10 Financial Aid Tips Every Community College Student Needs

10 Financial Aid Tips Every Community College Student Needs
Community colleges may offer lower tuition costs than four-year schools, but the bills can still be steep for some students. Find out how you can get financial aid to complete your community college degree.
Choosing a college is an important step that can directly impact a student’s success. Once a college is chosen, the reality of paying for higher education begins to creep into the picture. By selecting a community college, students have already made a frugal choice for their future. However, even community college is far from free. Check out these 10 financial aid tips that will help you pay your way through community college.
Earn Credits before College
You can begin paying for college long before you even apply. How? By earning college credits while you are still in high school. Many community colleges now work with neighboring high schools to allow students to dual-enroll in both college and high school classes simultaneously. Many of these programs do not charge tuition to the students taking college classes, but offer credit for the courses just the same.
Determine Your Needs
Before you begin filling out financial aid forms, ABC Chicago recommends you get a rough idea of how much money you will actually need. Take the total cost of tuition at the college you will be attending and add on living expenses if you will be living on your own, books and other essentials. Subtract the amount you have saved, as well as any money provided by your parents. Now you have a ballpark figure of how much money you still need to come up with to pay for your entire education.
Start Early
When it comes to financial aid, the early bird really does land that juicy worm. Yes, there are deadlines for submitting the standard financial aid form known as the FAFSA. However, you don’t have to wait for the deadline to submit. At the very least, begin collecting essential documents long before the deadline rolls around, so you are ready to roll sooner, rather than later. In addition, you can get a rough estimate of how much money you might be eligible for by using the FAFSA4Caster, according to My College Guide.  
Collect the Essentials
There are a number of essential documents you will be required to submit with your FAFSA, including:
  • Driver’s license
  • Social security card
  • W2 forms and tax returns for the previous year
  • W2 forms and tax returns for your parents
  • Bank statements and other financial documents
By compiling these forms early, you will be ready to complete your FAFSA as soon as you receive it, with minimal headache and legwork during the process. 
Meet with Planners
Another step to take early in the process is to meet with the financial aid administrator at the college you are planning to attend. This professional has a wealth of information about paying for a college education, and can get you started on the right foot early in the process. If there are any special circumstance prohibiting you from footing the bill for your college education, now is the time to let the financial aid administrator know the details, since this individual does have a small amount of leeway in distributing funds. 
Know Your Options
According to the website for Owens Community College, there are a number of financial aid options available, including:
  • Loans – This is financial aid that must be repaid after student graduates or leaves school.
  • Grants – These are needs-based awards from the state and federal government.
  • Scholarships – These can be based on merit or need and do not require repayment.
  • Work Study – This financial aid is paid through student’s wages, usually from a campus job.
Know the Rules
The website for Front Range Community College warns students to become familiar with the SAP policy before applying for financial aid. Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) requires students receiving financial aid to maintain a GPA of 2.0 and a 67-percent completion rate to ensure continued eligibility for their aid. Students must also finish their program within 150 percent of its timeframe.
Minimize Loan Amounts
Students qualify for a certain amount in Stafford loans based on their financial need. However, qualifying for an amount and actually taking out a loan for that amount are two different things. While it is tempting to take the full amount you qualify for, keep in mind that you will be paying that money back – with interest. It is much better to borrow the minimum you actually require to pay for your college education.
Apply for Scholarships
Scholarships are available for some students as well, and they may be awarded according to merit or need. Some scholarships are offered for specific fields of study or career choices students agree to make after college. Scholarships may be awarded by the college, a local business or a non-profit organization.
Ask about “Life Experience” Credits
Some community colleges do offer “life experience” credit opportunities for adults that are returning to school after spending time in the workforce. According to FinAid, schools are likely to administer their own placement examinations to determine whether students qualify for life experience credits. Others may utilize standard placement examinations like the CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) to award these credits to students prior to enrollment into the school.
While the cost of higher education continues to rise today, there are many options for bringing that price tag back down. When you are armed with basic information about the various types of financial aid available, you will be more likely to find the money you need to pay for that education. While community colleges are typically a more affordable option than four-year schools, a little help can go a long way financially – even at these institutions.
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