You’re a high school senior. An enormous mountain of student loan debt looms before you. Many choose to cross their fingers and hope that they’ll get a good job after they graduate and be able to pay it off quickly. Others look for ways to go into as little debt as possible by applying for scholarships and living frugally. Why scale that mountain if you don’t have to?
That’s where the valiant quest for a high quality and cheap education comes in. Luckily, the holy grail of cheap colleges is relatively easy to find. In this post, I’ll go through your best options including those for best free colleges, best cheap colleges, and best cheap Ivy League!
The Best Free Colleges
Yes, there are some places where you can actually go to school for free! These are the ultimate cheap colleges. Here are your options!
Location: Berea, Kentucky
Berea College was founded by abolitionists and reformers and is rooted in the Christian values of love, human dignity, equality, and peace. It was the first Southern school to admit everyone – whether they were black or white, female or male. They give each student a full scholarship but the students are required to work 10-15 hours a week in different places across the campus which is common among some cheap colleges. They have 32 different majors including a dual degree program in engineering, visual arts, and the humanities. They take around 1,612 undergraduates every year with 7.1% of those being international students.
Deep Springs College
Location: Inyo County, CA
This school only admits 11-15 male students every year, but they’re currently planning to start educating women as well, so check their website if you’re interested. The students who are admitted spend two years working on a cattle and alfalfa farm that’s located near the California-Nevada border. The college believes in group decision making and studying year-round. The benefit for the work-study positions is that all students pay nothing in tuition, room or board. Deep Springs is also a great path to the Ivy League because of its rigorous academics. Of those transferring between 2007 and 2011, half transferred to Yale, Brown, or the University of Chicago. Others ended up at UC Berkeley, Stanford, Cornell, Oxford, Harvard, and Princeton. This track record is unique among the cheap colleges.
Military Service Academies:
Locations: NY, MD, CT, CO
From West Point to Kings Point there are five great military service schools where you can get a great free education. There is the United States Military Academy at West Point, the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado, the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, and the United States Cost Guard Academy in New London. Each school has different requirements but generally you get a free education in return for a term of service to the military. You also generally get funds to cover books and other expenses and government perks like a great medical car plan, and low rates. Plus, they’re the only ones of the cheap colleges to guarantee you a job after graduation.
College of the Ozarks
Location: Point Lookout, MO
College of the Ozarks is a Christian college that tries to develop citizens that are well-education, patriotic, and hard-working. Debt is openly discouraged here, all students work on campus and no tuition is charged. In addition, no federal, state, or private loans are given out. That makes it stand out among the cheap colleges.
Alice Lloyd College
Location: Pippa Passes, KY
Tuition at Alice Lloyd College is $10,980 however the average need-based grant is $8,783. In fact, students in Alice Lloyd’s service program go to college for free. The catch? They must work 10 horus a week or 15 hours if they want to get room and board free as well. Not a bad deal as far as cheap colleges go.
Location: Glen Cove, NY
This is a school that is highly specialized. They have one major – Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. Thanks to the generosity of the Institute’s founder, all U.S. citizens receive full tuition scholarships for all four years. There also aren’t any lab, library or other course fees to pay. The school is well known for Full-tuition scholarship covering all four years are awarded to all accepted students who are U.S. citizens or Green Card holders.
CUNY’s Teacher Academy
Location: 9 different locations in the CUNY system
This is a program that provides free tuition to anyone who wants to become a NYC math or science middle or high school teacher. NYC needs hundreds of math and Science Teachers and in addition to helping them get an education, they also have special recruitment, certification, and compensation benefits on offer. These include housing subsidies. This is one of the few cheap colleges that will give you a job upon graduation.
Macaulay Honors College at CUNY
Location: New York, NY
Macaulay provides students with a full-tuition scholarship, a laptop computer, an opportunities fund for global research, study, service, and internships, and a cultural passport to NY arts and cultural venues. Many students also receive housing support. The college accepts talented New Yorkers and gives them a great education. If you’re from New York, this is the best of the cheap colleges.
Alice Lloyd College
Location: Pippa Passe, KY
Alice Lloyd College is a small liberal arts college located in the heart of Appalachia. With nearly 600 students, it offers an enviable 17 to 1 student to faculty ratio. Its programs include traditional bachelor’s degree and pre-professional options to prepare students for further education in medicine, law, and other fields. In exchange for free tuition, students are required to work at lest 160 hours per semester in either an on-campus job or in the community through its Student Work Program. Students are responsible for living costs. The school is based on Christian values, and it accepts approximately 18% of its applicants.
