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13 Tips For A Free College Education

May 21, 2015 : Donna Freedman – Guest Contributor

Editor’s Bote: If you read “free college education” you may automatically think “scam”. I don’t blame you. Higher education and high prices tend to come hand in hand. However, Donna Freedman has 13 awesome ways to make that college degree free (or low cost). (Warning: it will take some work.)

How much does college cost? That depends. College Data reports that yearly tuition and fees (but not housing) at U.S. colleges ranges from $8,893 for state residents at public colleges to $30,094 for private colleges.

The average 2014 graduate carries a debt burden of $33,000, according to The Wall Street Journal. However, if you work the angles enough, you might not have to pay at all.

Not all of the following tactics will work for everyone, but current and future students should try as many as they can. Imagine graduating with no debt at all, thanks to things like:

  1. Thinking “local.” Non-resident tuition rocks. That $8,893 number from above is for state residents at public colleges. Non-residents pay an average of $22,203.
  1. Thinking very local. Take two years at a community college and you’ll get core courses at a lower cost. Make sure your credits will transfer; see the College Board’s MatchMaker to find schools that accept them.
  1. Commuting. If school is less than an hour away, live at home. Dorm living adds $9,500 to $10,830 per year to your bill, according to The College Board.
  1. Getting credit early. Teens who take Advanced Placement (AP) courses and pass AP exams get college credit and/or the chance to skip intro courses. AP exams cost $91 (or less if you can demonstrate need).
  1. Earning pre-college credit. Get three to 12 credits through the college-level examination program. Each exam costs $80; some 2,900 colleges and universities accept CLEP credits. Take a sample test to get a feel for the program.
  1. Attending a free college. has a “Colleges With Free Tuition” list. You’re still on the hook for room and board and you might have to work. Still: Free tuition!
  1. Applying for scholarships. Do this every year. Sites like and compile money opps (including some really unusual ones). Some colleges have their own scholarships and/or info on local or regional monies.
  1. Getting a job. An on-campus gig is ideal, particularly if it’s in your field of study. Aim for 20 hours a week or so. Bonus: You can emphasize your work ethic and time-management skills to future employers.
  1. Becoming a resident assistant. This is not a job for everyone. However, free room and board and maybe some other perks will greatly reduce your total cost.
  1. Graduating early. Take summer classes and/or extra classes during the school year. Or look for a three-year bachelor’s program; the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities has a list of a number of schools that offer these.
  1. Working it off. Loan forgiveness programs like the ones offered by the U.S. military and the National Health Services Corps might be a good fit. AmeriCorps has three programs featuring education awards and/or loan forbearance. Teach for America offers the same benefits plus a financial award that can be used for student loan repayment or continuing education costs.
  1. Living off-campus. Find several other responsible students and split a place instead of paying those high dorm fees. “Responsible” is the key word: You want roomies who are just as serious as you are about graduating on time and with no debt.
  1. Paying by the month. Handing over $988 each month from September through May is a lot more manageable than paying $8,893 two or three times per year. Many colleges allow payment by monthly installments, according to Zac Bissonnette, author of “Debt-Free U.” Scholarships plus part-time job and anything your family can contribute could add up to a no-loan college experience.
Donna Freedman – Guest Contributor

Donna Freedman – Guest Contributor

Donna is a full-time freelancer based in Anchorage, Alaska. For seven years she wrote blog posts and personal finance columns for MSN Money. In her spare time she writes for women's magazines and occasionally for personal finance websites.

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