When you think of New York, what do you think of? Do you think of New York City or New York State? Do you think of Niagara Falls with its 750,000 gallons of flowing water? Do you think of the Adirondack Mountain region? Do you think of Long Island? Do you think of Broadway?

Any of these things could come to mind when you think of the Empire State, but you should also think about all the great colleges and universities within its 54,556 square miles of land. There are many postsecondary schools to choose from and New York State residents can be eligible for great financial aid programs such as the Tuition Assistance Program, Excelsior Scholarship Program, the Scholarship for Academic Excellence Program and the STEM Incentive Program.

General Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for many of New York State’s college financial aid programs, there are some general criteria students must meet to ensure they can actually receive the awards from the financial aid programs. These requirements include:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen,
  • Be a New York State resident for at least 12 continuous months prior to applying for and/or receiving awards,
  • Graduate from a U.S. and/or New York State high school,
  • Not be in default on any state or federal student loan, and
  • Not be in default on any repayment of other state financial aid awards.

New York State Tuition Assistance Program

The New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) is a grant administered by the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) for eligible New York State full-time and part-time students attending eligible New York schools to help the students pay for tuition. TAP is currently the largest college financial aid grant program in the state.

To be eligible for TAP, a student must meet all general eligibility requirements as well as:

  • Study as a full-time, undergraduate student (enroll in at least 12 credit hours per semester) at an approved New York State postsecondary institution and be enrolled in an approved degree program;
  • Be in good academic standing with at least a cumulative “C” average as of the student’s fourth semester of payment;
  • Be charged at least $200 in tuition every academic year; and
  • Meet income requirements of:
    • $80,000 for dependent, undergraduate students or independent, undergraduate students who are married and have tax dependent or independent, unmarried students on their taxes,
    • $40,000 for married, independent, undergraduate students who have no other tax dependents, and
    • $10,000 for unmarried, independent, undergraduate students with no tax dependents.

All New York State colleges students and all college-bound New York State high school seniors are encouraged to apply for TAP.

To apply for the grant, a student must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Within the FAFSA application, the student also needs to click on the “Apply for TAP” option and follow the additional directions afterwards.

The type of New York State postsecondary institution a student attends, the student’s and student’s family’s finances and the student’s financial status (dependent or independent) impact the final award amount a student can receive from TAP. Currently, the annual award from TAP can be up to $5,165.

Excelsior Scholarship Program

The Excelsior Scholarship Program (ESP) can allow students who attend State Universities of New York (SUNY) or City Universities of New York (CUNY) to go to school nearly tuition-free when the ESP award is combined with other financial aid programs. The ESP itself is designed to cover the cost of tuition for eligible SUNY or CUNY students.

To be eligible for the ESP, a student must meet all general eligibility requirements as well as:

  • Have a combined, federal adjusted family gross income of $125,000 or less;
  • Be pursuing an undergraduate degree at a SUNY or CUNY college, which can include community colleges, the Statutory College at Cornell University and Alfred University;
  • Be enrolled in at least 12 credit hours per semester and complete at least 30 credit hours each academic year successively which are applicable towards the student’s degree program with no break in enrollment;
  • Be in compliance with the terms imposed by any other New York State award the student has previously earned;
  • Execute a contract agreeing to reside in New York State for the length of the ESP award and be employed in New York State during that length of time (if applicable);
  • Must be enrolled in college any year after 2017;
  • Complete and file FAFSA annually; and
  • Complete the New York State Student Aid Payment Application

The application deadline for the ESP is the end of August each year. A student can receive the ESP for no more than 2 years of full-time, undergraduate study in an associate degree program. A student can receive the ESP for no more than 4 years of full-time, undergraduate study in a bachelor’s degree program or 5 years of study in a bachelor’s degree program that requires 5 years of study.