Location: Haviland, KS
Barclay College is a Bible school that offers its students degrees in religious fields such as Youth Ministry, Christian Elementary Education and Pastoral Ministry. Students must stay on Barclay’s 13 acre campus to be eligible for free tuition; for students who choose to live off-campus, scholarships are available to cover approximately one-third of the total tuition cost. Enrollment is around 250 students, with an 11:1 student to faculty ratio. With its small size and idyllic setting, this college is ideal for anyone who wants to pursue a religious career and desires individualized, one-on-one attention from professors and staff.
Curtis Institute of Music
Location: Philadelphia, PA
For talented musicians, Curtis Institute of Music offers free tuition based on merit scholarships. With only 165 total students, admission to this school is highly competitive. Each applicant must go to an in-person audition, except for vocal students, who can submit a recording online. Students will be able to perform throughout the dynamic and historic city of Philadelphia to “learn by doing.” With close proximity to both New York City and Washington, DC, Curtis Institute of Music offers a wealth of opportunities for its applicants. It does not limit enrollment based on age; there is no minimum or maximum age to audition for a spot at this school.
The Best Cheap Colleges
If you’re going to get an education you might as well get a high-quality cheap education. The U.S. is lucky to have a number of cheap colleges available for you to go to. This is your ultimate guide to the best cheap colleges that you can go to.
Brigham Young University
Location: Provo, Utah
You luck out at Brigham Young if you’re a Mormon. As the school is run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tuition for Mormons is only $2,500. If you’re not a Mormon, however, it’s still a cheap $5,000. While the school has a reputation for great graduates, prospective students should be aware of their strict honor code which makes BYU students promise not to live with members of the opposite sex, drink, swear, or smoke. That makes the school significantly less competitive than some other schools of similar quality since not every student looking for cheap colleges wants to agree to a strict honor code. They give degrees in such diverse fields as education, engineering, law, nursing, and fine arts, among many others.
Location: Houston, Texas
Rice University isn’t terribly well known – but it should be. It’s ranked 19th in the nation by US News’ College Ranker. They have a strong science program and pledge to meet 100% of a student’s proven needs qualifying it for this list of cheap colleges. Tuition certainly isn’t cheap with the rate pegged at $40,566 for the 2014-2015 year, but only 30% of their students have borrowed money when they graduate and the average debt is only $17,856, which is much less than the average.
University of Virginia
Location: Charlottesville, VA
The University of Virginia takes educating students seriously and tried to help them from taking on too much debt. The prestigious school charges in-state tuition of only $12,998 per year and out-of-state tuition of $42,184. However, the average scholarship or grant award is $18,635, making going to school there fairly affordable and earning it a place among our cheap colleges. It’s also very well respected with a rank of 23 out national universities by the US News Ranking. It’s well known for its Business/commerce, Internatioal Relations, Biology, Economics, and Psychology programs.
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
UNC is an extremely well-respected university and offers an in-state tuition of only $8,374 per year and out-of-state tuition and fees of $33,624. The average needs-based financial aid package is $14,866. UNC-Chapel Hill is ranked 30 by US News College Ranking. It’s well known for it’s small class sizes and programs in Communications and Media Studies, Psychology, Biology, Business Administration and Economics.
University of Texas – Austin
Location: Austin, TX
Aside from the fun of living in one of the coolest and weirdest towns in the US, in-state residents pay only $9,798 for tuition while out-of-state students pay $34,722. Financial aid averages out at $8,713, but out-of-state scholarship winners can sometimes qualify to pay the instate rate. If you want to go here, consider taking Business, Management, Marketing, Communication, Journalism, Engineering, Social Sciences, or Biology.
Colorado School of Mines
Location: Golden, CO
Colorado School of Mines is a state Engineering school that offers a great return on investment. Tuition is $16,918 in-state and $33,598 out-of-state with average Financial Aid usually $5,354. However, students make a great average salary upon graduation. Out of all the cheap colleges, this one is the best one for anyone wanting to go into the mining industry.
Location: College Station, TX
Texas A&M is an amazing university and it also fits our definition of a cheap college. In-state tuition is $9,180 and out-of-state tuition is $26,356, however average financial aid is $9,539. It’s definitely a much better deal for student who are Texas residents, but this school is a great college which is known for it’s strength in Business, Engineering, Agriculture, and Biology, among other majors.
Binghamton University – SUNY
Location: Binghamton, NY
Binghampton offers in-state tuition of $8,619 and an out-of-state tuition of $20,259. However, financial aid is $7,521. That makes for a fairly cheap college experience at a great school. Binghamton is known for its English, Engineering, Business and Psychology programs.
