How to Pay for Community College

How to Pay for Community College
Campus is the new alternative to online community college that provides a 100% live and online Associate of Arts in Business Administration degree program. We’re on a mission to maximize access to a world-class education, starting with our career-focused business program that equips students from across the U.S. with a solid foundation in core business principles to set them up for success no matter what their next step is.

Without a well-structured financial plan for your education, you may find it difficult to manage the costs associated with tuition, books, living expenses, and other educational necessities. That's why understanding how to pay for community college should be an integral part of your financial planning before you embark on your educational journey.

But did you know that you can pay in several ways for community college, including federal aid, scholarships, student loans, grants, and work-study programs?

Understanding and exploring these various options for payment can help you make a well-informed plan, access available resources, minimize future debt burden, and maybe even save a few thousand dollars. Discovering all avenues how to pay for community college is key to accessing a high-quality education without the burden of excessive debt. You may be able to confidently embark on your community college experience, knowing you have the necessary support to thrive academically and financially!

Understanding Community College Costs

Although community college is typically considered more affordable than a traditional four-year college or university, many students still take out loans to finance their education.

This is because, besides tuition and fees, the cost structure of community colleges can also include other costs such as registration fees, books and supplies, transportation, and other potential expenses.

This cost structure varies further based on residency status or your mode of study. When considering how to pay for community college, your residency status could significantly impact your overall financial strategy. In-state students often benefit from lower tuition rates as community colleges are funded, in part, by state governments to provide more affordable education options to residents.

Similarly, discounted rates favor students enrolled in less than 12 credit hours (part-time students).

How Much is Community College Tuition?

Part of learning how to pay for community college is understanding the nuances of tuition costs which vary by state and residency. Community college tuition varies widely by state and the student's residency status (in-district, out-of-district, or out-of-state).

If you’re wondering how much community college tuition costs, according to The College Board, in 2021, to attend community college in the U.S., in-state students paid an average of $3,800 per year in tuition and fees, whereas at a public four-year school, in-state students paid $10,740 per year.

This shows significant differences in the way states support community colleges. Some states claim four or five times as much as their public institutions, while tuition support is two to four times the claims in other states.

In 2021-22, the state with the highest average community college cost was New Hampshire at $7,560 for in-state tuition, while California was the lowest with $1,310.

Each community college has its unique cost structure and financial aid options, which can affect a student's overall financial burden and affordability. You can only find the best educational fit that aligns with your budget and financial capabilities by researching these specific costs at different institutions. This research is essential to mastering how to pay for community college in a way that aligns with your financial capabilities.

For instance, many schools offer a tuition payment plan for each term, like the tuition model for the Campus online associate degree in business program, so you don't have to pay all at once.

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When you know about your school's financial options through research, you can think about ways to finance your education and understand how much aid or money you may need.

Are There Other Fees to Consider?

In addition to tuition, be on the alert for various institution-specific fees that can impact your overall expenses during your college encounter. These fees are a crucial factor to consider when strategizing how to pay for community college. But with good research, you can find some information on the college's official website to plan your budget accordingly.

Some of these extra fees are books and supplies. During the 2021-22 academic year, students spent an average of $1,240, trips for school breaks, online science lab kits, and exam proctoring services ($7-$25 per exam depending on the program), facility fees, graduation fees, etc.

For your budget, you should also consider living costs or housing fees, as they vary greatly if you live on or off campus.

Ways to Pay for Community College

Keep in mind that, even though the financial burden of college may seem intimidating, with careful research, you can identify the right resources to make your education more accessible and manageable.

Many people explore various financial assistance programs like state and federal aid, scholarships, grants, federal work-study jobs, promise programs, employer tuition assistance, and private loans to find alternative funding sources. Exploring these financial assistance programs is a vital step in learning how to pay for community college.

