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  • Writer's pictureNathan Zarcaro

9 Online Colleges That Basically Pay You to Attend

Updated: Jul 22, 2023

Affording college is one of the great financial challenges in life. And while some schools are more affordable than others, most all schools have costs of attendance measured in the tens of thousands of dollars. This does not mean you'll pay this much, especially when things like scholarships, tuition assistance, and financial aid are taken into account.

Regardless of how much aid you receive, in all likelihood you're still going to be on the hook for thousands of dollars. It then becomes a balancing act to afford. Student loans are always an option, but are costly and could leave you in debt for a decade - or longer. And most of us don't have the savings necessary to avoid taking student debt.

But - there are actually colleges and universities that will pay you to attend their schools. That's right, you read the headline correctly.

This article will cover everything you need to attend college and basically get paid for doing so.

Online college class via Zoom

Can you get an online college education?

You sure can, and your options go far beyond that of The University of Phoenix. Obviously nothing against them, but they were largely a pioneer in online education and there are now plenty more options on the market.

In fact, you may be able to attend an online college for free. That's right. Each school we review below is different. Some are free because they actually do not charge tuition, while others are actually quite expensive, but offer extremely generous scholarship, grant, and financial aid programs to those that qualify.

These online schools basically pay you to attend

Here is our list of colleges that offer great online programs.

1. Lipscomb University

Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Lipscomb University offers completely remote certificate and degree programs in a Christian faith-based environment. Affiliated with the Churches of Christ, Lipscomb has actually been around since 1891.

In a sign of the academic strength of the university, Lipscomb is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to offer degree programs at the Associates, Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral level.

The university is well known for offering flexible programs that will work with your schedule, and for preparing you to acquire all of the skills that you’ll need to enter the working world and be successful.

Do note that Lipscomb is likely a better fit for practicing Christians due to the school's mission and objectives, though anyone is welcome to apply.

2. University of Missouri - Columbia

Students willing to work in exchange for their education will love the University of Missouri at Columbia. They actually offer a work-study program where you can work and pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree at the same time.

This program is available to United States citizens and permanent residents enrolled in a degree program.

3. Columbia University

Columbia Online, Columbia University’s online arm, offers remote degree programs through it’s schools of:

  • Engineering and Applied Sciences

  • Professional Studies

  • Social Work

  • Business

  • Arts and Science

Of course, Columbia is incredibly expensive, in part due to the school’s status as a prestigious university with high tuition rates. Thankfully, they also offer tons of scholarships, aid, and grant money, as well as a tuition exemption program for those that qualify.

4. University of the People

An accredited institution of higher learning, the University of the People is a really interesting school. Founded in 2009, UoPeople offers degree programs at the Associates, Bachelors, and Masters levels, while also offering a number of certificate programs.

The school has partnerships with prestigious schools nationwide such as Cal Berkeley and NYU, and even offers classes taught by Ivy League professors.

Unlike some of the schools on our list that charge tuition but offer substantial financial aid and grant programs, UoPeople is basically free, other than a $120 fee for each course that can be paid as you progress through the program. They were established as a non-profit that will pay you to enroll in their online degree programs.

5. Berea College

Berea College does not charge tuition - yes, you read that right. Thanks to well connected and generous donors, the college has been tuition free since 1892, and has remained this way since then.

Berea offers well rounded liberal arts educations and degree programs in many majors, from biology, to computer science, to business. Cumulatively, the college offers more than 30 majors in both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science programs.


Other colleges offering the most affordable online degree programs include:

  1. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

  2. Athabasca University

  3. Bethel University

  4. Barclay College

Watch out for online education scams

Of course, the headline of this article alone is enough to require this disclaimer. The schools we've talked about here are legitimate ways to pursue higher education with little to even no cost to you. And there are others too. Unfortunately, though, there are also scams out there.

Remember this mantra: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. To help you avoid any illegitimate offers, consider following these tips:

  1. Review the required coursework needed to complete your degree

  2. Make sure that any program(s) you are considering are accredited

  3. Consider online reviews and any complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

The bottom line

The world has changed greatly in the past couple decades, and online college degree programs are now feasible in ways that they did not used to be. And while out list is far from all-encompassing, it can help provide you a great starting point to consider.

Above all else, though, we want to help you find a college or university that provides you the best opportunity to grow and flourish. To help maximize these chances, we recommend that you follow these tips:

  • Balance affordability with education - to a point: You probably don't want to just pick the cheapest college option that you can find without assessing your fit and chance to prosper. Of course, this should take place within reason. Paying $2,000 more for a better fit that increases your chances of success should be warranted, but is another $15,000 in annual tuition really worth it? It is up to you to decide.

  • Look for a program that interests you: This should go without saying, but you probably shouldn't apply and enroll in one of the colleges on this list if they don't offer a program of study that you're interested in. Of course, you don't have to ultimately work in the same field that you majored in, but an education degree when you want to work in finance may be a bit of a tough sell.

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About Nathan Zarcaro

Nathan Zarcaro is the founder of The Student Debt Destroyer and is passionate about personal finance related causes.  A 2018 graduate of Providence College's Liberal Arts Honors Program, Nathan studied Finance, and has worked for industry leaders in both finance and healthcare.  In his free time, Nathan enjoys playing golf and traveling with his wife Brigid.

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