Here’s a dose of sticker shock: Annual in-state tuition at a four-year public university averages $9,410, according to the College Board — $23,890 for out-of-state students and $32,410 at private colleges.
It’s easy to resign ourselves to the notion that tuition costs are full price, set in stone, non-negotiable and unavoidable — and that may be exactly the big myth higher-education institutions want us to keep believing.
The fact is that there are several lesser-known and surprising ways to get a discount, starting with — but certainly not limited to — partial and full tuition waivers.
- What a tuition waiver does
- How to get a tuition waiver
- Beyond tuition waivers: 10 more ways to discount college costs
Whereas scholarships, grants and other financial aid for college help you cover some of your school’s cost of attendance, a tuition waiver actually diminishes it.
For instance, a school costing $15,000 that offers you a $5,000 tuition waiver is now only asking you to come up with only $10,000 worth of other financial aid. (For the waiver to be that valuable, however, it must be tax-free, which you can confirm with your school’s financial aid office.)
Schools are the primary source of partial and, sometimes, full tuition waivers for students with special extenuating circumstances, including:
|Low income||● Texas A&M University, for example, offers a non-resident tuition waiver to high-performing students with need.|
● Don’t forget that low income levels could also qualify you for federal grants, work-study and subsidized student loans.
|Hardship||● If you or your family have faced economic or other types of hardship (like surviving a natural disaster), you may qualify for a tuition waiver at schools in select states.|
● Descendants of victims involved in the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, for example, qualify for in-state free tuition at public schools in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
|Native status||● Schools in states across the country offer full or partial tuition waivers to students who identify as Native American or belong to a tribe acknowledged by the U.S. government.|
|Cultural diversity||● Seeking a multi-racial student body, schools like North Dakota State University provide cultural diversity tuition waivers, with preference given to students who have a high level of financial need or are the first in their family to attend college.|
|Adoption/foster child eligibility||● Students who were adopted or have lived in foster care may also be eligible for a tuition waiver at certain in-state public schools.|
● Other outside groups, like Foster Care to Success and the National Foster Parent Association, also offer some financial aid.
|Non-traditional students||● Tuition waivers are also typically available for graduate, international and non-traditional students, such as senior citizens and other adults returning to college.|
● At the University of Texas at Austin, for example, international students can receive a tuition waiver to cover the non-resident portion of their costs.
● And in Virginia, seniors aged 60 and above with taxable income of $15,000 or below could receive $1,276 in financial aid.
|Field of study||● High-demand majors are especially likely to attract tuition waivers. STEM degree-seekers in New York, for example, could receive up to a full tuition waiver via the state’s higher education authority.|
|Disability||● Students with disabilities could receive tuition waivers at schools like the University of Maryland if they receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.|
|Employment status||● Working in the public sector may be enough to grant you a tuition waiver. That’s the case at Florida State University in Tallahassee, for example.|
● Other schools have tuition waiver programs for members of service-oriented organizations, including the military and the Peace Corps.
● Likewise, if you’re out of work due to economic, health or other reasons, inquire if your school offers a discount on school fees. It may vary according to school and by the amount you may receive off your bill.
Like federal grants and student loans as well as institutional scholarships, tuition waivers often appear on the financial aid award letter delivered by your school. The college or university has pulled information from your Free Application for Federal Student Aid and application materials to pre-determine your eligibility.
In other cases, you might be eligible for a tuition waiver because of your background, upbringing or perhaps military service. If you think you fall into one of the categories (see chart, above) but haven’t yet been offered a tuition waiver, contact your school’s financial aid office and ask about its resources.
If your college or university awards tuition waivers in certain cases, you might need to file an application and provide supporting documentation to be considered for it.
Tuition waivers are great, but they’re not accessible for all college students. Even when available, they might not cover your tuition shortfall. In either case, look for discounts on school fees with the following 10 strategies.
1. Attend a tuition-free or lower-cost school
2. Consider establishing residency to score an in-state tuition rate
3. Work at your school
4. Receive a military discount
5. Inquire about different tuition payment plans
6. Apply for regional exchange programs
7. Look into “legacy” student status
8. Attend school off-season
9. Negotiate your financial aid package
10. Ask your employer for tuition reimbursement
Attending a tuition-free college could reap the most savings. But nothing is ever really free: For most of the tuition-free colleges and universities, students will need to pay for room and board, and to compensate for the lack of tuition, you’ll need to fulfill certain obligations.
Students at the College of the Ozarks in Missouri, for example, are required to work on campus for 15 hours a week and full-time during breaks. Other programs include Kentucky’s Berea College, which admits students based on economic need, and the scholarship-driven Webb Institute in New York. There are also free tuition programs at Ivy League and other prestigious colleges.
