A Tuition Waiver is when a school waives or sets aside all, most or some of the tuition of a student. Do tuition waivers sound too good to be true? Students in graduate and undergraduate schools throughout the U.S. have benefited from the tuition waiver and continue to do so! In graduate school, tuition waivers are quite common and are usually combined with scholarships and other financial aid to make the challenge of paying for higher education a great deal easier and sometimes free. Some tuition waivers for graduate students are only an application away. Listed here are some of the most common tuition waivers along with ways to acquire them.

How Do I Qualify for a Tuition Waiver?

Tuition Waivers are granted for a variety of qualifications, depending on the state, the school and the program. Keep in mind that tuition waivers do not cover other expenses of schooling such as room, board, and travel, but only cover tuition costs and sometimes fees and books. These are some of the tuition waivers available:

Automatic Consideration!

Not automatic in the sense that doing nothing will throw a waiver in your lap, however, some schools will automatically evaluate a student’s application to see if he or she is eligible for a tuition waiver. Applying for federal aid, otherwise known as the FAFSA, and federal grants can help to lower the cost of tuition but does not usually cover the whole cost of tuition. A family’s income or other qualifications may be automatically considered by some schools based on a student’s FAFSA application to supplement federal grants with a tuition waiver.

Diversity

Some schools offer at least a partial tuition waiver based on an applicant being part of a culturally diverse group such as Native American, Asian or Hispanic. Schools such as North Dakota State University offer a tuition waiver for traditionally underrepresented students who are refugees, Asian, Hispanic, Alaskan Native, Native American, African American or Hawaiian native among others. Students from these groups who receive the highest priority are those with the highest financial need, first-generation college students or single parents. The graduate school at Illinois State University is an example of a graduate school that offers diversity based tuition waivers. The waivers at Illinois State cover up to 9 hours of tuition costs and are awarded to U.S. citizens who are a part of traditionally underrepresented groups not limited to but including race, ethnicity, military experience, religion, and low socioeconomic status. Applicants are evaluated on a case by case basis according to their own history and expression of how their situation will affect their contribution.

Unemployment

Some states, like New Jersey, offer a tuition waiver for those who are unemployed. Also, in the state of Rhode Island, those receiving unemployment benefits can be eligible for a tuition waiver. Usually, in the states that have initiated these programs, future students must obtain certification from the Department of Labor in their state or in other ways prove unemployment. They sometimes also may only register for classes on the last day of add/drop since the tuition waiver will be subject to class space availability. Applicants should look into the policies of their state or school of choice to see if there may be unemployment tuition waivers available.

Adoption/Foster Care

Children who were adopted from foster care at age 13 or older are able to fill out their FAFSA as an independent student. This means that family income is not considered in their application for financial aid. Also, if a child from foster care is adopted at the age of 16 or older, they may be able to obtain Education and Training Voucher assistance. This voucher provides up to $5,000 a year for those who are in vocational training. Also, specific states have tuition waivers for foster children or those who were adopted. For example, in Kentucky, full-time students who were adopted from foster care will not only have all of their tuition waived at any public university or college, but also all of their mandatory fees will be paid as well.

Hardship History

Students who have a low family contribution expectation and have applied for the FAFSA may be eligible at some schools for a hardship history tuition waiver. Southeastern Louisiana University, after increasing tuition and fees, provided a hardship tuition waiver for students who were adversely affected by the new tuition. Hardship tuition waivers for graduate students are also available for students at schools like the University of California Riverside Graduate School. Applicants to the graduate school are awarded to those who have an expected family contribution of $1,000 a month or less. The hardship history tuition waiver may be one of those automatically applied based on an applicant’s FAFSA application or it may be applied based on a separate application.

Senior

Adults who have been in the workforce, raising children or have retired early are sometimes interested and find the available time to return to school. Many schools or states will offer tuition waivers for those (usually over 60) who are interested in returning to school to maintain their edge in the workplace or simply pursue those topics they have always been interested in. According to thepennyhoarder.com, each one of the 50 states offers some kind of tuition waiver for those over 60. For example, any resident living in Georgia, who is over 62, may take classes for free at the state’s public colleges. This is also the case in most of the other 49 states, though age requirements vary between 55 – 65.

