Are sandy beaches, college football, great golf courses and interesting historical downtown districts the things that come to mind when someone says, “South Carolina?” That may be the case, but the Palmetto State has much more to offer, especially when it comes to helping its high school students attend college.

The South Carolina Commission on Higher Education’s (SC CHE) goal is to provide South Carolina high school graduates with great, in-state postsecondary educational opportunities. Therefore, the organization has put together five different scholarships and grants to award students with if they meet eligibility requirements and attend a South Carolina public or private college or university.

The SC CHE’s program is funded by the proceeds from ticket sales, interest and unclaimed prizes from the South Carolina Education Lottery.  On average, since 2001, the lottery generates more than $300 million annually to fund the state’s financial aid program so its students can afford to further their education.

These five programs include the South Carolina HOPE Scholarship, the LIFE Scholarship and Scholarship Enhancement, the Palmetto Fellows Scholarship and Scholarship Enhancement, the Lottery Tuition Assistance Program, and the South Carolina Need-Based Grant.

General Eligibility Requirements

There are a few general eligibility requirements all South Carolina students must meet in order to be considered for any state scholarship or grant. Those requirements are:

  • The student must be a South Carolina resident at the time of high school graduation and college enrollment.
  • The student must be a U.S. citizen or legal, permanent resident at the time of high school graduation and college enrollment.
  • The student must enroll in a degree-seeking program at an eligible South Carolina postsecondary institution.
  • The student must not owe a refund or repayment of any federal or state financial aid.
  • The student must not be in default of a federal student loan.
  • The student must not have ever been convicted of any felonies.
  • The student must not have been convicted of any second or subsequent alcohol/drug-related misdemeanor offenses within the past academic year.
    • This last requirement does not apply to the Lottery Tuition Assistance Program.

Palmetto Fellows Scholarship

The Palmetto Fellows Scholarship (PFS) is the most lucrative financial aid program from the SC CHE. It’s also the program with the most academic eligibility requirements attached to it.

Established by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1988, the PFS is designed to recognize and reward the most academically talented high school seniors in the state and encourage them to take their academic talents to in-state postsecondary institutions.

There are two ways to academically qualify for the PFS. The first method has three parts to it. A student must:

  • Rank academically in the top 6% of their high school class at the end of their sophomore, junior and senior years.
  • Score a 1200 on the SAT (on the math and evidence-based reading/writing sections only) OR score a 27 on the ACT (the ACT must be taken on the June test date of their graduating year).
  • Earn a minimum 3.50 cumulative GPA (based on the South Carolina Uniform Grading Policy).

The second method for qualifying for the PFS has two parts to it. A student must:

  • Score a 1400 on the SAT (on the math and evidence-based reading/writing sections only) OR a 32 on the ACT (the ACT must be taken on the June test date of their graduating year).
  • Earn a minimum 4.00 cumulative GPA (based on the South Carolina Uniform Grading Policy).

Just accumulating these academic accolades doesn’t make a student instantly qualify for the PFS.

An application must be completed and sent into the SC CHE office on the student’s behalf. This can be done by a high school guidance counselor or official high school representative. If a student has questions on if they qualify for the PFS or not, they should reach out to their guidance counselor or representative for confirmation as it’s the counselor or rep’s job to identify eligible students to the state.

The student’s guidance counselor or rep can send in an eligible student’s application early during the “Early Awardapplication period. This period opens in May of the student’s junior year and closes on April 15 of the student’s senior year.

The other option is for the guidance counselor or rep to send in the student’s application during the “Late Awardapplication period. This period begins in mid-May of the student’s senior year and closes on June 30 of the student’s senior year.

If a student qualifies for the PFS, they can receive up to $6,700 for their freshman year of college. Afterwards, they can be eligible to receive up to $7,500 for each of their sophomore, junior and senior years of college.

There is also the opportunity to earn more funds from the PFS by applying for the Palmetto Fellows Scholarship Enhancement. This was created in 2007 by the South Carolina General Assembly to put more of an emphasis on students attending eligible, in-state four-year postsecondary institutions to choose majors in math, science and/or a health field.

