NerdWallet’s Guide to Financial Aid Programs in West Virginia

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West Virginia has a relatively low cost of living. But compared to the rest of the country, it also has a fewer percentage of residents with college degrees and a lower household median income.

Whether you plan on attending Wheeling University or West Virginia University, here's what you can do to qualify for a slice of the more than $100 million in college financial aid that the state awards each year.

The cost of education in West Virginia

There are more than 40 colleges and universities that issue two- or four-year degrees in West Virginia, including both state and private colleges.

Due to the state's robust financial aid programs and public university funding, the cost of attending college in West Virginia tends to be lower than the national average. Here's about how much you can expect to spend each year on tuition, fees and room and board based on the 2022-2023 academic year, per the National Center for Education Statistics:

  • Public four-year school (in-state): $20,269, compared to the national average of $22,389.

  • Private four-year school: $22,576, compared to the national average of $49,654.

  • Community college (in-state): $4,600, compared to the national average of $3,598. (Those numbers do not include room and board.)

Financial aid options in West Virginia

To qualify for state-based financial aid and in-state tuition at public colleges or universities, you must meet West Virginia's residency requirements. You have to live in the state for at least 12 consecutive months prior to your college registration date.

U.S. citizenship is not required to qualify for West Virginia aid. “U.S. Permanent Resident Aliens, Political Asylees or Political Refugees” with a qualifying visa are eligible for in-state tuition and select state financial programs, according to the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.

This does not extend to students lacking permanent legal status, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students. West Virginia doesn't have a state policy expanding in-state tuition to undocumented students, so those individuals will have to pay out-of-state tuition. And most of the financial aid programs require applicants to be U.S. citizens, so undocumented students won't qualify for some state-based financial aid either.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Laws, regulations and financial aid programs can change. Visit the College for West Virginia website for the latest information on available aid.

You may be able to use one or more of the following programs to pay for college in West Virginia:

  • 529 plans.

  • In-state tuition.

  • Grants.

  • Scholarships.

  • Tuition waivers.

  • Student loan repayment assistance.

529 plans

West Virginia doesn't offer a prepaid tuition plan but does have a 529 college saving plan. A 529 allows you to contribute money on behalf of a beneficiary and invest the funds for future use. The money grows tax-deferred, and it can be withdrawn tax-free if the money is used for qualifying education expenses.

West Virginia's 529 plan, SMART529, has an unusually high maximum contribution limit of $550,000. As another benefit, West Virginia makes it easy for friends and family members to contribute to a child's 529 account: It operates a gift card program where friends and family can purchase a gift card that is put toward a student’s 529. Gift cards are available in amounts from $25 to $200.

Bright Babies

West Virginia launched the Bright Babies program to encourage families to set up a 529 plan to save for future education expenses.

Through the Bright Babies initiative, the state will contribute $100 to a child's college savings plan if families open a new account prior to the child's first birthday. In the case of adopted children, the 529 must be opened before the one-year anniversary of the child's adoption date. Children must be residents of West Virginia at the time the Bright Babies enrollment form is submitted.

In-state tuition

Tuition at public colleges and universities tends to be much lower than tuition at private schools, but only students who meet state residency requirements can qualify for in-state rates. In West Virginia, students must live in the state for at least 12 consecutive months prior to enrollment to qualify for in-state tuition.

However, there are some ways West Virginia residents can attend school in another state and still pay the lower in-state tuition rate. West Virginia is one of the 15 states that make up the Southern Regional Education Board’s Academic Common Market, a program that provides tuition discounts to students enrolled in eligible programs at participating institutions. Students may attend select colleges in the following states:

  • Alabama.

  • Arkansas.

  • Delaware.

  • Florida.

  • Georgia.

  • Kentucky.

  • Louisiana.

  • Maryland.

  • Mississippi.

  • Oklahoma.

  • South Carolina.

  • Tennessee.

  • Texas.

  • Virginia.

  • West Virginia.

West Virginia grants

Grants are typically based on a student's financial need as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Unlike student loans, grants don't have to be repaid as long as the student meets the program requirements.

West Virginia has four grant programs:

Higher Education Adult Part-Time Student (HEAPS) Workforce Development Component

The HEAPS Workforce Development Component provides grants to eligible students working toward a certificate, recognized credential or other skill development program in a high-demand field. Qualifying students will receive up to $2,000 to pay for tuition and testing fees not covered by other grants or scholarships.

The program is designed for students enrolled in programs that last less than 12 months, so the award is not renewable.

West Virginia Invests

West Virginia Invests is a grant for students pursuing certificates or associate degrees in high-need fields. It's a last-dollar financial aid program, meaning it covers the remaining tuition and fees after other financial aid is applied.