Graduate Student

There is a difference between a tuition waiver and a graduate fellowship or scholarship. They may seem the same since they both have the effect of reducing the cost of tuition for graduate students. However, a graduate fellowship is often awarded based exclusively on merit. Graduate fellowships are more often given out for doctoral work rather than a master’s degree and a fellowship usually covers more than just tuition. The graduate fellowship often includes a stipend on which to live or attempt to live. Tuition waivers for graduate students are sometimes available through a research or teaching assistantship as is the case at Oklahoma State University. Oklahoma State’s graduate programs offer tuition waivers for those students enrolled in any master’s, specialist or doctoral-degree granting program. These tuition waivers require certain eligibility requirements. Master’s degree programs may participate more often than doctoral programs in some of the other tuition waiver programs listed in this article.

Government Job

The federal government offers part or full-time tuition reimbursements for employees who are seeking job-related degrees. As part of the Federal Workforce Flexibility Act, these benefits assist federal government employees to advance their skills at postsecondary institutions. Most state employees also receive at least a partial tuition waiver at state colleges or universities. Some states, like Washington, offer full tuition benefits for those state employees who qualify. Other states like Oregon offer a tuition discount to state employees.

School Employment

Many colleges and universities offer tuition waivers for employees who work at the college or university. This often includes their family members as well. For example in West Virginia, Marshall University’s Graduate Tuition Benefit program provides tuition assistance for a certain number of graduate students and full-time faculty and staff employees. Although at Marshall University the access to benefits is quite competitive, it is also decided based on financial need and academic qualifications. The dependent children of employees who work at Marshall University also receive significant discounts on their education. At the University of Dallas, employees of the university may fill out an application for a tuition waiver for themselves or their dependents and family members. The tuition waiver at the University of Dallas covers 100% of tuition costs of all programs except for the Doctor of Business Administration. For the DBA, the tuition waiver covers 15% of classes. At the University of Dallas, the employee tuition waiver qualifies students to complete one degree program at the university.

STEM

For those studying Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics there are STEM tuition waiver programs that can be accessed if one knows where to look. Schools like Johns Hopkins University give Maryland high school STEM teachers a tuition waiver for one course per term in any of their part-time programs. All high school teachers in Maryland, from public or private schools, who teach classes in the STEM field are eligible for this STEM tuition waiver. Teachers are eligible for a tuition waiver for one EP course per term. The NYS STEM Incentive Program provides tuition waivers to New York State residents, who meet the qualifications for a STEM award. Some of these qualifications include being in the top 10 percent of students in their private or public high school graduating class. Recipients must also pursue an approved two or four-year STEM degree program and agree to live in New York State for five years while working in a STEM field after they graduate. Another example of tuition waivers available for those working in STEM fields is a bill in North Dakota, looking to boost the state’s workforce in STEM. According to govtech.com, the bill creates a senior year tuition waiver program that “waives tuition for students in their last year of college who are majoring in a field of science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Students enrolled in a two-year institution would be eligible for the waiver if they are pursuing a degree or certificate in a technology field or a skilled trade.” Other opportunities for STEM tuition waivers may be available in various schools or states, so explore the options available before embarking on a STEM career!

Good Grades

The blog collegevine.com lists 50 colleges that give full-ride scholarships. Many of these are granted based on good grades or other academic achievements. High achieving students are able to receive tuition waivers and scholarships that put them in a position to enter the workforce with no student debt at all. As a couple of examples, Michigan State University offers an Alumni Distinguished Scholarship. This scholarship includes tuition, fees, room, and board and also an annual $1,000 stipend. The scholarship is one of those granted to incoming freshmen based on “GPA, class rank, standardized test scores, or similar criteria.” Also, the University of Houston offers a Tier One Scholarship which covers all tuition, mandatory fees for four years of undergraduate studies, on-campus housing as well as meal plans for two years. Scholars who receive this award receive up to $3,000 in stipends. Out-of-state students who win the scholarship receive a waiver for non-resident tuition.

