The United States may be notorious for having expensive universities, with students accruing an average student debt of around $32,000. While this is often enough to deter many applicants, there are free universities in the US – at least for its citizens. If you’re thinking of studying in some of the free institutions in the US, then make sure to take a pick from these.

How Do You Apply for a Tuition-Free University in the USA?

Americans can apply for tuition-free universities if they’ve met certain criteria or requirements. Usually, these universities have eligibility requirements like the financial conditions of your family, academic performance, and others. If your application is accepted, you can have a free tuition fee for one academic year or the whole duration of your program.

The requirements and process may vary from one university to another, and it can be limited to a particular number of students. So, if you’re applying to a tuition-free university, please make sure to start early.

Check Also: Available Programs for International Students

Tuition-Free Schools in the United States

1. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Founded in the year 1867, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is the flagship school of the University of Illinois system. It is a public land-grant institution and is considered a “Public Ivy” – meaning it provides Ivy League-level education at a cheap (and for some, free) price.

The university offers 150 undergraduate and 100 graduate programs through its 15 academic departments. These are the schools of Agriculture, Fine & Applied Arts, Engineering, Medicine, Information Science, Health Science, Law, Education, Liberal Arts & Science, Business, Media, Social Work, Aviation, Labor & Employment Relations, Veterinary Medicine, and Medicine.

Through the Illinois commitment, the university offers free tuition for four years for in-state students and enrollees from families with an income of $67,100 and below. The caveat here though is the strict admission process, as the university often requires a high GPA and SAT/ACT, especially in the College of Engineering.

2. University of Houston

The University of Houston (UH) is a public research institution that serves as the flagship campus of the UH system. Founded in 1927, it is the third-largest school in the state of Texas.

UH’s academic programs are offered through the Colleges of Architecture, Arts, Business, Education, Engineering, Hotel & Restaurant Management, Law, Liberal Arts & Social Science, Natural Science & Mathematics, Nursing, Optometry, Pharmacy, Social Work, Technology, and Medicine.

UH offers free tuition to select students through the Cougar Promise. Those eligible are Texas residents who are first-time, full-time students of the university.

Through this, the free university in the USA aims to grant financial assistance to applicants who come from families with an annual income of less than $65,000. Certain discounts are also given to applicants from families earning $65,001 to $125,000 annually.

3. Virginia State University

Virginia State University, also known as Virginia or VSU, is a public land-grant institution situated in Ettrick, Virginia. It opened in the year 1882 as Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institution, which is the first state-supported school for black Americans.

VSU’s degrees are organized according to the Colleges of Agriculture, Business, Engineering & Technology, Natural Science, Education, Humanities & Social Science, and Graduate Studies. To date, more than 4,700 students are majoring in such programs.

Just recently, VSU launched a free tuition program for eligible students who live near the campus. This is made possible by the Virginia College Affordability Network, which aims to fulfill the needs of students regarding access and completion. Priority is given to graduates of the Colonial Heights, Petersburg, and Matoaca High Schools, although eligible applicants from other institutions will also be considered.

4. Washington State University

Washington State University – known colloquially as WSU or Wazzu – is a public land-grant and research institution situated in Pullman, Washington. Established in 1890, it is one of the first land-grant schools in the American West.

The university, which also has campuses in Spokane, Tri-cities, Everett, and Vancouver Canada, is organized into the Colleges of Agricultural & Natural Resource, Arts & Science, Business, Communication, Education, Engineering & Architecture, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Veterinary Medicine.

These colleges have helped launch WSU into one of the best public universities in the US. To date, it is internationally renowned for its Engineering and Veterinary Medicine programs.

As per the Cougar Commitment, WSU offers free tuition to students coming from low to middle-income families. This free university in the USA will pay off the tuition balance and other fees not covered by the Washington College or Pell Grants. The offer may be renewed for 3 more years or a total of 8 continuous semesters.

5. University of Nebraska System

The University of Nebraska system is a public university consortium that started in the year 1869. From having a lone campus in Lincoln, the system now has 3 universities (Lincoln, Omaha, and Kearney) as well as a 2-year technical college.

Applicants at the 3 campuses are eligible for free tuition under the Nebraska Promise. To qualify, the student must be a full-time undergraduate student and a resident of Nebraska. His/her family income should be $60,000 or less.

After meeting these requirements, the student can apply at the campus of his/her choice. He/she then needs to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form to have his/her family income and eligibility assessed.

To maintain the free tuition status, the student should maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher.

