance‚ÄĒhelping you identify safety, target, and reach schools.

 


Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.