Excelsior Scholarship Guide: Navigating Free Tuition in New York State

The Excelsior Scholarship is a pioneering initiative by the State of New York, offering significant financial support to students striving to achieve higher education without the burden of tuition costs. Launched to serve students attending SUNY and CUNY institutions, the Excelsior Scholarship steps in to fill the gap after other forms of aid, making it possible for eligible students to attend college tuition-free. Understanding the nuances of this scholarship is crucial for those aiming to capitalize on its offerings and relieve the financial pressure of college tuition.


To qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship, applicants must take into account a set of requirements which include residency, income limits, academic achievements, and enrollment status. Besides meeting these criteria, students need to be aware of the application process, deadlines, and the vital integration with other financial aids. Beneficiaries must also acknowledge the post-graduation commitments stipulated by the scholarship, essentially creating a symbiotic relationship between the students’ educational pursuits and their contribution to New York State’s workforce.

Key Takeaways

  • The Excelsior Scholarship enables eligible SUNY and CUNY students to attend college without tuition fees.
  • Applicants must adhere to specific eligibility criteria, including income, academic, and residency requirements.
  • Compliance with the scholarship’s terms includes a post-graduation residency in New York State.

Overview of the Excelsior Scholarship

The Excelsior Scholarship is a pioneering initiative by New York State, offering students the opportunity to attain higher education at SUNY and CUNY institutions without the burden of tuition fees. It sets a precedent for accessible college education in the state.

Understanding the Excelsior Scholarship

The Excelsior Scholarship provides tuition coverage for eligible students pursuing higher education at the State University of New York (SUNY) or the City University of New York (CUNY) colleges. This scholarship program is specifically designed for residents of New York State. To qualify, applicants must come from families that have an adjusted gross income of $125,000 or less. Students must also be pursuing an undergraduate degree and take a certain number of credits per term to maintain the award.

Key Features of the Scholarship Program

Eligibility Criteria:

  • Must be a resident of New York State
  • Adjusted gross income of $125,000 or less
  • Attend a SUNY or CUNY college

Award Benefits:

  • Covers tuition after other aid is applied (TAP, Pell)
  • May be received for up to two years (for Associate’s degree) or four years (for Bachelor’s degree), contingent upon credits completed per term

Students availing of the Excelsior Scholarship are required to stay in New York State for a period equal to the length of the award received. Failure to do so converts the scholarship into a loan. The Excelsior Scholarship Program – Government of New York provides a comprehensive guide on these conditions. The scholarship plays a pivotal role in making college education more affordable and helps to alleviate the financial strain on students and families.

Eligibility Requirements

To secure an Excelsior Scholarship, applicants must strictly meet residency, income, and academic criteria defined under New York State financial aid regulations.

Resident Qualifications

Applicants must be New York State residents, having lived in the state for 12 continuous months prior to the start of the term. This residency requirement ensures that the scholarship serves students who have a vested interest in New York’s higher education system and communities.

  • Residency: Must have been a resident of New York State for at least one year.
  • Citizenship: Must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen.
  • Documentation: Submission of appropriate proof of residency and citizenship status.

To gain a better understanding of the residency requirement, visit the Government of New York’s Excelsior Scholarship Program page.

Income Criteria

Financial eligibility is capped by an income limit. Families or independent applicants must demonstrate a total annual income of $125,000 or less for the relevant tax year under consideration for the scholarship period.

  • 2019 Income: For the 2023-2024 academic year, the tax year reviewed is 2019.
  • Verification: Income is verified through New York State tax return filings.

For further details on income criteria, refer to How Eligibility is Determined for the Excelsior Scholarship.

Academic Standing

Maintaining a certain academic standard is pivotal for eligibility. Students must be enrolled full-time and are expected to complete a minimum of 30 credits each year towards their program of study. This ensures progress towards on-time graduation.

  • Course Load: Must be enrolled in at least 12 credits per term.
  • Progress: Required to successfully complete 30 credits per academic year.

For in-depth eligibility information regarding academic standing, you can check the SUNY Excelsior Scholarship information.

Application Process

Navigating the application process for the Excelsior Scholarship is a crucial step for students seeking financial assistance with their SUNY or CUNY tuition. Precise adherence to requirements and deadlines ensures eligibility for consideration.

Applying for the Excelsior Scholarship

To apply for the Excelsior Scholarship, students must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) application. Afterward, an additional Excelsior Scholarship application must be submitted through the official website of the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC).

Required Documentation

When submitting the application for the Excelsior Scholarship, applicants should prepare the following essential documents:

  1. Proof of 2022 family income (for the 2024-25 academic year application)
  2. FAFSA submission confirmation
  3. TAP application confirmation
  4. Academic records to demonstrate eligibility for continued enrollment

Having these documents readily available will expedite the application process.

