By Thomas Broderick
Published on July 29, 2021
Mary Louis is a Brooklyn native who currently resides in Nashville, where she works at a state community college. She has worked in financial aid and recruitment as a registrar and bursar at city, state, for-profit, and Ivy League institutions, as well as at HBCUs. Louis's financial aid experience includes writing policies and procedures; overseeing satisfactory academic progress, state and federal aid, scholarships, private education lending, and federal verification; and assisting families with completing the FAFSA.
What are Tuition Waivers?
College students can explore scholarships, grants, and loans to fund their education. Tuition waivers provide another form of financial assistance. Learners may qualify for a waiver for various reasons, such as military service or nontraditional learner status. Adopted degree-seekers are also eligible for tuition waivers. Schools, state governments, and the federal government fund waiver programs.
Unlike scholarships and grants, some waivers count as taxable income. However, taxes may not apply if learners' aid packages do not exceed a cutoff. Although this stipulation applies primarily to tuition waivers for graduate students, learners should research potential tax consequences before requesting a waiver.
The following sections detail populations eligible for a tuition waiver. This page also covers financial assistance and provides answers to common questions. Prospective and current students with financial need can speak with a financial aid advisor to determine their eligibility for a tuition waiver.
The following table highlights some student populations that qualify for a tuition waiver. Colleges and universities may offer them to additional or fewer groups, depending on their financial aid funding. The embedded links provide examples from U.S. schools, federal agencies, and private organizations offering waivers.
Keep in mind that schools' financial assistance policies differ. An admissions or financial aid advisor can provide information about eligible populations, the application process, and award amounts.
Many public colleges and universities offer tuition waivers for adopted students. Learners who grew up in the foster system may also qualify. Other eligible groups include students with experience in the juvenile justice system. State-funded waivers limit funding to residents. Recipients must maintain their grades to renew their eligibility.
Degree-seekers can apply for aid by submitting a school or state form, proof of enrollment, and their FAFSA results.
Colleges and universities promote cultural diversity by awarding a tuition waiver to minority students part of a minority group. Other qualifying populations may include degree-seekers part of the LGBTQ+ community and senior citizens. A typical waiver does not exceed total tuition. Some recipients need additional financial assistance to pay for room and board. Waivers may not apply toward summer classes.
In addition to meeting the diversity requirement, interested students should maintain their grades and enroll at least part time.
A tuition waiver for graduate students closes the financial aid gap. Typical eligibility criteria include receiving a nationally competitive fellowship and not working as a teaching assistant. Additional requirements may apply, depending on available funding and students' financial situation.
Typical application steps include submitting documentation detailing the fellowship award amount. An approved tuition waiver goes directly toward tuition. Schools may limit funding amounts for the summer and winter terms.
Graduate teaching assistants receive a tuition waiver as a form of income. This designation makes the waiver taxable. However, learners pay taxes only if they make over a specific amount. An annual W-4 breaks down learners' earnings and details their tax liability.
Typical teaching assistants work 20-40 hours per week in a subject relating to their major. University policies may limit students' hours if they sign up for a heavy course load.
Low-income students include learners who grew up economically disadvantaged and degree-seekers experiencing hardship. Typical students in the latter group lose their job unexpectedly or experience the death of a financial provider. These learners may qualify for a tuition waiver by working with their school's financial aid office.
Some states, including California, provide application fee waivers to low-income individuals applying to public schools. These waivers eliminate many learners' out-of-pocket expenses, especially if degree-seekers take advantage of federal grants.
Many states use tuition waivers to encourage nontraditional students to return to school. California's Over 60 Program provides free tuition to residents age 60 and older. Learners qualify even if they already possess a college degree. Unlike other forms of financial aid, these waivers do not require recipients to reapply annually.
Other nontraditional students may receive a tuition waiver if their parent or spouse works full time at the college or university.
Many colleges and universities offer an out-of-state tuition waiver to select students. Requirements may include residing in a county adjoining the state, working as a research assistant, and earning a graduate degree. Learners who do not receive a waiver may still qualify for a different type of tuition or fee reduction.
Students may also attain an out-of-state tuition waiver by enrolling in an online program. To promote their school to a larger population of prospective students, these programs often offer in-state tuition to all learners.
Employment may qualify students for a tuition waiver or another form of financial assistance. Some schools award AmeriCorps participants an automatic waiver. The specific amount of aid depends on learners' service length.
The Peace Corps' Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program provides a partial tuition waiver to past participants enrolling in graduate school. Other benefits include a stipend and a low-cost health insurance plan. Prospective applicants need at least two years of Peace Corps service and competitive GRE scores.
Students in an exchange program may qualify for financial assistance, depending on their FAFSA results. The Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) provides funding opportunities to learners in an approved study abroad program. CIEE waivers, grants, and scholarships may not cover all tuition expenses. Recipients pay for transportation, fees, and textbooks.
