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Discover the Benefits of Tuition Waiver Programs

What is a Tuition Waiver?
Rebecca Safier
Rebecca SafierUpdated September 10, 2023
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There are various types of financial aid for college, including scholarships, grants, and student loans. One type that you may be less familiar with is tuition waivers. Tuition waivers come straight from a college, university system, or state. They reduce part or all of the tuition costs for qualifying students. Tuition waivers are granted for a variety of reasons, but often go to students who have financial need or are part of a certain demographic. Read for a closer look at tuition waivers, including how to get one and how they differ from scholarships. 

What Is a Tuition Waiver?

A tuition waiver reduces part or all of your tuition costs, thereby lowering the amount you need to pay for your education. They’re part of a financial aid package that comes from your college or university system itself, rather than the U.S. Department of Education. A tuition waiver won’t necessarily waive all your costs — you may still have to pay for fees and living expenses, for instance. But it could go a long way toward making college more affordable and reducing the amount you have to pay in student loans. If your tuition waiver is offered annually, you may have to maintain satisfactory academic standing (i.e., a certain GPA) to remain eligible for it. Recommended: What Is the Average Student Loan Debt?

Differences Between a Tuition Waiver vs a Scholarship

Both tuition waivers and scholarships can reduce your educational costs, but they work differently. A tuition waiver comes from a college’s financial aid office and directly reduces your tuition bill. You may or may not have to apply for it — some colleges offer tuition waivers to students to entice them to enroll or because they meet certain eligibility requirements. A scholarship, on the other hand, offers money that you can use to pay for tuition or other educational expenses. It might come from your college or a private organization and is often based on academic merit, athletic achievement, community service, or other accomplishments. You usually have to pursue scholarships by submitting applications that may require essays, transcripts, and letters of reference from teachers, coaches, or other adults. 

Does This Count as Financial Aid?

Tuition waivers can be considered a form of financial aid, as they help you pay for college or university. However, they’re not the only forms of financial aid available. If you submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you put yourself in the running for federal grants, work-study, and student loans. Some states and colleges also offer their own grants, work-study, and loans that can help you pay for school. 

How to Go About Getting a Tuition Waiver

Whether or not a tuition waiver is available — and what its eligibility requirements are — is dependent on the school you’re attending or state you live in. Reach out to your school’s financial aid office to find out if it offers tuition waivers and if you need to take any steps to pursue one. Here are some reasons that a school’s financial aid office might offer a partial or even full tuition waiver: 
  • Demonstrated financial need. Schools may offer tuition waivers to students whose families have a household income under a certain threshold or who aren’t getting parental assistance paying for school. 
  • Employment by the school. Some colleges offer tuition waivers to employees who work at the school and would like to earn their undergraduate or graduate degree there. 
  • Academic achievement. Schools might offer tuition waivers to students with an excellent academic record from high school to incentivize them to enroll. 
  • Exceptional circumstances. Students who grew up in foster care or have a disability, for example, may qualify for a tuition waiver. 
  • Native American ancestry. Some schools offer tuition waivers to Native American students. 
  • Veterans. If you or your parent served in the military, you might qualify for a tuition waiver. 

Colleges that Offer Tuition Waivers

There are a variety of colleges that offer tuition waivers, so it’s worth checking with yours to see about opportunities. Here are a few examples: 
  • California university system: California offers a tuition waiver at the State of California Community College, California State University, and University of California campuses for certain dependents of veterans. 
  • University of Connecticut: If one of your parents works for UConn in certain approved departments, you may qualify for a tuition waiver. 
  • Texas A & M: This school offers tuition waivers for a variety of reasons, including waivers for adopted students previously in foster care, blind and deaf students, and firefighters taking fire science courses. 
  • North Dakota State University: This school offers undergraduate tuition waivers to students based on academic achievement, as well as cultural diversity tuition waivers to students who come from certain underrepresented groups. 
  • Massachusetts university system: Massachusetts offers a categorical tuition waiver at state schools to qualifying students with financial need. 
  • University of Texas at Austin: This school offers various waivers, including Competitive Scholarship Waivers, Economic Development and Diversification Waivers, and Waiver for Faculty Members, Teaching Assistants, and Research Assistants and their Dependents. Nonresident students and international students are eligible. 

Additional Funding Options for College Tuition

Tuition waivers aren’t your only source of funding for college. If you’re figuring out how to pay for tuition, fees, and other educational expenses, here are some options worth exploring: 
  • Savings. If you or your family have any savings for college, such as savings in a 529 education plan, you could put those toward your tuition bill or living expenses. 
  • Scholarships. Pursue scholarship awards to earn money for college that you don’t have to pay back. 
  • Grants. You might also receive a federal, state, or college grant. While scholarships are often based on merit, grants — including the Pell Grant — are usually awarded to students with financial need. 
  • Work-study or another part-time job. Earning an income while you study could help you pay for living expenses. Remote jobs can be good options for busy college students.
  • Federal student loans. If you need additional funding, consider borrowing a federal student loan from the U.S. Department of Education. These loans have relatively low, fixed interest rates and are eligible for a variety of repayment plans. 
  • Private student loans. Borrowing from a private lender is also an option. Rates and terms will vary by lender, and you (or your cosigner) will need to meet the lender’s requirements for credit and income to qualify. 

The Takeaway

A lesser-known form of financial aid, tuition waivers can reduce your college tuition costs and lower the amount you may need to borrow in student loans, as a result. While some tuition waivers might be offered automatically, it’s always a good idea to speak with your financial aid office to see if there are any steps you need to take. If you can earn a tuition waiver along with scholarships and other types of financial aid, your cost of attendance could become significantly more affordable. 

3 Student Loan Refinance Tips

  1. Refinancing your student loan can lower your monthly payments and help you adjust your loan term. Compare student loan refinancing rates to find a loan that works for you.
  2. Paying extra each month on your student loan can reduce the interest you pay and so lower your total loan cost over time. (The law prohibits prepayment penalties on federal or private student loans.)
  3. If you teach full-time for five complete and consecutive academic years in a low-income school, you may be eligible for federal student loan forgiveness.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a tuition waiver and a scholarship?
Can I receive a tuition waiver and financial aid at the same time?
How do I know if a college offers a tuition waiver program?
Do you have to pay back a tuition waiver?
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About the Author

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier has nearly a decade of experience writing about personal finance. Formerly a senior writer with LendingTree and Student Loan Hero, she specializes in student loans, financial aid, and personal loans. She is certified as a student loan counselor with the National Association of Certified Credit Counselors (NACCC).
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