Wondering how you could go to college for free? Or nearly free? 

According to the Education Data Initiative, the current average cost of borrowing for college is nearly $38,000. While books, room and board, travel, and personal expenses contribute to the overall cost of college, tuition is typically the largest expense.

Tuition-free college means NO tuition cost for your education. You may still have housing, books, food, fees, and other living expenses. Some colleges offer cost-free programs for specific residents or those seeking specific careers. At some schools, a campus job or post-graduation employment in the state may be the tradeoff.

Here are 8 strategies to pursue free tuition.

1. Enlist in the Military

  • The U.S. Military Academies (Air Force, Army (West Point), Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, Navy) provide free college—plus some income—to students who attend, and then serve after graduation. Placement is very competitive and requires an official recommendation from your state’s Congressional Representative.
  • More than 1,700 colleges offer Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs that pay your college tuition while you attend. You’ll then graduate as a commissioned officer. ROTC programs can be unique, so search to find the right ROTC program for you: Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy. The Coast Guard equivalent to ROTC is the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI).
  • Post-9/11 GI Bill. If you have served active duty on or since September 11, 2001, the Bill covers up to 100% of in-state tuition and fees, plus a stipend for other expenses.

2. Attend No-Cost or Tuition-Free Colleges & Universities

  • Ivy League Schools. Harvard, Stanford, and others charge no tuition to students whose families earn less than $75,000/year. Deeply discounted tuition is provided to those with families earning less than $150,000/year.
  • U.S. Military Academies. If you are admitted, tuition is free—plus you’ll earn income.
  • Tuition-Free Colleges. These schools usually serve specific populations such as Native Americans, those from specific states, or those whose household incomes are low.
  • Work Colleges. Some universities enroll students to work for the college while attending, usually in on-campus positions. The U.S. Department of Education supervises these programs, but all have varying requirements. Examples include Berea College and College of the Ozarks.
  • Schools for Specific Degrees. Universities such as The Apprentice School (VA, for shipbuilding trades) and the Curtis Institute of Music (PA) offer specific academic programs and cover your full tuition.
  • Online Degree Programs. A few accredited colleges, such as Arizona State and Berea College (KY) offer online degrees with zero tuition costs.

3. State Promise Programs

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators provides tools and resources highlighting financial aid in your state, tax breaks, financial aid eligibility, and more. Links to State Financial Aid Programs can be found using this map. According to the Campaign for Free College Tuition, at least 32 states offer free programs.

A growing number of community colleges provide free tuition through state programs. You may need to attend specific high schools, meet income cap requirements, and/or commit to working in the state after graduation.

4. Work for the School

  • If you or your parents work for a college or university, you may be eligible for free or reduced tuition. Each institution sets its own—plus some inco requirements so you’ll need to check with your human resources and/or admissions office at your desired school.
  • Tuition Exchange is a network of post-secondary schools that allows college faculty and staff (or household family members) to apply to swap their tuition scholarship to another school within the Tuition Exchange network. Check this list to see which schools are included in the network.

5. Use Employer-Paid Tuition Benefits

A growing number of companies have added tuition benefits for their employees. Program details vary and may cover a four-year degree or have benefit caps. Some companies require you to attend specific universities, others cover job-related courses only, while others also cover fees, supplies, and books. Some employers may require that you work for a designated period before tuition benefits begin and/or repay benefits if you leave prior to finishing your degree. Nationally known companies include Allstate, Amazon, Apple, AT&T, BP, Bank of America, Best Buy, Capital One, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Comcast, CVS Health, Discover, Disney, FedEx, Fidelity, Ford GEICO, Google, Home Depot, KFC, Kroger, Lowe’s, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Papa John’s, PepsiCo, Pizza Hut, Publix, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Taco Bell, Target, Ticketmaster, Tyson Foods, UPS, Verizon, Walmart, and Wells Fargo. Local companies where you live may also offer tuition benefits at local schools.

6. Receive Tuition Waivers

Some colleges offer full tuition waivers for selected groups including veterans, orphans, former foster children, children of law enforcement and emergency workers, and Native Americans. Each university sets its own policy, so check with the admissions office.

7. Choose Your Career Wisely

High-demand fields such as nursing, teaching, and social work are recruiting students through grants and other incentives. Teach for America offers forbearance and interest payment on qualified loans during two years of service as well as $6,000 education awards for each year which can be used to repay qualified student loans. The Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program pays up to 60% of nursing education debt  if you work for two years, and up to 85% for two more years of work after graduation. Care Forward Colorado, for example, offers free training in healthcare fields at the state’s community colleges. Many states currently sponsor programs in health care, education, and law enforcement.

8. Apply for Scholarships & Grants

Merit and need-based scholarships for full tuition are available. The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Often, scholarships are first-come, first-served, so be sure to apply early for the best possible success. Merit awards increase based on your ACT/SAT test scores and GPA so make sure to work hard on both. Many schools offer free tuition for an ACT of 20 or an SAT of 1000 so it’s worth your time spent on ACT Prep or SAT Prep. Apply also for privately provided aid. Free scholarship search websites include Fastweb.com and Scholarships.com.