Applying for a tuition waiver is becoming more and more of a necessity for students. The costs of going to college are at an all-time high with little sign that increases will abate. Americans are repaying $1.4 trillion in student loans. Tuition and fees for an average non-profit private four-year college were $34,740 in the 2017-2018 school year. That’s a 65% increase from 20 years ago. Add room and board onto that, and you are looking at $46,950. For public four-year colleges, the average today is $9,970 for tuition and fees and $20,770 if you add room and board. Tuition for graduate students tends to run much higher. For example, at Cornell, tuition for an MS Information Systems is $52,612 per year. An MS for Advanced Architecture Design is $$78,918 for 12 months.
The good news is that you don’t have to pin your hopes on a coveted athletic or academic scholarship to afford college. There are other ways, and seeking a full or partial tuition waiver is primary among them. When a university grants a tuition waiver, they let the student attend while paying only part of their tuition or sometimes none at all. However, the students must meet specific criteria to qualify.
Qualifications for Tuition Waivers
Types of tuition waivers vary drastically from school to school. Here are some of the most common.
If you don’t have enough money for college, you can apply for a federal student aid (FAFSA) and federal grants called Pell grants. Unfortunately, this assistance is not enough to cover all tuition costs today. To help with the rest, some universities automatically grant free or partial tuition waivers to students from families that earn below a specified level (often below $40,000 or $60,000). Harvard, Cornell, Columbia and Texas A&M all are examples of schools that offer tuition waivers for undergraduate students from families with lower incomes. There are many more.
Diversity Tuition Waiver
Some schools offer tuition waivers to increase diversity on campus and to help historically disadvantaged groups. In Michigan, students who are at least ¼ Native American and from a federally recognized tribe may attend any public state two-year or four-year state university without paying tuition. Montana waives tuition for Native American students with ¼ Indian blood who have received a FAFSA needs-based grant. Additional financial help is available through the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and the American Indian College Fund. If you are of Native American heritage or a member of any minority group, be sure to check if you are eligible for a tuition waiver at schools you are considering.
If you have been unemployed for years or were part of a mass layoff, be aware that the public schools in some states such as New Jersey offer tuition waivers.
If you were either adopted or in foster care, tuition waivers at public universities are available in many states. Also, a student who was in foster care after turning 13 is considered an “independent student” when applying for FAFSA. This means only the income of the student is considered, not the income of a parent or guardian. Independent students, therefore, have increased eligibility for more federal aid.
If you have had to fight specific types of adversity, you may be eligible for a tuition waiver at public schools in some states or at specific schools. For example, Minnesota State provides tuition waivers to students who have survived a natural disaster. Michigan has a Tuition Incentive Program (TIP) for students who meet a Medicaid eligibility history requirement.
For senior citizens who want to go to school and take those courses they never got around to studying, many schools offer tuition waivers though these are often audit programs. Examples are UCLA’s audit program for adults 50 and over and the University of South Florida’s program for adults 60 and over.
Tuition waivers are often available for veterans and active military personnel. For example, the University of Washington offers tuition waivers to veterans. Also, the state of Connecticut waives tuition for qualified veterans attending public colleges and universities. Such waivers are not the same as GI benefits offered by the federal government.
It is easier to get a tuition waiver if you are a resident of the United States, but there are some waivers available for international students who meet certain criteria. Criteria typically include need, academic record, length of attendance and type of visa. The University of Washington offers tuition waivers to international students who are part of an exchange program that promotes creating international opportunities for Washington residents. The University of Texas at Austin will waive the nonresident portion of its tuition to qualified international students.
Graduate Tuition Waiver or Government Job
Graduate students who are not in a professional program such as law or medicine rarely pay tuition, and many receive teaching or research stipends. Virtually all PhD. students receive both tuition waivers and stipends. 145,000 grad students receive partial or full tuition waivers. 57% of these grad students are in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In other words, graduate education in this country depends on tuition waivers. Without them, significantly fewer students could attend graduate school, and the United States would be put at a disadvantage particularly in the STEM areas.
Many schools extend tuition waivers to employees other than research assistants and to their families. In some cases, schools even offer tuition waivers to state employees who do not work at the school. There may be restrictions such as the number of hours. Examples are Florida State University and the University of Washington. But there is little doubt that the main beneficiaries of tuition waivers for employees are graduate students.
Tuition Waivers and Taxes
Just as graduate and PhD programs depend on tuition waivers, they also depend on the fact that tuition waivers are tax-free for teaching and research assistants under 26 U.S. Code § 117. Without tax-free status, many graduate students would have to pay half their stipends on taxes for their tuition waivers. This would have a devastating effect on graduate and PhD programs across the country.
When the tax code was overhauled at the end of 2017, the initial version of the bill struck down 26 U.S. Code § 117 (d), which is the provision that makes teaching and research assistant tuition waivers tax-free. However, in the face of strong public opposition from graduate students, the tuition waiver tax policy remained the same.
This is not to say that all tuition waivers are tax-free. 26 U.S. Code § 127 allows employers such as universities to exclude up to $5,250 for employer-provided tuition assistance for those not included in research or teaching activities. See the policy at the University of Minnesota as an example. If you are unsure whether your tuition waiver would be tax-free, check with your university.
How to Apply for a Tuition Waiver
In some cases, you will automatically be considered for a tuition waiver when you apply to the school. But you can’t count on that. The first thing to do is to go to the websites of the schools that interest you to see if you qualify for a tuition waiver. But don’t stop there. The next step is to call the bursar’s office. Ask about tuition waivers in general, but also specifically ask about waivers that might apply to you if have any kind of special status. For example, perhaps you are a member of a minority or served in the military or the Peace Corps. Also, ask about tuition waivers for those with low incomes; the level of income that qualifies may surprise you.
Employer Tuition Reimbursement
Tuition waiver by a university should not be confused with employer tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement. Some employers offer their employees a benefit where they pay for all or part of an employee’s education. Often the employer will only cover certain types of classes. Usually, the employee will pay for tuition and books up front and will be reimbursed later by the employer. Such reimbursement is often contingent on the employee getting a C grade or higher.
Other Avenues to Reduce College Costs
- Tuition-free schools (there are always criteria you must meet)
- Working, possibly through a school work-study program
- GI benefits which will pay some of your education bills up to 10 years after you have served, flexible payment plans
- Discounts if a close relative graduated from the school
- Regional exchange programs that may let you pay in-state prices for an out-of-state school.
Compare the Best Student Loan Refinance Rates
Here are our top student loan refinance picks for 2019
Sort By :
Student Debt Relief Loan Refinancing Advertiser Disclosure
College Ave: College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
College Ave Refi Education loans are not currently available to residents of Maine.
1 – The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as the borrower or cosigner, if applicable, enrolls in auto-pay and authorizes our loan servicer to automatically deduct your monthly payments from a valid bank account via Automated Clearing House (“ACH”). The rate reduction applies for as long as the monthly payment amount is successfully deducted from the designated bank account and is suspended during periods of forbearance and certain deferments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
2 – $5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees. Information advertised valid as of 04/26/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
3 – This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.
ELFI: Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply. To qualify for refinancing or student loans consolidation through ELFI, you must have at least $15,000 in student loan debt and must have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher from an approved post-secondary institution.
LendKey: Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
CommonBond: Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate.
Splash Financial: Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval.com
Earnest: To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest’s fixed-rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with autopay) to 7.89% APR (with autopay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.50% APR (with autopay) to 7.27% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms of 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 0.26% and 5.03% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of April 23, 2019 and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay Discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 04/23/19. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice.
Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 303 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.