If a student:

  • Is a recipient of PFS funds,
  • Has earned at least 14 credit hours in approved math courses or life and physical sciences courses (or a combination of them) by the end of their first academic year of college enrollment, and
  • Has declared an approved major in science, math or health-related field at an approved institution,

the student will then be eligible to earn up to $10,000 in PFS funds for each of their sophomore, junior and senior years of college instead of the original $7,500 award. The funding received from the PFS and its enhancement go towards the cost of attendance at the student’s chosen school. PFS recipients can receive the PFS Enhancement for up to six consecutive terms (semesters) starting their sophomore year of college.

Since the 2011-2012 academic year, the Palmetto Fellows Scholarship has provided students with over $451 million in financial aid. During the 2019-2020 school year, the program provided students with $61.8 million in assistance.

South Carolina HOPE Scholarship

Since the 2002-2003 school year, the merit-based South Carolina HOPE Scholarship provides full-time freshmen students with financial aid for their first year of college as long as they enroll in an eligible, in-state postsecondary institution.

To initially be eligible for the HOPE Scholarship, a South Carolina college freshman must:

  • Graduate from high school with a minimum 3.00 cumulative GPA (based on the SC Uniform Grading Policy).
  • Enroll in an eligible, in-state four-year postsecondary institution.
  • Not be a recipient of the LIFE Scholarship, the Palmetto Fellows Scholarship or the Lottery Tuition Assistance Program.

Students do not have to fill out an application to be eligible for the HOPE Scholarship; the students’ eligible institution will let them know if they qualify.

Recipients of the HOPE Scholarship will be awarded with up to $2,800 for their first academic year of college. This includes a book allowance and will also go towards the cost of attendance.

The SC HOPE Scholarship has provided students with over $109 million in funding since the 2011-2012 school year. Just during the 2019-2020 school year, the scholarship provided students with $14.5 million in assistance.

South Carolina LIFE Scholarship

If a HOPE Scholarship recipient has a minimum 3.00 GPA and has earned 30 credit hours at the end of their first year of college, they’ll also become eligible for the South Carolina LIFE Scholarship.

The LIFE in LIFE Scholarship stands for Legislative Incentives for Future Excellence Program and it was established in 1998 by the South Carolina General Assembly. This program is also for students in their second, third and fourth years of college in South Carolina.

The goals of the LIFE Scholarship Program are to increase access to higher education for South Carolina students, improve employability of South Carolina students, provide incentives for South Carolina students to be better prepared for college and to encourage South Carolina students to graduate from college on-time.

Once again, there is no application that needs to be completed for the LIFE Scholarship. An eligible student will be contacted by their eligible institution to let them know they qualify.

To also be eligible for the LIFE Scholarship at an eligible, in-state four-year postsecondary institution, a full-time student must meet two of the three following criteria:

  • Graduate from high school with a minimum 3.00 cumulative GPA (based on the SC Uniform Grading Policy).
  • Rank in the top 30% of their graduating class (based on the SC Uniform Grading Policy).
  • Score a minimum 1100 on the SAT (only the math and critical reading scores are considered) OR a minimum 24 on the ACT.

Eligible students at a four-year institution can receive up to $5,000 per academic year for each of their sophomore, junior and senior years in college. This includes a book allowance and it also goes towards the cost of attendance.

To be eligible for the LIFE Scholarship at an eligible, in-state two-year postsecondary institution, a full-time student must:

  • Graduate from high school with a minimum 3.00 cumulative GPA (based on the SC Uniform Grading Policy).
  • Not be a recipient of the Palmetto Fellows Scholarship or the Lottery Tuition Assistance Program.
  • Not be currently receiving HOPE Scholarship funding.

Eligible students at a public two-year institution or a technical institution can receive up to the cost of tuition each academic year, which also includes a $300 book allowance.

Just like the Palmetto Fellows Scholarship, the LIFE Scholarship can give students additional financial aid with the LIFE Scholarship Enhancement. The LIFE Enhancement was created in 2007 by the South Carolina General Assembly and it’s geared towards helping students who are majoring in math, science and/or a health-related field at eligible South Carolina four-year institutions.

To be eligible for the LIFE Enhancement, a student must:

  • Be a recipient of the LIFE Scholarship.
  • Earn at least 14 credit hours in approved math or life and physical science courses (or a combination of both) by the end of their first academic year of college.
  • Declare an approved major in science, math or a health-related field at an approved institution.

