This past weekend, New York became the first state to offer free tuition to four-year state and city colleges through the Excelsior Scholarship. Many are calling it a win for the middle class, especially when student loans are hindering a generation of young adults who may never get out of debt. That said, this positive step in higher education isn’t without a few strings. Here’s what you need to know:

Tuition is comped, but not anything else.

The scholarship covers tuition, which is currently $6,470 annually, but doesn’t cover the fees, room and board, or books. State University of New York (SUNY) room and board costs are currently more than $12,000 a year and textbooks are notoriously expensive (although you can buy them used). So the scholarship will give you a discount, but it won’t give you everything for free.

There is an income cap.

Students registered at SUNY or City University of New York (CUNY) must fall under the income cap in order to be eligible. This year, families must make less than $100,000 annually to be considered. Next year it will raise to $110,000 and will reach $125,000 by 2019. Unfortunately, there is no leniency here. If your family makes more than this, you will not qualify.

You have to stay in New York.

After graduation you are required to live and work in New York state for the same amount of years you receive funding. If you leave New York before finishing the time commitment, your scholarship turns into a loan with you owing the difference.

You need to be enrolled full-time.

Students must take 30 credits per year (including summer sessions) to remain eligible, and must keep the required GPA expected for on-time graduation. Students with disabilities, however, are excluded from the full-time requirement.

Along with all of this, students must not have any prior student loans in default, and they must be legal citizens or permanent residents in order to qualify. Another bonus: there is no age cap, so you can go back to school at any time and qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship.

About 

Mary Summers is a recent college grad and freelance writer residing in the Pacific Northwest. She loves writing about trending topics, health and beauty advice, music, film, and television.