What free boarding schools for at-risk children are available? Many parents feel that their children would benefit from all that boarding school has to offer, but they are concerned that they can’t afford the high cost of tuition. While there aren’t very many available, there are a few private boarding schools that are free or with just a small fee. Here is a list of free boarding schools by state.
- Free Boarding Schools in the United States
- Boarding Schools for Academic and Artistic Abilities
- What is the Cost of Boarding Schools?
- How to Pay for Boarding School
- Other Treatment Options & Programs for Kids Besides Boarding School
Boarding school includes private boarding schools, therapeutic boarding schools, military academies, Christian boarding schools and others. The truth is that very few are free or low cost. Most charge tuition that is high for many families to afford.
Are there free military schools? No. Unfortunately there are no free military schools. Military schools are privately funded by families. Click here to learn more about how to pay for military school.
Free Boarding Schools in the United States
Here is a listing of the free boarding schools available in the United States as of 2022.
Listings are for information purposes and do not imply a recommendation.
Boy’s Ranch in Amarillo, Texas
Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch is a residential community open to at-risk children ages 5 to 18. The program is run entirely by donations and parents are not required to contribute to their child’s tuition. Contrary to the name, the Ranch accepts both boys and girls, and about 300 children live on the Ranch at any given time.
Click here to read parent reviews of Boys Ranch.
Cookson Hills in Kansas, Oklahoma
Cookson Hills provides home, school, and therapy for kids who are at-risk. They are a children’s home serving kids ages 5-17. Since 1957, Cookson Hills has provided a nurturing home, quality Christian education, and therapy services in a safe and trauma-informed environment.
When children begin the program, parents are required to pay a $100 deposit for therapy fees and a $100 security deposit. Beyond that, parents are asked to pledge a monthly amount for tuition but there is no set monthly charge.
They offer a no-cost solution for kids who have faced challenges with family life, school truancy, homelessness, poor peer relationships, attachment issues or experienced abuse and neglect. Cookson is funded by individuals, churches, and foundations who want to provide a hopeful future for kids who are at-risk.
Click here to read about Cookson Hills on their website or call 918.597.2192.
Click here to read parents reviews of Cookson Hills.
Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pennsylvania
Milton Hershey School is a free boarding school for low-income families who desire an improved educational experience for their children. The school was founded by businessman and chocolatier Milton Hershey.
Important note for parents: This school is NOT for children with mental health and behavior issues.
Students must meet all 5 of the following criteria to be considered for acceptance:
- Come from a low-income family.
- Be 4-15 years old at time of enrollment.
- Have the ability to learn at Milton Hershey School.
- Be free from serious behavior problems.
- Overall have the ability to participate in and benefit from the school and programs.
Contact the Hershey School through their website.
The SEED School of Washington, D.C.
The SEED School of Washington, D.C. is the nation’s first, public, college-preparatory, tuition-free boarding school. Their five-day boarding program requires that enrolled students arrive on Sunday evenings for check-in and check out on Friday afternoons for the weekend.
Students must be DC residents and entering 9th or 10th grade to apply.
Visit the SEED DC website or call 202-248-3025 for more information.
Boarding Schools for Academic and Artistic Abilities
On the chance that an at-risk child lives in one of these states and has the following abilities, the following schools are tuition-free:
- Alabama School of Fine Arts – ASFA is for students with abilities in music, dance, or fine arts and live in in the state of Alabama.
- Illinois Math and Science Academy – IMSA is for students in the state of Illinois who score high in STEM. Applications accepted for students in 8th and 9th grades and the school is for 10th-12th graders.
- Maine School of Math and Science – MSSM is a rigorous charter high school experience for students in the state of Maine and around the world.
- Mississippi School of the Arts – The Mississippi School of the Arts is a statewide residential school for studying music, theatre, visual arts, dance, literary arts, and media arts for artistically gifted eleventh and twelfth grade students.
- North Carolina School of the Arts – This publicly-funded high school for dance, design, production, drama, and film making has over 1000 students enrolled in grades 9th-12th.
- Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities – This school in South Carolina has a residential high school and summer program for students gifted in the arts.
- Texas Academy of Math & Science – This is a residential, private early college program located in Texas. The co-ed academy serves grades 11th-12th.
- Burr & Burton Academy -Burr & Burton in Vermont serves high school students in grades 9th-12th. It is a private, coeducational, independent school.
- Chinquapin Preparatory School – Chinquapin Preparatory School in Texas is a private, nonprofit college prep school dedicated to the education of low-income students in grades 6th-12th.
- Conserve School – Conserve School is located just outside of the town of Land O’ Lakes in Wisconsin and serves grades 10th-11th. (Update: Conserve closed to semester education in 2021.)
What is the Cost of Boarding Schools?
By the time a child completes therapeutic boarding school, it can run up to $150,000 for a complete education, with tuition costs that average $20,000-30,000 per academic school year.
How to Pay for Boarding School
Click here for a detailed guide for how to pay for boarding school. Options for parents may include insurance, loans, grants, and other creative funding sources.
Click here to read about the exact costs of parent, Robin, and how their family pays for their child’s education at Youth with a Vision boarding school.
Other Treatment Options & Programs for Kids Besides Boarding School
Boarding schools are private institutions. If boarding school is too expensive for your family, there are other out-of-home options for children, which include:
In-patient treatment is in a hospital or institutional setting and usually for 7-30 days to stabilize mental health issues. Click here to learn more about if your child needs in-patient treatment.
Residential treatment programs are long-term placements for children where they live at the treatment center 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Children and teens need to have a mental health diagnosis to receive residential treatment, which often lasts 6-9 months or longer. Is there free residential treatment? Yes and no.
Technically residential treatment isn’t free, but in some cases insurance or Medicaid will pay for part or most of this type of care. Click here to learn more about how to get your child into residential treatment.
Wildness therapy is a type of intervention where teens and young adults receive mental health support in nature settings. There are no free wilderness programs and all are private pay. Click here for a list of wilderness programs (with costs included) listed by state.
Group homes are for people who need or choose to live away from their families but do not need the strict supervision of residential treatment. Click here to learn more about group home placements.
Treatment for autism
Most people with autism can live at home or, as adults, independently in the community with support. Autism is a type of neurodiversity and does not require treatment on its own. Some autistic people are also Intellectually Delayed (ID) and may need residential care. Click here for residential treatment options for Autism and ID.
Job Corps is not a treatment program, but it is helpful option for youth ages 16-24 years old who need to develop life skills. This government program does not cost to attend, and youth live on campus and attend classes. Click here to learn more about Job Corps.
For teens and young adults with drug and alcohol dependency, there are Teen Challenge programs throughout the United States. There is typically a small enrollment fee. People in need of treatment are not turned away due to inability to pay.
Use this list of free boarding schools to determine if one is right for your child, or consider other treatment options to get your child the care they need.
Do you know of a free boarding school that’s not listed? Share about it in the comments below.