The Excelsior Scholarship: New York State’s Pathway to Affordable Higher Education

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A view of the Statue of Liberty

The Excelsior Scholarship: New York State’s Pathway to Affordable Higher Education

The Excelsior Scholarship: New York State’s Pathway to Affordable Higher Education

In a world where the cost of higher education continues to skyrocket, the Excelsior Scholarship program stands out as a beacon of hope. Launched in 2017 by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, this groundbreaking initiative aims to make college more accessible for residents of the state. In this blog post, we’ll explore the details of the said scholarship, its eligibility criteria, and the impact it has had on students and higher education in New York State.

What is the Excelsior Scholarship?

So what is the Excelsior Scholarship? Well, this is a financial aid program that provides tuition-free college education at State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) institutions.

The scholarship covers tuition fees for eligible students pursuing a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree at any SUNY or CUNY college or university. It’s important to note that while the program covers tuition, it does not cover other costs such as room and board, books, or transportation.

The Benefits of the Scholarship

Let’s delve into the various benefits of the scholarship, from individual student gains to the positive impact on the broader higher education system and workforce in New York State.

Increased Access to Higher Education

One of the most significant benefits of the scholarship is its ability to increase access to higher education for students who may not have otherwise been able to afford it. By covering tuition costs at the State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) institutions, the program has removed a substantial financial barrier, allowing more students to pursue their academic dreams.

As of September 2021, the scholarship has benefited more than 32,000 students, illustrating its potential to create lasting change.

Reduced Student Loan Burden

The rising cost of college tuition has left many students with the heavy burden of student loans. The Excelsior Scholarship alleviates this burden by covering tuition costs, allowing recipients to focus on their studies and future careers without the added stress of accumulating debt. This financial relief can significantly improve students’ mental well-being and their ability to succeed academically, ultimately leading to a more educated and prosperous workforce in New York State.

College students walking together outdoors. Group of young people in college campus.

Encouraging In-State Retention

The scholarship requires recipients to live and work in New York State for the same number of years they received the scholarship, promoting in-state retention of talented graduates. This stipulation helps keep skilled workers in the state, contributing to the local economy and fostering a stronger, more vibrant community.

By retaining these talented individuals, New York State can better meet the demands of its industries and continue to thrive economically.

Increased Enrollment in SUNY and CUNY Institutions

The scholarship has led to an increase in the number of students attending SUNY and CUNY colleges and universities. This influx of students brings more resources and opportunities to these institutions, enriching the educational experiences of all enrolled students.

As these colleges and universities grow and develop, they can continue to attract high-quality faculty and staff, enhance their programs, and further strengthen their reputations for academic excellence.

Promoting Social and Economic Mobility

By making higher education more accessible to a broader range of students, the Excelsior Scholarship promotes social and economic mobility. Students from lower-income families who may not have considered college a possibility can now access quality education and earn degrees, opening doors to better job opportunities and higher earning potential. This increased access to education helps level the playing field and promotes a more equitable society.

How to Apply for the Excelsior Scholarship

You might be wondering how to apply for the scholarship program. We’ll walk you through each step of the application process, from determining your eligibility to submitting your application.

Step 1: Determine Your Eligibility

Before beginning the application process, review the eligibility criteria for the scholarship. You must meet the following requirements:

  • Residency: Be a resident of New York State for at least one year prior to enrollment.
  • Income: Have a family income that does not exceed $125,000 per year (as of 2021).
  • Enrollment: Be enrolled full-time (at least 12 credits per semester) in an eligible program at a SUNY or CUNY institution.
  • Academic Progress: Maintain satisfactory academic progress and complete 30 credits per year.

If you meet these criteria, you can move on to the next step.

Step 2: Gather the Necessary Documents

Before starting the application, gather the following documents:

Portrait of happy students walking with bag and mobile phone

  • Proof of Residency: Gather documents that show you have been a New York State resident for at least one year prior to enrollment (e.g., utility bills, rental agreements, or tax returns).
  • Proof of Income: Obtain your family’s most recent tax return to verify your income.
  • College Enrollment Information: Have your SUNY or CUNY college information, including your student ID number, on hand.

Step 3: Complete the FAFSA and TAP Applications

To apply for the Excelsior Scholarship, you must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) application. These forms help determine your eligibility for federal and state financial aid, respectively. Visit the FAFSA website and the HESC website to complete the applications.

Step 4: Fill Out the Excelsior Scholarship Application

Once you’ve completed the FAFSA and TAP applications, visit the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) website to access the scholarship application. The application is typically available in late spring, so be sure to check the HESC website for updates on the exact date.

The application will ask for basic information such as your name, contact details, Social Security number, and college enrollment information. You will also need to provide details about your residency and income.

Step 5: Submit the Application

After completing the scholarship application, review it thoroughly for any errors or omissions. Once you’re satisfied with your application, submit it electronically through the HESC website. Be sure to keep a copy of the submitted application for your records.

Step 6: Await the Decision

After submitting your application, it will be reviewed by HESC to determine your eligibility. You will be notified of their decision via email. If approved, the scholarship funds will be applied directly to your tuition costs at your SUNY or CUNY institution.

How Do You Check Excelsior Scholarship Status?

To check the status of your scholarship application, follow these steps:

  • Visit the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) website.
  • Click on the “Log in/Create Account” button located in the upper-right corner of the homepage.
  • Log in to your HESC account using your username and password. If you haven’t created an account yet, click on “Create Account” and follow the instructions to set up your HESC account.
  • Once you’ve logged in, navigate to the “My HESC Account Access” section, which provides information about your financial aid applications and awards.
  • Look for the Excelsior Scholarship section to check the status of your application. The status should indicate whether your application is pending, approved, or denied.

If you have any questions or concerns about your scholarship application status, you can also contact the HESC Customer Communications Center at 1-888-697-4372 for assistance. Remember that the review process may take some time, so be patient while awaiting the decision on your application.


The Excelsior Scholarship is a transformative initiative that has made higher education more accessible and affordable for thousands of New York State residents. By reducing the financial barriers to education, the program has not only empowered individual students but also enriched the state’s higher education system and workforce.

Group Of Multicultural First-Year Students Walking Near University Building Outside.

As other states look for ways to tackle the rising costs of higher education, the scholarship serves as a shining example of what is possible.

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