In an attempt to keep more high school graduates from leaving the state, the state of Louisiana decided years ago to pay for the tuition of students who are Louisiana residents and who meet certain requirements. Known as the Taylor Opportunity Program, or TOPS, it provides certain eligible students a way to go to college virtually for free. It has been around since the late 1980s and has helped tons of students get an education beyond high school when they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do so. Let’s take a look at this scholarship program for high school students in a little more detail and cover the TOPS requirements for college students.
What Is TOPS?
TOPS has been around since 1989 and pays for the tuition of certain undergraduate students, but of course, there are requirements for TOPS funding that must be met first. For starters, only schools approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), which includes all public schools in the state, qualify. Students who go to private schools or are home-schooled may still be eligible for TOPS, but they still need to be approved by BESE first. There are online documents you can download that you can use to determine the eligibility of a non-public school (and to determine BESE-approved home study eligibility), and it is based on your year of high school graduation.
If you plan to use TOPS, you must choose one of the many Louisiana public colleges in the state, as the award cannot be used for private universities. It can, however, be used for most of the community colleges or schools in the technical college system, as well as certain proprietary and cosmetology schools throughout the state. Even more importantly, you can apply for TOPS by filling out the free application located online at the TOPS website.
Ever since the legislature in the capital city of Baton Rouge decided to fund TOPS, it has been an overwhelming success. In Louisiana, you can take either the ACT or SAT to qualify for college, and there is a minimum score for each that is needed for students who wish to get TOPS assistance. The minimum ACT score is 20, and the minimum SAT score is 1030. If you take both the ACT and SAT, the state uses the highest score on a single exam on either of the tests.
While the only eligible Louisiana college is a public college, this is not the only requirement that has to be met. Students interested in getting the TOPS opportunity award have to enroll as a full-time students, with full-time enrollment being 12 semester hours in the fall and 12 semester hours in the spring. If the school is on a quarter system instead of a semester system, the number of hours required is the minimum number to be considered full-time.
If the student doesn’t enter college in the fall semester after they graduate (provided they’ve graduated in the spring), they can still get TOPS, but they must start college no later than one year after they’ve graduated from high school. So if they graduate one spring, they must be enrolled in college full-time by the following spring. So while most TOPS recipients enroll in the fall after they graduate from high school, many others choose to start in the spring semester of the following school year.
TOPS eligibility also requires that a student be a US citizen and a permanent resident of Louisiana. You must take a minimum of 12 credit hours each semester, and your GPA also matters. In terms of the minimum TOPS core curriculum GPA requirements, they include the following requirements: For your first year (24–47 hours of credit), your GPA has to be at least 2.3 (out of a possible 4.0). After you’ve achieved 48 hours of classes, there are different requirements, as the GPA then has to be at least 2.5, with a 2.0 cumulative GPA, and this applies in all remaining academic years. In addition, you must have continuous enrollment, which means if you quit for a semester, you lose your TOPS money. This is part of the requirement for “steady academic progress.”
Regarding summer sessions, they are not required, but you can use them to fulfill the requirement for your hours. In other words, you need a total of 24 hours per academic year to keep your TOPS money, and you can use the fall, spring, and summer semesters (provided they’re consecutive) to achieve that. As long as you have 24 hours during those three semesters, the scholarship will continue. Of course, if you sit out during the summer semester, it won’t affect the money, but the same doesn’t apply if you sit out during the fall or spring semesters.
How to Apply for TOPS
You should fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form online to get the process started, which will be the case for almost any college financial aid you apply for, be that a public or private institution or scholarship. You can still choose to get either federal student aid, such as a Pell grant, or federal grant aid, in addition to TOPS. Both the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) and your school’s financial aid office can provide you with additional information on these things, but for now, just know that you do not have to choose one or another type of aid, especially if you have a dire financial need.
It’s also good to remember that people can actually lose their TOPS scholarships. Because you have to be in school full time, start within one year of graduating from high school, maintain a certain grade-point average, and remain in college afterward, TOPS money can be taken away from you if you do not keep these requirements. If this happens, however, you can fill out an Approved Request for Exception, or an exception form, and you may be able to reinstate the scholarship if your request is approved.
The TOPS Tech Award
TOPS also has a tech award that can be used for certain technical majors, and it is very similar to their regular scholarship but has a few differences. For instance, to qualify for the TOPS Tech Award, you must have a minimum of 17 on the ACT or 920 on the SAT. And just like the standard TOPS award, you have to start college within a year to be considered a first-time freshman, which means your first semester has to be no later than one year after you graduate from high school.
Other Things You Should Know
If you are a permanent Louisiana resident but not currently part of the Louisiana community and thus, ended up graduating from an out-of-state high school, you’ll likely still qualify for TOPS payment. You’ll need an ACT score of 20, and you’ll have to make sure the high school you went to meets certain requirements as well. There are also certain core classes you must take while you’re still in high school to qualify for TOPS, and there are a total of 19 of those classes. Within the 19 hours, you must have a certain GPA, which means you cannot score a D or F in any of these courses and still receive TOPS money.
Getting TOPS money might seem complicated and difficult, but it’s a lot easier than you might think if you mee the eligibility qualifications and TOPS requirements for college students that we’ve covered. There are several different websites you can visit to get additional information, and a high school counselor can also help. The TOPS program was designed to help Louisiana students afford college a little easier, but instead of being based on need, it is based on certain requirements that ensure that the people who attend college in the state truly deserve to be there and qualify for the program as well.