How the HOPE Scholarship Works

Georgia's HOPE scholarship program has helped many undergrads pay for their educations. See more college pictures.
Stockbyte /Thinkstock

When Georgia state officials were trying to persuade the Dayton, Ohio-based NCR Corp. to move its headquarters down South, discussions revolved around tax breaks and infrastructure quality. But Georgia's innovative HOPE Scholarship Program was also mentioned among the bargaining chips. Officials explained to the company "how [HOPE] would help them recruit and keep talent here," said Heidi Green of the Georgia Department of Economic Development in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution [source: Tharpe]. Their efforts paid off -- in June 2009, the company made its move to Duluth, Ga.

It may be difficult to know exactly how big a role the HOPE Scholarship played in NCR's relocation, or if it will deliver on officials' promises. But the goals of the scholarship program go beyond just luring new business to the state. Former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller started the HOPE program in 1993 as part of the establishment of a state lottery. The idea was to dedicate part of the proceeds of the lottery to help students pay for college in the state. From the beginning, HOPE -- which stands for Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally -- had three goals:


  • Improving education generally by rewarding achievement
  • Giving more students an opportunity to afford a college education
  • Making it more attractive for Georgia's top students to attend in-state colleges and universities rather than institutions in other states

In Georgia, HOPE Scholarships are merit-based awards -- independent of family income -- and available to all students from Georgia pursuing an undergraduate degree. They pay for tuition at any in-state two- or four-year college or university and most fees. Students even get a stipend ($100 per quarter or $150 per semester) to pay for books. HOPE Scholarships can also pay $3,500 per year toward the cost of a private college in Georgia [source: GAcollege411]. There's only one catch: You have to keep your grades up.

When the program began, Georgia students began participating in the HOPE program in droves -- more than 128,000 had won scholarships by 1996. This success inspired other states, which created similar scholarship programs based on the HOPE concept. In 1995, President Bill Clinton signed a federal HOPE program into law [source: GSFC]. The national program was somewhat different, consisting of a tax credit rather than a tuition stipend, but you'll learn more about that later on.

This article will focus primarily on Georgia's HOPE Scholarship, which has served as the model for other states and continues to draw both praise and criticism. First up, read on to find out how to qualify and apply for a HOPE scholarship.


Getting a HOPE Scholarship

Because the main purpose of the HOPE program is to encourage young people to achieve, a student has to maintain a grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher through high school to qualify. The average should be based on all courses attempted, even if dropped. However, grades for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate are weighted differently than those for standard courses [source: HOPE GPA].

The rules also allow for students who complete a HOPE-eligible home study program to win a scholarship with a 3.0 GPA. To be HOPE-eligible, the program must be accredited by the Georgia Accrediting Commission or a similar agency. If the student's high school or home study program doesn't meet these requirements, he or she still can win a HOPE Scholarship by scoring in the 85th percentile or higher on the SAT or ACT tests or by maintaining a 3.0 GPA in college [source: Home Study].


Even after making the grades, to receive a HOPE Scholarship, a student also must attend an in-state college or university. In Georgia, this means a public school like Georgia State University or a private institution like Emory University in Atlanta.

There are a number of additional requirements [source GAcollege411]:

  • The student must be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen (permanent resident).
  • The student must be a Georgia resident upon graduating from high school and for 12 months before.
  • If applicable, the student must complete Selective Service registration.
  • The student must comply with the Georgia Drug Free Postsecondary Education Act
  • The student must not be in default or owe a refund on a student loan.

The HOPE Scholarship program is relatively easy to apply for. In part, the process depends on the college the student is attending, so applicants should check with their college's financial aid office for specific details. One option is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Alternatively, you can obtain a printed or electronic application online. Students can begin the process at GAcollege411.You don't necessarily have to apply before you start college, but you must complete the application before the last day of classes of the term for which you want to receive funds. If you're transferring in from an out-of-state school and were not named a HOPE scholar when you graduated from high school, you'll have to wait until you've attempted 30 credit hours of course work before you can be considered for the program [source: UGA].

Getting a HOPE Scholarship is only the beginning. There are also certain requirements you'll have to fulfill in order to keep it. In the next section, you'll learn what you need to do to maintain a HOPE Scholarship through college.


Maintaining a HOPE Scholarship

Once awarded a HOPE Scholarship, you'll continue to receive the aid each year -- there's no need to reapply. But in order to maintain a HOPE Scholarship, you'll have to keep up a 3.0 grade point average in college. It's also important to make "satisfactory academic progress," which translates to continuous enrollment aimed at earning a degree. As far as HOPE is concerned, a break of two or more semesters or quarters means you're not making satisfactory progress.

HOPE Scholarship eligibility lasts until you receive a bachelor's degree -- HOPE Scholarships do not apply to graduate study. Eligibility also ends after students take 127 credit hours -- and all credit hours attempted count, even if student drops the course part way through. However, exceptions are made for students pursuing some five-year degree programs, such as those for landscape architecture and pharmacy. In those cases, the HOPE Scholarship can continue until graduation or until 150 credit hours have been attempted.