6. East Tennessee State University

The East Tennessee State University or ETSU is a research-centric institution based in Johnson City, Tennessee. Founded in 1911 as the East Tennessee State Normal School, it has evolved into one of the state’s largest universities.

ETSU offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fields of Arts & Science, Business & Technology, Clinical & Rehabilitative Science, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Public Health.

The university also offers unique degrees, such as that in Bluegrass, Old Time & Country Music, as well as Appalachian Studies. It also offers a Master’s in Storytelling, which is the only program of its kind in the US.

ETSU offers free tuition for first-time, full-time freshmen students who are recipients of either the Tennessee Student Assistance or Tennessee Hope Lottery Scholarship Award. This will cover tuition and program service fees but will exclude the costs of on-campus housing. The scholarship is also limited to in-state students.

7. Middle Tennessee State University

The Middle Tennessee State University or MTSU is a public university that first opened its doors in 1911. Formerly a normal school, the Murfreesboro-based university now offers more than 300 programs through its 35 departments. These are organized under the Colleges of Basic & Applied Science, Behavioral & Health Science, Education, Liberal Arts, Media & Entertainment, and Business.

MTSU also offers unique programs, such as Recording Industry Management, Concrete Industry Management, and Flight Dispatch, to name a few.

Like ETSU, MTSU offers free tuition to first-time, full-time, in-state students who have received either the Pell Grant or the HOPE Lottery Scholarship.

8. Clark University

Clark University is a private research institution located in Worcester, Massachusetts. It opened in 1887 thanks to the endowment given by businessman Jonas Gilman Clark. Formerly a graduate school, it eventually accepted undergraduate students in the year 1902.

The university, which is nestled in the Main South Neighborhood, oversees Clark College, an undergraduate liberal arts college that offers 32 programs. It also has a Graduate School of Management, Graduate School of Geography, School of Professional Studies, School of Psychology, and School of Chemistry & Biochemistry.

Despite being a private school, Clark University offers free tuition to eligible Worcester residents who have lived in the University Park neighborhood in the last five years. The coverage, which spans four years, is given to applicants who meet the guidelines for federal and state scholarship programs.

9. The University of Maine at Augusta

The University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) is a regional state institution based in Central Maine. As a member of the UM system since 1965, it was developed to offer 31 degrees and 37 certificates to residents of the area.

UMA is currently divided into two academic schools, namely that of Arts & Sciences and Professional Studies.

Despite being a small institution, the university is renowned for offering online undergraduate programs in the fields of Information & Library Science.

At UMA, students can study for free through the Pine Tree State Pledge. Those who are eligible can either be new or transfer students who were given the Federal Pell Grant.

10. University of the Virgin Islands

The University of Virgin Islands (UVI) is a land-grant university located in the picturesque isles of St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John. Founded in 1962 as the College of the Virgin Islands, it is one of the 101 historically black colleges and universities in the United States.

UVI follows a liberal arts curriculum for its business, Education, Humanities & Social Science, Nursing, and Science & mathematics programs. It also shares instruction with other American universities, such as Engineering (together with the University of Florida, Washington University – St. Louis, and the University of South Carolina) and Medicine (with Boston University).

UVI’s free tuition is offered to Virgin Islands residents regardless of age, family income, or date of graduation. To maintain this eligibility, the student needs to maintain a 2.50 GPA. After graduation, he/she should then work in the island chain for a specified time.


We hope that this article on free universities in the USA was helpful. Make sure to also check out the Available Programs for International Students to know more information on studying abroad!

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hi! I am Hyun, and I am the founder at Global Scholarships. I've received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College and a $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for my undergraduate degree and was offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. You can read more about my scholarship journey here. If you are interested, you can follow me on Linkedin where I regularly write about scholarship opportunities.

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  1. Aung Ko Mr July 3, 2023 2:26 pm - Reply

    Your support’s valuable to our children’s education and life career development.

    • Hyun Lee July 3, 2023 4:54 pm - Reply

      Great to hear that!

  2. Felix Adebola July 3, 2023 7:40 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the information about Tuition free universities in the USA. I like to ask, are these tuition-free scholarships in these universities meant only for residents in the UK or are they available as well to international students prospecting to study in the USA?

    • Hyun Lee July 3, 2023 11:19 pm - Reply

      Hi Felix, I think you’ve meant if these tuition free universities are meant only for USA residents by “residents in the UK.” So, there is a mix of free universities for just domestic and international students currently. We will update this article so that we have two different sections for domestic and international students, so that it is clearer to you and other international students as well.

  3. Lubna Fiza July 28, 2023 1:03 pm - Reply

    Please update the article with different sections for international students.
    Thank you.