The word “free” in relation to acquiring something is usually used as a form of manipulation or deception. While free (when not an outright lie) most often means you don’t have to pay any money for something; you usually find yourself on the hook some other way. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it’s not.

With that in mind, let’s discuss a few colleges that offer free tuition to students; and what the actual cost really is.

Service Academies

This one is pretty cut and dry. If you agree to serve in the American Armed Forces, there are several prestigious schools where your service is your tuition. This isn’t the same as serving in the military and then having the government pay for your schooling afterward. These are officer training schools where military science and tactics are interwoven into the curriculum.

We’re talking West Point (Army) and Annapolis (Navy). On the one hand, these are some of the best schools in the country. On the other, they are more or less designed for career service men and women. That makes them great for those already interested in military service. However, if you’re just looking for a way to pay for regular college, these probably aren’t the best paths to follow.

Moreover, they are extremely hard to get into. Most of them require a letter or recommendation from a U.S. Senator or Representative. All of them require stellar transcripts and extracurricular. It’s definitely not something a person can do on a whim.

As previously mentioned, if you think you are up to the challenge of military service but don’t want to make a full career out of it, enlisting is probably a better bet. That way, once your service is up, you are done and can go to most any school you want, to study whatever you want.

Berea College

This is a Christian college in Kentucky where students don’t have to pay tuition. Instead, they have to work 10 hours a week at approved jobs on campus and in the community. They even provide a laptop for all students and have a popular study abroad program. It is a small school however which tends to make the application process more difficult. Moreover, there seems to be a focus on local applicants. If you live in Kentucky, it’s definitely worth a shot.

College of the Ozarks

C of O works similarly to Berea but with two major differences. First, students must work 15 hours a week and two 40-hour weeks during semester breaks. Second, enrollment is based heavily on financial need. If you can deal with those two issues then they will take care of tuition for you.

C of O is located in rural Missouri and has a total enrollment of around 1,500 people. Again, that’s quite small and will probably make admission competitive. If you make it though, you’ll be going to one of the top 3 colleges in the region.

Specialty Schools

There are tons of other religious and specialty schools that offer free tuition for only one or two courses of study. If you have a particular niche (like boat building or something) that you’re looking to get into, it’s well worth the research time to see if there’s a school in the country that will pick up the tab.