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What is First Dollar vs. Last Dollar in College Promise Programs?
If you’ve spent any time researching college promise programs, first dollar and last dollar are most certainly terms that you have seen. But what do they mean? In this article, we’ll look at what these terms mean and a brief look at what college promise programs are.
College promise programs
College promise programs were created with the idea that college costs should not be a concern for students considering a 2-year degree. As promise programs grew in popularity, some 4-year colleges began offering these programs for their students. Each promise program will have their own requirements so it’s important to review their criteria carefully to see if you qualify.
“First dollar” and “last dollar” simply refer to the types of funding that college promise programs use. College promise programs are not quite the same as scholarships. So, let’s look at them each a bit more closely.
We’ll start by discussing what “first dollar” means. The most important thing to know about first dollar is that you are given this money regardless of any other grants and scholarships you may already have. This means you can have other forms of funding that cover your tuition expenses and still receive first dollar money.
First dollar programs cover more than just tuition. First dollar funded promise programs can be used towards costs of transportation, room, board, and other expenses.
“Last dollar” funding is meant to help students after their other available sources of funding. For example, if you’ve received a federal grant, but it does not cover all your tuition, last dollar funding promise programs can step in to help you pay the rest. This means that if you are the recipient of other funds that cover all your college expenses, you may be ineligible for the last dollar promise funds.
First and last dollar program variations
Each program will vary on what awards will be applied to your student account before promise, some may pay after federal or state funds have been applied–meaning you could still get private scholarships to cover books/supplies/other educational costs. Others may wait and only pay after every type of aid you receive has been applied to your account.
What requirements need to be met to be eligible for the Promise Program?
Promise programs all have their own specific requirements, but there are a few broad things that most programs require for eligibility. Half of all promise programs require that:
- Students have a minimum high school grade point average
- A minimum ACT/SAT test score
- Students place into college-level courses
The best match for you
So, which promise programs should you apply to, and should you apply based strictly on the type of funding they use? Applying to a promise program shouldn’t be based purely on the source of funding, as financial plans can change. Take a look at the following questions to help determined what’s best for you:
Questions to consider
- What sources of funding do you currently have?
- Have you previously applied to any promise programs?
- What other expenses, such as transportation, living, childcare, etc., do you have in addition to tuition?
A reminder about your state’s Promise Program: No matter what, apply!
Every high school senior should apply for their state’s promise program (deadlines vary by state, so check yours!). Maybe you are questioning why you should take the time to apply when you know you won’t need the program? People sometimes change their minds the day before they’re supposed to head off to their four-year college or a world-wide pandemic breaks out. If students didn’t apply by their state’s promise deadline, they’re paying full price at community college unless they decide to sit out the semester.
Other options in lieu of promise program funding
Because college promise programs are not available at all colleges within the United States, they may not be a possibility for you. If that’s the case, don’t start to worry just yet. There are lots of other scholarship opportunities that you can apply for. Take some time to explore the other articles listed below!
- Top scholarships for college students
- Top scholarships for high school seniors
- Full ride scholarships for high school students
Frequently asked questions
What happens to any unused scholarships or grants?
If you receive more funding through grants and scholarships than is needed, you will typically receive that money in what’s called a refund check. A refund check usually comes directly from the school you are attending.
However, this may be subject to change depending on the school you attend and how your scholarships and grants are awarded to you. Check with your financial aid office to ask specifically about receiving a refund for unused grants and scholarships.
Do you have to pay scholarships or promise programs back if you drop out?
How long do college promise programs last?
What expenses do promise programs cover?
Further reading: Do you have to pay scholarships back if you drop out?