To qualify, students must be enrolled in a qualifying program at a participating school. Eligible programs may include certificates and degrees in bookkeeping, criminal justice, information security and welding.

Students must commit to living and working in the state for at least two years after graduating or the grant must be repaid with interest. Students must also complete two hours of community service before the term ends and pass a drug screening test.

To apply for West Virginia Invests, you must complete the FAFSA and a separate application.

West Virginia Higher Education Grant

The West Virginia Higher Education Grant provides funding to full-time students with financial need attending approved public and independent schools in West Virginia or Pennsylvania. Qualifying students attending school in West Virginia can get up to $6,800 per year, while students attending school in Pennsylvania can receive up to $600 per year. Eligibility for the program is determined by the FAFSA.

Higher Education Adult Part-Time Student (HEAPS) Grant Program

For students with financial need who are attending a public West Virginia college part time, the HEAPS Grant can help offset education expenses. Award amounts may vary by year, but the award is based on the student's actual per-credit-hour tuition and required fees. It's renewable for up to nine years.

West Virginia scholarships

Scholarships are usually based on a student's academic performance and achievements, but some awards also take a student's financial circumstances into consideration. West Virginia's scholarship programs can cover a substantial portion of a student's college education. Some can also be used at certain schools in Pennsylvania.

However, West Virginia is unusual in that three of its scholarship programs have a service obligation component, meaning a student must commit to working for a certain length of time in high-need fields within the state after graduation.

West Virginia operates four scholarship programs:

West Virginia Nursing Scholarship Program

The West Virginia Nursing Scholarship Program is for those enrolled in licensed practical nurse (LPN), registered nurse (RN), LPN teaching certificate, or master's or doctoral nursing education programs at eligible schools in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. It provides funding in exchange for the recipient's commitment to work at an approved site in West Virginia after graduation.

The award amounts and length of the service obligation vary by year and the type of program you're enrolled in, but below are the award maximums and service obligations for the 2023-2024 academic year:

Program

Award maximum

Service obligation

LPN.

Up to $3,000 per year.

One year for each year the scholarship is received.

RN.

Up to $7,500 per year.

Two years for each year the scholarship is received.

Master's or doctoral nursing education students.

Up to $15,000 per year.

Two years for each year the scholarship is received.

To apply for the scholarship, students must submit a West Virginia Nursing Scholarship Program application.

Promise Scholarship

Through the West Virginia Promise Scholarship, residents of the state who graduate from high school with a grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or better can receive up to $5,500 per year to cover tuition and fees. The scholarship can be used to pay for education costs at eligible public and independent schools in the state.

Applicants are “strongly encouraged” to perform at least 20 hours of unpaid community service while in high school and college. To apply for the Promise Scholarship, students must complete the FAFSA and a Promise Scholarship application by September 1, 2024.

Underwood-Smith Teaching Scholars Program

The Underwood-Smith Teaching Scholars Program is for recent high school graduates who are pursuing careers as teachers in math, science, elementary education or special education. Eligible students can receive up to $10,000 per year for up to four years, and students can attend any participating college in the state.

In exchange for the scholarship, students must commit to teaching in a West Virginia public school in an area of critical need for at least five years after graduation.

To qualify for the scholarship, students must have a 3.25 GPA or better in high school and certain minimum ACT or SAT scores. They must also attend a summer banquet; the state will provide lodging. Notably, students don't have to be residents of West Virginia to qualify for this award, but they must commit to working in the state after graduation.

If students fail to complete the service obligation, the award must be repaid with interest.

West Virginia Engineering, Science and Technology Scholarship

With the WV STEM Scholarship, students can get up to $3,000 per year if they are enrolled in programs in science, engineering or technology. To qualify, students must have a 3.0 GPA or better and be pursuing a degree with an eligible major in the state.

Priority is given to West Virginia residents, but students who live in other states can qualify for the award if there are available funds. However, both residents and nonresidents have to commit to working full time in an eligible career in West Virginia for one year for each year the scholarship is awarded.

If you don't fulfill the work commitment, you must repay the scholarship along with interest and fees.

Funding for the program is limited, so students are encouraged to apply as early as possible. Students must submit a WV STEM Scholarship application by March 1.

Tuition waivers in West Virginia

West Virginia has a tuition waiver program for medical school students that can significantly reduce the cost of tuition for those who live outside the state.

The Choose West Virginia Practice Program

The Choose West Virginia Practice Program is for nonresidents attending a West Virginia medical school. The program waives the difference between the in-state and nonresident tuition rate, valued at approximately $30,000. Students can take advantage of the waiver for up to four years.

