New York Free College

New York Free College ~ For many students with crippling student loan debt, free college tuition seems like a pipe dream. For a select group of individuals living in New York, however, it’s now a reality. With several of the country’s most prominent politicians of the past few years making a push for nation-wide free tuition, New York took the first step in 2017.

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But with something like this that seems too good to be true, there’s got to be a catch, right?

Unfortunately, there is.

If you’re hoping to qualify for free tuition in New York, you’re going to have to meet a strict set of requirements.

And you may find that you’re going to be on the hook to “repay” it for a predetermined number of years. (But don’t worry, we’re not talking about money.)

With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at New York’s free tuition program to see who qualifies.

History of the Program

New York’s free tuition program, officially known as the Excelsior Scholarship, officially came into being with the passage of the FY 2018 budget.

Upon its passage, New York became the first place in the United States to offer tuition-free college education.

The push for this tuition-free college education came as the nation’s college graduates face an epidemic of crushing debt that has left many feeling left behind before they’ve even gotten started.

For those graduating with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of college debt, it can often be difficult feeling as if it’s impossible to get ahead in life.

It’s an epidemic that first gained national scrutiny during the 2016 presidential race when Bernie Sanders championed free tuition for all.

Though many around the nation sympathized with the plight of college graduates, they also scoffed at Sanders’ notion of “free college.”

Now, New York has put this theory to the test. With the first group of Excelsior Scholarship students now attending New York colleges, the program is officially underway.

But it wasn’t passed without its share of controversy.

Questions about Its Feasibility

With the program in its inaugural year, it’s too early to tell just how successful it will be.

Some naysayers already have doubts.

The original New York spending bill included $163 billion in total funding, with some estimating that the scholarship alone contributed nearly $163 million to the cost—every year.

This has led some to wonder how long the people of New York will be willing to foot the bill.

Those in favor, however, note the scholarship’s ability to better educate the general populace while alleviating student loan debt burdens.

It’s important to note that the scholarship isn’t available to everyone. In fact, those wishing to qualify must meet strict requirements.

If you’re wondering if you’re going to qualify, we have good news for you.

With an estimated 940,000 aspiring students eligible to qualify, there are good chances that you can take part in this new program.

Who Qualifies?

So, how, exactly do you qualify? There are two main requirements that you have to meet.

Let’s take a look at the scholarship requirements below:

  • You Have to Be a New York Resident

This one shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

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In order to qualify for free tuition in New York, you have to be a New York resident.

Sorry, out-of-staters—this means that you don’t qualify for free tuition. Those looking to attend some of New York’s best colleges will have to pay full tuition if they aren’t from the Big Apple.

For residents, however, it’s a different story. Certain New York residents can qualify for free tuition for all two years and four year City and State of New York colleges and universities.

But don’t get your hopes up yet. While this program is set to help nearly one million residents a year, there’s no guarantee yet that you will qualify.

It’s the next requirement that will help eliminate even some New Yorkers from qualifying for the scholarship.

  • Your Family Has to Make Under $125,000 a Year

That’s right—if your family has the funds to send you to college, you don’t qualify.

We don’t think this comes as a surprise, however.

The scholarship is designed to help those in financial need to get a college education.

For this reason, families that have the financial means to pay for college already won’t receive any assistance.

Unfortunately for some, this doesn’t take into account how many children your parents may have.

A family with four children, for instance, may have a hard time paying for university even if their parents make over $125,000 a year.

The scholarship, however, does not take this into account.

The good news is, however, a large portion of families in New York fall under this income threshold.

Chances are, if you’re struggling to pay for college, you may find that you qualify for this scholarship.

Keep in mind, however, to qualify, you will have to attend university in New York.

Even those from New York who wish to attend out-of-state colleges and universities don’t qualify for assistance.

  • What’s Missing

It’s a scholarship, so you’re going to have to maintain your grades to qualify, right?


What sets this scholarship apart is that it doesn’t require students to meet minimum grade requirements.

Students will have to remain enrolled in at least thirty credit hours per academic year, but grades in those courses aren’t important—so long as students pass.

In other words, as long as students receive thirty credit hours during the academic year, they aren’t in any danger of losing the scholarship.

That is, of course, unless their families don’t suddenly start making more money or they move out of state (both of which are highly unlikely).

For this reason, the scholarship is relatively open to just about everyone.

Of note, undocumented aliens do not qualify for this tax-payer funded scholarship; only New York residents in the country legally may apply.

