Best tuition-free online colleges: Top options for 2022

A long-haired person in hiking clothes leaps into the air on a beach in Washington.

Multiple well-respected colleges offer free tuition to qualifying students. Find out if you qualify below.

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Wishing you could attend a prestigious school without taking out giant student loans? Consider tuition-free online colleges. 

Thanks to developing ideas about accessible education, a variety of schools now offer full tuition waivers and scholarships to online and traditional learners. 

Read on to learn more about tuition-free, accredited online colleges and how to qualify for them.

How does a tuition-free online college work?

Does "tuition-free college" sound too good to be true? These programs do exist, but they typically come with qualifications.

In most cases, a tuition-free college is a school that makes a commitment to pay full tuition for students demonstrating financial need. Harvard, for instance, offers tuition-free programs for students who demonstrate financial need. However, some schools offer free tuition to all.

You may have to cover your own living expenses, textbook costs, and other fees.

Accredited tuition-free colleges provide the same academic rigor and quality as colleges that always require tuition. You can prepare to attend a tuition-free college in high school by maintaining a high GPA and staying involved in extracurricular activities.

Best tuition-free online colleges in 2022: Our picks

For our list of the top five free online colleges, we only included schools that met these qualifications: 

  • They must accept the FAFSA

  • They must be accredited by a recognized accreditor

We focused on larger online colleges offering diverse majors.

The following list represents the best tuition-free online colleges in the nation. Please note that this data is accurate at the time of publication, but may change in the future. 

For clarification on the total cost of online colleges listed here, plus further details about eligibility, check the school's websites.

1. Arizona State University

Typical annual cost of attendance: $20,501-$53,832

Based in Phoenix, Arizona State University offers two free tuition programs to Arizona residents: The ASU College Attainment Grant Program provides free tuition to Pell Grant recipients, while the Obama Scholars Program offers residents demonstrating financial need free tuition. (However, students pursuing ASU Online degrees are ineligible.)

ASU's noteworthy online programs include:

  • Master's in computer science
  • Master's in social technologies
  • Bachelor's in geographic information science

The school is a top performer for inventions and licensing deals and has birthed over 160 startups.

Accreditation: Arizona State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

2. City College of San Francisco

Typical annual cost of attendance: $16,610-$35,617 

City College of San Francisco's Free City program currently offers free tuition to students living in San Francisco who have established California residency. 

Online courses use the Canvas learning platform and mix asynchronous and synchronous learning. Highlights from CCSF's online catalog include:

  • Associate in computer science
  • Associate in library information technology
  • Associate in health education

CCSF offers associate degrees, certificates, and non-credit courses aimed at nontraditional students, including courses in music appreciation and computers.

Accreditation: City College of San Francisco is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC).

3. Texas A&M University

Typical cost of attendance: $25,404-$61,310

College Station's Texas A&M University promises all full-time students with an annual family income of less than $60,000 full scholarship/grant coverage of their tuition. Students must be Texas residents and must maintain a 2.5+ GPA. Any additional costs can be covered with work or student loans.

The school's array of online degrees include:

  • ME in computer engineering
  • MS in energy
  • MS in engineering management

TAMU invests more than $905 million in research annually.

Accreditation: Texas A&M University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

4. University of New Hampshire

Typical cost of attendance: $35,350-$47,440 

Based in Durham, the University of New Hampshire offers Pell Grant-eligible New Hampshire residents a free tuition guarantee for four years through its Granite Guarantee. The school launched the program in 2017. More than 800 current students are receiving aid through the program.

UNH's online degrees include:

  • Master's in health data science
  • Master's in intellectual property
  • Master's in cybersecurity policy and risk management

Undergraduate students may participate in the school's annual weeklong Undergraduate Research Conference.

Accreditation: University of New Hampshire is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE). 

5. Webb Institute

Cost of attendance: $22,565-$76,035

Based in Glen Cove, New York, Webb Institute is a small engineering school that offers students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents full tuition coverage. International students still pay tuition and other fees.

Webb offers one undergraduate course of study: A dual bachelor's in naval architecture and marine engineering. 

The school is the oldest institution in the U.S. devoted to naval engineering. During the 2020-21 school year, it enrolled only 110 students.

Accreditation: Webb Institute is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).