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How College Promise Programs Work

Last updated July 11, 2024

As the cost of college keeps rising, it's normal to wonder how you'll pay for it. That’s where Promise Programs can help! These programs offer scholarships to recent high school graduates that cover up to 100% of tuition and fees. Read more about Promise Programs and how to search for a participating college near you!

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Three friends sit outside on a staircase, holding phones and computers - How College Promise Programs Work

What is a Promise Program?

Although Promise Programs vary by state and school, they all share a common mission: to make college more affordable. They were established to cover up to 100% of tuition and fees for eligible students attending college. Promise Program scholarships invest in young people to help them access and succeed in college by removing some of the costs associated with earning a degree. While each program may differ in its structure, requirements, and location, its ultimate goal remains consistent: offering tuition-free opportunities at colleges for local high school graduates within their own communities.

Where can I find a Promise Program near me?

To find a Promise Program in your state or city, check out the College Promise map for a database of over 360 local and statewide programs across the United States. As you explore the map, you can find important information about funding, eligibility, and additional support each participating college provides. In addition, you can easily compare and evaluate programs side by side, helping you find the one that best fits your needs and academic goals.


Eligibility for Promise Program scholarships can vary by state or school, but there are some universal general requirements. All have some type of residency requirements (for example, you must be an Oregon resident to apply for the Oregon Promise Grant), many require a minimum GPA, and some may even request your high school attendance record. Other eligibility requirements may also include:

  • FAFSA or state financial aid completion
  • Academic merit
  • Financial need
  • Full-time vs. part-time student status
  • Community service

First-dollar vs. last-dollar scholarships

In addition to eligibility requirements, make sure to research whether a program is considered a “first-dollar” or “last-dollar” scholarship.

  • First-dollar: Promise Scholarship dollars are applied to the tuition bill first, followed by any federal or state financial aid.
  • Last-dollar: Promise Scholarship dollars are applied to the tuition bill last, after federal and state financial aid has been fully applied.

With last-dollar scholarships, students may receive less funds than expected, even if they qualify for more. This is because most programs only cover tuition and fees, and if other sources of financial aid (such as scholarships, grants, and loans) have already taken care of these costs, there is essentially "nothing left" for the Promise Scholarship to pay for. This may leave you with unmet aid to cover transportation, school supplies, and other college-related expenses. When possible, try to look for programs in your area that are listed as “first-dollar,” which allow other types of financial aid to help pay for these expenses.

Have any questions about college Promise Programs? Text #College to 33-55-77 to chat with one of our advisors. If you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!

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