NerdWallet’s Guide to Financial Aid Programs in New Jersey

New Jersey offers some of the highest financial aid award amounts per student in the country.
Kat Tretina
By Kat Tretina 
Edited by Cecilia Clark

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New Jersey offers comprehensive financial aid programs, awarding an average of $1,780 in state grant aid per undergraduate student, according to The College Board — one of the highest amounts in the country.

State programs include scholarships, grants, private student loans and student loan repayment assistance benefits. New Jersey also offers incentives, like a matching grant for families who contribute to a 529 college savings plan.

Whether you want to attend Princeton University, The College of New Jersey or another school, here's what to know about financial aid in New Jersey.

The cost of education in New Jersey

There are 75 public and private nonprofit postsecondary schools in New Jersey. Higher education in the state tends to be expensive; even public schools cost more than the national average.

Based on the total cost of attendance — which includes tuition, fees and room and board — for the 2020-2021 academic year, here is how the cost of college in New Jersey compares with the rest of the country, according to information from the National Center of Education Statistics:

  • Public four-year school (in-state): $28,335 per year, about 33% more than the national average of $21,337.

  • Private four-year school: $52,442 per year, about 13% higher than the national average of $46,313.

  • Community college (in-state): $4,919 per year, about 41% higher than the national average of $3,501. (Those numbers don't include room and board.)

Financial aid options in New Jersey

Although college is expensive in New Jersey, attending a public school within the state or applying for state financial aid can help offset the cost. However, students are eligible for in-state tuition or state-based aid only if they're a qualifying resident of New Jersey, meaning they've lived in the state and maintained a permanent residence for at least 12 months before enrollment.

While many states block undocumented students, including those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, from in-state tuition or state aid, New Jersey is less restrictive. In New Jersey, DACA and other undocumented students are eligible for in-state tuition rates and state aid as long as they meet the following requirements:

  • Attended high school in New Jersey for 12 months or more.

  • Graduated from a high school in the state or received the equivalent of a diploma.

  • Filed an affidavit with the college stating that they will submit an application to legalize their status when they're eligible.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Laws, regulations and financial aid options can change over time. For the latest details, visit the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority.

New Jersey's financial aid options are extensive. Depending on a student's financial circumstances and goals, they may qualify for one or more of the following types of aid:

  • 529 plans.

  • In-state tuition.

  • Grants.

  • Scholarships.

  • Tuition waiver. 

  • Student loans. 

  • Student loan repayment assistance.

New Jersey 529 Plan

New Jersey doesn't have a prepaid tuition plan, but it does have a 529 college savings plan. These plans are accounts opened on behalf of a child who is designated as the beneficiary. Relatives and others can contribute money to the account and invest to grow the account balance over time. A 529 plan offers tax-deferred growth, and withdrawals are tax-free when the money is used for the beneficiary's qualifying education expenses.

In New Jersey, an NJBEST 529 College Savings Plan can be opened with $25. The maximum lifetime contribution per beneficiary is $305,000.

NJBest has some added benefits that stand out from other states' plans:

  • Scholarship eligibility. If the student attends college in New Jersey and is the beneficiary of a 529 account open for at least four years at the time of enrollment with at least $1,200 in it, they may qualify for the NJBEST Scholarship. The scholarship provides up to $3,000 in financial aid. 

  • State tax deduction. New Jersey gives residents a generous tax break for contributing to a 529 plan. Taxpayers with incomes $200,000 or less can deduct up to $10,000 in contributions on their state income tax returns. 

  • One-time grant. When you open a new 529 plan for a new beneficiary, New Jersey will provide a one-time dollar-for-dollar match of the initial contribution, up to a maximum of $750. 

In-state tuition

Although the cost of attendance at New Jersey public schools is higher than average, it's still less expensive than attending a private school.

Some states participate in tuition exchange or reciprocity programs that allow students to attend college in other states at a reduced rate. However, New Jersey is one of the few states that isn't part of any such agreements. The only way to qualify for in-state tuition rates is to be a New Jersey resident and attend a public school within the state.

New Jersey grants

Grants are a common form of financial aid that are typically awarded based on financial need. In New Jersey, there are three state grant opportunities:

Community College Opportunity Grant

The Community College Opportunity Grant is awarded to students attending community college with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) under $100,000. The grant allows students to attend school at a reduced rate; the amount of the discount varies by the student's AGI.

To qualify, a student must:

  • Attend an eligible community college in New Jersey.

  • Be pursuing their first college degree.

  • Enroll in at least six credits per semester.

