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Excelsior Scholarship – Message to Currently Enrolled Students

By Suzanne Lazar ’16; student, School for Graduate Studies SUNY Empire State College, editor, The Student Connection

January 5, 2017

If you are interested in applying for the New York Excelsior Scholarship, the application is now available on the Higher Education Services Corp. website at https://www.hesc.ny.gov/pay-for-college/financial-aid/types-of-financial-aid/nys-grants-scholarships-awards/the-excelsior-scholarship/excelsior-scholarship-alert.html

All students applying should have readily available several documents that you will have to referenceor upload to the application as you progress through the process. These documents include:

Federal Adjusted Gross Income of your household, which you can get from the 2015 federal tax returns.

Transcripts for any college credit you have earned.

A copy of your financial aid award letter, detailing what other financial aid you are receiving. This should have come from the institution you are attending or the one you are planning to attend in the fall of 2017.

Your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) figure.  This is an index number is calculated by the Federal Processor after the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is submitted.  The

EFC is available on the Student Aid Report after the FAFSA is filed.

Before you begin the Excelsior Scholarship application, you will need to have completed:

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for 2017-18

New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) application for the 2017-18 school year using your 2015 tax information

HESC will determine if your completed application is acceptable. HESC makes the decision to award or not award an Excelsior Scholarship to you. Once that decision is made, Empire State College will be notified of your award and adjustments will be made in your tuition bill.

Please remember that the Excelsior applies only to tuition and is a “last dollar” award. That means the amount of any Excelsior Scholarship you may be awarded won’t be applied to your tuition charge until other tuition aid, such as TAP and Pell grants, have been applied first.

Among the criteria for eligibility are rigorous standards related to previous coursework and number of credits achieved. They are detailed in an FAQ document found here:


The deadline for submitting the application is July 21. After July 21, you can no longer apply for a 2017-18 Excelsior Scholarship.

Please note that HESC has the authority to add requirements to the Excelsior Scholarship to effectively oversee the program.  

Excelsior Scholarship FAQs

What is the Excelsior Scholarship? 

It is a state of New York financial aid program to provide free tuition for students attending either a State University of New York (SUNY) or a City University of New York (CUNY) institution. SUNASAP Y Empire State College is encouraging its students and prospective students to participate if they are eligible. The award is capped at $5,500 a year and can only be used for the cost of tuition.

How do I apply? 

Go to the Higher Education Services Corporation website at https://www.hesc.ny.gov/pay-for-college/financial-aid/types-of-financial-aid/nys-grants-scholarships-awards/the-excelsior-scholarship.html

When does the scholarship go into effect? 

The benefits of the program become available with the fall 2017 semester, and require that the student apply and be accepted for the program and meet all program criteria. Applications are available on the HESC website beginning Wednesday, June 7 and must be submitted no later than Friday, July 21.

Who is eligible? 

First-time college students seeking an undergraduate degree who meet the gross adjusted income limits. Students seeking a graduate degree or a second associate or bachelor’s degree are not eligible.

What are the terms of the scholarship?

Students must attend college full time, enrolled for at least 12 credits in the fall semester and 12 credits in the spring semester, with a cumulative 30 credits in a year. Students must maintain passing grades in all courses. Associate degree candidates must complete all degree requirements in two years and bachelor’s degree candidates must complete in four years.

When the scholarship ends, a recipient must continue to live and work in New York for the same amount of time the scholarship was received. If the recipient does not meet this obligation, the scholarship immediately converts into a 10-year, interest-free student loan that must be repaid. 

What are the income limits?

Students or their parents must earn an adjusted gross income of less than $100,000 for the 2017-18 school year. The income amount increases to $110,000 for 2018-19 and to $125,000 in 2019-20.

Are there any exceptions to the rules? 

Yes. Students with a disability within the definitions of the American with Disabilities Act are exempt from the full-time attendance requirement, both the 12 credits per fall and spring semester and 30 credits per year.  

A temporary leave from school that might cause a student to fall below the 30-credit requirement are allowed due to the death of a family member, a medical leave, military service, service in the Peace Corps, parental leave, or another reason approved by the Higher Education Services Corp. 

Students who after their scholarship ends, can get a residency requirement deferral for graduate school, a medical school residency or other undergraduate study out of state on at least a half-time basis, or if they can demonstrate extreme hardship as a result of a disability, labor market conditions or other circumstances.

Other exemptions for previously enrolled and continuing students include:

Those who entered school in the 2015-16 year and have earned 54 credits can qualify for the 2017-18 award but only if they earn 90 credits by the end of the 2017-18 school.

Those who entered school in the 2016-17 year and have eared 24 credits can qualify for the 2017-18 award but only if they earn 60 credits by the end of the 2017-18 school year.

Continuing students will have a “catch-up” year during 2017-18 to complete up to six credits (without financial help from the Excelsior program) to meet the 30-credit-hour requirement and then be eligible for an Excelsior award in 2018-19.

What about those who were in school and previously earned credit before 2015-16? 

It is likely they will not be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship based on the definitions from regulations approved: 

Start date – when student began attendance as a first-time college student; also, the date the institution determines the recipient was first in attendance at that institution.

Successful completion – a student has earned at least 30 combined credited in each consecutive year following the student start date  

Transfer Student information

For students transferring between colleges, eligibility is based on whether they are on track to complete on time based on the number of credits accepted by their current institution.

Other information

This is a “last-dollar” award, meaning if a student is eligible for other financial aid assistance, such as a federal Pell grant or a state TAP award, those dollars will be counted first against the tuition bill and the Excelsior Scholarship will be applied after all other aid is counted.  However, other awards intended to cover non-tuition expenses will not be included in the those being counted for covering the cost of full tuition.

Recipients of the Excelsior Scholarship must apply for payment annually.

Credit counted toward the full-time enrollment requirement should apply to the student’s specific program of study.

Non-credit courses cannot be counted, nor can remedial coursework.

College-level courses undertaken in high school, such as AP course or before matriculation can be counted toward the 30-credit requirement, do not have to be part of a student’s program of study and can be “banked” for use throughout the matriculated student’s studies.

If I don’t qualify for the Excelsior Scholarships is there another program that might help me?

Yes, there are several. New York offers a Tuition Assistance Program and Aid for Part-time Study grants. Information on additional scholarships and other types of financial aid are also available through the Empire State College Financial Aid Office at https://www.esc.edu/tuition-financial-aid/financial-aid/.  

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