20 March 2020
5  min.

Finding funding to cover educational expenses in the U.S. is a vital issue for many who are interested in studying in that country. It is not a surprise that students’ eyes light up when they learn about the existence of tuition-free schools offering programs at the undergraduate level. These schools do offer great opportunities for many students, but one needs to be aware of many nuances accompanying the conditions of receiving them. Today, I would like to discuss these institutions in more detail, presenting the information as answers to frequently asked questions.

How many tuition-free schools are there in the USA?

If you start browsing for tuition-free colleges and universities in the U.S., you will soon find many different lists with varying numbers of schools included in which educational institutes could be qualified as tuition-free. I would like to introduce you to five schools, which names appear most frequently in these lists. Here are their names with the states they are located in and some information about them:

  • Berea College, KY
  • College of the Ozarks, MO
  • Curtis Institute of Music, PA
  • Deep Springs College, CA
  • Olin College of Engineering, MA


Do all those five schools have something in common?

All five schools are very different from one another, but there some common features represented in almost all of them:

  • Student body. They are all comparatively small schools, ranging from the largest enrollment of about 1500 at Berea College and College of the Ozarks to fewer than 30 students at Deep Springs College.
  • Sources of funding. All schools in the list are private colleges and universities, meaning they rely heavily on getting funds from tuition payments as well as donations from private contributors.
  • Education. All of these institutes of higher education either identify themselves as liberal arts schools or declare their strong adherence and commitment to the principles of liberal arts education (http://www.olin.edu/blog/olin-admission/post/what-does-liberal-arts-mean/).
  • Class size. The schools have a low student-faculty ratio that ensures easier access to professors, more personalized attention, and intensive engagements in class discussions.
  • History. Five of the universities are the country’s oldest educational institutions with a hundred-year history, founded in the late 18th or early 19th century. The exception is the Olin School of Engineering, founded 33 years ago.
  • Extracurricular activities. All schools pay special attention to hands-on education by executing the learning process, gaining skills and experience through fulfilling practical tasks, participating in team projects, doing exercises, work, serving the community, etc. Many schools engage students in special programs requiring them to work 10 – 20 hours per week in campus approved jobs.


Are there any interesting facts related to the application process and financial aid for international students? 

All the schools are unique and have many specific features. I want to very briefly mention some of them, but it is better to look at their respective websites for more information.

Berea College (https://www.berea.edu/) is an internationally diverse institute of higher education with students from 60 countries. The application process specifically deals with a very early deadline, which is November 30th, and requires all international students to send their paper application and documents in one application package by mail, not online! Berea College “provides 100% funding to 100% of enrolled international students for the first year of enrollment. All international students are provided with a paid, on-campus job through the College’s Work Program throughout the academic year” (https://www.berea.edu/admissions/costs/).


Curtis Institute of Music (https://www.curtis.edu/about/) is one of the most prestigious and selective conservatories in the U.S. that values international students. It “limits enrollment to about 175 students, accepting just enough students to maintain a full symphony orchestra and an opera program”. In-person auditions are a vital part of the application process. Furthermore, the SAT (not the ACT) is required for Bachelor of Music applicants. All Curtis students receive merit-based, full-tuition scholarships irrespective of age, country, race, or other demographics (https://www.curtis.edu/admissions/financial-assistance/).


College of the Ozarks is a religiously affiliated college located in a small city in Missouri. Twenty-two percent of its student body are international students. College of the Ozarks is a tuition-free college for full-time students. About 90% of applicants are required to show financial need to get accepted. Students are required to work 15 hours a week at an on-campus job, and 40 hours a week during summer breaks. The college has a special International Student Grant (https://occ.edu/international-student-grant), which is awarded each school year to seven first-time students who are accepted to enroll and are seeking to prepare for involvement in Christian ministry upon graduation.


Deep Springs College (https://www.deepsprings.edu/) is an elite, highly competitive two-year junior college located in the desert, specifically in Deep Springs Valley on an isolated cattle ranch. Classes are extremely interactive. There are no set majors and students design their own programs. The institution has a unique application process consisting of two rounds that do not require test scores but include writing essays and a college visit. Between twelve and fifteen students, including international, are admitted each year. All accepted students receive full funding covering the costs of tuition, room, and board. In exchange, students work a minimum of 20 hours a week, either on the ranch and farm attached to the college or in positions related to the college and community. The school has some age restrictions, not accepting students older than 23 years.


Olin College of Engineering (http://www.olin.edu/) is a very selective undergraduate engineering institute of higher education where the international student body makes up 8% of enrolled students. It has a unique application process consisting of two parts: (1) application and documents submission and (2) Candidates’ Weekends, during which students visit the school, interact with faculty and students, take part in group activities, go through an interview, etc. The Olin Tuition Scholarship (http://www.olin.edu/admission/), which covers 50% of tuition, is a merit scholarship that is awarded to all admitted students regardless of what country they come from. Limited Institutional Need-Based Aid may be available for international students.

What about other tuition-free schools from different lists? Should I consider them as well? 

Look at other schools from the following group: https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/slideshows/12-tuition-free-colleges, paying close attention to the requirements, acceptance rate, eligibility criteria, and their policy in terms of accepting international students and providing them with financial aid. Warren Wilson College, NC, Antioch College, OH, Webb Institute of Engineering, NY, Barclay College, KS, and Alice Lloyd, KY, do offer free tuition plans, but they apply only to U.S. citizens and those who meet certain eligibility requirements (i.e. citizens of a particular state). Some of them may still offer some financial aid to international students. For example, Warren Wilson College offers merit-based and need-based scholarships to international students, and Allice Lloyd allows them to earn some money through student work programs (https://www.alc.edu/admissions/financial-aid/student-work-program/). The admission policy for international students to United States Service Academies is based on federal regulations, limiting their acceptance to certain numbers and certain countries.

Useful links: 

Start your journey to gain admission to U.S. colleges and universities with EducationUSA Russia — an official and reliable source of information on U.S. higher education.
Here are simple steps to take:
Register at the EducationUSA Russia website, fill out your profile and check off the activities you would like to attend
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Attend an individual consultation after seven days upon successful program completion with a designated adviser to develop a personal strategic plan to apply to U.S. colleges and universities

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Contact us at adviser@educationusarussia.org if you have any questions on the topic discussed today or any other higher education opportunities in the U.S.

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