Understanding the Deadlines

The deadline for the Excelsior Scholarship application can be a determining factor in a student’s eligibility. For the 2024 academic year, the application period typically opens in the spring prior to the academic year starting in the fall. The specific deadline will be announced by HESC and is often a few months after the application period opens. It is imperative for students to submit their applications and all required paperwork within this timeframe to be considered for the scholarship.

Financial Information

When navigating the landscape of college funding, the Excelsior Scholarship provides critical financial support for eligible New York State residents. It addresses tuition expenses directly, impacting both the immediate and long-term financial planning of families.

Determining Award Amounts

The Excelsior Scholarship awards are determined based on the family federal adjusted gross income and the cost of resident tuition rates. Specifically, families with a 2022 income of $125,000 or less are eligible. The scholarship covers the difference between the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) awards and the actual tuition charges, up to the cost of the SUNY or CUNY in-state tuition rate.

Understanding Tuition Rates

Tuition at SUNY and CUNY institutions can vary, but the Excelsior Scholarship ensures that tuition does not become a barrier for eligible students by covering up to the cost of the standard resident tuition rate. It is essential for applicants to understand that tuition rates are subject to legislative changes and should stay informed about the current rates when planning their education expenses.

Financial Impact on Families

The introduction of the Excelsior Scholarship has a significant financial impact on qualifying families, removing the burden of tuition and allowing students to allocate other financial resources towards books, housing, and additional educational expenses. However, it is imperative for families to consider the tax implications of the scholarship, as it may affect their annual tax filings.

The details surrounding the Excelsior Scholarship can be further explored through resources provided by the Government of New York and the NYS Higher Education Services Corporation.

Educational Institutions

The Excelsior Scholarship offers significant benefits for students attending public colleges in New York. Specifically, it applies to those enrolled in the State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) systems, which include various types of higher education institutions.

SUNY and CUNY Colleges

SUNY consists of a network of 64 institutions, including community colleges and state-operated campuses. Students can benefit from the Excelsior Scholarship at all SUNY colleges, which ensures that tuition is covered for eligible students. SUNY state-operated campuses offer a range of undergraduate and graduate degrees, catering to a variety of academic interests and professional paths.

Similarly, CUNY comprises multiple senior colleges and community colleges within New York City. CUNY senior colleges, like their SUNY counterparts, offer a comprehensive array of degree programs. The Excelsior Scholarship Program extends to these institutions as well, making higher education more accessible.

Participating Private Institutions

While the Excelsior Scholarship is predominantly associated with public colleges, some private institutions in New York State also participate in similar programs. Private colleges may offer their own financial aid opportunities, but the scholarship’s primary focus remains on the more extensive public university systems of SUNY and CUNY. Cornell University and Alfred University, although private, are unique as they include statutory colleges that are part of the SUNY system and therefore, under certain conditions, could potentially be part of programs financially benefiting SUNY students.

Award Usage


The Excelsior Scholarship provides significant financial support for eligible students undertaking undergraduate studies in New York State. It ensures that tuition costs do not become a barrier to achieving an associate or bachelor’s degree at SUNY or CUNY colleges.

Covered Costs and Expenses

The primary focus of the Excelsior Scholarship is to cover tuition fees; it does not extend to other expenses such as room and board, books, or other fees. The scholarship complements other financial aid students may receive, with the goal to alleviate the burden of tuition costs entirely.

  • Tuition: It covers actual tuition charged up to $5,500, after accounting for other aid received (e.g., TAP, Pell Grants).

Program of Study Requirements

Students benefiting from the Excelsior Scholarship must be enrolled in an eligible program that leads to an undergraduate degree. The scholarship supports both two-year associate degrees and four-year bachelor’s degrees.

  • Enrollment Criteria: Recipients must enroll in at least 12 credits per term and complete at least 30 credits each year, applicable towards their degree program.
  • Degree Timeline: Students must be on track to complete an associate’s degree in two years or a bachelor’s degree in four years to be eligible.

Commitment to New York State


The Excelsior Scholarship mandates recipients to maintain residency in New York State for a duration equivalent to the number of years they benefitted from the scholarship post-graduation. Failure to adhere to these conditions converts the grant into a loan.

Post-Graduation Residency Obligation

Recipients of the Excelsior Scholarship are required to live in New York State for the same number of years they received the scholarship funding. If a student received funds for four years, they must reside in the state for four years after graduation. This post-service requirement is a binding contract between the recipient and the state to ensure beneficiaries contribute to the local economy.

Work Requirements After Graduation

In addition to living in New York State, Excelsior Scholarship recipients must also seek and accept work within the state’s boundaries during their residency obligation period. If the recipient decides to continue their education in New York, this will also satisfy the work requirements under the scholarship terms.

Financial Aid Integration

Integrating the Excelsior Scholarship with existing financial aid requires understanding both the coordination efforts with other aid programs and the scholarship’s implications for federal student aid eligibility.