Students must commit to working for at least one year at an eligible service site for each year they received the waiver.

To qualify, students must be accepted or enrolled at Marshall University, West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine or West Virginia University in a program leading to a degree of Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathy.

Student loan repayment programs in West Virginia

To help borrowers in certain fields, West Virginia operates five student loan repayment assistance programs:

Recruitment and Retention Community Project (RRCP)

The RRCP provides up to $20,000 in student loan repayment assistance to physicians with outstanding medical school debt. To qualify, recipients must commit to working at a qualified site in a designated health care professional shortage area (HPSA) or medically underserved area for at least one year. Participants in the program can qualify for up to four one-year extensions.

The program requires a 50% match from the participants' employer, and only health care providers in certain specialties are eligible. Primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, physician assistants, psychiatrists, dentists and pharmacists in the following specialties may qualify:

  • General/family practice.

  • General internal medicine. 

  • General pediatrics.

  • Gynecology/obstetrics.

  • Pharmacy.

  • Psychiatry.

West Virginia State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP)

Under the West Virginia SLRP, health care professionals who agree to work for at least two years at a site in a designated health professional shortage area can receive up to $40,000 in loan repayment assistance. Participants can extend their contract for two additional years, for a maximum award of $90,000.

Eligible professions include primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, physician assistants, psychiatrists and dentists.

West Virginia Health Sciences Scholarship Program

The West Virginia Health Sciences Scholarship Program provides student loan repayment funding to borrowers working in health care.

Depending on their profession, participants can receive up to $30,000 per year to repay their student loans if they commit to working full time at an eligible site in West Virginia for at least two years.

The funds are only issued once the participants starts practicing, but students can apply if they meet one of the following requirements:

  • In the fourth year of medical school entering a primary care or emergency medicine residency program. 

  • In the final year of a graduate or doctoral program for nurse educators, nurse midwives, nurse practitioners or occupational therapists.

  • In the final year of a graduate program for physician assistants or public health.

  • In the final year of a doctoral program in dentistry, pharmacy or physical therapy.

  • In the final year of a graduate social work program, leading to a career as a licensed independent clinical social worker.

  • In the final year of a doctoral clinical psychology program who intends to enter a clinical internship in West Virginia.

Important: The consequences for not meeting the service obligation are severe. Participants who don't complete the service obligation must repay the amount received in loan repayment assistance as a loan with a 15% interest rate.

Mental Health Loan Repayment Program

The Mental Health Loan Repayment Program provides up to $10,000 in loan repayment benefits annually to mental health practitioners in the state. Program participants must provide therapy or counseling services in underserved areas at eligible sites for one year for each year the award is received. The award is renewable for up to three years.

Underwood-Smith Teacher Loan Assistance Program

The Underwood-Smith Teacher Loan Assistance Program provides up to $3,000 per year in loan repayment assistance to counselors and teachers who work in public schools teaching math, science, elementary education or special education in high-need areas. Participants must commit to working full-time at an eligible school for two years for each year they receive the award.

Participants can take advantage of this program for up to five years, receiving a maximum of $15,000 in loan repayment benefits.

How to apply for financial aid in West Virginia

To apply for West Virginia's financial aid programs, follow these steps:

  1. Submit the FAFSA: West Virginia's programs require students to complete the FAFSA, and each program may have a different deadline. You can fill out the FAFSA online at FAFSA.gov

  2. Review requirements: Some programs, such as the Promise Scholarship or the West Virginia Invests grant, have separate applications and deadlines. Review each program's requirements on the College for West Virginia website.

  3. Create a West Virginia Student Aid Management (WVSAM) account: WVSAM is a portal you can use to submit applications for state financial aid, track the status of your applications and view awards.

Frequently asked questions

Unlike other states that have expanded in-state tuition to DACA students, West Virginia doesn't have a state policy for undocumented students. Undocumented students, including those with DACA status, are only eligible for the out-of-state tuition rate.

The federal FAFSA deadline is June 30, but state deadlines can differ. In West Virginia, there are different deadlines for certain scholarship and grant programs:

  • Promise Scholarship: typically March 1.

  • West Virginia Higher Education Grant: April 15.

  • West Virginia Invests grant: Priority consideration is given to students that apply by April 15.

For other financial aid programs, contact your college's financial aid office to find out about its FAFSA deadlines and other requirements.

West Virginia's financial aid programs provide significant assistance to qualifying students. Depending on the program, students can receive up to $10,000 per year, and students may qualify for multiple scholarships and grants.

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