Can't afford tuition? Try these colleges

books stacked with a blue piggy bank on top
  • Work your way through these colleges and get a tuition reduction.
  • Attention: Go to a service academy, and get a world-class education.
  • Subject-specific schools have sizable endowments and no tuition.

Scholarships can pay your way through school, but so can an innovative tuition plan. Instead of scrambling for financial aid, students at schools like the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., and Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Ky., attend college for free, thanks to their school's unique approach.

Before taking on a student loan, check out these cash-saving tuition strategies.

Work colleges

Throw out the FAFSA and get ready to punch the clock. Students who attend any of the nation's eight work colleges receive a significant tuition reduction -- in some cases, a full-tuition scholarship -- in exchange for part-time labor.

"I work 10 hours a week and over four years, that amounts to about $12,000 in financial aid," says Aaron Pflug, a senior at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill. "I'm also coming out of college with four years of supervisors' recommendations and management experience. It's definitely helped my resume."

Education on the (really) cheap
  • Work colleges.
  • Graduation guarantee programs.
  • Service academies.
  • Tuition freezes.
  • Fixed-rate tuition plans.
  • Single subject institutions.
  • Loan-free schools.
To reduce the cost of running a campus, work colleges hire students to fill positions ranging from landscapers to office managers. Students get a job tailored to their studies, a beefier resume and a tuition reduction. Those who attend Alice Lloyd College, Berea College in Berea, Ky., College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo., or Deep Springs College in Big Pine, Calif., receive full scholarships for their work without filling out financial aid applications.

Graduation guarantee programs

Schools like the University of Nebraska (Kearney, Lincoln and Omaha campuses) and Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., can't promise sweet scholarships, but they can guarantee that you'll graduate in four years or the remaining cost is on the house.

"Our students have to declare their (majors) early, meet with their academic advisers every semester, take a certain number of credits and pass their classes," says Valerie Rennell, Juniata College's director of student financial planning. "If they do that and the last few classes they need aren't offered before they graduate, we pay the remaining tuition (at Juniata)."

A study by the National Center for Education Statistics in Washington, D.C., shows that only about one-third of undergrads actually graduate in four years, and just over half finish in six. The rest attend school part time, take a few semesters off, or pony up for a fifth year to the tune of $6,585, on average, for public school students or $25,143 for private school students, according to the College Board in New York.

While a graduation guarantee doesn't sound impressive because it doesn't directly reduce tuition price, it can take care of hidden costs. By completing college on time, students can avoid those extra charges as well as the cost of room, board, travel and living expenses for another year, Rennell says.


Service academies

Look alive, soldier! Students destined for military life can get a leg up on their education and future career by attending a service school. At the nation's five service academies -- the United States Coast Guard Academy; the United States Military Academy at West Point in N.Y.; the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.; the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; and the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. -- students receive a world-class education and basic military training without paying a dime for tuition or fees for room and board. In exchange, students live the cadet life that includes physical training, military coursework, maintaining uniform and living regulations, and fulfilling summer and weekend duty assignments.

After college, grads fulfill a mandatory, paid service requirement with their military branch that can range from five years to 10 years of active duty, along with a few years of reserve duty that varies depending on the institution.

Tuition freezes

While tuition at state-funded schools skyrockets, undergrads attending Maryland or Kansas public institutions won't sweat it.

"We've gone from being about the fifth most expensive university system to being 20th because we've frozen tuition for the past four years," says Brit Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, an organization that oversees 13 state-funded schools. "Over four years, (a tuition freeze) saves families about $2,000."

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