NerdWallet’s Guide to Financial Aid Programs in North Dakota

North Dakota has relatively low costs for higher education and several aid programs for even more affordability.
Kat Tretina
By Kat Tretina 
Edited by Cecilia Clark

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North Dakota has a low cost of higher education within the state. The average cost of attendance at North Dakota public universities is about 15% lower than the national average.

The Peace Garden State also has several financial aid programs that can make postsecondary education more accessible for families.

The cost of education in North Dakota

There are 19 public and private non-profit colleges and universities within the state, including well-known schools like the University of North Dakota, University of Mary and Bismarck State College.

Both public and private four-year schools tend to be significantly cheaper than comparable schools in other parts of the country. Here is how much you should expect to spend each year on tuition, fees and room and board based on the average rates from the 2020-2021 academic year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics:

  • Public four-year school (in-state): $18,057 per year, about 15% less than the national average of $21,337.

  • Private four-year school: $24,624 per year, about 47% less than the national average of $46,313.

  • Community college (in-state): $5,233 per year, about 49% higher than the national average of $3,501. (Community college numbers do not include room and board.)

Financial aid options in North Dakota

North Dakota has several financial aid programs and competitively priced public schools. But to qualify for state-based financial aid and in-state tuition, you must be a North Dakota resident.

You can qualify if you meet one of the following criteria:

  • You or your parents have lived in the state for at least 12 months prior to enrollment. 

  • You graduated from a North Dakota high school.

  • You are a full-time active duty member of the U.S. armed forces or a member of the North Dakota National Guard.

  • You are the spouse or dependent of a member of the U.S. armed forces or North Dakota National Guard.

  • You are married to a qualifying North Dakota resident.

Some states have passed legislation expanding in-state tuition rates to undocumented or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students, but North Dakota has not passed any similar law. In-state tuition rates and state-based financial aid is not available to undocumented or DACA students.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Laws, regulations and financial aid programs can change. For the latest information, visit the North Dakota University System website.

North Dakota operates several financial aid programs. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to use one more of the following to finance your education:

  • 529 plans.

  • In-state tuition.

  • Grants.

  • Scholarships.

  • Tuition waivers.

  • Incentive programs. 

  • North Dakota student loans. 

  • Other aid programs. 

  • Student loan repayment assistance.

529 plans

North Dakota doesn't have a prepaid tuition plan. But it does offer a 529 college savings plan called North Dakota College SAVE plan.

This program is an investment plan you can open on behalf of a beneficiary to help them pay for college. You can invest your contributions, and they will grow tax-deferred. If you withdraw the money to pay for the beneficiary's qualified education expenses, the withdrawals are tax-free.

Maximum 529 plan contribution limits vary by state; in North Dakota, the maximum is $269,000.

North Dakota also provides residents with additional incentives to encourage them to contribute to a 529:

  • State income tax deduction: Your contributions to the 529 are deductible on your state income taxes. You can deduct up to $5,000 in annual contributions (up to $10,000 if you are married and file joint returns). 

  • New Baby Match Program: Friends and family members — including parents, grandparents and other relatives — can contribute to a 529 for newborns who haven't reached their first birthday yet, and the Bank of North Dakota will match up to $200. 

  • Kindergarten Kickoff Match: If your child is entering kindergarten in North Dakota, you can receive a match of up to $100 for your College SAVE 529 contributions. 

  • BND Match: The BND Match program is for families that make under $150,000 (for married filing jointly) or under $100,000 for those who are single. Up to $300 in contributions made within the first 12 months of opening a College SAVE account are eligible for matching.

In-state tuition

As a North Dakota resident, you can take advantage of the state's low in-state tuition rates at several schools. The North Dakota University System (NDUS) is made up of two research universities, four regional universities and five community colleges.

However, you may be able to attend college in another state and qualify for a reduced rate. North Dakota participates in four tuition exchange or reciprocity programs:

Minnesota-North Dakota Tuition Reciprocity Program

Through this program, North Dakota residents can attend a public college or university in Minnesota and pay the established reciprocity fee. Likewise, Minnesota students can attend school in North Dakota and pay the established reciprocity fee. To qualify for the reduced tuition, space must be available and the program of study must be eligible under the reciprocity agreement.