The award amount a student receives is determined by the following formula:

(Tuition rate at SUNY or CUNY) – (The amount of other financial aid a student receives for a given academic year) = (Remaining costs that will be covered by the ESP)

The ESP will cover any remaining tuition costs of up to $5,500. If a student has any leftover expenses, they will receive a tuition credit to cover the rest.

New York State Scholarship for Academic Excellence

The New York State Scholarship for Academic Excellence (SAE) is a financial aid program designed to help the top graduating scholars from each New York State high school attend college.

To be eligible for the SAE, a student must meet all general eligibility requirements as well as:

  • Be a full-time, undergraduate student enrolled in an approved bachelor’s degree program at an eligible New York State postsecondary institution;
  • Be in good academic standing;
  • Be a top graduating scholar or one of the top graduating scholars from a registered New York State high school; and
  • Score well in certain Regents Exams.

To apply for the SAE, a graduating high school senior must contact their high school guidance counselor to receive the steps on how to formally apply.

A recipient of the SAE must use the award within seven years from the beginning of the first academic year for which the scholarship is awarded. During this time, a student must be entitled to pay for up to 4 years of full-time undergraduate study or 5 years if the approved bachelor’s degree program takes 5 years to complete.

Each academic year, 8,000 scholarships are awarded to top students across New York State. Up to 2,000 of those scholarships are worth $1,500 and the other 6,000 scholarships are worth $500.

New York State Science, Technology, Engineering & Math Incentive Program

The New York State Science, Technology Engineering & Math (STEM) Incentive Program is designed to encourage the top scholars at New York State high schools to choose to pursue STEM degrees at New York postsecondary institutions.

To be eligible for the STEM Incentive Program, a student must meet all general eligibility requirements as well as:

  • Attend a New York State high school;
  • Be ranked in the top 10% of their high school graduating class;
  • Be enrolled full-time at a public or private New York State college beginning in the fall term following the student’s high school graduation;
  • Be enrolled in an approved undergraduate 2-year or 4-year STEM degree program that will lead to earning a STEM degree;
  • Maintain a minimum, cumulative 2.50 GPA;
  • Execute a service contract agreeing to live in and work in a STEM field in New York State for 5 years after college graduation;
  • Be enrolled in an approved STEM field of study and/or STEM occupation post-college graduation;
  • Complete and submit the New York State STEM Incentive Program application,
    • Which includes signing a physical copy of the application;
  • Complete and file FAFSA; and
  • Complete and submit the New York State Student Aid Payment Application.

It is not necessary to complete the STEM Incentive Program application annually, but a student must annually complete FAFSA and the Student Aid Payment Application.

A recipient of the STEM Incentive Program can receive annual award payments for up to four academic years of full-time, undergraduate study in an approved STEM degree program; there are some exceptions made for 5-year STEM undergraduate programs.

The award amount for the STEM Incentive Program changes annually based on tuition rates for in-state students, but the award can be for up to the amount of annual in-state tuition at a SUNY program OR the actual amount of tuition charged, whichever is less. For the 2018-2019 academic year, the award amount was up to $6,870 per year.

The award amount a student receives is also based on available funding from HESC and the amount of financial aid or funding the student is receiving from elsewhere.

Major Colleges and Universities in New York State

There are many prestigious colleges and universities within New York State’s borders. In fact, there are over 130 postsecondary institutions that offer 4-year degree programs. Some of the popular New York State colleges and universities include:

  • Buffalo State College in Buffalo,
  • Columbia University in New York City,
  • Cornell University in Ithaca,
  • Fordham University in New York City,
  • Ithaca College in Ithaca,
  • New York University in New York City,
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy,
  • Stony Brook University in Stony Brook,
  • Syracuse University in Syracuse,
  • University of Buffalo in Buffalo, and
  • University of Rochester in Rochester.

A college education can open so many doors for students around the world. College-bound students in New York State should be happy to know there are so many state financial aid programs available to help them afford to attend college to receive that lucrative education.