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How College Promise Programs Work

Last updated October 30, 2023

As the costs of college keep rising, it's normal to feel worried about how you'll be able to afford it. That’s why Promise Programs were created - these programs essentially offer a scholarship to recent high school graduates to 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 from state to state and school to school, they all share a common mission: to make college more affordable! Promise Programs were established to cover up to 100% of tuition and fees for eligible students attending college in a specific region. Promise Program Scholarships invest in young people to help them not only access, but also succeed in college by removing some of the cost associated with earning a college degree. While each Promise Program may differ in its structure, requirements, and location, their ultimate goal remains consistent: offering tuition-free opportunities at colleges for local high school graduates within their own community, be it for Bachelor's, Associate, or vocational programs.

Where do I find a Promise Program near me?

To see if there’s 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 under the Promise Program. 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.

Promise Program Scholarship Eligibility

Depending on the state or school, the eligibility criteria for Promise Program Scholarships can vary but there are a few general requirements. All Promise Programs have some type of residency requirements (for example, you must be an Oregon resident to apply for the Oregon Promise Program), about half require a minimum GPA, and some even request the attendance record from your recent high school! Other eligibility requirements may also include:

Almost all programs also require students to maintain a minimum GPA while in college to keep the Promise Scholarship year-over-year.

First-Dollar vs. Last-Dollar Scholarships

Besides eligibility, make sure to research if the 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 programs, students may receive less funds than expected from the Promise Scholarship - 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 situation may leave you with unmet costs for transportation, school supplies, and other student-related expenses. When possible, try to look for Promise Program Scholarships in the area that are listed as “first-dollar”, which allow other types of financial aid to help pay for these expenses.

Benefits of Promise Program Scholarships

First and foremost, receiving a Promise Program Scholarship can be a huge help when figuring out how to pay for college - and you don’t have to pay it back! Promise Programs have shown to reduce the amount of student loans taken out by students, allow you to go to school in your local state or city, and have shown to increase enrollment, especially within community colleges. Not sure you’re interested in attending a community college? Get Schooled will walk you through how to start at a community college and transfer for your bachelor’s degree later!

To get started, see if there’s a Promise program in your state or city using the College Promise map. Then, text #College to 33-55-77 (click here to have the text message set up for you) for support from our virtual college and career advisors!

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