The application is available online.

Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP)

The MSEP allows students to attend college in a partner state and pay a lower rate. At public schools, students pay no more than 150% of the in-state rate for eligible programs. At private schools, students can qualify for a 10% reduction of tuition.

Eight states participate in the MSEP:

  • Indiana.

  • Kansas.

  • Minnesota.

  • Missouri.

  • Nebraska.

  • North Dakota.

  • Ohio.

  • Wisconsin.

You can find out what schools and programs are eligible for the rate reductions through the Midwest Student Exchange Program website.

WICHE Student Exchange Programs

North Dakota also participates in the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). Through WICHE's Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), students can enroll in eligible programs offered by participating schools in a member state and pay no more than 150% of the in-state tuition rate.

WICHE also offers a Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP). This allows North Dakota students to attend certain out-of-state graduate certificate, master’s and doctoral programs – and pay up to 150% of in-state tuition.

WICHE member states include:

  • Alaska.

  • Arizona.

  • California.

  • Colorado.

  • Hawaii.

  • Idaho.

  • Montana.

  • Nevada.

  • New Mexico.

  • North Dakota.

  • Oregon.

  • South Dakota.

  • Utah.

  • Washington.

  • Wyoming.

  • Washington.

Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP)

PSEP is another program operated by WICHE. WICHE partners with 11 states and territories to help students in select health fields enroll in participating programs and qualify for reduced tuition rates. According to WICHE, students can save between $34,100 and $133,600 on tuition over the course of their programs.

You can view participating institutions and eligible programs on the PSEP website.

North Dakota grants

North Dakota only operates one state grant program.

North Dakota State Grant

Through the North Dakota State Grant, first-time undergraduate students who are state residents can qualify for up to $1,100 per semester in aid. The award can be renewed, providing financial assistance for a maximum of eight total semesters.

Students must attend an eligible institution. Eligible schools include public, tribal and private schools with programs at least two years in length.

North Dakota scholarships

North Dakota has five state scholarship programs:

ND Dual Credit Tuition Scholarship

Residents who graduated from a high school in North Dakota or a bordering state may qualify for the ND Dual Credit Tuition Scholarship.

To qualify, students must have completed at least one dual-credit course provided by a North Dakota University System institution while enrolled in high school or a home education program. Students must be currently enrolled in college and successfully complete at least one semester to qualify for the award. The maximum award amount is $750.

Native American Scholarship

The Native American Scholarship is for individuals who are North Dakota residents and enrolled members of federally recognized Native American tribes. There are both need-based and merit-based versions of this award, and eligible students can receive up to $2,000 per year for up to six academic years. Students must complete a separate program application.

ND Career Builders Scholarship

The ND Career Builders Scholarship provides matching funds to businesses to help them recruit and retain talented workers in high-need occupations. It provides $1 in state funds for every $1 of private sector funds.

The maximum amount a recipient can receive is $17,000 in combined funds. To qualify for the scholarship, students must be admitted into a qualifying certificate or degree program in North Dakota.

ND Scholars Program

The ND Scholars Program is for North Dakota high school graduates who plan to study at an in-state institution. To qualify, students must score in the 95% percentile or above for the ACT or SAT. The award is issued in descending test score rank order until program funds are exhausted.

The maximum award is equal to the undergraduate tuition rate at a North Dakota University System (NDUS) school. If the student chooses to attend a non-public school, the award will not exceed the NDUS tuition rate.

North Dakota Scholarship

The North Dakota scholarship provides up to $750 in funding per semester, up to a maximum of $6,000. The scholarship must be used within six years of the student graduating from high school.

To qualify, students must be North Dakota residents at the time they graduate from high school. Students must also meet the following requirements:

  • Earn a high school diploma.

  • Complete a nine-week career education course or individual counseling.

  • Receive a score of 70% or above on the North Dakota Civics Test.

  • Earn a 3.0 overall GPA (non-weighted).

  • Complete a Four-Year Rolling Plan that details the steps a student will take in college to prepare for life after graduation.

  • Meet four of the eight additional Essential Skills indicators.

    • 25 hours of community service.

    • 95% attendance at required programs (not including school-related absences). 

    • Career exploration experiences, such as industry presentations, informational interviews, field trips or industry tours.