If a student is eligible to receive the LIFE Enhancement, they can receive a maximum award of $7,500 for each of their sophomore, junior and senior years to help them cover the cost of attendance. Students can receive the LIFE Enhancement for up to six consecutive terms (semesters) starting with their second year of college enrollment.

Since the 2011-2012 academic year, the LIFE Scholarship has provided eligible South Carolina students with over $1.7 billion in assistance. During the 2019-2020 school year alone, the scholarship provided $240 million in assistance to South Carolina students.

Lottery Tuition Assistance Program

The Lottery Tuition Assistance Program (LTAP) was created in 2001 and is designed to provide supplemental financial aid to South Carolina residents attending eligible, in-state two-year public or independent postsecondary institutions.

To be eligible for the LTAP, a South Carolina student must:

  • Complete and file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each academic year.
  • Be enrolled as a degree-seeking student in a minimum of six credit hours each term.
  • Not be a recipient of LIFE, Palmetto Fellows or HOPE funding during the same academic year (includes fall, spring and summer terms).
  • Not receive LTAP funding for more than one certificate, diploma or degree awarded within any five-year period unless the additional certificate, diploma or degree constitutes progress in the same field of study.

The actual award amount an eligible student can receive from LTAP varies. The amount is entirely dependent upon the number of eligible students and the amount of available funding each academic year. It’s always best to apply—and apply early—for LTAP though because every little bit can help a student in their journey towards receiving a higher education.

The LTAP has provided eligible students with over $490 million in funding since the 2011-2012 school year. In 2019-2020 alone, the program provided $51 million in assistance to South Carolina students.

South Carolina Need-Based Grant

The South Carolina Need-Based Grant was created in 1996 by the South Carolina General Assembly to provide additional financial assistance to South Carolina’s neediest students attending eligible South Carolina public institutions.

To be eligible for the Need-Based Grant, a student must:

  • Complete and file their FAFSA each academic year.
  • Be enrolled and attending—or have completed at the time of grant disbursement—a minimum of six credit hours (for part-time students) or 12 credit hours (for full-time students) of coursework.
  • Meet all other general eligibility criteria.

Need-Based Grant recipients who are full-time students can receive up to $2,500 per academic year. It’s also possible to receive the Need-Based Grant for up to eight full terms (semesters) of college enrollment.

Part-time students who are deemed eligible for the Need-Based Grant can receive funding of up to $1,250 per academic year.

The SC Need-Based Grant has provided eligible students with nearly $164 million in assistance since the 2011-2012 school year. During the 2019-2020 school year alone, the grant provided $20 million in funding to students.

Miscellaneous Types of Financial Aid

Foster Care Youth and Independent-Living Students

South Carolina goes out of its way to provide foster care youth and independent-living students with the same educational opportunities as traditional students.

These students must self-identify themselves as either foster care youth or independent-living students with the SC CHE, but then they can be eligible to receive grants of up to $2,500 per academic year with up to an additional $2,000 per academic year if they’re enrolled in an eligible, in-state two- or four-year postsecondary institution.

Free Tuition for Residents Over 60 Years Old

South Carolina also offers a program where state residents who are over 60 years old can attend college classes for free.

State-supported colleges and universities are authorized by the South Carolina General Assembly to permit legal South Carolina residents who are 60 years old or older to attend either for-credit classes or non-credit classes on a space-available basis without required payment of tuition.

These eligible residents must meet other admission and other appropriate requirements established by the postsecondary institution. They must also not be a full-time employee of any business, corporation, entity, etc.

A full-time employee in this case is considered as an individual who works at least 37.5 hours per week at and/or on a single job.

These state-supported college and universities are not required by the state to offer this type of program and/or assistance, so eligible residents need to check with academic advisors at colleges of their choice to see if the school participates.

Major Colleges in South Carolina

There are over 55 two- and four-year public and private colleges, universities and technical schools in South Carolina. Some of the most popular state schools include:

  • University of South Carolina in Columbia
  • Clemson University in Clemson
  • Coastal Carolina University in Conway (near Myrtle Beach)
  • College of Charleston in Charleston
  • South Carolina State University in Orangeburg
  • Columbia College in Columbia
  • Landen University in Greenwood
  • Winthrop University in Rock Hill

South Carolina’s scholarships, grants and financial aid programs are great resources to utilize for South Carolina high school seniors–and for other South Carolina residents—who are looking for ways to afford to attend college.