The prospect of attending college can be both exciting and daunting, particularly given the current cost of tuition. Tuition costs often exceed $38,000 for a four-year degree for students attending a school in the state, according to The College Board. And on average, tuition is more than twice that amount for students attending a school out of their home state. This can make higher education seem entirely out of reach for many students. While affordable online colleges are a good place to start, sometimes it’s not still enough to bring college within reach.

However, there are some colleges and universities that offer free college tuition to eligible applicants. Typically, tuition-free colleges serve students who can verify their low-income status in a particular region or state. Admission is highly competitive, and many schools require admitted students to uphold a demanding work-study schedule while earning their degree, as well as meet stringent service commitments after graduation. Below are the top 10 schools offering free college tuition in 2017:

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1. College of the Ozarks


Dubbed “Hard Work U,” College of the Ozarks provides students with a tuition-free education in exchange for full-time weekly work on campus. To be eligible for acceptance into C of O, applicants must demonstrate financial need and verify their location of residence. Though otherwise-eligible students from outside of this service area may be considered on a case-by-case basis, applicants who reside within the Ozarks area of Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Kansas are shown preference. Once accepted, students must work 15 hours each week during the school year, and two 40-hour weeks when school is not in session to earn their otherwise free bachelor’s degree. The college does not participate in federal aid programs in an effort to eliminate student debt. However, students may apply for Pell Grants, if deemed eligible by the FAFSA, to offset non-tuition expenses.

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2. Berea College


Founded in 1859 by Peter Cooper, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art has offered a full-tuition scholarship to every student since its inception, helping students to effectively earn a free bachelor’s degree or graduate degree. However, as of the 2014-2015 academic year, each accepted student is awarded a half-tuition scholarship, valued at approximately $20,000, per each year of study. Merit scholarships may be awarded to students with exceptional artistic ability. Need-based federal financial aid, as well as institutional scholarships and grants, are available to eligible students to help cover the remainder of tuition costs, as well as room and board and other learning expenses.

3. Alice Lloyd College


Alice Lloyd College offers a tuition-free education to applicants from 108 counties in the Central Appalachian region, including residents of Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, and Tennessee. All students must participate in the college’s Student Work Program as a condition of earning the financial award. A minimum of 10-20 work hours per week (or 160 hours per semester) on a job — whether on campus or in the local community — are required. A lasting mission of the school’s founders, the school aims to strengthen students’ work ethics above all else and remains one of only seven work colleges nationwide. Applicants are strongly encouraged to return to the school’s Kentucky service area to practice in their respective field of study.


4. Barclay College


Kansas’ premier Christian institution is one of the country’s tuition-free colleges, Barclay offers full-tuition scholarships to all students living on campus, including international students studying in the U.S. To remain eligible for the scholarship, students must fulfill Christian service requirements of at least 12 clock hours each semester for the duration of their four-year degree at Barclay. Students who live off campus are eligible for tuition scholarships covering about one-third of the total tuition cost. Additional scholarships are also available to all students seeking financial aid for expenses beyond tuition costs.

5. U.S. Merchant Marine Academy


One of five United States Military Academies, the Merchant Marine Academy prepares students for careers in the maritime industry and within the armed forces. The Marine Academy is unique among U.S. military schools for its flexible post-graduation service options. While other Academies require graduates to enlist in a branch of the U.S. armed forces, Merchant Marine Academy graduates can fulfill their service obligation through private employment in the maritime or transportation industry, if they so choose. As one of a few tuition-free colleges, this school does not charge students for classes, but students are responsible for other expenses, such as a laptop computer for classwork. However, they may apply for need-based financial aid to help cover these non-tuition expenses.


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