Important Things You Should Know About State Aid

State grant and scholarship programs differ heavily in offerings. Here's what to know about the types of state aid and how they can help you pay for college.

Many students need financial aid to afford college, and most tend to assume it only comes from the federal government. But did you know attending college in your home state can offer benefits beyond simply paying in-state tuition rates? Most states have a state grant or scholarship program for residents—sometimes many, according to Jacquelyn Cottom, Assistant Director of State Relations and Advocacy for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrations (NASFAA). Designed to improve access to college, state financial aid programs encourage students to stay in state to contribute to the state workforce and economy after graduation. According to College Board’s 2020 report, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, and Texas granted 48% of all state aid dollars in 2018–2019—but no matter where you live, it’s worth to investigate what your state offers for financial help for college.

Types of state aid

State aid can be merit based, need based, or need based with a merit component. Eligibility requirements may include a specific GPA, standardized test scores, income level, or a particular major. It may also be geared toward a specific type of institution. Check directly with your state higher education agency for the most current requirements. From there, talk to financial aid offices at your schools of interest. “It’s critical to communicate directly with the institution(s) you’re researching to determine whether a state grant and/or scholarship program is available for students at that particular school,” Cottom says. Plus, sometimes it’s hard to tell by looking at a college’s website what’s what. Financial aid offices will have the most up-to-date information on state aid, according to Trisha Dugovic at the Utah System of Higher Education. She also recommends talking to individual departments about possible grants and scholarships.

Related: Funding Your Future: Financial Aid at Public Colleges

Examples of state grants and scholarships

Below you’ll find examples of state grant and scholarship programs. This list isn’t a complete picture of all state dollars available, but it’ll help you get a sense of what could be available to you.

  • Alaska offers students the Alaska Education Grant (ranging from $500–$4,000) and the Alaska Performance Scholarship, which offers three tiers of awards tied to GPA and SAT or ACT test scores. The scholarship ranges from $2,378 (at tier three) to $4,755 (at tier one) per year with varying academic requirements.
  • California has the Cal Grant program with three grant tiers (A, B, or C). Fill out the FAFSA or CADAA, and the university or college will determine which you’re eligible for. Grants vary according to the type of institution or career technical program and can be combined for some years. For example, you could qualify for about $12,500 per year at a University of California (UC) institution. Beyond the Cal Grant, the State University Grant Program serves the California State University system, and the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan applies to the UC system.
  • Florida has a number of grant programs, including the ABLE Grant, First Generation Matching Grant, Florida Student Assistance Grant, and a Career Assistance Grant as well as a number of scholarships. The state’s Bright Futures Scholarship is a lottery-funded scholarship for in-state students, covering either 100% (Florida Academic Scholars) or 75% (Florida Medallion Scholars) of tuition and fees.
  • Louisiana offers four tiers for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS). These are state scholarships that require a GPA between 2.5–3.5, and the top tier covers anywhere from $3,000 to nearly $9,000 annually, depending on the institution and degree level. The state offers a variety of other scholarships and grants as well, including the Go Grant for students who qualify for Federal Pell Grants.
  • New York offers the need-based TAP Grant—for families earning up to $80,000—worth up to $5,665 as well as the Excelsior Scholarship—for eligible CUNY and SUNY students whose families make up to $125,000—which covers tuition for four years. Requirements include but are not limited to completing 30 credits every year and living in New York after graduation for the same number of years as receiving the scholarship. Additional residential scholarships are available to specific populations.
  • Oregon provides several types of aid, including the Oregon Opportunity Grant, Oregon Promise, and a centralized scholarship application, where students can apply for Oregon-specific scholarships with one application. For 2021–2022, the Oregon Opportunity Grant is $3,612 for a four-year school and $2,778 for a two-year school.
  • Texas offers a few grants, including the Texas Educational Opportunity Grant Program for participating two-year institutions; Texas Public Educational Grant Program; Toward EXcellence, Access, and Success Grant Program; and Tuition Equalization Grant program for students attending private colleges in Texas.
  • Utah offers the Utah Promise Scholarship, a new statewide need-based scholarship that covers up to two years of tuition and fees for eligible students at Utah’s public colleges, universities, and technical schools. Beginning in 2022, there’s also the new Opportunity Scholarship, which is renewable for eight semesters, provides $8,000 per year, and doesn’t consider financial need. Learn about other scholarships through Utah’s Keys to Success app.
  • Vermont provides the Vermont Incentive Grant to eligible full-time students as well as the Vermont Part-Time Grant and the Short-Term Training Grant. The award is contingent on your eligibility and the cost of your program, with a max award around $12,800.
  • Washington state expanded the Washington College Grant in 2020–2021, boosting the income threshold. For instance, families of four earning up to $56,000 may qualify for the full amount, while families earning up to $102,000 may qualify for a partial grant. The maximum award covers in-state tuition at public universities, community colleges, or technical schools—but it can also be applied to private in-state institutions or career-training programs. There’s also the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship for STEM students attending a variety of institutions.

Related: 6 Quick Ways to Maximize Financial Aid at Public Colleges

Promise program opportunities

College Promise is a national nonprofit initiative that builds support to fund two or more years of college for a student. The website provides a published list of 368 state “promise” programs designed to help students with (usually) community or technical college. California alone has 87 promise programs for students from specific school districts or for attending a specific community college. These programs are worth researching because transferring from a two-year to a four-year institution is a viable college option to save money. Pay attention to the fine print on academic eligibility, income limits, progress standards, and transfer agreements to four-year universities.

Fill out the FAFSA to get state aid

The FAFSA is your gateway to state aid, and it’s critical you fill out the form every year you’ll be in college. Besides federal and institutional aid, the FAFSA determines your eligibility for these state resources. Some states might require a state form as well. Students who aren’t eligible for federal financial aid due to immigration status should check for alternative state financial aid forms or institutional forms.

Watch out for state deadlines!

Each state has its own FAFSA deadline, many earlier than the federal deadline, which falls on June 30 most years. States might list a specific date, advise checking with the financial aid administrator, or award on a first-come, first-served basis. In that case, families should submit the FAFSA as soon after the October 1 opening date as possible. Also pay attention to individual college deadlines. Generally, submitting early is best.

Related: 5 FAFSA Tips to Get the Most Financial Aid

If you’re starting your college search, research your state’s resources and ask questions to find out what type of aid and how much is available to you. It could mean the difference between taking out heavy loans and receiving significant support for staying in state.

Learn more about the benefits of attending public colleges and in-state schools with the articles and advice in our Public Colleges and Universities section.

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