You could potentially save even more by going the community college route. By attending a two-year school in your own backyard, you could limit your expenses before transferring to a pricier four-year college. At the very least, consider attending “no student loans colleges” that won’t cause you to rack up debt for your degree.
If your heart’s set on a far-away school with a higher price tag, explore the possibility of establishing residency in your school’s state. If you’re successful, you could chop your tuition charge by more than half.
Establishing residency for the sake of a lower tuition bill, however, is no easy task. Taking a gap year to get set up and cutting ties with your home state are among the pros and cons.
Finding a paid internship or school-subsidized or federal work-study program are some common ways to offset your tuition.
Another option: Become an employee at one of your prospective school’s departments before you attend, and your school may waive your tuition if you begin attending as a student. Oftentimes, the spouse, child, sibling or grandchild of a university employee may also qualify.
At Chapman University in California, for example, there are discounts on school fees available for part- and full-time employees. If you’re not already enrolled, check with the schools on your college list to see which, if any, provide on-campus jobs that could lead to reduced tuition rates.
If you’re an honorably discharged member of the U.S. Armed Forces, your GI Bill benefits will pay your full public school tuition after you’ve ended your military service.
For students attending either private or international schools during the 2019-2020 academic year, the tuition limit is up to $24,477.
Check with your prospective school’s financial aid office to see if a flexible or alternate tuition payment plan could deliver a price-drop on your tuition.
Like paying any other bill, signing up for automatic debit via your checking account may come with some sort of tuition reduction. Other schools may grant students a discount for paying their entire tuition in full, in advance or on other various proprietary payment plans.
Study abroad programs won’t save you money, but a regional tuition exchange program might — it allows students to qualify for in-state tuition rates at select (usually neighboring) out-of-state schools. This not only saves you money on tuition, but it also can broaden the scope of schools you’d like to attend without the trouble of proving residence in that state.
The Western Undergraduate Exchange and Midwest Student Exchange programs pay up to 150% of resident tuition, for example. You’ll want to seek out the program that serves your region: The Academic Common Market covers many states in the south, the New England Regional Student Program serves New England and so forth.
Have an older sibling, parent or grandparent whose alma mater is your current school? Relatives of school alumni may qualify for discounts on school fees.
Eligible students at Southern Illinois University, for example, pay 80% of the original cost for freshmen or transfer students.
One way to save money on college costs is to attend classes during summer vacation and get some credits out of the way, lessening the amount of time you spend in college.
Enroll during those off-peak times and you could get a discount. Indiana University, for example, has historically offered a significant discount for taking courses in the summer versus during regular fall or spring semesters.
Like asking for better auto insurance rates, credit card APRs or monthly rent, you can negotiate your financial aid package.
Even when you’re still in the application process, don’t be afraid to contact school financial aid offices. Tell them you’re actively interested in becoming a student at their school, but you’d need to reduce the amount of expenses entailed with attending.
It’s imperative to emphasize and sell your academic accomplishments so far, just as you would in a job interview. You’d make a great asset to the student body on campus, you might tell them, which could make them more likely to grant you a reprieve.
If you’ve been accepted to public and private schools, ask the private college if it’d be possible to bring down their rates closer to the public school level. Just keep in mind that there are typically only certain reasons you can negotiate financial aid.
Tuition waivers and reimbursements are often confused. Waivers decrease the cost of tuition, and reimbursements pay you back for the standard sticker price.
Also, unlike waivers, reimbursements are most commonly found via employers. Like companies that help pay off student loans, there are other organizations that will reimburse you for part or all of your current tuition costs, particularly if your education will make you a more valuable employee.
Talk to your boss or human resources department about its tuition reimbursement program. If it doesn’t have one, you might scour job listings for employers that do offer this tuition-cutting support.
If these strategies, plus tuition waivers, aren’t enough, review more ways to pay for college.
Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
|1.04% – 11.98%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|1.13% – 11.23%*,2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|3.84% – 9.40%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.05% – 11.44%4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.22% – 11.66%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|2.76% – 7.14%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.24% – 11.99%7||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers. |
1 Important Disclosures for 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.
Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
Information advertised valid as of 4/22/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. 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. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.29% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)..
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.76% – 7.14% (2.76% – 7.14% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.01% – 7.50% (3.01% – 7.50% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.19% – 6.73% (2.19% – 6.73% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 2.89% – 7.09% (2.89%-7.09% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 9.54% (1.36% – 8.82% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.13% – 9.84% (4.13% – 9.12% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 8.34% (1.36% – 8.04% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.03% – 8.64% (4.03% – 8.34% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.10% – 7.41% (2.10%-7.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.69% – 7.83% (4.69% – 7.83% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.45% – 9.60% (4.45% – 9.53% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.38% – 12.81% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.55% – 7.05% (3.55% – 6.77% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.07% APR).
Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of March 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.11%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.
Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
7 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.