Do You Qualify for a Tuition Waiver?

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While a college degree can open many doors professionally, it often comes at a high price. According to College Board, the average cost of undergraduate tuition and fees for the 2020-21 academic year ranged from $10,560 for in-state students attending public, four-year universities to $37,650 for students attending private four-year universities. The cost of earning a degree can climb even higher when textbooks, room and board, or off-campus living expenses are factored in.

A tuition waiver is one way to counter those costs. When you're granted a tuition fee waiver, your college or university agrees to waive some or all of your tuition charges. This benefit isn't automatic, however. First, you'll need to qualify. Learn more about how to qualify for a tuition waiver.

You're a Veteran or the Spouse or Dependent of a Veteran

Some schools offer tuition waivers to veterans returning to school to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree following military service. The amount varies by state and school, with some waiving 50% of tuition and others waiving the full amount. In addition to active duty and reserve military members, schools may also extend a tuition waiver benefit to veterans' spouses and dependent children.

You're Employed by the School

Colleges and universities can also offer tuition waivers as an employee benefit. You might be able to get some or all of your tuition waived if you're employed by the school you're attending. Whether you need to be employed full-time or part-time to qualify depends on the school. A tuition waiver could also be a possibility if the school employs your spouse or parent.

You Are or Were a Foster Child

Tuition waiver programs can be extended to cover students who are or were part of their state's foster care system. These programs can be administered by state social service agencies rather than schools. Eligibility for a foster care tuition waiver varies by each state's program. For example, some states may require you to be adopted out of the foster care system or be declared a permanent ward of the state. You may also have to meet certain education requirements, such as maintaining a specific GPA or number of credit hours, to continue receiving a tuition waiver once you're enrolled. Some states offer grants and scholarships in addition to or instead of tuition waivers.

You're a Nontraditional Student

If you're headed back to school in your 60s or beyond, your nontraditional status could help you qualify for a tuition waiver. Generally, you have to meet state residency requirements and be a minimum age to get tuition waivers for seniors. And you may not be able to use the waiver to cover tuition for certain types of classes, such as independent study or a thesis if you're pursuing a graduate degree.

You Have a Financial or Another Type of Hardship

A tuition waiver for financial hardship may be an option if you qualify for federal student aid, including loans and grants, but you don't have the financial means to cover any gaps in your student aid package. Or it could be that your Expected Family Contribution, as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), is zero. You may have to qualify for specific grants to be eligible for a tuition waiver.

You may be able to get your tuition waived if you've experienced another type of hardship, such as having a disability.

You're Enrolled in a STEM Degree Program

Pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics could also open the door to reduced or waived tuition. Waivers may apply to your entire tuition bill or solely to tuition costs for courses associated with a STEM course of study. You'll typically need to maintain good academic standing in your STEM courses to continue receiving the waiver.

You're a High Achiever or Have Native Status

Getting good grades and achieving a high class rank in high school can pay off when it's time to go to college if your school offers a waiver for being class valedictorian. Additionally, schools may also offer tuition waivers to students with Native American heritage. You may need to prove membership or descent from a federally-recognized tribe as a condition of eligibility.

The Bottom Line

These are just a few of the reasons colleges and universities offer tuition waivers. Programs vary by school, so it's best to check with the office of financial aid at schools you're considering to see what you might be eligible for. For many programs, you also need to apply for financial aid using the FAFSA to be eligible for a tuition waiver. While waivers may not cover all of your tuition, every dollar helps.