Is Free Housing for College Students Possible? Kind Of

Free housing for college students is possible with the right combination of financial aid programs.

Is Free Housing for College Students Possible? Kind Of

As many students and parents of college students know, attending college nowadays is quite expensive. Average tuition costs have climbed almost continuously year after year for decades now. And while there are plenty of scholarships available for prospective and current students, many don’t realize this or don’t bother to apply for them.

But another major cost of attending college is room and board. Though many upper-classmen often move off-campus, freshmen almost always live in campus-provided rooms. In general, on-campus housing is cheaper than the cost of renting off-campus. But that doesn’t mean on-campus housing is necessarily cheap.

Here we’ll look at whether or not free housing for college students is possible. The answer is that it is possible or, at the very least, the cost of housing can be reduced, thanks to various measures you can take and strategies you can pursue. Read on to find out you can get free housing for college students and, if not, reduce the cost to make your total financial burden a bit lighter.

Is Free Housing for College Students Possible?

There are indeed several grants provided by the federal government, state governments, and public institutions that you can apply for to help cover the cost of college housing. In addition, there are private organizations that provide grants or scholarships that award money that can be put towards the cost of on-campus housing. 

To get an idea of what you’ll be facing when it comes to the cost of college housing, we sourced data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Below is a breakdown of the average cost of college on-campus housing at various types of four-year degree-granting colleges (data is for the 2020-2021 academic year):

  • Cost of dormitory rooms — All colleges: $7,013

  • Cost of dormitory rooms — Public colleges: $6,774

  • Cost of dormitory rooms — Not-for-profit private colleges: $7,586

  • Cost of dormitory rooms — For-profit colleges: $7,367

All of these figures are for an academic year. Thus, when compared to the likely cost of off-campus rental rates, the above figures are generally cheaper. However, for a college-bound student who is financially strapped, even the cost of on-campus housing can be tough to cover considering it is separate from the cost of tuition and required fees.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways free housing for college students can be found.

FAFSA Awards for Free Housing for College Students

In order to be eligible for federally awarded scholarships and grants, you must fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA application process is fairly straightforward and can be completed in a matter of hours and submitted. Completing the FAFSA provides you with access to a variety of federal student aid programs. Some of the most notable federal student aid programs include:

Pell Grants

A federal Pell Grant is a nifty student aid program because it is not a loan and therefore doesn’t have to be repaid. The amount awarded through a federal Pell Grant depends on your financial needs, the cost of the college you plan to attend, your status as a full-time or part-time student, and if you plan to attend college for a full academic year or less.

Does a Pell Grant provide free housing for college students? Unfortunately, it doesn’t wipe out the cost of college housing. According to the Department of Education (ED), the maximum Pell Grant award for the 2022-2023 academic year is $6,895. The maximum Pell Grant amount is hardly enough to cover all of the costs of tuition plus housing. 

However, the maximum amount, if awarded, can cover most of the average cost for dormitory rooms, based on NCES data. This means a Pell Grant can get you pretty close to attaining free housing for college students. What’s more, if you’re awarded a Pell Grant, you can continue to apply for it every year that you’re an undergraduate and meet the grant’s financial requirements. That means you can potentially get a Pell Grant each year for up to six years if you complete and submit a FAFSA each year you’re enrolled as an undergraduate student.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants 

The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is another option for undergraduate students to pursue to in order to help cover the cost of attending college. Like with Pell Grants, to obtain an FSEOG, you must complete the FAFSA form, with the amount awarded being based your financial need. And, like the Pell Grant, in the vast majority of cases you will not have to repay the money received from the FSEOG. 

Through the FSEOG program, you can be awarded between $100 and $4,000 per year. Again, even the maximum amount awarded might not guarantee free housing for college students, but $4,000 can take out a big chunk of on-campus housing expenses. This grant can be disbursed by being a credit to your student account, paid to you directly, or a combination of these methods.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants 

This type of federal student aid, shortened to TEACH Grant, has a maximum award amount of $4,000. To be eligible for this federal grant, you must meet the general criteria for federal student aid programs, submit a FAFSA form, be enrolled at a college that participates in the TEACH Grant Program and enrolled in a TEACH-Grant-eligible program, fulfill specific academic achievement requirements, receive TEACH Grant counseling every year you receive a TEACH Grant, and sign the TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve or Repay. 

