Most students need a little help
With all the costs involved in a post-secondary education, it's not uncommon for students to graduate with thousands of dollars in accumulated debt. Even with a part-time job and help from your family, the costs involved in education can be overwhelming. In order to ensure that post-secondary education is available to everyone, not just the wealthiest in the country, individual schools, community groups and both state and federal governments contribute to financial assistance packages that are meant to lessen the financial burden of students.
Get Some of the Pie
Federal and state governments make it easy for community college students to apply for financial assistance. At the federal level, all you have to do is go online and fill out the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This single application collects all your financial information (and your parents' as well, if you're in the appropriate age bracket) and automatically applies you for the various federal financial aid programs available.
Some federal aid consists of loan programs, where you have to repay the funding after you've graduated. Other programs are scholarship - or grant-based - and don't have to be repaid. State funding works in a similar way, but the application process can be slightly different because it is administered by each individual state. Qualification is often based on financial need, although there are some programs that are based on community or group involvement, grades or program.
It's important to apply for everything you qualify for, just in case the funding you expected to get doesn't come through.
Who Gets What?
There's no need to be embarrassed about needing financial aid. In fact, almost 50 percent of all community college students receive some form of aid. The numbers break down like this:
- Federal grants - 23 percent
- Federal loans - 11 percent
- State aid - 12 percent
Diversify Your Options
While it's generally pretty easy to apply for federal or state funding, you'll also want to do some research and find some of the lesser-known assistance programs and scholarships. While everyone will apply for the well-known funding options, you might find yourself with a better chance for the smaller ones.
There are also a number of unusual scholarships and grants you can apply for. These tend to be based on group membership or interests. Ask around your community or church to find out about opportunities that you may not have heard of.