By actively exploring these options, you can increase your chances of securing free aid to cover a portion or all of your community college expenses. With this, you can focus more on your studies and derive a more enriching college experience.

how to apply for federal aid through the FAFSA

Apply for Federal Aid

Financial aid is money you can receive to help pay for your education. You can classify it into

  1. Federal Aid: This is financial assistance managed by the federal government, like grants, work-study, and federal student loans. Most federal aid is need-based, meaning you will receive aid if your financial situation shows that you and your family cannot afford college. The primary application for federal aid is the FAFSA.
  2. State Aid: This is financial assistance managed by state governments to students who are residents of that state, like grants and scholarships. Each state may have its own set of aid programs which are often need-based.
  3. Grants: This is financial assistance you don't need to repay. They come from federal or state governments and individual colleges based on a person's level of need, although some have merit requirements. A popular federal grant is the Pell Grant, which provides need-based assistance to eligible students.
  4. Federal Work-Study Jobs: This financial assistance requires you to work to earn money. It is a program administered by participating schools and is available to both part- and full-time students to work on campus or with approved off-campus employers.
  5. Federal Student Loans: This is funds borrowed from the government. The most common types include Direct Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS loans.

Applying for federal aid is one of the primary methods students use when figuring out how to pay for community college. When it comes to applying for federal aid or community college student loans, FAFSA is the free application form to determine eligibility for federal student aid programs.

Filling it out is completely free, and it is required for each academic year to determine financial aid eligibility, as financial circumstances may change yearly, affecting the amount of aid you may be eligible for.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how to apply for aid through this means:

  1. Gather the required information (social security number, tax information, etc.)
  2. Go to and start the application
  3. List your colleges of interest and review your information
  4. Submit the completed FAFSA

Accredited institutions usually can take financial aid from the government, which is important in reducing out-of-pocket costs.

Campus programs, including our online associate degree in business program, accept federal aid, and tuition is below the maximum Pell Grant award – that means students who receive the full award can attend without out-of-pocket tuition costs.

Our financial aid dictionary will help you break it down even further.

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Community College Scholarships & Grants

A scholarship is provided by financial aid institutions, businesses, or individuals to support students in pursuing their educational goals, and it does not have to be repaid. Different institutions may have specific institutional scholarships and grants.

Unlike community college grants, scholarships are often merit-based and depend on a student's academic achievements, athletics, or other factors.

Below are a few types of scholarships you could apply for:

  • Local Scholarships: These are offered by local businesses and community groups within a specific region. They usually have a small applicant pool, increasing the chances of winning for students who meet the eligibility criteria.
  • Institutional Scholarships: Many community colleges offer scholarships directly to their students. These scholarships may be based on academic merit, specific majors, or other criteria the institution sets.
  • National Scholarships: These are open to students from across the country and are usually highly competitive due to their wide applicant pool. Large corporations, foundations, or nonprofit organizations may sponsor them.
  • Athletic Scholarships: They are awarded to talented student-athletes who excel in sports, commonly offered by colleges with robust athletic programs.

Scholarships vary significantly in application processes, eligibility criteria, and the resources available for finding them.

Some scholarships may require you to write essays, while others might only need basic information like your most recent GPA. Some are even restricted to particular career aspirations or minority groups.

Are there scholarships available for community college students? Yes, and usually, details about a community college scholarship application or eligibility criteria are provided on the school’s financial aid pages.

Many other times, websites like Fastweb, careeronestop’s scholarship finder, and CollegeBoard's scholarship search engine give access to different scholarship databases, allowing students to search for opportunities based on their profiles and interests.

The only way to tap into these additional financial resources to support your educational journey is by investing time and effort in searching for scholarships and submitting well-prepared applications.

And if you do receive a scholarship, be sure to write a scholarship thank you letter to show appreciation and uphold your great impression to your donors!

list of popular online scholarship finders

Promise Programs or Tuition-Free Programs

A Promise Program is an educational initiative that covers tuition and fees for eligible students, mostly at community colleges. Such Promise Programs are revolutionary in addressing the challenge of how to pay for community college.

It also can include some additional support services like academic advising, career counseling, etc. to help students succeed in their educational journey. Eligibility, however, may depend on residency, high school GPA, income levels, or community service involvement.

