NerdWallet’s Guide to Financial Aid Programs in Massachusetts

Kat Tretina
By Kat Tretina 
Edited by Cecilia Clark

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Massachusetts has the highest percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher in the country — outside of Washington, D.C. — and it’s home to elite schools like Boston College, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University.

Massachusetts may have some of the most expensive colleges in the country. But the commonwealth offers more financial aid options than many other states, including valuable tuition waivers, grants and scholarships.

The cost of education in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts public higher education system consists of 15 community colleges, nine state universities and five University of Massachusetts campuses. Students can also attend more than 90 private schools within its borders.

Here’s how much you can expect to pay for a year of tuition, required fees and room and board as a full-time undergraduate student in Massachusetts, based on 2020-21 average rates as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics:

  • Public four-year school (in-state): $28,317, about $6,980 higher than the national average.

  • Private four-year school: $65,784, about $19,471 higher than the national average. 

  • Community college (in-state): $5,529, about $2,028 higher than the national average.

Financial aid options in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, the cost of a public university for an in-state student is less than half the cost of attending a private school. But to qualify for the lower, in-state rate, you must be a qualifying resident.

To qualify for in-state rates in Massachusetts, you must live in the state for at least 12 months prior to enrollment. If you’re applying to a community college, you have to live in the state for six months before enrollment.

You may be asked for documentation or proof of residency. Eligible documents include:

  • Federal and state income tax returns.

  • Employment pay stubs.

  • A Massachusetts high school diploma.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students can qualify for in-state tuition if they meet the residency requirements. However, they aren't eligible for other state-based aid, such as grants or scholarships.

Undocumented students without DACA status aren't eligible for in-state tuition or state-based aid.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Laws, requirements and available programs change over time. Visit the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education for the latest information on residency requirements and available aid.

Residents may be able to use one or more of the following state financial aid programs to offset the cost of education:

  • 529 plans.

  • Grants.

  • Scholarships.

  • Tuition waivers.

  • Loans.

  • Student loan repayment assistance.

529 plans

For families who want to help their children pay for school, a 529 plan can be an excellent tool.

Massachusetts has two options:

U.Fund College Investing Plan

U.Fund College Investing Plan is a 529 investment plan in Massachusetts run by Fidelity. It allows you to invest and potentially grow your contributions to pay for a child’s education. There is no minimum to get started, and contributions are deductible on your Massachusetts income tax return. You can deduct up to $1,000 each year if you’re single, or up to $2,000 if you’re married and file a joint return.

Massachusetts also operates the Baby Steps program for children born or adopted in the state. If you open a U.Fund College Investing Plan account within one year of your child’s birth or adoption, the state will deposit $50 into the 529 to jump-start your savings.

U.Plan Prepaid Tuition Program

U.Plan Prepaid Tuition Program is Massachusetts’s prepaid tuition plan. It allows you to buy college credits at today’s rates, and your child can redeem them at participating Massachusetts colleges and universities in the future.

This plan has another perk: if your child chooses a school that doesn’t participate in the U.Plan program, you can cash out the fund and receive all of the contributions plus interest based on the consumer price index. There are no federal or Massachusetts tax consequences to cashing out the account.

In-state tuition

Massachusetts has some top public colleges and universities, and they’re about half the cost of private schools. However, Massachusetts is also part of the New England Regional Student Program (RSP), which allows Massachusetts residents to enroll at out-of-state New England public colleges and universities at a discount.

More than 2,500 undergraduate and graduate programs are part of the network. Eligible institutions are in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Massachusetts grants

Grants, a form of gift aid, are typically issued based on financial need. Massachusetts offers seven state-operated grant programs.

Foster Child Grant Program

For current or former foster children, the Foster Child Grant Program provides up to $6,000 in annual grant funds. You must be between 18 and 25 at the start of study to qualify, and you can receive the award to attend a public or private school in Massachusetts for up to five consecutive years.

MASSGrant and MASSGrant Plus

The MASSGrant and MASSGrant Plus programs are for undergraduates with unmet financial need. Award amounts are based on the student’s household income but can cover the student’s remaining tuition and mandatory fees. However, these programs won't pay for room and board. MASSGrant Plus may cover other expenses, such as textbooks or school-required fees.

Massachusetts Gilbert Matching Student Grant Program

The Massachusetts Gilbert Matching Student Grant Program provides funding to private schools to give grants to students. Eligible undergraduate students can receive from $200 to $2,500 per academic year, but the funds can only be used at participating private schools within the state.

Cash Grant Program

The Cash Grant Program is a complementary program to the Massachusetts Need-Based Tuition Waiver Program (see below). It provides students with grant money to pay for additional education-related expenses, such as mandatory school fees, at eligible public colleges and universities.

