A work college is an institution that offers free tuition or other types of financial assistance to students in exchange for participating in a work program. The majority of students work on-campus jobs. However, some may work off-campus. 

Why Work Colleges Are a Good Option

This form of education offers many benefits, with one of the biggest being able to leave school with less student loan debt. Although it won’t necessarily cover all expenses like books, room and board or educational supplies, having free tuition can still save a lot of money. 

It also gives students the chance to learn real-world skills like responsibility, time management, communication and teamwork, helping better prepare them once they graduate. 

Here some of the top work colleges in the US. 

College of the Ozarks | Point Lookout, Missouri

Students are required to participate in an on-campus work program, where they work 15 hours per week and two 40-hour work weeks per school year. College of the Ozarks also offers multiple scholarships that can pay part of room and board, books and supplies. 

Preference is given to students living in the Ozarks region, including Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Oklahoma and Kansas, and 90% of students that are accepted demonstrate financial need. 

Alice Lloyd College | Pippa Passes, Kentucky

Free tuition is guaranteed for all students who are within Alice Llyod College’s service area of Central Appalachia, including 108 counties located in parts of Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia. Students are required to work at least 10 hours per week and 160 hours per semester at an on-campus or off-campus job. 

Deep Springs College | Deep Springs, California

Students who are selected receive a full scholarship, which covers the costs of tuition and room and board. In exchange, they must work at least 20 hours each week on-campus and are “expected to dedicate themselves to lives of service to humanity.”

Berea College | Berea, Kentucky

This work program requires students to work at least 10 hours per week on-campus in jobs spanning over 130 departments, and financial assistance for books is available. Berea College also offers scholarship opportunities, making it possible for some students to graduate completely debt free. Over 70% of students are from the Appalachian region and Kentucky, and the mean family income is under $30,000. 

Warren Wilson College | Swannanoa, North Carolina 

This is for North Carolina undergraduate students who are eligible for federal and/or state need-based aid. They must live on-campus and participate in the WWC work program, where they work at least 10 hours per week on a wide range of tasks — everything from plumbing to network maintenance to raising cattle. 

Blackburn College | Carlinville, Illinois

Starting in 1913, this work program from Blackburn College is one of the oldest in the country and is completely student managed. Students must work an average of 10 hours per week for a total of 160 per semester. They must also be from Macoupin County, Illinois and be part of families earning less than $60,000 a year. 

The University of North Carolina | Chapel Hill, North Carolina

UNC has a program called Carolina Covenant that gives students from low-income families the chance to graduate debt free. To qualify, a student’s family must have an adjusted gross income at or below 200% of the poverty guideline and work on-campus 10 to 12 hours per week in Federal Work-Study jobs.

Webb Institute | Glen Cove, New York

Webb Institute is an engineering school that offers students full-tuition scholarships and has additional need-based aid for covering other costs. In exchange, students must participate in a mandatory Winter Work program that takes place every January and February to gain real-world experience. To be eligible, students must be US citizens or permanent residents. 

Macaulay Honors College at City University of New York | New York, New York

Free tuition is available for eight semesters for full-time undergraduates who are New York state residents with outstanding academic records. In return, students are required to complete an internship or study abroad program along with 30 hours of community or college service over the course of the four-year program. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology | Cambridge, Massachusetts

Scholarship funding from MIT is available to students from families who earn less than $90,000 per year, enabling many to graduate debt free. 91% of undergraduates participate in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, where they work on research projects related to their field of study. 

The Apprentice School | Newport News, Virginia

This college has a unique setup that offers classes and full-time employment to students with complete on-the-job training in shipbuilding. Academic courses begin after students complete six months of their apprenticeship, with the total program usually taking five to six years. Also note that students must have a history of good school attendance and job performance to be considered. 

St. Louis Christian College | Florissant, Missouri 

The NextGen+ Leadership Program from St. Louis Christian College covers two years of paid tuition after any Pell Grants have been applied. Students must be enrolled full-time, complete 50 hours of tutoring or mentoring, live on-campus and have had a minimum of a 95% attendance rate throughout high school.

Other Options

If a work college isn’t for you, there are many other ways to reduce student loan debt. There are thousands of employers who are willing to help you pay for tuition, apply for as many scholarships and grants as you can, work throughout school and choose an affordable college.




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