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Earning a college degree is one of the most expensive things that most people will do in their lives, second to buying a home. Tuition, room, and board aren’t cheap, and many graduate deep in student loan debt that may take years to repay.
Can’t a student catch a break?
College is tough enough without having to constantly worry about whether you can afford things. Thankfully, however, there are some things you can get for free as a college student. There are also many things you can get discounts on.
The key to all of this is your status as a college student. To qualify for many discounts or free things in person, you will usually have to show your student ID. For free and discounted things offered online, your status as a student is usually verified through your student email address.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are many places that offer student freebies or student discounts – but they don’t always advertise it. If you live in a college town, be sure to ask when you are at a restaurant, store, or another place if they offer any perks for students. You’ll never know unless you ask.
Let’s go ahead now and take a look at free stuff for college students that you may be able to take advantage of.
Table of Contents
1. Free Tuition
I’m going to lead off this list with a big one – free tuition. How’s that for an awesome student freebie?
Free tuition? How is that possible?
Well, technically it’s not completely free. If you take advantage of this perk, you will be trading something for it – work.
The free tuition I’m referring to is free money for college classes offered by many employers. This is money that is offered as an employee benefit, and it does not have to repaid. Some employers offer a few thousand dollars a year in tuition benefits, while other companies will pay for all of your degree.
Not a bad deal, eh?
Some companies that offer tuition as a benefit will pay for your classes upfront while others do it as a reimbursement. If it’s a reimbursement, you will have to pay for your classes yourself and then apply for reimbursement after you have completed them with an acceptable grade.
It’s important to point out that companies do periodically change their benefits programs. If you see something listed here that is no longer available or is different, please let me know so I can update the information.
McDonald’s – Through it’s Archways to Opportunities program, McDonald’s offers up to $2,500 in tuition benefits each year if you work at least 15 hours a week for a participating franchise owner/operator. The benefit is available after you have worked at a location for a minimum of 90 days.
Taco Bell – Taco Bell offers up to $5,250 a year in tuition benefits. It’s also possible to earn college credit for on-the-job training. Taco Bell has partnered with Guild Education, and tuition benefits must be used through one of its partner colleges and universities which offer degree programs online.
Chipotle Mexican Grill – Another restaurant chain that has partnered with Guild Education is Chipotle Mexican Grill. Chipotle will pay for 100% of your tuition for certain degrees, and up to $5,250 a year for other degrees. It’s also possible to earn college credit for on-the-job training.
Publix – Publix offers up to $3,200 a year with a maximum of $12,800 for certain classes and majors. The tuition benefit is available for employees who have been with the company for a minimum of six months of continuous service.
Walmart – Walmart offers an incredible program for its associates where they can earn either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree for only $1 a day. Walmart is another company that has partnered with Guild Education. All degree programs are online and are available through select schools. Degree programs in business and computer science are available.
Starbucks – Starbucks has, in my opinion, the best tuition benefits program there is. The company will pay for its part-time and full-time employees to earn a degree online through Arizona State University. The company picks up the tab for the entire degree –100% tuition coverage. You can choose from over 80 different degree programs.
2. Free Online College Courses
Did you know there’s a way to earn free college credit online that some schools accept in transfer? It’s true. These free courses are offered through Saylor Academy. Before I discuss Saylor Academy, I want to briefly talk about a very important organization in the world of higher education that has reviewed these courses for possible college credit – The American Council on Education (ACE).
ACE is an organization that is made up of nearly 1,700 colleges, universities, and other associations and organizations that are related to higher education. ACE was established in 1918 to conduct research and advance public policy in the field of higher education. ACE’s stamp of approval, therefore, is a big deal.
ACE offers a service that few people know about called the ACE College Credit Recommendation Service (CCRS). This service evaluates courses offered outside of traditional academia to see if they are worthy of college credit. The CCRS evaluates courses and training programs offered by corporations, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.
If the CCRS evaluates a course and believes it is worthy of college credit, it will add that course to its list. You can create an account with ACE and have courses you have completed that have been “ACE evaluated” added to your account. You can then have an official ACE transcript sent to your school for consideration.
It’s important to note that some schools accept ACE evaluated courses for college credit while others don’t. Each school will have its own policy regarding the acceptance of this type of credit. There is nothing that says a school has to accept these credits.
Now, back to Saylor Academy.
Saylor Academy offers several online courses that have been ACE evaluated for college credit. These courses are 100% tuition-free. It’s important to point out, however, that there is a $25-$45 fee per course to have the final exam proctored. Compared to tuition through traditional schools, however, this is very affordable.
Saylor Academy uses an online proctoring service called ProctorU. All proctoring is done right in your home via webcam.