These sorts of free community college programs and initiatives exist in numerous states in the U.S.

Here are two examples:

  1. Tennessee Promise: This statewide initiative provides tuition-free community college education to recent Tennessee high school graduates. The program covers tuition costs and mandatory fees not covered by other grants and scholarships, but you have to be eligible to receive the aid.
  2. California College Promise: These programs are implemented locally across various California regions, offering tuition-free community college education to eligible students. The eligibility criteria and benefits vary depending on the region or college participating in the program.

These demonstrate how states are taking steps to provide opportunities for students to pursue a community college education without incurring tuition costs. What's next is for you to actively search and find them!

Employer Tuition Assistance

Employer tuition assistance is an innovative solution for those puzzling over how to pay for community college. This is a program some companies offer to cover some or all educational costs. However, an employee must meet certain criteria set by the employer, like length of employment, specific degrees, and relevance of the educational program to the employee's job or career development to participate in the program.

Some examples of similar programs by well-known companies are:

  1. Walmart's Live Better U program subsidizes the cost of tuition, books, and fees to offer employees access to affordable higher education. The program offers a wide range of degrees and certificates from various accredited institutions.
  2. By pre-paying up to 95% of tuition and fees for courses related to in-demand fields, the Amazon Career Choice program offers employees the opportunity to acquire new skills. This is regardless of whether the skills are relevant to their current role at Amazon.
  3. Verizon's Tuition Assistance Program provides financial assistance to eligible employees pursuing degrees at accredited colleges and universities. The program covers some tuition costs, encouraging employees to invest in professional development.

Take note of the coverage of the initiatives and the eligibility criteria set by the employers. Also, learn to research and get better informed on your advantages, like how to ask for employer tuition reimbursement benefits.

Apply for Private Student Loans

Private and federal student loans are available to help students fund their college education when other aid forms fall short.

The differences between federal and private student loans are their interest rates, repayment terms, hardship options, and fees. Also, while private student loans can come from several different lenders, federal loans are solely provided by the federal government.

Since you must pay back both loans plus interest, it's usually best to use federal loans to meet your financing needs before considering private loans.

They have more favorable terms and benefits and also offer flexible repayment options, including plans that adjust monthly payments based on your income. They usually do not require a credit check, so they are suitable for students with limited credit history.

But note that community college student loans are financial obligations that require careful consideration.

You need to understand the loan agreement and qualifications. This will empower you to budget and manage your finances responsibly while assisting in incorporating the loan into your long-term financial planning. There, you can assess how the loan fits into your career goals, future earnings, and other financial obligations.

How to Pay for Community College without Financial Aid?

Yes, it's possible to pay for community college without relying on financial aid. Students can manage their tuition and other expenses by paying out of pocket, utilizing earnings from part-time or full-time jobs, thanks to the flexible scheduling options many community colleges offer. While this approach enables numerous students to manage their education costs effectively, exploring all available financial aid opportunities is still advisable to ease the investment in their future.

Connect with Financial Aid

Taking the time to understand the costs of college and community college and researching available resources will cause you to make well-informed decisions about financing your education.

If you understand the expenses involved, you can compare different institutions and programs to find the most affordable options that align with your goals, in terms of tuition fees, additional expenses, and potential financial aid opportunities.

When navigating the financial aid process, seeking guidance and support from your school's financial aid office is one of the most valuable resources available. The financial aid office can explain the different types of aid available, including grants, scholarships, and loans, and guide you through the application process for various financial aid programs.

They can provide insights into how much financial aid you may be eligible for based on your financial situation, academic achievements, talents, or personal background.

So to make the most of your visit to the financial aid office, go prepared with a list of questions you may have. They are there to support you throughout the financial aid process and help alleviate any concerns or anxieties you may have.

Campus's financial aid team is at your service: contact us by emailing or call us at (312) 741-1216.

Want to learn more about Campus?

Our admissions advisors can answer your questions.