Hanging on to your HOPE money also means passing a series of checkpoints with a satisfactory average. If you fail to maintain that 3.0 GPA until the end of the semester in which you attempt your 30th credit hour, you become ineligible. The same checks occur at the end of the semesters in which you attempt your 60th and 90th credit hours. Additionally, all HOPE Scholarship recipients must have a cumulative 3.0 GPA at the end of each spring term [source: GAcollege411].

Students who lose their HOPE Scholarships for not maintaining a 3.0 average can reapply if their GPA has returned to that level after the 30th, 60th or 90th credit hour attempted. However, if your cumulative average is still under 3.0 after you've attempted your 90th hour, you'll be permanently ineligible for the HOPE program.

One of the early criticisms of the HOPE program was that students who were eligible for need-based Pell Grants had their HOPE Scholarships cut by the amount of the Pell Grant. But since 2000, students have been able to use the HOPE money to pay for tuition, fees and books, and apply the need-based Pell money to other educational expenses like room and board [sources: Rubenstein, Scafidi].

Until 2009, the HOPE program received adequate funding from the state lottery to fund scholarships for all eligible students. But a fall-off in lottery proceeds has caused the state to consider cutbacks. While no students have lost their scholarships, future reduction in payments for fees and textbooks are possible [source: Foskett].

HOPE Scholarships are not the only financial aid Georgia offers to students. Read on to the next section to find out about additional opportunities.


Other HOPE Awards

Georgia education authorities knew that the basic HOPE Scholarships would not cover the needs of all students, so the state added a number of alternative forms of aid to the mix as well. A couple of them apply to students pursuing a technical education, and another offers aid to those who have earned a General Education Development (GED) diploma to continue their education. Some awards, in the form of loans, also target those who want to become teachers -- this is only facet of the HOPE program aimed toward graduate students. Here's a rundown of the options:

  • The HOPE Grant Program. This grant is for students who seek a technical certification or diploma at Georgia colleges. Most of the requirements are the same as those for the HOPE Scholarship, but there is no grade point average threshold. In addition, HOPE Grant eligibility runs out after 63 credit hours. Like the HOPE Scholarship, the program provides money for tuition, some fees and books [source: GAcollege411].
  • The HOPE GED Grant. This is a one-time, $500 grant available to anyone who earns a GED diploma in Georgia. Most of the general requirements are the same as for a HOPE Scholarship. No application is needed, the voucher is mailed with the diploma and is good for two years. A recipient who attends a Georgia college can still earn a traditional HOPE Scholarship by attaining a 3.0 GPA in college [source: GAcollege411].
  • The HOPE Teacher Scholarship Loan.This program provides a loan of up to $125 per semester hour at public colleges and up to $200 at private colleges for graduate study aimed at earning a master's degree or other advanced training in teaching. The loans are available to students pursuing degrees in critical shortage teaching fields, which range from special education to music and art. A student can pay off the loan by teaching in the Georgia public school system, with $2,500 credited for each year of teaching [source: GAcollege411].
  • The G. Wayne Clough Georgia Tech Promise Program. This program assists students whose families have an income of less than $33,000 a year. It includes a combination of scholarships, grants and job opportunities for students attending the Georgia Institute of Technology. The scholarship covers tuition and fees minus a $2,500-per-year self-help component that the student can fulfill through work-study [source: Georgia Tech].

With all of these different award options, what impact has the HOPE Scholarship program has on students and the state of Georgia? Read on to find out.


Impact of the HOPE Scholarship

In general, the HOPE program seems to have fulfilled all of the goals set for it in 1993. But it has also raised some controversy, and a debate that still goes on.

Proponents of the program point to a 2006 study by the Journal of Labor Economics, which noted that SAT scores across Georgia had gone up by 40 points since the HOPE Scholarship program began. Also, there was a 70 percent increase in the enrollment in black students at Georgia colleges and universities between HOPE's inception and 2006 [source: New Georgia Encyclopedia].


Additionally, some believe the HOPE program has helped to attract more students to Georgia colleges and retain them once they're there. This particularly may have been true during the down economy the U.S. has experienced in recent years. Applications to transfer to Georgia Tech rose 28 percent in 2009 from the year before [source: White]. Georgia colleges and universities have seen some other benefits, as well. For example, the national rankings of the University of Georgia have risen significantly since the HOPE program began [source: New Georgia Encyclopedia].

However, not everyone is in love with the HOPE Scholarship program. Critics point out that merit-based scholarships take public money and sometimes hand it to students whose families could easily pay for college. That means less money available for those who rely on assistance to be able to afford an education. And since middle- and upper-income students are more likely to go to college in the first place, they tend to receive more merit scholarships than lower-income students [source: Campbell].

An article in the National Tax Journal asserted that the HOPE program actually taxes the poor to pay for the rich [sources: Rubenstein, Scafidi]. The logic behind this argument is that poor and minority populations play the lottery more than other groups, and therefore contribute more to the HOPE funds -- but their children receive fewer HOPE Scholarships because they are less likely to attend college.