California State Polytechnic University Pomona
Location: Pomona, CA
Cal State at Pomona is one of the great cheap colleges, and has some of the lowest fees around. In fact, in-state tuition costs are only $6,350 whereas out-of-state tuition is $17,510. Since average financial aid is $9,018 that makes for a cheap college experience for both in and out-of-state students. What’s more, Pomona is a great school which is known for its Business Administration, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering and Psychology programs.
Wayne State College
Location: Wayne, NE
Wayne State College is a great deal, with an average annual tuition of $6,042 for in-state students and $10,632 for out-of-state-students. With a total of 3,431, its relatively small size means that students get fairly small classes and a 19:1 student-to-faculty ratio. With a wide range of majors available and a rural setting, Wayne State College is an excellent choice for anyone looking to obtain an undergraduate degree without going into substantial debt. Its most popular programs include the Northeast Nebraska Teacher Academy and the Rural Health Opportunities Program. Most of Wayne State College’s graduates are able to find jobs in their chosen fields. It is ranked at number 94 by U.S. News and World Reports among Regional Universities in the Midwest and number 24 for top public schools.
South Dakota State University
Location: Brookings, SD
For those looking for a larger public college that isn’t overwhelming in size, South Dakota State may be just the ticket. With 12,589 students and tuition of $8,172 for in-state students and $11,403 for out-of-state students, South Dakota State University is set on 261 acres in rural Brookings, SD. It has seven colleges: Arts and Sciences, General Studies, Engineering, Nursing, Pharmacy, Agricultural & Biological Sciences, and Education and Human Sciences. As a land grant university, South Dakota State University offers research, public service and education options to form a complete campus.
Midwestern State University
Location: Wichita Falls, TX
Founded in 1922, Midwestern State University is a public liberal arts university with just over 5,000 undergraduate students. Its tuition is relatively low, at $8,294 for in-state students and $10,244 for out-of-state students. Nearly 60 percent of undergraduate students receive some type of need-based student aid. Students can major in a variety of liberal arts-focused fields. This school is ranked at number 28 by U.S. News and World Reports as a top public school.
Mayville State University
Location: Mayville, ND
Mayville State is a relatively small public college, with a total enrollment of just 1,100 students, which gives it a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Its in-state tuition is just $7,830 per year, with out-of-state tuition set at $10,295. Majors include adult and continuing education and teaching, physical education and coaching and business administration and management.
Bemidji State University
Location: Bemidji, MN
Bemidji State University in Minnesota is unique among public colleges in that in-state and out-of-state tuition is the same for undergraduate students, at $8,386 per year. The school is set in a rural setting, with easy access to Fargo, Grand Forks, Duluth and the Twin Cities. With 4,739 students, class sizes are often small, with 41% of classes having fewer than 20 students. Bemidji State offers a full range of professional degrees, such as nursing, computer science, and education. It also offers many unusual majors, such as aquatic biology, wildlife biology, exhibit design and Ojibwe language. 60 percent of full-time undergrad students receive need-based financial aid.
Delta State University
Location: Cleveland, MS
Located in the heart of the Mississippi delta, this school offers very low tuition for students at $6,112 for both in-state and out-of-state undergrads. With a large 339 acre campus, Delta State has a rural setting for its students. It offers both core degrees in the arts, humanities, and sciences as well as majors such as Commercial Aviation and the Geospatial Information Technology Program. It accepts students with a wide range of test scores and GPAs.
Best Cheap Colleges – Ivy League Schools and Prestigious Schools
Some students get sticker shock over tuition prices at Ivy League and other prestigious schools, but you shouldn’t let the official tuition price scare you. Only the wealthiest pay the listed price, everyone else pays much less. In fact, if you’re looking for cheap colleges, and you have the grades and extracurricular activities to get into a prestigious school, then you should definitely apply. Depending on your family income and your academic accomplishments, you can often get a great financial aid package. Most of the time, it will be less expensive than in-state tuition at a top public university. Here are some cheap colleges that will provide you with great deals.
Location: Cambridge, MA
Everyone’s heard of MIT. It’s the best place to study science, math, computer science, engineering – pretty much anything technical. They also have a great business school. The cost of tuition is $45,016, which seems expensive until you hear that the average need-based award is $37,657. In fact, this gem among cheap colleges ensures that students from families that earn $75,000 or less, will get scholarship funding to attend MIT tuition-free.
Location: Cambridge, MA
Harvard University is home to an interesting phenomenon – their average student aid award is more than their tuition price. That’s right. Tuition is $43,938 and the average financial aid package is $44,781. Families that make less than $65,000 per year aren’t expected to pay anything towards their education. That makes the king of colleges also, the undisputed king of cheap colleges.
