State-Based Tuition Breaks

By Roxana Hadad

September 04, 2008

You may already know about federal aid for college, but did you know your state could help out as well? Most states offer financial incentives to residents as well as awards based on academic merit and financial need.

In-state Assistance

States have a lot of reasons for offering grants to students who attend in-state colleges and universities. “We want to keep our great students in our state,” said Steve Tompkins, former director of communications for the Georgia Student Finance Commission.

States like Georgia have set up their tuition reduction programs to:

  • Encourage academic excellence
  • Keep the best and the brightest students in their state
  • Increase opportunities for students within the state

These state financial aid plans are proving to be great opportunities for students around the country.

Kinds of Awards

Each state has its own programs for its particular student population. Depending on the state, award amounts range from $500 “vouchers” to complete tuition waivers targeting students at the top of their classes. Some awards can be used only for tuition, while others include room and board, fees and even study abroad opportunities and book allowances. Many awards are renewable, but since they are seen as a supplement, you may lose eligibility for state funds if you receive other forms of financial aid.

Eligibility Requirements

State awards can be a great option because in some cases they don’t target only the top students. While some awards use grades and test scores as eligibility requirements, the main criteria is in-state residency – and some inter-state agreements even let you transfer the awards outside of your state’s borders. Different states have different residency requirements. Financial need is also a consideration for some awards. Also check to see whether there are restrictions on the schools you can attend. Most awards are for attending public schools, but some states offer vouchers for private schools as well.

The Application Process

Many states use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine eligibility and award amounts for state grants and scholarship programs. In those cases, you automatically apply for state aid when submit the FAFSA. Be sure to check the deadlines for your state because it may differ from your school’s deadline. Miss the deadline and you may lose eligibility for state funds the entire academic year.

To find out about your state’s specific program, check out FinAid’s page on U.S. State Government Aid. The page includes links for the commissions on higher education and departments of education in every U.S. state and territory. Be sure to take a look at both your state of residence and as well as the state where you plan to attend college.

So check out your homegrown in-state funding. You may find the aid you need to reach your educational goals.

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