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The Excelsior Scholarship: A Breakthrough in Making College Affordable

The Excelsior Scholarship provides free tuition for eligible New Yorkers at public colleges and universities. This breakthrough initiative has made college more affordable for tens of thousands of families across the state.

The scholarship offers a nearly tuition-free education at State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) colleges.

The purpose of this program is to give New York students the opportunity to attend college tuition free. The program is designed as a last-dollar program and kicks in after other student financial aid is exhausted toward your bachelor’s degree.

Take advantage of this incredible program with all the knowledge and information you need right here!


The Scholarship is a great opportunity for students from the state of New York to go to college without the burden of student loans. Eligible students can receive up to $5,500 per academic year, and maximum eligible family income guidelines apply.

Recipients must take at least 30 credits each academic year and come from a household that have federal adjusted gross incomes of $125,000 annually.

Who is eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship?

If you’re a student attending either SUNY or CUNY institutions, this is an amazing way to further reduce the already competitively low in-state tuition fees — making your college experience even more affordable!

To be eligible, an applicant must:

  • be a resident of NYS and have resided in NYS for 12 continuous months prior to the beginning of the term;
  • be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen;
  • have either graduated from a U.S. high school, earned a high school equivalency diploma, or passed a federally approved “Ability to Benefit” test;
  • have a combined federal adjusted gross income of $125,000 or less;
  • be pursuing an undergraduate degree at a SUNY or CUNY college, including community colleges and the statutory colleges at Cornell and Alfred;
  • be enrolled in at least 12 credits per spring and fall term and successively complete at least 30 credits a year through a continuous study program with no break in enrollment except for certain documented reasons;
  • if attended college prior to the current academic year, have earned at least 30 credits each year (successively), applicable towards a program prior to applying for the scholarship;
  • be in a non-default status on student loans, federal education loan program or on the repayment of any NYS award;
  • be in compliance with the terms of the service condition(s) imposed by any NYS award previously received; and
  • execute a Contract agreeing to reside in NYS for the length of time the award was received, and, if employed during such time, be employed in NYS.

New York State Students Eligible

To be a NYS resident for purposes of receiving this award, students must consider New York State their permanent home and must be either a U.S. citizen, qualified paroled refugee, or permanent resident alien residing in New York State for 12 continuous months prior to the term for which the award is being sought.

Can DREAM Act students get the Excelsior Scholarship?

Yes. Students who qualify for New York State’s DREAM Act protections are eligible to apply for the Excelsior Scholarship after they have qualified for the DREAM Act protection. DREAM Act students must have graduated from a U.S. high school or have earned a high school equivalency diploma, to qualify.

What’s the catch? Your scholarship can become a loan!

This program is designed to solve the college affordability problem for New Yorkers and to keep graduates in New York. After college, you will be required to live and work in New York for the period of time that you received the scholarship. If you don’t fulfill that post-scholarship requirement, your scholarship will become a loan and you will have to repay all or a portion of it. In addition, if you are working during those years, you must work in New York State.

This post-award residency requirement begins when you are no longer receiving the award.

If you decide to leave New York before the end of your post-scholarship residency requirement, your award will become a loan and be prorated when calculating your loan amount. For example, if you received awards for four years and resided in NYS for three years, you will be required to repay one-fourth of the award as a no-interest loan. If you relocated due to an allowable hardship, your loan conversion may be waived.

Students also need to be mindful of the 30-credits-per-year provision. If they fail to meet that, their most recent scholarship will become a loan and they will not be entitled to the program going forward. Students who are short the required 30 credits should consider taking classes during summer and winter terms.

The Excelsior Scholarship has made higher education affordable to many New Yorkers

For many students, this program has made college tuition free. And for middle class families, this has made SUNY and CUNY colleges even more affordable.

Since the launch of the Excelsior Scholarship program in 2017, tens of thousands of New York students have received a college degree nearly tuition free.

Moreover, research has found that the majority of recipients are first-generation college students and come from middle-or-low-income families who wouldn’t be able to afford college without assistance.