Overall, these lax qualifications make this scholarship incredibly available to those in need.

Because of this, experts predict that there will be an increase in the number of students enrolling in New York state and city colleges in the upcoming years.

It’s a move that the government hopes provides a boon to both the university system and the state, as more students receive an education and work in the city.

What Happens If You Receive Funding?

But is the Excelsior Scholarship really just free money? No strings attached?

Not quite.

There are one final consideration individuals must keep in mind before applying for the scholarship.

Those who receive it must live and work in New York upon graduation.

That’s right—if you have dreams of moving away and trying something different, this scholarship isn’t for you.

Granted, you’re not bound to New York for the rest of your life, but this can still prove a burden for those with a travel dream.

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So just how long must you stay in New York? It depends. You’ll need to be there for however long you received funding.

For instance, if you received the scholarship for four years, you must stay in New York and work for four years upon graduation.

Those who only received it for three, however, must only stay and work for three.

Keep this information in mind as you look to my post-graduation plans.

Does This Scholarship Apply Only to Recent High School Graduates?


The good news is that any New York resident who meets these requirements and doesn’t already have a degree can qualify for this scholarship.

Even if it’s been ten, twenty, or even thirty years since your high school graduation.

Now, keep in mind that you’re still going to have to meet a university’s requirements to be admitted.

However, if you’re a working professional with dreams of going back to school, the Excelsior Scholarship can help.

Whether you’re looking to pick up a two-year trade in order to advance your career, or if you’re looking to take a leap with a bachelor’s degree, this program can get you started.

Don’t be afraid to reach out and apply to see if you get admitted.

First, however, make sure that you have a solid university plan and can gain admittance into a university.

What If You Receive Other Financial Aid or Scholarships?

If you’re looking to stack up against your financial aid money for extra stacks of cash, we’ve got bad news for you.

The Excelsior Scholarship applies to tuition only—and if you’ve already covered these costs with other scholarships or grants, you’re not going to be eligible.

For instance, if you qualify for the federal Pell Grant and it fully covers the cost of your tuition, you will not receive any additional assistance from this scholarship.

If your other financial aid only partially covers tuition costs, however, the Excelsior Scholarship will help make up the difference so that you don’t have to pay out of pocket.

Keep in mind that this only applies to schools that are in the New York public city and state university system.

Those looking to private school tuition may have to do so out of pocket or with other forms of aid.

Is College Totally Free?

So will college be totally free?

You don’t have to pay for anything?

Not so fast.

As unfortunate as it sounds, students will still be on the hook for covering a wide variety of university expenses.

For example, the cost of room and board will not be covered by the scholarship.

And, as noted, students won’t be able to mix and match the scholarship with other forms of aid.

This means that scholarship recipients won’t be able to use it to pay for tuition and other forms of aid to cover other costs.

And, unfortunately, the cost of room and board can soar close to $10,000 per year.

This leaves students on the line for incredible amounts of money per academic year.

This becomes even worse when considering the fact that many fear universities will raise tuition and other rates for non-qualifying students.

It seems that one way or the other, universities are going to get their money.

And if students aren’t going to be required to pay for it, universities may use it as an excuse to raise their rates.

In other words, with the government footing the bill for hundreds of thousands of students, don’t be shocked if universities try to milk the cash cow by raising rates.

So what does this mean for you?

Ultimately, for qualifying students, it means that you can alleviate your student loan debt burden—though you’re likely not going to eliminate it entirely.

Consider this when deciding if you’d like to be stuck working in the Big Apple upon graduation.

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For non-qualifying students, it may mean an increase in rates—making college more unaffordable for the middle class.

The Bottom Line

For low-income New Yorkers looking to go to college, the Excelsior Scholarship can help reduce costs.

If you meet the scholarship’s strict requirements, you can be on your way to enjoying tuition-free college at New York’s state and city universities.

The scholarship is expected to cover as many as 940,000 students in its first year, and this may grow as more New Yorkers look to go back to school.

Supporters of the bill note their belief that it will help create a more educated New York populace.

And, because graduates are required to work in New York for a predetermined amount of time, it can also help the city retain quality talent.

On the other hand, others have raised concerns that the notion isn’t feasible and will raise costs for other attending university.

Namely, this will be felt by those whose families make $125,000 or more per year. With this experiment of sorts now in its inaugural year, the future of the Excelsior Scholarship is unclear.

However, don’t let this keep you from applying if you qualify. Weigh the information above as you decide if the Excelsior Scholarship is right for you.

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