Garden State Guarantee

The Garden State Guarantee is a program for students enrolled full time in their third or fourth years of college. Depending on the student's AGI, students can receive a grant that covers up to the total cost of tuition and fees at eligible schools after deducting other federal and state financial aid.

Students must be pursuing their first bachelor's degree to qualify for the grant, and they must attend one of the following schools:

  • Kean University.

  • Montclair State University.

  • New Jersey City University.

  • New Jersey Institute of Technology.

  • Ramapo College of New Jersey.

  • Rowan University.

  • Rutgers University – Camden, New Brunswick, Newark.

  • Stockton University.

  • The College of New Jersey. 

  • Thomas Edison State University.

  • William Paterson University.

New Jersey Tuition Aid Grant

The New Jersey Tuition Aid Grant covers up to 100% of the cost of tuition at participating schools. Awards vary based on financial need, the cost of attendance at the selected school and available program funding.

To qualify, the student must be a resident of New Jersey and be enrolled full-time as an undergraduate student in an approved degree or certificate program. The grant isn't available to students who have previously earned an associate or bachelor's degree.

New Jersey scholarships

New Jersey has several scholarship programs based on achievements, academics or other criteria. However, some also take financial need into consideration. There are nine New Jersey scholarship programs.

Governor's Urban Scholarship

The Governor's Urban Scholarship is a program for students from designated economically challenged communities. The scholarship is awarded based on merit, and students can receive up to $1,000 per year for up to four years.

To qualify, students must attend an eligible New Jersey school, rank in the top 5% of their class and have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher at the end of their third year of high school.

Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Scholarship

The Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Scholarship is for dependent children of a New Jersey law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty. It covers up to the total cost of attendance at eligible schools, minus other financial aid, for up to four years.

NJBEST Scholarship

Students with valid NJBEST 529 accounts may be eligible for the NJBEST Scholarship. Students in New Jersey who have had the 529 open for at least four years, have at least $1,200 in contributions and attend an eligible school can qualify for the award.

Award amounts vary by how long the account has been open and the total amount of contributions.

Governor's Industry Vocations Scholarship

Women and individuals belonging to minority groups with household incomes below $60,000 may be eligible for the Governor’s Industry Vocations Scholarship. It provides up to $2,000 per year for certificate or degree programs in construction-related fields at eligible schools. The award is renewable for one year.

New Jersey Foster Care Scholars Program

Individuals between the ages of 16 and 23 who were in foster care, adopted through Child Protection & Permanency (CP&P) after their 16th birthdays or lived in CP&P-approved transitional or independent living arrangements may be eligible for the New Jersey Foster Care Scholars Program.

Award amounts vary, but the program can be used to pay for tuition and fees at New Jersey public colleges and universities.

New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship (NJ STARS)

NJ STARS provides eligible high-achieving students with free tuition at colleges in their home counties, such as local community colleges, for up to 18 credit hours per semester.

To qualify, students must be New Jersey residents and rank in the top 15% of their classes in either their third or fourth years of high school.


The NJ STARS II program is for students who have successfully completed the NJ Stars program and are ready to transfer to a four-year university in New Jersey. Award amounts vary, but cannot exceed $1,250 per semester. The scholarship is paid directly to the school for up to four consecutive semesters.

NJ STARS students must have graduated from a county college with an associate degree and a GPA of 3.25 or higher. Family incomes cannot exceed $250,000, and the student must attend an eligible university.

New Jersey Survivor Tuition Benefits Program

The New Jersey Survivor Tuition Benefits Program gives scholarships to children and surviving spouses of New Jersey firefighters, emergency service workers or law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. It provides the student with free tuition at public schools in New Jersey, but some private universities offer a scholarship that allows students to attend at a reduced rate.

World Trade Center Scholarship

Dependent children and surviving spouses of New Jersey residents who were killed or died as a result of injuries or illnesses from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks may be eligible for the World Trade Center Scholarship. Award amounts vary based on program funding, but it can cover the full cost of attendance at public schools in New Jersey for up to eight semesters.

New Jersey tuition waivers

Tuition waiver programs eliminate some or all of the required tuition costs at select schools. Typically, students are eligible for tuition waivers based on factors beyond their control, such as their employment status. There is one tuition waiver program in New Jersey:

Unemployment Tuition Waiver

Certain unemployed individuals can attend public universities in New Jersey and receive a full waiver of tuition costs. To qualify, courses must be approved by a One-Stop Career Center counselor and be a part of an Individual Employment Plan. The tuition waiver is awarded only if space is available.

New Jersey student loans

New Jersey is one of the few states that operates its own private student loan program. Through the NJCLASS Loan Program, students or parents can take out the loan, and repayment terms are as long as 20 years.

