A Tuition Waiver Can Save You Thousands – Do You Qualify for a College Discount?

Renee Layberry
May 4, 2021

The rising cost of college tuition can be an enormous hardship for many college students and their families. Even when you factor in federal or private student loans, the out-of-pocket costs can be substantial.   It's no wonder. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition for public colleges and universities was over $17,000 for the 2017-2018 academic year. And private tuition was even higher, reaching more than $42,000 that same year.   Still, while college tuition costs aren’t negotiable, you might be able to do something to reduce them: Secure a college discount through a tuition waiver.   Learn more about what a college tuition waiver means, if you can qualify, and how to obtain one from your preferred college or university.  

Tuition waiver basics

A tuition waiver is a reduction in tuition. The college discount is given by the school to those students who meet the requirements. The waiver may cover tuition for a certain number of credits per semester or it may be a reduction in overall tuition costs.    Types of waivers vary, with individual colleges and universities offering different discounts. Applying for a waiver will require you to document your request and explain your financial need. Once the application is approved by your school, you'll receive the college discount.   Your school’s financial aid office is the best place to start. It's here that you can learn about the different waiver options to see if you qualify. You can work with your financial aid office to determine your eligibility.   The time you put in may set you on the path to significant savings when it comes to college tuition. This in turn can positively impact your budget and reduce your debt.   Photo by Wes Hicks

Types of tuition waivers

A number of tuition waivers are available depending on the school. They vary widely, with some schools offering several different types and some offering only limited opportunities. So, keep in mind that this tuition savings is school-specific and dependent on your eligibility. Keep reading to learn more about common types of waivers to see which one may suit your unique situation.  

Low-income waivers

Federal student loans are need-based, meaning they are provided only to students whose families meet an income threshold. Even if you’ve secured federal student loans, you may be able to reduce your college costs further with a tuition waiver based on income.    Some colleges and universities offer these reduced tuition fees for students who come from low-income families. Some schools may even offer free tuition to students whose families meet this limit. Typically, only a specified number of these college discounts are available annually, so you want to inquire about this waiver as soon as you can.  

Hardship waiver

On a similar note, hardship tuition waivers may be available at your school as well. These waivers are reserved for students who are facing undue hardship, such as the loss of an immediate family member or job loss that affects your ability to pay tuition. Eligible students must meet specific criteria to receive this college discount.  

Employee waiver

If you have a family member employed by the college or university, you might be able to score reduced tuition rates. Many schools offer discounted tuition for children of university employees. So, if your mom or dad works at a college or university, you will want to seriously consider attending that school to enjoy the tuition waiver that comes with it.  

Out-of-state tuition waiver

If you’re attending a school as an out-of-state student, look into your options for securing an in-state tuition rate. This can offer substantial savings. In order to attract students, some universities waive out-of-state fees.    You should consider your eligibility annually if you’re an out-of-state student at a public school. You may be able to apply every year. Even if you’re turned down for the discount one year, you might be able to secure it the next.   Photo by Jude Infantini

Diversity waiver

Schools seeking to attract a diverse student population may offer waivers for students from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. For example, North Dakota State University allows students from the following groups to apply for tuition waivers:
  • Native American/American Indian
  • Alaskan Native
  • African American/Black
  • Asian
  • Hawaiian Native/Other Pacific Island
  • Hispanic/Latino
  • Multiracial/multiethnic (from the above categories)
  • Refugee
  From those groups, priority is given to students including those with high financial need, first generation college students, and students who are single parents.   Investigate your school’s diversity waiver opportunities if you think you may qualify.  

Disability waiver

In some states, students with disabilities may be able to secure a waiver for reduced tuition. The Maryland Higher Education Commission, for example, offers this waiver at state colleges and universities.    It is reserved for students who are receiving Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability benefits. Maryland exempts students from paying tuition for up to 12 credits per semester, so this type of waiver program – if available in your state – can offer significant savings.  

Employment waivers

Depending on your parent’s employer, you might be able to secure a tuition waiver because of their job. Schools offer these waivers for a variety of fields. This is especially the case for children of parents who are currently in the military, or are veterans, or who were killed in action. The dependents of police officers and firefighters may be eligible for college discounts as well.    If you’re applying to a state university, you might be eligible for a waiver if your parent is a state employee, even if they’re employed outside of the state university system.  

Adoption waiver

Your personal history may also make you eligible for a tuition waiver at a state college or university. Some states offer waivers for children who were adopted or those who were in the foster care system as minors. Documentation of your adoption or foster care history will be needed to secure these waivers.   Photo by Pang Yuhao

Tuition waiver application process

Once you choose your college or university, you want to quickly explore all financial aid options so that you submit any required applications on time. Whether you’re securing student loans, applying for grants and scholarships, or seeking tuition waivers, there are several ways to supplement or even cover your college tuition costs.   Before you enroll, explore tuition waiver opportunities on your school’s website. You should be able to find eligibility requirements and application information online. Check out what documentation you may need to verify your eligibility.    If, for example, you are applying for a low-income waiver, you may need to submit your parents’ tax returns or pay stubs to ensure you are eligible. So, don’t delay in getting started on your application because you’ll need time to collect the required materials.  

The bottom line

Tuition waivers can offer significant savings on college tuition. It's worth the effort of doing the research to see what's offered and if you’re eligible. Paying a reduced rate or getting free classes – leaves you with less debt when you graduate.   So, explore all your possible financial aid opportunities to set yourself up for financial success when you’re in college and after you graduate. College discounts and tuition waivers can put you on the right track.   Don't just stop there though, if you do secure a tuition waiver, your next goal is to also get a scholarship. The less money out of your pocket to pay for college the better. Check out everything you need to know about scholarships and how to get them!