Other critics have suspected that some high schools, in order to win more HOPE Scholarships for their students, practice grade inflation, awarding higher marks to students who didn't deserve them. Again, the evidence is inconclusive, but the state has taken steps to make grading more standardized. Since 2007, it has been the Georgia Finance Committee -- not the local high schools -- that looks at students transcripts and determines their grade eligibility for HOPE Scholarship awards [source: HOPE GPA].

In the next section, we look at scholarships that other states modeled after the HOPE program.


HOPE in Other States

In 1997, President Clinton signed into law a federal Hope Credit that took its name from Georgia's scholarship program, but was a different form of financial aid. The federal program was a tax credit intended to help all students, and it didn't require a minimum GPA. In 2009, this program was modified so it could be made available to a wider range of people and was renamed the American Opportunity Tax Credit. It gives students' families a tax credit of up to $2,500, as long as their modified adjusted gross incomes aren't above $80,000 ($160,000 for married couples) [source: IRS].

After seeing the success of the Georgia HOPE Scholarship, other states began to offer similar awards. Some, like Georgia's, are financed by state-run lotteries. Most are merit-based and require a minimum GPA. Here are just a few examples:


  • Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program. Like Georgia HOPE Scholarships, these awards are funded by the state lottery. The Florida Academic Scholars Award covers full tuition at a state college, or aid at a private university equal to the tuition at a comparable public institution. Qualifications are relatively tough: a 3.5 GPA in high school and 75 hours of approved community service. The Florida Merit Scholars Award requires a 3.0 GPA, but covers only 75 percent of tuition. The Florida Gold Seal Vocational Scholars Award is similar to the Florida Merit Scholars award, but is for vocational students [source: FDE].
  • Tennessee HOPE Scholarships: The state provides up to $4,000 a year for students attending a public or private in-state college. Students must have a 3.0 GPA, a score of 21 on the ACT or a combined score of 980 on the SAT [source: TSAC].
  • New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship:This program is open to all New Mexico high school graduates attending an eligible public college in the state. To qualify, a student must attain a 2.5 GPA in his or her first semester in college. The scholarship covers tuition only and is available for eight semesters [source: NMHED].
  • West Virginia PROMISE awards:A merit scholarship like the Georgia plan, PROMISE requires a 3.0 GPA in high school and certain minimum ACT or SAT test scores. This scholarship provides tuition and mandatory fees or $4,750 a year (whichever is less) at a West Virginia public or private college. It is renewable for eight semesters [source: WVHEPC].

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. A number of other U.S. states -- including Kentucky, Louisiana and South Carolina -- offer similar scholarships to local high school graduates who attend in-state colleges. However, not all states that adopted HOPE-type scholarships have continued their programs. Maryland, for example, cancelled its HOPE Scholarship in 2004 and tough economic times prompted Michigan to drop its PROMISE Scholarship program in October 2009.

As the cost of tuition -- even at public schools -- has risen significantly in recent decades, students are scouring every possible source of aid to pay for their educations. HOPE Scholarships are an important resource in states where they are available, and one you will not want to overlook if you're looking forward to college.

Keep reading for more information about the HOPE Scholarship and other sources of financial aid.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Campbell, Noel and Zachary R. Finney. "Mitigating the Combined Distributional Consequences of the Georgia Lottery for Education and the HOPE Scholarship." Social Science Quarterly. Page 746. September 2005.
  • Federal Pell Grant Program
  • Florida Dept. of Education. Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program.
  • Foskett, Ken. "Hope Scholarships." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Page A13. April 12, 2009.
  • GAcollege411. Georgia's HOPE Grant Program
  • GAcollege411. Georgia's HOPE GED Grant
  • GAcollege411. Georgia's HOPE Scholarship Program Overview
  • GAcollege411. Home Study.
  • GAcollege411. HOPE Teacher Scholarship Loan.
  • GAcollege411. Maintaining Eligibility for the HOPE Scholarship
  • Georgia State University. Policies and Procedures.
  • Georgia Student Finance Commission. Scholarship and Grant Award History.
  • Georgia Tech. The G. Wayne Clough Georgia Tech Promise Program
  • HOPE GPA Calculation and Eligibility for Scholarship - 2009 Update
  • American Opportunity Credit,,id=205674,00.html
  • National Merit Scholarship Corporation
  • New Georgia Encyclopedia. Hope Scholarship.
  • New Mexico Higher Education Dept. Legislative Lottery Scholarship.
  • Rubenstein, Ross and Scafidi, Benjamin. Who pays and who benefits? National Tax Journal. Page 223. June 2002.
  • South Carolina Commission on Higher Education. SC HOPE Scholarship Program
  • Tennessee Student Assistance Corp. College Pays.
  • University of Georgia Office of Student Financial Aid. "Hope Scholarship."
  • West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. West Virginia PROMISE.
  • White, Gayle. "Economy weighs on college choice." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Page B1. May 10, 2009.