Community college financial aid becoming a necessity
The average cost of attending a private university is $20,000, while a community college on average costs about $5,000, saving the college-goer roughly $15,000. The price difference has been noticed by high school graduates all over the nation, and increased enrollment in community colleges in Ohio to Iowa, from Oregon to Michigan reflect this trend.
Community college is significantly less expensive than a private university, and can be even cheaper once you take into account all of the community college financial aid opportunities available to students. Many students, however, don't take advantage of community college financial aid because they don't know about it. Some students don't even fill out a FAFSA because they assume there is no aid for community college enrollees considering the low cost of community college. Last year California students didn't use $500 million in such aid because they didn't know community college financial aid existed.
There are many community college financial aid options available to students considering attending a community college. While some community colleges might not have a loan adviser, every community college enrollee should start by filling out their FAFSA. By filling out a FAFSA, students gain access to Stafford Loans, Perkins Loans, and PLUS loans. While filling out the FAFSA may initially look daunting, the walk-through on the official website is extremely helpful and eases the process.
Almost every student in the United States qualifies for some type of Stafford Loan, be it subsidized or unsubsidized as community college financial aid. By 2012, the interest rate on Stafford Loans will be fixed at 3.4% (a bargain considering private loans), making the Stafford Loan one of the best options for community college financial aid. The Perkins Loan is another great option for students from economically poor households, as the Perkins Loan also has a low interest rate and a nine-month grace period (as opposed to six months). Another perk of the Perkins Loan: If you decide to become a teacher, you don't have to pay back the loan. The Perkins Loan is handed out on a first-come-first-serve basis so make sure to enroll in your community college early.
Another option for community college financial aid is the Federal Direct Parent (PLUS) Loans. As the name implies, this type of community college financial aid is for the parents. There are no set limits on how much a parent can borrow, as this loan is designed to cover the rest of the costs of college not covered by an existing financial aid package.
If you are eligible, one of the best forms of community college financial aid comes in the form of Pell Grants. Pell Grants are obtained by filling out your FAFSA, and are grants- meaning, you don't have to pay them back, ever. Pell Grants are awarded to students demonstrating significant financial needs.
Ashamed to go to a community college? Don't be. Attending your first two years at a community college then transferring to a four-year university is one of the smartest moves you can make from a money saving standpoint. Just be sure to double-check to see if your credits transfer over, so you are not wasting time and money. These "10 Tips for Transferring From a Community College" from last year are worth the read.