Don't Make These Financial Aid Mistakes in Community College

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Even though community college is more affordable than a four-year college, it can still be expensive. In order to cut down on the cost of college, avoid making these financial aid mistakes.

Common Financial Aid Mistakes Made by Community College Students

College is an exciting time for students - you're setting off on a new adventure and taking the first steps in determining what you want to do with your life. But for many, the thought of college brings up one word: expensive!

According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the average tuition and fees for the 2014-2015 school year was $3,347 for a community college student versus $9,139 for a four-year public college student. As you can see, attending a community college can cut down on the financial burden of higher education, but that cost doesn't include books, school supplies, housing, transportation, or any other necessary college expense. And despite being the more affordable option, these expenses can add up for any community college student.

So if you're planning to attend community college, how can you ensure that the cost of college doesn't leave you thousands of dollars in the hole with excessive debt? Start with avoiding these common financial aid mistakes:

Ignoring the FAFSA

FAFSA website

If you don't apply for financial aid, then you won't receive financial aid. Seems pretty simple, right? But, for the 2011-2012 school year, the AACC reported that only 62% of community college students applied for federal financial aid. That number should be 100%!

So what's keeping community college students from applying for financial aid? Common answers include:

  • They don't know they can apply for financial aid.
  • They don't think they qualify for financial aid.
  • They think it will take too long to apply.
  • They think it's too hard to apply.

It's unfortunate that many community college students believe these reasons because not applying for financial aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid - better known as the FAFSA - means you could be missing out on a good chunk of change to help you pay for school. Not only are you missing out on loans with low-interest rates, but you're also missing out on qualifying for federal and state grants. Why are grants so great? Because you don't have to pay them back!

In order to avoid this mistake, make sure you apply for financial aid and fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible.

Forgetting About Scholarships

Many students might not want to put forth the effort of finding and applying for scholarships, but if the result is free money for college, what do you have to lose?

scholarship application

There are tons of scholarships available for students in a wide range of categories depending on your academic performance, major, gender, ethnicity, race, school year, and even special situations, such as being bilingual, adopted, or a single parent. Along with national scholarship opportunities, you might also be eligible for state scholarships and scholarships offered by the community college you will attend.

Ready to find the right scholarship for you? Check out our list of 25 Grants and Scholarships for College Students, as well as the scholarship searches on FastWeb and The College Board.

Waiting Too Long

When you apply for financial aid and scholarships, it's important to make sure you submit your application before the deadline.

Students might put off filling out the FAFSA or writing a scholarship essay because they think they'll be able to get everything done at the last minute. But what if you need more information? What if your computer shuts down or your Internet goes out? What if you simply run out of time?

deadline

In order to avoid missing financial aid deadlines, you should get started on applications as soon as possible to ensure you can get everything done in time. The FAFSA is available starting October 1 to be considered for aid for the following school year. This means if you want to receive financial aid for the 2017-2018 school year, you can - and should! - fill out the FAFSA now.

Just remember, if you miss the deadline, you will miss the financial opportunities.

Taking Too Many Classes

Sometimes students take a lot of classes because they think they'll get more financial aid. But if you take too many classes just to get more money, you might be setting yourself up for failure.

Most students aren't aware that you don't have to take a full course load in order to receive financial aid. If you're looking for a Direct Loan, you only have to be enrolled half time, and if you're eligible for a Pell Grant, your award will be adjusted to your credit hours. For example, you might qualify for a Pell Grant worth $4,000 as a full-time student, but if you enroll as a half-time student, you would get $2,000, half of that award instead. A full-time student usually takes 12 or more credit hours whereas a half-time student usually takes a minimum of 6 credit hours.

It's more important to take the right number of classes that you can handle and do well in rather than overload your schedule just to get more aid!

Navigating the ins and outs of financial aid can be confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Talk to your high school counselor or your community college financial aid advisor to make sure you don't make these common mistakes and can get the money for college that you deserve.

By Melissa Kreindel
December 2017
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