    • Two or more years of co-curricular activities, such as band, choir, the school newspaper or student council.

    • Two or more years of extra-curricular activities, such as drama, debate, dance or sports.

    • Complete a capstone project.

    • Online learning course. 

    • 21st Century skills courses.

  • Complete the requirements of two of the three pathways:

    • Post-Secondary Ready Pathway.

    • Workforce Ready Pathway.

    • Military Ready Pathway.

Details on the scholarship requirements and the different pathways are available in the North Dakota Scholarship Guidance document and video presentation.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Previously, three state scholarships — the Academic scholarship, Career and Technical Education (CTE) scholarship and North Dakota Scholarship — used the same application, but operated as three separate programs.

The new North Dakota scholarship was created by the 2021 Legislative session, and it will gradually replace the Academic and CTE scholarships. Going forward, students will use the one North Dakota scholarship application.

Tuition waivers in North Dakota

If you are eligible for a tuition waiver, some or all of your tuition costs will be waived at eligible schools. These awards are typically based on factors outside of your control, such as your parents' employment or your service records. For most programs, you can get more information on the waivers and their application processes through your selected college's financial aid office.

North Dakota offers the following tuition waivers:

Chafee Program

Under North Dakota's Chafee Program, individuals who aged out of foster care, entered into a kinship guardianship or were adopted at the age of 16 or older can qualify for tuition vouchers at eligible schools. Those who were formerly in foster care can receive up to $5,000 per year in tuition, up to a maximum of $25,000 over their lifetimes. Students can apply for the program up until their 26th birthday.

For more information, contact North Dakota's Department of Children and Family Services at 701-328-2316 or [email protected].

Law Enforcement Officer Waiver

Individuals employed as full-time law enforcement officers in North Dakota may be eligible for the Law Enforcement Officer Waiver. Under this program, individuals who have worked for at least two years as a law enforcement officer can qualify for a waiver of 25% off resident tuition and fees at NDUS schools. Participating officers can use the waiver for up to five years of education.

National Guard Tuition Waiver

Qualifying members of North Dakota’s National Guard can qualify for a 25% waiver of tuition at state schools.

ND Dependent Tuition Waiver

If you are the dependent of a North Dakota veteran who was killed, became totally disabled or was declared missing in action, you can qualify for the ND Dependent Tuition Waiver. Through this program, students can attend NDUS schools without paying tuition or fees for up to 45 months.

Senior Citizen Tuition Waiver/Project 65

At NDUS schools, senior citizens — meaning those 65 or older — can use this waiver to take one on-campus course for audit per semester. Under this program, 100% of the tuition for eligible courses are waived.

Contact the college's registrar office to learn more about this program.

Employee, Spouse and Dependent Tuition Waivers

Employees and spouses or dependents of the North Dakota University System can qualify for a 50% waiver of tuition and fees at eligible NDUS schools.

Requests must be submitted through the employee's human resources and payroll departments.

North Dakota student loans

North Dakota offers private student loans to consider after you’ve exhausted all gift aid and federal student loans. The loans are offered by The Bank of North Dakota, and four types are available.

DEAL Student Loan

Through DEAL Student Loans, students can borrow up to $50,000 for undergraduate and graduate programs. Most of these loans have 10-year repayment plans. However, borrowers with balances of $30,000 or more may extend their repayment term to 25 years.

DEAL loans are for North Dakota residents attending school within the state, residents attending out-of-state colleges, and out-of-state students attending North Dakota universities. North Dakota high school students participating in a dual credit program can also apply. The loans are credit-based, so current college students may need a co-signer to qualify for a loan. The student and the co-signer must be U.S. citizens.

Addiction Counselor Internship Loan Program

For those completing work experiences in a licensed addiction treatment facility under the supervision of a board-registered clinical supervisor, the Bank of North Dakota’s Addiction Counselor Internship Loan Program can help cover your living expenses. You can borrow between $500 and $7,500 over your lifetime, and the loan's annual percentage rate (APR) cannot exceed 6.00%. The loan does not have any fees.

Repayment begins 12 months from the internship start date.