Basically, the TEACH Grant remains as a grant that you won’t have to repay if you follow the requirements of the grant rules, namely, following through on the four years of required teaching. If you do not follow the grant’s rules, the grant will turn into a loan that you must repay. and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants (up to $5,920). All of these can be used for housing. The maximum award per year of $4,000 is, once again, not usually enough to ensure free housing for college students, but it can definitely be a big help in covering on-campus housing costs while you focus on paying the costs of tuition.

State Awards for Free Housing for College Students

Another way to try and get free housing for college students or, at least, get help paying for housing, is to apply for state-level grants and scholarships. What’s great is that you can receive additional grants and scholarships from your state of residence on top of student aid you get from elsewhere. 

For example, the state of Georgia offers scholarships like the Watson-Brown Foundation Scholarship. This scholarship awards $3,000 twice per year, once for the fall semester and once for the spring semester. That adds up to $6,000 per academic year. Though this amount is less than the $7,013 average cost for dormitory housing for all institutions, it’s only a little less than the $6,774 average cost for on-campus housing at public four-year colleges and universities. State government student aid can provide significant assistance in covering the cost of college housing, even if it doesn't entail completely free housing for college students.

One of the most generous state aid programs that can help make free housing for college students is the California Student Aid Commission’s Cal Grants. California’s Cal Grant program requires applicants to meet eligibility requirements, such as submitted a FAFSA form or the CA Dream Act Application; maintain minimum GPA requirements; be a California resident for at least one year; attend a qualifying California college or plan to enroll in a program leading to an undergraduate degree or certificate; have financial need at the college you’ve chosen; and have family income and assets below the minimum levels, among other eligibility criteria. Cal Grants have three different types of grants, designated as Cal Grant A, Cal Grant B, and Cal Grant C. 

College Awards for Free Housing for College Students

Another place you may be able to find funds for free housing for college students is through the college or university itself. Many schools offer grants and scholarships to help cover student housing. For example, Rutgers University offers what’s called Scarlet Promise Grants. This grant is a need-based financial aid program, designed to help close the gap between assistance from federal- and state-level aid sources. The Scarlet Promise Grants can be used to help pay for tuition as well as campus housing, books, and meal plans. So, if you’ve already exhausted the sources of aid from the federal and state government, then research your institution’s website to see if they offer grants or scholarships that can help make free housing for college students possible.

Davidson College, which is one of the best colleges in North Carolina, offers grants directly from the institution. These need-based grants are funded through donations from foundations, corporations, alumni, and friends. What’s really impressive about Davidson College Grants is that the awards range from $100 to more than $30,000. If you receive a grant from Davidson College that’s on the higher end, then free housing for college students is definitely possible.

Another standout program is Youngstown State’s Housing Grant. This grant is provided for students who plan to live in University Housing or Courtyard Apartments. Like other grants, this one comes with eligibility qualifications and the crucial requirement of submitting a completed FAFSA form.

So, if you’ve already exhausted the sources of aid from the federal and state government, then research your institution’s website to see if they offer grants or scholarships that can help make free housing for college students possible.

The Bottom Line on Free Housing for College Students

In the end, free housing for college students is a difficult goal to attain. But with the help of grants and scholarships, which you can find in BrokeScholar’s vast library of programs, prospective or current college students can get financial aid that can cover a substantial amount of the cost of housing. Equally important, you can combine multiple sources of financial aid to help cover various costs of attending college. Some financial aid can go towards covering tuition while other sources of aid can go towards the cost of housing. It is possible, with the right combination of aid programs, to make free housing for college students within your reach, or at the very least, cover a big chunk of the cost of on-campus housing.