Check out this short video about Saylor Academy to see an overview of how it works:
Be sure to check with your college or university to see if they will accept Saylor Academy courses in transfer. If they do, you could potentially save thousands in tuition by taking several of them.
3. Super-Affordable College Credit
There’s one more source of affordable college credit that I want to discuss that, while not technically free, is substantially less than the cost of tuition at most schools.
It’s not unusual at many colleges and universities these days for a three-credit course to be over $1,000 – and that doesn’t even include the cost of books.
What if you could earn the same credit for under $100 per course? And not only that, but it may also be possible to earn these credits very quickly.
What I’m talking about is commonly referred to as credit by exam. In other words, you get to challenge your way out of courses.
Many schools accept challenge exams for college credit, but not all do. And it’s very common for those schools that accept this form of credit to accept up to 30 credits towards the completion of a degree program. Some schools accept more.
Let’s say the cost is $100 for a three-credit exam. It’s actually a little less than that, but we’ll stick with $100 for the sake of simplifying the example. If you take and pass 30 credit hours by challenge exam, it would only cost you about $1,000. That’s one-fourth of a bachelor’s degree for what many schools charge for one single course.
How’s that for a great deal?
It’s important to point out that some test centers do charge a modest testing fee on top of the cost of the exams, but not all do. Testing centers are located all across the nation.
A great benefit of these exams is that when you submit a transcript of your exams to your school, they are usually recorded on your transcript (if your school accepts them) as PASS or CREDIT for the courses you are challenging. No letter grade is recorded. This makes them a great replacement for difficult courses that may drag down your GPA.
Another benefit of these exams is that most of them are multiple-choice. Study guides are available online to help you prepare.
The two types of challenge exams for college credit are CLEP and DSST. Let’s briefly take a look at each one.
CLEP stands for College Level Exam Program. Exams are available in over 30 subjects at the lower-division level (courses typically offered in the first two years of college). Information for registering and taking CLEP exams can be found on the CLEP website.
Check out this short video on CLEP exams to see how they work. The video is for nursing students, but it presents an excellent overview of how the exams work in a degree program:
DSST stands for DANTES Subject Standardized Tests. These exams were originally developed for military personnel to earn college credit, but civilians can now take them, too. Exams are available in over 30 subjects. Most DSST exams are for lower-division courses, but some upper-division exams are also available.
Check out this video on DSST exams to get an overview of how they work:
There are no guarantees that your school will accept challenge exams for college credit, but it’s definitely worth checking to see if they do. The savings can be substantial.
4. Amazon Student
Amazon Student is essentially a student version of Amazon Prime. The service lets you take advantage of free two-day shipping and access Prime Instant Video.
Amazon Student is only free for the first six months. After that, you can continue the service for half of the regular cost of Amazon Prime.
5. Museum Admissions
Many cities and towns that are located close to colleges and universities offer either student discounts or free admission to students. Each museum will have its own policy, so it’s best to ask if you aren’t sure.
It’s also worth asking about student discounts and free student admission to a museum even if it’s not located near a college or university. Some museums and attractions don’t advertise that they offer these perks.
6. Student Checking Accounts
Checking accounts with maintenance fees are now common (unless you meet certain requirements). However, as a student, you may be able to qualify for a free checking account at a bank.
If you already have a checking account, talk to someone at your bank to see if they would consider waiving the fees because you are a student. Also, check with other banks to see what free perks they offer to college students.
Students at some schools can take advantage of free public transportation in their schools’ communities. This is a great way to get around town if you don’t have a vehicle or if you just want to save some gas.
Some schools also offer free transportation of the evenings and nights to make sure students get home safely after events and parties. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your school’s free transportation offerings so that you never end up without a ride when you need one.
8. Memberships to Professional Organizations
Many professional organizations offer free memberships to students who are studying to enter the professions they represent.
If you are training for a specific career like an engineer, accountant, or something else, be sure to check with the professional organizations in your field to see what they offer students. Perks you may be able to take advantage of include mentoring, networking events, access to job boards, and other important things that can help you launch your career.
9. Gym Memberships
Some gyms and fitness centers that are located near colleges and universities may offer student discounts. But if you are a college student, you most likely have free access to a great gym – your school’s gym.
Technically, this isn’t a free gym membership. The cost of using your school’s gym is included in the tuition and other fees that you pay, so you may as well take advantage of it.
Some college and university fitness centers may offer more than the traditional workout equipment like weights, machines, treadmills, and others. Depending on your school, free group exercise classes may be offered in aerobics, dance, and others.
Other things your school’s fitness center may offer include aquatics, intramural sports, rock climbing walls, personal training, and outdoor recreation.