Career Education & Alternative Learning (CEAL) Program

The CEAL program is for current and prospective North Dakota residents pursuing career education through alternative training or certificate programs. As of 2023, two schools are eligible for CEAL funding:

  • Emerging Digital Academy

  • University of Jamestown

Students can borrow between $500 and $25,000 to pay for their education, and repayment begins six months after you graduate or leave the program. Loans generally have 10-year terms.

CEAL loans have a 2.00% origination fee and are credit-based loans, so a co-signer might be necessary to qualify.

Student loan refinancing

The Bank of North Dakota offers student loan refinancing through the DEAL One Loan for both North Dakota residents and non-residents who have a North Dakota DEAL student loan. Refinancing allows you to consolidate your loans into one, and you could potentially qualify for a lower rate or different repayment term.

For North Dakota residents, eligible loans include federal student loans, DEAL loans and private student loans from other lenders. However, refinancing federal loans will transfer them to the Bank of North Dakota, a private lender, and you will no longer qualify for federal loan benefits.

Student loan repayment in North Dakota

North Dakota offers five student loan repayment assistance programs to recruit professionals in high-need areas.

ND Dental Loan Repayment Program

Dental professionals who work in public health clinics, nonprofit clinics or practice in designated dental professional shortage areas can qualify for up to $100,000 in loan repayment assistance for five years of service. Payments through the ND Dental Loan Repayment Program are made in $20,000 increments at the end of each 12-month service period.

ND Career Builders Loan Repayment

The ND Career Builders Loan Repayment program is meant to recruit and retain employees in high-need areas. The program provides employers with matching funds, and the employer can offer scholarships, student loan repayment assistance or both.

The state matches every dollar the employer contributes, up to a maximum of $17,000 per recipient.

ND Federal Loan Repayment Program

Under the ND Federal Loan Repayment Program, eligible healthcare professionals can receive up to $50,000 in federal loan repayment assistance in return for a two-year service commitment. Participants must work for a non-profit organization in a designated health professional shortage area, and they must provide services for free or at a reduced rate for those at 200% of the poverty guideline or below. The practice must accept patients covered by Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP.

Eligible professions include:

  • Physicians (MD, DO).

  • Advanced Practice (NP, CNM, PA).

  • Dentists (DDS, DMD).

  • Dental Hygienist (RDH).

  • Registered Nurses (RN).

  • Pharmacists (PharmD).

  • Clinical Psychologist (PsyD or PhD).

  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).

  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).

  • Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT).

  • Licensed Addiction Counselor (LAC).

ND Healthcare Professional Loan Repayment Program

Healthcare professionals working in high-need areas may be eligible for the ND Healthcare Professional Loan Repayment Program. The award amounts vary by profession, but range between $22,000 to $150,000 for five years of service.

ND State Veterinarian Loan Repayment Program

Veterinarians licensed to practice food animal veterinary medicine in North Dakota and employed full-time in a private practice veterinary clinic may be eligible for the ND State Veterinarian Loan Repayment Program. Those who commit to working in high-need areas can qualify for up to $80,000 of loan repayment assistance for four years of service.

How to apply for financial aid in North Dakota

To apply for state-based aid in North Dakota, follow these steps:

  1. Submit the FAFSA: The majority of North Dakota's awards require students to submit the FAFSA. You can fill out and submit the FAFSA online at North Dakota encourages students to submit the FAFSA as early as possible, as financial aid is awarded on a rolling basis until the available aid is depleted.

  2. Review other requirements: Some programs, such as the Native American Scholarship, have separate application requirements and deadlines. Review the program's website to ensure you follow the directions correctly and submit your application on time. 

  3. Contact your college's financial aid office: Some North Dakota financial aid programs are issued through the college or university. To find out how to apply, contact your selected college's financial aid office. 

Frequently asked questions

There are 19 public and private non-profit colleges and universities in North Dakota. Some of the best-known schools include the University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University, Valley City State University and Bismarck State College.

The cheapest four-year school in North Dakota is Mayville State University. Its total cost of attendance for in-state students — including tuition, fees, a double-occupancy dorm and school meal plan — is $15,393 for the 2023-2024 academic year.

North Dakota doesn't specify a deadline. Instead, it encourages students to submit the FAFSA as soon as possible after the application becomes available. The FAFSA was available on Oct. 1, 2022 for the 2023-24 school year.

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