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Tuition waivers: What to know and how to qualify

Veteran college student takes notes in class
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College isn’t getting any cheaper, and most students have to use some form of financial aid to cover their costs. For many students, that financial aid comes in the form of scholarships or student loans. However, some students may also qualify for a tuition waiver.

A tuition waiver is a form of college aid that reduces the total amount your school charges you for tuition. Getting a tuition waiver can help you lower the total cost of what you’ll pay out of pocket for your college education.

What is a tuition waiver?

A tuition waiver is when your college or university waives some or all of your tuition costs. A tuition waiver can help lower the total cost of college expenses, but it doesn’t give you an all-expenses-paid education. Unlike scholarships or grants, tuition waivers tend to solely focus on reducing tuition and don’t apply to fees, room and board or other services.

Tuition waivers are typically granted to students with financial hardship, or those with specific backgrounds — such as veterans, foster children or nontraditional students. Many colleges also require you to maintain good academic standing to continue receiving the tuition waiver.

Is a tuition waiver considered financial aid?

While a tuition waiver is relatively uncommon, it is still considered financial aid and may be listed on your financial aid award letter alongside scholarships, grants or student loans. However, it operates differently from those types of financial aid; instead of giving you money to pay for school, a tuition waiver acts as a reduction in cost that’s determined only by the school.

While you can receive both a tuition waiver and other forms of financial aid, having a tuition waiver may reduce the amount you’re able to take out in student loans, since your cost of attendance will be lowered.

How to get a tuition waiver

Tuition waivers are given out at the institutional level. You might qualify for a tuition waiver based on:

  • Employment. Where you work can have a significant impact on your college tuition savings. For instance, Florida offers tuition help to full-time salaried employees. If you’re one of them, you might be able to get a tuition waiver for up to six credit hours per semester. You can use the savings at public universities and state colleges. If you’re employed by the school you plan to attend, you might also qualify for a tuition waiver.
  • Hardship. Your answers on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) help schools determine how much financial aid to give you, and they may consider a tuition waiver if you can’t afford school after scholarships and student loans are accounted for. Other forms of hardship, such as natural disasters, may also qualify you for a tuition waiver in some states.
  • Native status. Many states across the country offer tuition waivers to Native American students. While each state has its own restrictions and eligibility requirements, many states require students to be residents of the state where the school is located.
  • Resident status. Some schools offer tuition waivers that allow out-of-state students to receive in-state tuition rates. In some cases, these waivers are available only to students who are residents of bordering states, while others impose academic requirements.
  • Nontraditional student status. Regardless of why you didn’t go to or graduate from college, you may be eligible for a tuition waiver if you’re a nontraditional student. For instance, many states have at least one school that offers full or partial tuition waivers for seniors.
  • Veteran status. Veterans and their dependents have a lot of educational opportunities to take advantage of. Veterans and families of those who have served often qualify for tuition waivers from their school. For instance, California State University offers a tuition waiver for dependents of veterans, while the University of Connecticut has a tuition waiver for members of the National Guard.

In many cases, you will not have to apply for a tuition waiver; it will be included on your financial aid award letter once you complete the FAFSA. However, if you believe that you may qualify for a tuition waiver and it’s not reflected in your aid package, reach out to your school’s financial aid office. A financial aid officer can help you determine which waivers you may be eligible for.

Other ways to pay for college

While tuition waivers can dramatically reduce educational costs, not everyone is eligible for one. Luckily there are other ways to pay for school, including:

  • Scholarships and grants. When you complete the FAFSA, you may qualify for grants and scholarships offered by the government or your school. These forms of aid do not need to be repaid, and you can use them for all of your educational expenses. You can also apply for as many private scholarships and grants as you’d like.
  • Work-study. If you have financial need, you may qualify for federal work-study, which will be listed on your financial aid award letter. If you accept work-study, you’ll take on a part-time job while in school, typically with an organization affiliated with the university. You’ll receive a regular paycheck, which you can then put toward educational expenses.
  • Student loans. While student loans are usually a last resort after other aid has been exhausted, they’re a useful way to fill in any gaps in your financial aid. Your FAFSA award letter will tell you how much you’re eligible for in federal student loans, which are the best place to start, but any additional funding can come from private student loans. You don’t have to take out the full amount offered to you; only borrow what you need.

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Written by
Dori Zinn
Contributing writer
Dori Zinn has been a personal finance journalist for more than a decade. Aside from her work for Bankrate, her bylines have appeared on CNET, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, Wirecutter, Quartz, Inc. and more. She loves helping people learn about money, specializing in topics like investing, real estate, borrowing money and financial literacy.
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