Colleges with Free Tuition for Low-Income Students

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Cost can be a formidable obstacle to many students while picking a college. The thought alone of paying for each semester or taking out student loans can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. College is expensive, arguably too expensive, but 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 absolutely not what most students pay, especially at selective private schools, which often have generous financial aid programs. Some students may be able to go to college for free, through financial aid or merit scholarships.

 

Note that 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). In addition, certain scholarships may only be 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’ll also likely see the terms full ride and full tuition arise quite often, and it’s important to make the distinction. 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, however, there are still barriers to low-income students. Some need to support their families, and we can’t forget 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 “match” with one of 40 top universities. Matched students are offered a full ride for all four years, which covers tuition, transportation, books, and more. Partnered schools are listed below:

 

School

Type of School

Location

Amherst College

Liberal arts college

Amherst, MA

Bowdoin College

Liberal arts college

Brunswick, ME

Brown University

Research university

Providence, RI

California Institute of Technology (CalTech)

Research university

Pasadena, CA

Carleton College

Liberal arts college

Northfield, MN

Claremont McKenna College

Liberal arts college

Claremont, CA

Colby College

Liberal arts college

Waterville, ME

Colorado College

Liberal arts college

Colorado Springs, CO

Columbia University

Research university

New York, NY

Dartmouth College

Liberal arts college

Hanover, NH

Davidson College

Liberal arts college

Davidson, NC

Duke University

Research university

Durham, NC

Emory University

Research university

Atlanta, GA

Grinnell College

Liberal arts college

Grinnel, IA

Hamilton College

Liberal arts college

Clinton, NY

Haverford College

Liberal arts college

Haverford, PA

Macalester College

Liberal arts college

Saint Paul, MN

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Research university

Cambridge, MA

Northwestern University

Research university

Evanston, IL

Oberlin College

Liberal arts college

Oberlin, OH

Pomona College

Liberal arts college

Claremont, CA

Princeton University

Research university

Princeton, NJ

Rice University

Research university

Houston, TX

Scripps College

Liberal arts college

Claremont, CA

Stanford University

Research university

Stanford, CA

Swarthmore College

Liberal arts college

Swarthmore, PA

Tufts University

Research university

Medford, MA

University of Chicago

Research university

Chicago, IL

University of Notre Dame

Research university

Notre Dame, IN

University of Pennsylvania

Research university

Philadelphia, PA

University of Southern California

Research university

Los Angeles, CA

University of Virginia

Research university

Charlottesville, VA

Vanderbilt University

Research university

Nashville, TN

Vassar College

Liberal arts college

Poughkeepsie, NY

Washington and Lee University

Liberal arts university

Lexington, VA

Washington University in St. Louis

Research university

Saint Louis, MO

Wellesley College

Liberal arts college

Wellesley, MA

Wesleyan University

Research university

Middletown, CT

Williams College

Liberal arts college

Williamstown, MA

Yale University

Research university

New Haven, CT

 

Eligible students should have primarily A’s 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.

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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 towards meeting this need through a work-study program. 

 

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

 

 

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

 

Brown

Full ride for students with families making under $60,000 per year (generally, these numbers refer to a family of four with typical assets).

 

Cornell 

Full ride for students with families making under $60,000 per year.

 

Duke

Full ride for students with families making under $60,000 per year.

 

Harvard

Full ride for students with families making under $65,000 per year. Families with incomes between $65,000 and $150,000 will contribute from 0-10% of their income.

 

Princeton

Full ride for students with families making under $54,000 or less per year. Free tuition for students with families making under $120,000 per year.

 

Stanford

Full ride for students with families making under $65,000 per year. Free tuition for students with families making under $125,000 per year.

 

Yale

Full ride for students with families making under $65,000 per year.

 

UChicago

Full ride for students with families making under $60,000 per year. Free tuition for students with families making under $125,000 per year.

 

Colby College

Full ride for students with families making under $65,000 per year. Students with families making under $150,000 per year will pay no more than $15,000.

 

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.

 

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 17 states offer some form of funding for community college. Eligibility may depend on academic merit, income, degrees pursued, and other factors.

 

Arkansas

Montana

California

New York

Delaware

Nevada

Hawaii

Oklahoma

Indiana

Oregon

Kentucky

Rhode Island

Maryland

Tennessee

Minnesota

Washington

Missouri

 

 

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. 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 here, 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, like the CUNY schools or UT Austin.

 

It can be tricky to gauge which schools are safeties, targets, and reaches, especially because a school’s posted acceptance rate doesn’t truly reflect your individual shot at attending. Our free chancing engine, which considers your stats, background, and extracurriculars, can help you more accurately gauge your shot at attendance. It can help you not only understand whether a school is a safety, target, or reach, but also help estimate your personal cost of attendance.

 

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Michelle Foley
Essay Breakdown Writer at CollegeVine
Short bio
Michelle Foley is currently taking a gap year before starting at Yale College in Fall '21, where she is considering majoring in Art, English, or Cognitive Studies while earning her Spanish certificate. In her free time, she likes to paint, run, and read!