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  • Writer's pictureDevin Starr

Free College!? New Jersey Offers Program for Young Adults

Key Takeaways 
  • New Jersey has two free college tuition programs for residents. Eligibility is based on income thresholds. 

  • It can be much easier for young people to qualify for the state’s tuition assistance when they no longer need to report family income on financial aid forms. 

  • The NJ programs allow those who delayed or avoided college after high school to pursue a degree -- with little to no tuition costs -- if they meet certain income requirements. 

Early adulthood is a challenging time for many young people as they’re trying to find themselves in terms of interests, relationships, career plans, and where they want to live. Given the prohibitive cost of college, more young adults are postponing or bypassing higher education altogether to evade substantial debt. While entering the workforce right after high school can get young adults an early start on saving and wealth accumulation (without building up student debt), many find their career options limited without a college degree.  

If you have non-dependent adult children or grandchildren who didn’t go to college immediately after high school, there are options for tuition free college in New Jersey. Garden State residents who are over age 23 and no longer dependents of their families may be eligible to have all (or most) of their tuition costs covered by NJ grants. NJ’s free tuition program is split into two separate programs with similar eligibility rules.

  1. NJ Community College Opportunity grant- Covers tuition for Freshman and Sophomore years of college at a local community college.

  2. Garden State Guarantee- Covers tuition for Junior and Senior year of college.

The reason why there are two programs is because you are expected to do freshman and sophomore years at community college first and then complete your junior and senior years at a four-year institution which is presumably more expensive. But the four-year savings could be worth tens of thousands of dollars for qualifying students and their families.

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In addition to being a New Jersey state resident, you must also be under certain income thresholds to qualify for the generous tuition assistance:


NJ Community College Opportunity Grant Eligibility:  
  • Individuals earning $65,000 a year or less can go to school for free.

  • Individuals earning $65,001 to $80,000 a year will have ½ of tuition covered. 

  • Individuals earning $80,001 to 100,000 will have one-third of tuition covered.

  • Participants must be enrolled in six credits per semester (part-time school flexibility). 

  • Participants must demonstrate satisfactory academic progress toward a degree (typically a minimum GPA of 2.0 as determined by each school). 

Garden State Guarantee Grant Eligibility: 
  • Individuals earning $65,000 a year or less can go to school for free.

  • Individuals earning $ 65,001 to $80,000 will pay a maximum of $7,500 tuition a year. 

  • Individuals earning $80,001 to $100,000 will pay a maximum of $10,000 tuition a year. 

  • Participants must be enrolled in twelve credits a semester (full-time students). 

  • Participants must demonstrate satisfactory academic progress toward a degree (typically a minimum GPA of 2.0 as determined by each school). 


Someone going to school full-time could find it easy to keep their income below $65,000 a year. However, the programs use FAFSA-reported income which includes parents' income until the student is age 24 and older regardless of their tax filing status. That means most students going straight to college out of high school will be disqualified due to their parents' income. The program is mainly intended for people who did something else out of high school and gives them a clean slate to go to college later in life.  


How to Apply
Fill out paperwork

Students apply for a grant when they complete their FAFSA for financial aid after enrolling in an eligible college. Students who previously failed/dropped out of college can still qualify, but they may have to file an academic appeal. Appeals are managed individually by colleges, and some have granted leniency, approving appeals for those who previously failed.


Participating Colleges and Universities

All 32 public colleges and universities in New Jersey including Rutgers University, Rowan University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Ramapo College, and more.  


Rutgers Scarlet Guarantee

In response to New Jersey’s Garden State Guarantee program, Rutgers established the Scarlet Guarantee, which covers eligible students' freshman and sophomore years at Rutgers through private grants. The aim is for eligible students to combine this program with the NJ Garden State Guarantee to fund all four years of their education at Rutgers. While eligibility information for the Rutgers Scarlet Guarantee Program may not be as readily available as other NJ free college programs, if you intend to transfer to Rutgers after two years of community college, it's worth applying to explore potential grants you qualify for.


Helping our clients with education financing is a high priority at Novi. As with the state of New Jersey, we believe financial circumstances should never get in the way of college dreams. If you or someone close to you is interested in learning more about New Jersey’s tuition assistance programs or needs assistance with college planning, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We are happy to assist.


Devin Starr, CFP® Associate Wealth Advisor at Novi Wealth 


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