Students must take out federal loans before applying for an NJCLASS loan, which is only for unmet needs after applying other financial aid. New Jersey residents can use the loans to pay for school in-state or out-of-state, including online programs. Students from other states who attend a New Jersey-based school are also eligible.

Through the NJCLASS program, students can also refinance or consolidate their loans after graduation to potentially get a lower interest rate and save money.

Student loan repayment in New Jersey

In New Jersey, the average student loan balance per borrower is $35,202 — about 2% higher than the national average.

To encourage professionals to live and work in the state, New Jersey operates several loan repayment assistance programs to a broader-than-usual range of professions, including health care professionals, teachers, lawyers and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workers.

There are six loan repayment programs in New Jersey:

Behavioral Healthcare Provider Loan Redemption Program

Eligible behavioral health care providers can qualify for up to $50,000 in loan repayment benefits for every two years of full-time service at an approved New Jersey work site. Recipients can participate in the program for up to six years and receive up to $150,000 in total loan repayment benefits.

Eligible professionals include psychiatrists, licensed psychologists, licensed clinical social workers and licensed alcohol and drug counselors.

John R. Justice Federal Student Loan Redemption Program

New Jersey’s John R. Justice Federal Student Loan Redemption Program provides repayment benefits to attorneys employed full-time by the state as eligible prosecutors or public defenders. Loan repayment benefits can be used to repay federal loans, and the recipient must sign a service agreement committing to working as an eligible public defender or prosecutor for at least three years.

Award amounts vary by year and program funding. For 2022, the maximum award was $5,671 per service contract.

New Jersey STEM Loan Redemption Program

Many states have loan repayment programs for health care professionals, but New Jersey is one of the only states to have a program specifically for those working in STEM. The New Jersey STEM Loan Redemption Program provides loan repayment benefits to individuals employed full time in a designated high-growth STEM occupation with a qualifying New Jersey employer.

After certifying that they have worked for at least four years in an eligible role for a qualifying employer, participants in the program can receive up to $2,000 per year in loan repayment assistance. They can receive the award for each year of service, for up to four years, giving them a maximum of $8,000 in loan repayment benefits.

New Jersey Teacher Loan Redemption Program

Teachers who were hired on or after Jan. 18, 2022, to teach in high-need fields at eligible schools may qualify for the New Jersey Teacher Loan Redemption Program. The program pays up to 25% of the principal and interest of a participant's outstanding student loans for each year of service, up to a maximum of four years.

The annual maximum is $5,000, and the four-year maximum is $20,000.

Nursing Faculty Loan Redemption Program

The Nursing Faculty Loan Redemption Program is for students who commit to working as full-time faculty members at an eligible school of nursing in New Jersey for a five-year period.

Participants must complete an approved graduate-level nursing education program. The maximum repayment benefit is $50,000 over five years.

Primary Care Practitioner Loan Redemption Program

Primary health care providers who work two to four years in designated health professional shortage areas can qualify for up to $200,000 in student loan repayment benefits through the Primary Care Practitioner Loan Redemption Program. Eligible providers include physicians, dentists, physician assistants, certified nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives.

How to apply for financial aid in New Jersey

To apply for financial aid in New Jersey, follow these four steps:

  • Submit the FAFSA or the New Jersey Alternative Aid Application. New Jersey requires students to submit either the FAFSA or the New Jersey Alternative Aid Application for nearly all of its programs. Some programs have limited funding and issue awards on a first-come, first-served basis, so try to submit your application as early as possible. 

  • Create a NJFAMS account. NJFAMS allows you to view your eligibility for various state financial aid programs and submit applications. You can register and create an account online. 

  • Complete program-specific applications. Some of New Jersey's financial aid programs require separate applications. Review the program's site to find deadlines and required application materials. 

  • Reach out to your financial aid office. Some awards are operated by individual schools rather than the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. Contact your selected college's financial aid office to ask about available financial aid programs and how to apply.

Frequently asked questions

For the 2023-24 academic year, New Jersey residents who want to receive state financial aid must submit the FAFSA by the following deadlines:

  • April 15, 2023. For the Tuition Aid Grant, including or renewal applications.

  • Sept. 15, 2023. For all other applicants for the fall and spring terms.

  • Feb. 15, 2024. For all other applicants for the spring term only.

Undocumented students, including those with DACA status, can qualify for in-state tuition and state-based aid in New Jersey. To apply for state financial aid, students must complete the New Jersey Alternative Financial Aid Application.

New Jersey offers three free tuition grants, including the Community College Opportunity Grant, the Garden State Guarantee and NJ STARS.

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