Returning

Some students return to school after a hiatus which may have included career building, parenting or other worthy life pursuits. For those who find some time as an adult to return to education, there are returning student tuition waivers and scholarships that may assist them in the transitional process. New Jersey, for example, offers full tuition waivers for unemployed persons who wish to return to full-time school. Also, programs such as the Bernard Osher Foundation provide scholarships at more than 250 colleges and universities around the country. The Osher Reentry Scholarship Program “provides support for undergraduate students who have experienced a gap in their education of at least five years.” Osher Scholarship programs “span every level of higher education: two-year community colleges, four-year undergraduate institutions, and conservatory and graduate schools.”

Athletic

State Boards such as the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges approves certain waivers for community and technical colleges. One of the waivers approved by the board is an athletic waiver which covers 25% of the operating fee of 12 credits for eligible student-athletes. However, most student-athletes do not receive full-tuition scholarships which require them to either look elsewhere for tuition breaks or pay the remaining tuition. One way to cover these costs is through out-of-state waivers. There are some public colleges that offer in-state tuition waivers for out-of-state athletes. According to USA Today High School Sports, in-state tuition for out-of-state athletes aren’t all that uncommon though they may require certain criteria such as registering to vote in the school district, having lived on campus for six months or others. According to the same article, some states have reciprocity agreements which means that two states will agree to offer students from either state in-state tuition.

FAQs

Is a Tuition Waiver taxable income?

Under federal tax law, graduate school tuition waivers are taxable. However, they are only taxable on amounts that exceed $5,250 annually. This means that graduate assistants, or those graduate students who receive scholarships or waivers will pay taxes as on additional income on the amount they receive over $5,250. This income is usually reported on a W-2 form. Teaching and Graduate Assistants are exempt from this stipulation and their income is not taxed. Employee tuition waivers are also considered taxable income after $5250 a year. Money received from a scholarship or fellowship is not taxable unless it goes toward expenses such as room, board or travel. If a student receives a scholarship that covers more than the amount of tuition, books, fees and school supplies, the extra income may be taxable.

What does non-resident tuition waiver mean?

Residents of a U.S. state pay lower tuition than students pay at the same school who come from out of state. When one receives a non-resident tuition waiver, this means that the difference between the two amounts will be covered by the waiver. For example, if the resident tuition at the University of Oregon is $11,898 and the non-resident tuition is $35,478 the difference of $23,580 will be waived through a non-resident tuition waiver. Just remember, the difference between $5,250 and $23,580 (in this scenario, that would equal $18,330) will be considered taxable income by the federal government. Even so, receiving a non-resident tuition waiver is usually a considerable benefit for an incoming college student.

Why is out of state tuition so expensive?

The main reason that out of state tuition is so high is because the attendees of the school are not coming from tax-paying families who have lived in the state. This is why the in-state vs. out-of-state tuition prices only apply to public colleges and schools. Not only do tuition breaks at state schools assist those who have been paying in-state taxes, they also help states to track their tax support. This brings us to the next frequently asked question:

Is there any way to avoid paying out of state tuition?

There are some ways to pay in-state prices as an out of state student. The first and most obvious is to become an in-state student, though that may not be as easy as simply moving to another state. Moving may be the first step, but often students will need to do this 12-24 months before they enroll in school. It may be worth the effort to make a permanent move to one’s new school and renew the application for in-state tuition before the 2nd or third year of school. Some steps to doing that would be to apply for voter registration in the new state, change one’s driver’s license and tags and provide an in-state address. Another way to avoid paying out of state tuition would be to look into acquiring an out of state tuition waiver or as was mentioned above, participate in a reciprocity agreement such as the Midwest Student Exchange Program which prevents students from most of the Midwest States to be charged more than 150% of the in-state tuition costs of the participating states. There are other exchange programs throughout the United States, so don’t despair of receiving the benefit of in-state tuition as an out of state student!