Coordination with Other Financial Aid

To ensure the Excelsior Scholarship complements other financial aid, coordination is key. This last-dollar scholarship is designed to cover any remaining tuition liability after other forms of aid have been applied, which includes federal and state grants. Students’ Federal Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) dictates their eligibility for various aid programs, and the Excelsior Scholarship considers this when determining award amounts.

For New York State residents, the integration of the Excelsior Scholarship with the Senator José Peralta New York State DREAM Act allows eligible undocumented students to receive state financial aid. Similarly, the coordination extends to TAP and other New York State scholarships, ensuring a structured awarding process.

Impact on Federal Student Aid

The Excelsior Scholarship may affect other forms of federal student aid. For example, the amount of the Federal Pell Grant a student receives can be influenced by the addition of state-sponsored financial aid. However, it’s important to note that receiving the Excelsior Scholarship should not reduce eligibility for federal financial aid.

Students should also consider the impact of the scholarship on their federal education loan requirements. By potentially lowering the cost of tuition, the scholarship can reduce the need for federal student loans, potentially lessening future student loan debt burdens. It is crucial for students to calculate the implications carefully to make the most of their combined financial aid benefits.

Maintaining Scholarship Eligibility

To preserve eligibility for the Excelsior Scholarship, recipients must meet specific credit accumulation and certification requirements. These criteria are designed to ensure students are progressing in a timely manner towards their degree completion.

Credit Accumulation Requirements

Recipients of the Excelsior Scholarship are required to enroll in at least 12 credits each term, aiming to complete 30 credits each year. These credits must be applicable to one’s degree program and must be accrued successively. Students approaching their final term may be allowed to take fewer credits, provided this reduced courseload is sufficient to complete their degree—a condition known as the final term indicator.

Annual Certification Process

Each year, recipients must certify that they have met the scholarship’s criteria, including credit requirements. They must verify credits earned during the course of the year to maintain their funding. This process ensures that the student is on track for continuous study and does not take an unauthorized break in their enrollment, with exceptions for specific documentable reasons.

Additional Considerations


When navigating the intricacies of the Excelsior Scholarship, there are specific stipulations and supports in place for varying student circumstances. These adaptations ensure a broader range of students have access to education and that continuity is maintained even when educational pursuits face interruptions.

Support for Students with Disabilities

The Excelsior Scholarship provides specific supports for students with disabilities, which might include extended timeframes for completing degree requirements. These accommodations ensure that students with disabilities can take advantage of the scholarship without being penalized for circumstances related to their disabilities.

Provisions for Undocumented Students

Although the Excelsior Scholarship is geared towards residents who meet certain criteria, New York State has made strides in providing higher education opportunities for undocumented students. Specific provisions under state laws may allow these students to also benefit from state-funded financial aid.

Handling Leaves of Absence and Interruptions

Students sometimes face unforeseen circumstances that necessitate a leave of absence from their studies. The Excelsior Scholarship has guidelines to handle such interruptions, allowing students to pause and then continue their education without losing their scholarship eligibility, while adhering to certain conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, you will find direct answers to common inquiries about the Excelsior Scholarship, including application processes, eligibility criteria, academic standards, deadlines, funding amounts, and post-graduation requirements.

How do I apply for the Excelsior Scholarship?

To apply for the Excelsior Scholarship, students must fill out the application available on the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation website. Applicants need to ensure they have their financial and academic records on hand, as these are required during the application process.

What are the income eligibility requirements for the Excelsior Scholarship in New York?

The Excelsior Scholarship stipulates that applicants must be New York State residents with a family household federal adjusted gross income, as reported on their New York State Income Tax Returns, not exceeding $125,000 for the 2021-22 academic year.

What are the academic requirements to maintain the Excelsior Scholarship?

Students are required to enroll in a minimum of 12 credits per term and complete at least 30 credits each year, which may include summer and winter sessions, to maintain the Excelsior Scholarship.

When is the application deadline for the Excelsior Scholarship for the 2023-24 academic year?

The application deadline for the Excelsior Scholarship for the 2023-24 academic year is typically announced on the official Higher Education Services Corporation website, where students can find updated information on specific dates and deadlines.

How is the amount of funding determined for each recipient of the Excelsior Scholarship?

The funding amount for each Excelsior Scholarship recipient is calculated after considering other student financial aid sources, such as TAP, Pell grants, and existing college scholarships. The Excelsior Scholarship fills the gap after these other financial aid sources are applied, effectively covering the balance of tuition charges that are left uncovered.

What obligations must recipients meet after graduation when they have received the Excelsior Scholarship?

Recipients of the Excelsior Scholarship must live and work in New York State for the same number of years they received the scholarship funding. If a recipient moves out of New York State before fulfilling this obligation, the scholarship converts to a loan that the recipient must repay.

Helpful Resources

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