Part-Time Grant Program

Part-time students at public or private schools who are Massachusetts residents for at least one year prior to the start of study may qualify for the Part-Time Grant Program. Award amounts vary, but the minimum amount is $200.

Public Service Grant Program

For children or spouses of individuals killed or missing during their work as public duty servants in Massachusetts, the Public Service Grant Program covers up to the total cost of tuition at qualifying schools.

Paraprofessional Teacher Preparation Grant Program

Residents employed for at least two years as paraprofessionals in Massachusetts who wish to become certified teachers can take advantage of the Paraprofessionals Teacher Preparation Grant Program. It provides up to $7,500 per academic year for programs leading to a Massachusetts teaching certification.

Massachusetts scholarships

Massachusetts has several scholarships for students who display exceptional academic achievements or who have overcome significant personal obstacles. Depending on the award, eligible students can receive scholarships that cover up to 100% of the tuition cost. There are seven state-operated scholarship programs:

Agnes M. Lindsay Scholarship Program

The Agnes M. Lindsay Scholarship Program is for students attending public universities in Massachusetts. Students must have a demonstrated financial need and be a permanent resident of a rural area with fewer than 15,000 inhabitants. Award amounts vary by year.

Christian A. Herter Memorial Scholarship Program

Students who qualify for the Christian A. Herter Memorial Scholarship Program will receive an award that covers up to half of their calculated financial need at any university in the continental U.S. The scholarship is for Massachusetts residents who have overcome difficult personal circumstances, such as poverty, abuse or illness. Students must be nominated in the 10th or 11th grade by a school or qualified community agency or organization.

Early Childhood Educators Scholarship Program

To increase the number and quality of teachers and care providers, Massachusetts created the Early Childhood Educators Scholarship Program. Students pursuing degrees in early childhood education or related fields at select universities may be eligible for up to $4,500 per semester. Awardees must commit to working in an eligible program for at least one year.

Massachusetts High Demand Scholarship Program

The Massachusetts High Demand Scholarship Program is for students pursuing degrees in high-demand disciplines that will help address the state’s workforce needs. Eligible students attending a Massachusetts public university can receive up to $6,500 per year. Students can apply by completing a separate application through the MASSAid portal.

John and Abigail Adams Scholarship

The John and Abigail Adams Scholarship provides students with a credit that can pay for up to eight semesters of undergraduate education at a state college or university. The scholarship is awarded based on the student’s performance on the 10th grade Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test.

One Family Scholarship Program

Low-income, head-of-household parents who are at risk of homelessness or who have experienced homelessness within the past year may be eligible for the One Family Scholarship Program. Award amounts vary, but it can cover tuition and living expenses for eligible students pursuing a degree at a Massachusetts school.

Paul Tsongas Scholarship

The Paul Tsongas Scholarship is awarded to students with high scores on the SAT or ACT and a GPA of 3.75 or higher. Eligible students can qualify for a waiver of mandatory tuition and fees at a state university.

Tuition waivers in Massachusetts

In addition to scholarships and grants, Massachusetts operates several tuition waiver programs. Depending on the program, you could qualify for a full or partial waiver of your tuition costs.

Career Advancement Program Tuition Waiver

Public school teachers within the first three years of teaching may be eligible for the Career Advancement Program Tuition Waiver. It waives the cost of one graduate-level course per year for up to three years.

Categorical Tuition Waiver

Veterans, Native Americans, senior citizens (over 60), members of the U.S. armed forces, and clients of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission or the Commission for the Blind can qualify for the Categorical Tuition Waiver. It waives the full cost of tuition at public colleges and universities within the state.

Collaborative Teachers Tuition Waiver

The Collaborative Teachers Tuition Waiver encourages teachers to become mentors to full-time student teachers from public colleges and universities. The program waives the cost of one graduate-level course at a public school for each mentoring teacher.

Commonwealth Hurricane Katrina Emergency Tuition Waiver

The Commonwealth Hurricane Katrina Emergency Tuition Waiver waives tuition for undergraduates displaced from college due to Hurricane Katrina during the 2005-2006 academic year who are currently attending a Massachusetts public college or university.

Department of Children and Families (DCF) Foster Child Tuition Waiver and Fee Assistance Program

Children in the state system who were never adopted nor returned home may qualify for the Foster Child Tuition Waiver and Fee Assistance Program. It covers up to 100% of tuition and fees at public schools within the state.

Graduate Tuition Waiver

To encourage students to enroll in graduate school, the state created the Graduate Tuition Waiver program. The waiver’s value varies by year, but it can be used for tuition at public schools like the University of Massachusetts.

High Technology Scholar/Intern Tuition Waiver

Under the High Technology Scholar/Intern Tuition Waiver program, colleges are encouraged to work with local businesses to provide tuition waivers. The college will match corporate donations to cover tuition expenses for qualifying students.