Because this Excelsior Scholarship Program is available to New York State residents whose family household federal adjusted gross income is $125,000 or less, it opens the door to an undergraduate degree to hard working middle class families in New York.

How to apply for Excelsior Scholarship

The application process can be completed entirely online. To apply, students must do the following:

  1. First, you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You should be doing this for all federal, state and school aid anyway.
  2. Then make sure to complete the NYS Student Aid Payment Application, which can help you get aid through New York State’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). The NYS Tuition Assistance Program is another way New York supports education.
  3. Then complete the Excelsior Scholarship Application each year in order to receive award payments.

How long can I get the Excelsior Scholarship?

Excelsior Scholarship recipients may be eligible to receive award payments for the following period of time:

  • Up to two years of full-time study in an associate’s degree program (community college),
  • Up to four years if you’re pursuing a bachelor’s degree, or
  • Up to five years if the specific program normally takes five years.

You must complete 30 credits each school year.

Is there a GPA requirement?

No. There is no GPA requirement for students to be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship provided they earn thirty (30) credits over the course of a year. Students still need to maintain a GPA that allows for the successful completion of their degree and also to meet the GPA requirements of other awards they may have.

What happens when I leave school early?

As an Excelsior Scholarship recipient, you have certain ongoing obligations. If you don’t meet those obligations, your scholarship will become a loan.

If you have to leave school before completing the required credits, your scholarship will become a loan and you will be responsible for paying it back according to the terms of your repayment plan. If you fail to complete the 30-credits-per-year requirement, your most recent award will become a loan and you are no longer eligible for the program.

If I move out of New York after receiving an Excelsior Scholarship, what happens?

If you leave New York State prior to completing your post-scholarship residency requirement, your award will become a loan and be prorated when calculating your loan amount. For example, if you leave after completing two-thirds of your post-scholarship residency requirement, you would be responsible for repayment of one-third of your Excelsior Scholarship award.

If I encounter financial hardship, is there an option to have my loan converted?

Yes. If you experience financial hardship and are unable to repay the loan amount that was due, you are eligible to have your loan converted into a grant. The amount of the conversion is determined by the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC).

In order to be granted conversion, you must submit an application and provide documentation showing proof of financial hardship. Examples may include, but are not limited to, medical bills, job termination, or other financial documents.

You must go to a SUNY or CUNY

In order to take advantage of the Excelsior Scholarship, you must attend a SUNY or CUNY school, which are already very affordable.

Students looking for an affordable education with a comprehensive curriculum should consider attending a SUNY or CUNY college. SUNY and CUNY colleges in New York offer world-class academics and vibrant campus life, all at an affordable price.

  • Students can choose from a variety of majors, ranging from STEM to humanities, as well as hundreds of different courses.
  • Both SUNY and CUNY campuses offer numerous student activities such as clubs, sports teams, and organizations.
  • Scholarships and grants are available to those who meet certain criteria, giving students access to even more financial aid options.
  • With multiple campuses throughout the state, it is easy for students to find one that best fits their individual needs.
  • For students who intend to get professional degrees after college, going to a SUNY or CUNY offers the perfect opportunity to start and finish their education in one system. It also offers a way to save money on the undergraduate degree. By taking advantage of the Excelsior Scholarship, students can obtain their degrees without ever having to worry about private loans or accumulating any debt prior to beginning graduate school.

For students seeking an affordable education with quality programs and resources, SUNY or CUNY colleges are definitely worth considering!

Because CUNYs are already so cheap, Excelsior Scholarship recipients attend CUNY college tuition free.


The Excelsior Scholarship is an incredible opportunity for New York State residents to pursue their educational dreams without incurring heavy student debt. It is an opportunity to attend an undergraduate degree program tuition free.

If you are a New York State resident whose family earns less than $125,000 per year, then this scholarship could be the key to unlocking your future.

It is important, though, that you understand the requirements of the program and what will happen if you do not meet them. Make sure to read all of the rules carefully before applying for the Excelsior Scholarship.

So if you’re a New Yorker and interested in attending college but feel like financial constraints are holding you back, be sure to check out what this valuable initiative has to offer. You may just find that your dreams of earning a degree are within reach after all!

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