In your career journey, you might have thought about enrolling in a community college for various reasons. Perhaps you don’t have enough funds to join a 4-year program spot-on, or your academic qualifications need a little brushing up to make you eligible for one.
Maybe you’re interested in getting some practical learning experience before going to university.
Whichever the case, sometimes the tuition fees can be too high to afford, and that’s where student loans for community colleges come into play.
But what are your options when you need funding? How do you ensure you are not left with a huge pile of debts to pay after college? Are private loans for community college tuition available?
Read on to find the answers to these and other questions you might have about loans for community college students and how to find the best one.
What’s a community college?
First things first, a community college is a type of public academic institution that provides higher education, sometimes alongside vocational training. It has two-year programs, making it perfect for students who want to get an associate degree before moving on to a four-year course in university.
Mostly funded by the government, community colleges are often part of a larger state university system. They offer many programs leading to associate degrees and certificates for young learners or those pursuing career development in various fields ranging from criminal justice to culinary arts.
Their common purpose, however, is workforce development: preparing people for jobs in their local communities after graduation. This perhaps explains why application requirements are less strict compared to universities and 4-year college programs – you can apply as soon as you have finished high school.
Finding the best deals for community college funding
If you can’t foot all the bills and fees through college from your savings or your parents’ proceeds, all is not doom. There are various options to consider, with the most common ones including the following:
- College Grants
- Federal Student Loans
- Private Student Loans
Consider tuition grants
College tuition grants are a great way to help pay for your community college degree. Most of these grants are offered by the government and can include money from state and federal programs. They’re different from loans because they don’t have to be repaid as long as you qualify for one.
They may not cover your entire college fees, but tuition grants can make paying for your education much easier.
Also, some may require you to earn a certain GPA or take specific classes while others will only cover part of your expenses at school each semester. Whether from the government or from corporate entities, many of them also require some sort of proof that you can’t manage to raise the fees by yourself.
How do college tuition grants work?
Each grant may have unique eligibility requirements, conditions, and other specifications. However, the following three points summarize how they work.
Grants are free money
Unlike loans, grants do not have to be paid back. They can be offered by governments, nonprofits, and corporate bodies.
Grants are given to students with financial needs
Unlike scholarships and fellowships, which can be based on merit or academic performance, grants are typically reserved for those who demonstrate the greatest need for financial assistance.
Most community colleges don’t offer grants directly to students
Most of them just accept applications from individual businesses that want to give out their own money, in return for things like advertising opportunities, for instance.
Explore federal student loans
The federal government offers several loan programs, all with their own pros and cons. Nonetheless, they tend to be among the best options for community college students, thanks to their low-interest and fixed interest rates. Some common types include:
Federal Perkins loans
These loans are for students who have exceptional financial needs and who attend an eligible higher education institution full time, scoring at least 9 credits per semester.
You can borrow up to $5,500 each year or $27,500 total over your course of study, at a fixed interest rate of five percent. Like other federal loans, there’s no origination fee on this one.
These loans are available to students with exceptional financial need regardless of their enrollment status (part-time or full-time). You can borrow up to $5,500 per year or $28,000 total over your course of study depending on when you first take out the loan
How do federal loans work?
Federal loans are available to students and parents. These are federal loans, not private ones, so they don’t have high-interest rates and aren’t offered based on your credit history.
Federal loans can be used at any type of college, even community colleges, and online learning institutions or universities—and you can get them even if you’re a low-income student or parent.
Getting a private loan for college fees
If you want to pay for your community college costs, you’ll likely need to get a private loan. These loans are a bit more expensive than federal loans in terms of interest rates, but they are also often more flexible and easier to get approved for.
The higher interest rates serve to cushion private lenders from defaulters because they have little to no guarantee that they’re going to get their money back.
All the same, these loans come in quite handy for people who don’t meet the criteria required to get approved for a federal loan!
Tips to get a good private student loan deal
Of course, you will come across many private lenders willing to offer you a loan when looking for college funding. The choices might bombard and even overwhelm you, but not if you follow the tips below:
1. Know the important factors to consider
When deciding which loan to get, it’s important to consider the following:
- Interest rate
- Repayment terms (how long you have to repay the loan)
- Eligibility requirements (whether or not you qualify for a loan)
- The flexibility of the loan (if interest rates go up, can you switch to a lower-interest rate?)
- Security of the loan (are there penalties if you default on payments?)
2. Build good credit
Your credit score is one of the most important factors that determine how much you can borrow, and from whom. The higher your credit score, the better terms and interest rates you can secure on any debt, including a student loan.
Building good credit involves sticking to a payment plan when paying off existing debt. It also involves observing financial discipline, which means developing a saving culture (if you can), avoiding unnecessary debt, and making sure you have an active bank account.
3. Compare student loan offers
Shopping around is by far the most important aspect when you want the best deal on a student loan. Of course, different lenders will offer loans at different terms, eligibility requirements, and interest rates, from low-fixed to variable rates.
And as much as you know the factors to consider, picking the best deal for you can be tiresome and overly time-consuming. Thankfully, comparing grad school loans online is a lot easier these days. Tools like Sofi let you choose the most affordable deal for you based on factors like APR, the total cost of borrowing, origination fees, grace period, and even the repayment options.
4. Ensure your course is eligible for a loan
As much as community colleges have many advantages, you will want to make sure that the school and academic program you choose are eligible before applying for a student loan to pay for your community college education. Some loans are only offered at four-year schools, while others are restricted to specific classes or programs.
You may also want to be aware of whether the school you’re attending has certain application requirements that you need to meet for your loan application to get approved.
Indeed, there are more than a few funding options for students in community colleges. And the type of funding or lender you approach will determine how much you have to pay back, in how many years. The above few tips can help you get the best deal so you don’t struggle so much financially during and after your studies.