Incentive Program for Aspiring Teachers Tuition Waiver

The Incentive Program for Aspiring Teachers Tuition Waiver was created to encourage high school students to pursue a career in education. It waives the cost of tuition for two years at participating public schools.

MassTransfer Tuition Waiver Program

The MassTransfer Tuition Waiver Program is for students who earned an associate degree at a Massachusetts community college and are transferring to a participating public school. It waives the cost of tuition for up to two years.

Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) Prepaid Tuition Waiver Program

The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority Prepaid Tuition Waiver Program is for students participating in the U.Plan Prepaid Tuition Plan. It waives the additional tuition that would be due if tuition costs exceed the credits purchased through the plan.

Need-Based Tuition Waiver Program

The Massachusetts Need-Based Tuition Waiver Program can waive the full or partial cost of tuition at state colleges or universities.

Commonwealth September 11, 2001 Tragedy Tuition Waiver

Children or spouses of those who died or went missing due to terrorism on Sept. 11, 2001, can qualify for this waiver, which covers up to 100% of tuition at a state school.

Stanley Z. Koplik Certificate of Mastery Tuition Waiver

The Stanley Z. Koplik Certificate of Mastery Tuition Waiver is awarded to students who have high achievement scores on standardized tests and AP exams. The amount of the waiver varies, but will cover up to $1,714 of tuition at participating University of Massachusetts campuses.

UMass Exchange Tuition Waiver

The UMass Exchange Tuition Waiver allows University of Massachusetts students to attend partner institutions without a tuition charge. Eligibility varies by school.

Valedictorian Program Tuition Waiver

Students who were valedictorians of their Massachusetts high school may qualify for the Valedictorian Program Tuition Waiver. If eligible, the full cost of tuition at public schools is waived.

Washington Center Program Tuition Waiver

Through the Washington Center Program Tuition Waiver, students at Massachusetts public colleges and universities are placed in internships in government offices, communication organizations, law firms and professional associations. Students can also qualify for a waiver of mandatory school fees and receive a $2,000 housing scholarship.

State loan programs

Massachusetts has its own student loan programs outside of the federal system. For students who reach the annual or aggregate borrowing maximums for federal loans, these state loans can be a useful alternative to traditional private student loans.

Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA)

MEFA was created by the Massachusetts state legislature to offer low-cost college financing to families. It issues student loans to college students nationwide, and it also offers student loan refinancing.

For undergraduate students, repayment terms are 10 or 15 years. All loans have a fixed interest rate starting at 4.89%, and there are no origination fees.

For graduate or professional students, the repayment term is 15 years. Rates are fixed and start at 5.74%.

Eligibility is based on your credit score, income and whether you have a co-signer.

Massachusetts No Interest Loan Program

While anyone can apply for a MEFA loan, the Massachusetts No Interest Loan Program is more limited. It is a state-funded loan program that issues loans with 0% interest and 10-year repayment terms. Eligible students can borrow from $1,000 to $4,000 per academic year, with a lifetime maximum of $20,000.

It’s only available to Massachusetts residents of at least one year who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Eligibility is based on financial need as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Other financial aid programs in Massachusetts

Boston residents can enroll in the Tuition-Free Community College (TFCC) Plan, which covers up to three years of tuition and fees for associate degree or certificate programs at participating schools.

Students can also qualify for up to $250 each semester to pay for other expenses, such as transportation or textbooks.

Student loan repayment programs in Massachusetts

The average student loan balance per borrower in Massachusetts is $33,710, according to a NerdWallet analysis of 2022 Federal Student Aid Office data. If you are a Massachusetts resident with outstanding student loans, you may be eligible for help with your debt through the following state loan repayment program:

Massachusetts Loan Repayment Program for Health Professionals

Primary health care professionals, in areas including dental, medical and mental health, who commit to work for at least two years full time (or the part-time equivalent) in an eligible facility in a high-need area can qualify for up to $50,000 in student loan repayment assistance.

How to apply for financial aid in Massachusetts

To apply for Massachusetts financial aid programs, complete these steps:

  1. Submit the FAFSA. Many of the state’s programs are awarded based on your financial need. Your need is determined by the information you submit on the FAFSA, so submit it ahead of the May 1 state deadline for priority consideration. 

  2. Create a MASSAid account. You can create an account through the MASSAid portal.

  3. Complete a separate application. Some programs have their own applications. For example, the Christian A. Herter Memorial Scholarship Program has a separate application through MASSAid for nominators to fill out. Review the award requirements and fill out any necessary forms to apply. 

If you have questions about state-based aid or how to apply for different programs, contact Massachusetts’ Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA) at 617-391-6070 or by visiting the OSFA website.

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