Location: New Haven, CT
Yale has a tuition charge of $45,800 but that’s not so bad when you consider that their average aid is $44,268. Yale sets tuition price each student pays based on their family income. In fact, families that make less than $65,000 per year aren’t expected to pay anything towards their child’s Yale education. If you are looking for cheap colleges, why not go to Yale?
Location: Ithaca, NY
Tuition at Cornell is $47,286 and average financial aid is $37,681. However, if your family has an income below $60,000 and assets of less than $100,000 then you don’t have to pay anything. They also have a loan initiative which includes a commitment to keep student loans to a minimum. In addition, they try to match any other offer you receive from another Ivy League university.
Location: Stanford, CA
Tuition at Stanford is $44,757 and average financial aid is $41,650. Similarly to other Ivy Leagues, they state that parents with an income below $60,000 will require zero parent contribution for their child to attend Stanford. For parents with incomes below $100,000 and typical assets for this income range, the parents should expect to have all tuition charges covered.
Location: Durham, NC
Tuition at Duke is $47,488 and average financial aid is $39,275. Duke expects students to contribute at least $2,600 towards their education in first year, but does not expect a parental contribution if parents make less than $60,000. Their financial aid package consists of work study, limited student loans, scholarships, and grants.
Location: Providence, RI
Tuition at Brown is $27,434 and average financial aid is $38,738. For families with income below $60,00 and assets less than $100,000 there is no parental contributions expected. Families with incomes below $100,000 the loan component of their financial aid package is replaced with scholarships, and for families with income below $150,000, reduced loans are awarded. Even families with incomes above $150,000 get offered scholarships, grants, and loans. You wouldn’t think that Brown would be on a list of cheap colleges, but surprise, surprise!
Location: Princeton, NJ
For middle-class families, a Princeton education may seem out of reach — but if a family has an income of $54,000 per year or less, students are eligible for a full ride of tuition plus room and board. For families with an annual income of $120,000 or less, tuition is free. Beyond free tuition, Princeton offers financial aid packages designed to eliminate the need for loans through a combination of grants and work-study programs. With an annual tuition of over $40,000, this is a substantial saving. Princeton offers a full range of majors, including professional degrees from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Bentheim Center for Finance and the School of Architecture. The average student graduates from Princeton with a debt of just $4,957, which is significantly less than the national average of over $30,000 per student.
Location: New York, NY
Like many other prestigious schools, Columbia’s tuition is over $50,000 per year. However, it offers full-ride scholarships for students whose families make less than $60,000 per year. For students who do not qualify for a full ride, a combination of grants replace traditional loans as part of Columbia’s commitment to financial aid. It is the oldest college in the state of New York, and one of the oldest universities in the country. It consists of 20 separate schools, and has research opportunities across the world, including Istanbul, Paris, Santiago, Mumbai, Beijing and Nairobi.
Location: Hanover, NH
Students whose families’ annual income is under $100,000 are eligible for free tuition from Dartmouth, with aid available on a sliding scale for families who make over $100,000. Dartmouth guarantees to meet 100% of its accepted students’ demonstrated financial needs. In 2015 alone, Dartmouth awarded nearly 90 million dollars in need-based scholarships. It is a traditional liberal arts college that offers 57 different majors to its undergraduate students. Total enrollment for undergraduate students is just 4,307, making it the smallest university in the Ivy League. It is located in rural New Hampshire and ranked 11th among undergraduate programs at national universities.
Whether you decide to go to a small private college, a large public school or somewhere in between, paying for college can be challenging. Saddling yourself with debt before getting your first real job can have a major impact on your life, preventing you from accomplishing financial goals like buying a house, saving for retirement or even starting a family. That’s why it is so critical that families plan ahead, save as much as possible, and consider all options for higher education. This may include going to a free or inexpensive university or pursuing a free education at an Ivy League or other prestigious schools. This is particularly important if you plan to go on to graduate school, where there may not be as many options for free or cheap tuition.
It’s also critical if your chosen major does not tend to lead to lucrative jobs, such as anything in the social services field. Paying off substantial student loan debt can be incredibly difficult if you are making far less than the total amount that you owe.
Whatever you decide in terms of college, make sure that you think through the implications of signing a hefty loan — and consider how you will be able to repay those loans after graduation, particularly if you are unable to get a job in your chosen field (or if your first position pays far less than necessary to support yourself). By making smart choices and thinking ahead, you can avoid accumulating debt and gain your independence shortly after graduation.
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