As a college student with a valid student ID, you may be able to take advantage of discounts on food and drinks at restaurants near the college or university you are attending. Some restaurants advertise these discounts to attract more customers. Other places may offer discounts but not advertise them.
As a college student, you may also be able to score some free food by attending an event sponsored by the college. Some student organizations, clubs, sororities, and fraternities also offer free food at their events.
11. Microsoft Office
I’m so old I can actually remember when free copies of Microsoft Office came with new computers. Just fire up your new PC and there it was – Microsoft Office.
But those days are long gone. You now have to buy Microsoft Office separately from your PC.
Unless you’re a student, that is.
If you are a student with a valid school email address, you may qualify for a free copy of Microsoft Office. The Microsoft Office suite is very useful for writing papers and completing other school assignments, so you definitely want to take advantage of this offer.
12. Health and Wellness
Similar to taking advantage of your school’s fitness facilities, many schools also have student health centers that offer a variety of services. You’ve already paid for these services. They are bundled in with your tuition and other fees you are required to pay, so you may as well see what they have to offer.
Some of the more common things offered at student health centers include flu shots, birth control, and STI tests at no additional cost. Some centers offer counseling. Other services are usually offered, too, so be sure to check out your school’s student health center in case you need it in the future.
13. YNAB (You Need a Budget)
You Need a Budget is a very handy app you can use to help you manage your money. Although you can create a budget without this app on a spreadsheet or paper, YNAB helps you to simplify and streamline the process. And since it’s an app on your smartphone, you can take it with you wherever you go.
If you are a student, you may qualify for a full year of YNAB for free. You just sign up for a free trial, and then email them proof that you are a college student.
14. LastPass Password Manager
Passwords can be difficult to keep up with, especially when some sites require you to use special characters and make them a certain length. I don’t know about you, but I have enough to keep up with as it is.
LastPass is software that manages your passwords for you. It’s designed so that you just remember one password (the one to LastPass) and the software remembers all of the others for you.
If you are a college student, you may qualify for six months of LastPass for free. Check out the student offer on LastPass’s website for more information.
Autodesk is a collection of software applications for designers and engineers. I’m not even going to pretend like I understand what they all do – because I don’t.
If you are a college student, you may be able to qualify for more than 100 Autodesk products for free. Information on the free software for college students is available on the Autodesk website.
GitHub is a development platform that many companies use to develop software, review code, and manage projects. The company states on its website that its software is used by 40 million developers.
If you are a college student, you may qualify for a special Student Developer Pack. This gives you free access to many developer tools to help you learn by doing. Check out the student offer on GitHub’s website for more information.
JetBrains is another suite of tools that is for software developers. It’s very similar to GitHub. If you are a college student, you may qualify for free licenses. Be sure to check out JetBrain’s student offer on its website for more information.
18. Resume and Career Assistance
Every job seeker needs a slick-looking resume that stands out from the competition and says “I’m the one you’ve been looking for.”
Creating an amazing-looking resume, however, is not a skill that everyone has. It’s an art form. You could be at the top of your computer science class, for example, but unless you have an eye-catching resume that grabs hiring managers’ attention, the best jobs may go to other people.
No, it’s not fair, but it is how the world works.
Many colleges and universities genuinely want their graduates to succeed. To help them get started in their careers, many schools offer resume services to help you develop your resume so you can get a foot in the door with the best company possible. Many schools also offer career assistance where they help you with your interviewing skills, job search, and other things.
In addition to offering these services to students, many schools continue to offer resume and other career services to their alumni free of charge. Be sure to find out what career services your school offers so you can take advantage of them.
19. Sporting Events
Many colleges and universities offer free student admission to some of their sporting events. Some of events may be free, while others – like the big events – may still require you to buy a ticket.
Be sure to check out your school’s sports schedule to find out which events are free for college students. These are always great to go to if you are looking for some free entertainment.
20. Plays, Musical Productions, and Guest Speakers
In addition to offering free student admission to some of their sporting events, many schools also offer free student admission to plays, musical productions, and guest speakers.
One of the great things about attending a large university is that these schools occasionally have some very interesting guest speakers to check out. You may be able to listen to a lecture from a famous politician, actor, or another well-known figure.
Put Your College ID to Use
Being a college student has its perks. Did you realize there was so much free stuff for college students that you may qualify for? If you are a college student, you definitely want to take advantage of as many freebies for students as possible.
If you are wondering how to get free stuff from colleges and other places while you are a student, this list should get you started. But there may be other freebies for students that your school offers that aren’t on this list.
Be sure to check around your school to see what student freebies they have to offer. Don’t be shy! You’ll never know unless you ask.