Some colleges and universities offer institutional waivers for qualified students enrolling in an exchange program. A school's study abroad office can provide additional information.
Some colleges and universities waive tuition for students pursuing a specific major, such as STEM degrees. Eligibility requirements may include a satisfactory GPA and completion of general education courses. Some schools limit the waiver to summer or winter terms to increase enrollment.
Students can check with their school to determine whether they qualify for a major-specific tuition waiver.
Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance may qualify college students for a tuition waiver. Applicants obtain documentation from a local Social Security Administration office and meet with a college financial aid advisor.
The amount of aid varies. Typical tuition waivers for students with a disability do not apply to textbooks or fees. However, other institutional aid may exist to help students with these costs.
Many colleges offer tuition waivers for Native American students. Eligibility requirements include membership in a federally recognized tribe. Learners submit their Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood or tribal membership card to qualify. Learners who need additional aid apply for tribal and private scholarship opportunities.
Native American learners who receive this financial assistance should still budget for textbooks, housing, meals, and fees. Fortunately, students with demonstrated need may qualify for discounts, depending on their school.
Yellow Ribbon schools provide tuition waivers for veterans who exhaust GI Bill® benefits. The Department of Defense funds the program. Only private colleges and universities participate, as typical tuition exceeds what public schools charge. Many veterans attending a Yellow Ribbon school pay nothing out of pocket.
Many states provide tuition waivers for veterans' spouses and children earning a college degree. Requirements may include the veteran parent or spouse possessing a disability due to combat injury.
Other Tuition Assistance
Students interested in tuition waivers should explore other forms of aid. Grants, federal programs, loans, and workplace tuition assistance can lower learners' out-of-pocket expenses significantly. Eligibility requirements may include the FAFSA results and official transcripts. Advisors help learners research and apply for these and other forms of financial assistance.
Learners qualify for federal Pell Grants if their FAFSA results indicate tuition exceeds their expected family contribution (EFC). Degree-seekers in June 2021 receive up to $6,345 annually, depending on their EFC. Students resubmit the FAFSA annually to maintain their aid package. Changes in income affect EFC and Pell Grant eligibility.
Schools will provide these funds to help students with exceptional financial need. Students will need to check with their school to see if it participates in this program. Unlike Pell Grants, FSEOG funds are limited. Schools award funding on a first come, first serve basis. Students should apply for the FAFSA as early as possible to ensure they receive consideration for a FSEOG.
The eight Federal TRIO Programs exist to help college students from a disadvantaged background. These programs do not provide aid to students but to college programs, such as student support services and recruitment. TRIO's Veterans Upward Bound assists veterans with transitioning back to civilian life. Eligibility requirements for all programs include earning less than the income cutoff.
Many students participating in a college ROTC program plan to join the military after graduation. Financial aid varies among service branches and may include a living stipend. Accepting ROTC financial assistance impacts GI Bill® benefits, such as a longer service requirement to become eligible. The amount of aid also affects students' military obligations.
Scholarships and grants allow degree-seekers to reduce their reliance on student loans and possibly graduate debt free. Scholarships consider academic merit, such as good grades and standardized test scores. Grants appeal to learners with financial need. Private scholarships and grants may limit applicants to a specific group, such as women or African Americans.
Learners whose FAFSA results qualify them for federal financial aid sign up for one of four federal student loan programs. Every type of federal loan uses an annual borrowing cap and requires at least part-time enrollment. Subsidized loans save borrowers money, as they do not start incurring interest until after graduation. Students who qualify for a subsidized loan save money, as they do not start incurring interest until after graduation, or they drop below half-time enrollment status.
Numerous banks and other private lenders offer loans to college students at all levels. Most private loans incur interest before graduation. Other private loans use a variable interest rate. Depending on the bank or lender, borrowers may have the option to choose between a variable or fixed interest rate. Learners should consider private loans as a last resort to finance their education.
Many companies foster talent by paying employees to earn a college degree. Employees participating in workplace tuition assistance do not pay any tuition or fees. Continuing eligibility requirements may include maintaining a strong GPA and staying on track for graduation. Learners participating in an assistance program agree to remain with their employer for a specific number of years.
Questions About Tuition Waivers
As of June 2021, the government classifies tuition waivers for graduate students exceeding $5,250 as taxable income. Learners pay taxes only on the financial assistance above the cutoff.
Learners who drop out of school or do not meet satisfactory academic progress may need to pay back their tuition waiver. Consult a school's financial aid office to learn more.
Although students cannot negotiate their school's tuition rate, some learners lower their tuition bill by appealing their financial aid award. A financial aid office's website details the appeals process.
Students work with a financial aid advisor to explore college tuition discounts and start the application process. Requirements may include the FAFSA results and other financial information.
Thomas Broderick is a freelance writer and the owner of Broderick Writer LLC. He creates study guides, informational websites, and blog posts for clients in the education field. Thomas is also a published author of over 20 short stories and a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.
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