Guide to getting student loans for community colleges

How to get help paying for community college

Attending community college is becoming more popular than ever. Here are some of the benefits you can get if you’re thinking of applying to one, along with the best way to get the money you need.

Benefits of a community college education

Attending a community college lets you get an associate degree or certification in only a couple of years, but here are other important reasons to go this route:

  • More affordable: Tuition can be at least half the cost of a 4-year college; according to How America Pays for College 2023, the average annual cost of a 2-year public school is $14,007 vs $26,322 and $39,711 for 4-year public and private schools, respectively.
  • Career options: The technical/vocational certificates offered can open new careers to students.
  • Flexibility: Class schedules can offer more options for working students.
  • Entry to higher education: Community college can be a great way for first-generation college students to enter the world of higher education.
  • Steppingstone to 4-year college: Some students attend community college for two years and then transfer their credits (wherever possible) to a 4-year school to get a bachelor’s degree.

Free money for community college tuition

If you need money for community college, you should always start with scholarships, grants, and work-study, which give you funds you don’t have to pay back.

  • Scholarships: One easy way to search for scholarships is with Scholarship Search by Sallie. Best part? You don’t have to register—and you can use filters to narrow down your search based on your background, major, the state you live in, and more.
  • Grants: Grants, which are given out by federal and state governments, are usually based on the need of the student. You’re considered for a grant when you fill out the FAFSA® (see below).
  • Work-study: Federal work-study is financial aid that lets you work part-time at a school-approved job, so you can earn money for your expenses. You’re considered for work-study when you fill out the FAFSA® (see below).

Submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) every year is the single most important thing you can do to qualify for some of the $150 billion in financial aid, including scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal loans. Note: The opening date for the 2024-25 FAFSA® (which normally would have been October 1, 2023), has been pushed back to December, 2023, by the Department of Education. This is a one-year exception only.

After scholarships and grants, you may find that you need to borrow money to pay for community college. There are two types of student loans: federal and private.

Federal student loans are provided by the federal government. Some benefits of federal student loans include:

  • Flexible repayment options that can be changed
  • No credit check
  • Standard interest rate

How to apply: You automatically apply for a federal loan by submitting the FAFSA®. The amount you’re approved for will be in your financial aid offer.

Private student loans are offered through banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions. The loans are based on credit strength, so a cosigner is often required. Some benefits of getting a private student loan for community college include:

  • Choice of fixed or variable interest rate
  • Choice of repayment options, including in-school payments, chosen when you apply
  • Generally, you can borrow a higher amount of money (up to the cost of attendance) than federal loans

How to apply: You apply directly from the lender’s website. You can often apply for a full year with one application.

Need money for college?

Consider a Sallie Mae® private student loan

  • Available for online or on-campus study
  • Competitive fixed and variable rates
  • No origination fee or prepayment penaltyfootnote 1
  • 95% of undergraduate students who’ve been approved were approved again when they returned with a cosigner the following yearfootnote 2
Photo webImage blog Cross Sell study Girl.

How to find the right private student loan

There are a number of private student loans for community college out there, so how can you find the best one for you?

  • Know what you need: How much will a year of community college cost? Most schools will list their “cost of attendance,” which includes tuition, room and board (if you’re living on campus), books, and fees. Once you know this, you’ll have a starting amount of how much money you’ll need.
  • Get advice: School counselors, older siblings, and friends whose brothers/sisters have been to college are all great resources. What did they choose? Why? How satisfied with the loan are they? Don’t be shy about asking others who’ve already gone through getting money for college.
  • Research and compare: Different private student loans may have a variety of interest rates, cost-saving benefits, and fees. Make a spreadsheet and take notes on each one to see which has the best options for you.
  • Learn the language: It’ll make your choice much easier if you understand loan words like interest rates, cost of attendance, and principal that may be new to you. That way, you can compare different loans more easily.

How to pay for your community college education

Getting a degree from a community college is a great way to open new job opportunities, have flexibility in your class schedule, and pay less than you would for a 4-year college.

And speaking of paying for college, remember to start with scholarships, grants, and work-study. Then move on to federal student loans. And if you still need more money for school, consider a private student loan.

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

footnote External links and third-party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties and assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks, and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.

footnote FAFSA® is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid.

footnote 1. Although we do not charge you a penalty or fee if you prepay your loan, any prepayment will be applied as provided in your promissory note: first to Unpaid Fees and costs, then to Unpaid Interest, and then to Current Principal.

footnote 2. Sallie Mae loans cover enrollment periods of up to 12 months. Students must apply for a new loan each school year. This approval percentage is based on students who were approved for a Sallie Mae undergraduate loan with a cosigner in the 2021/22 school year and were approved for another Sallie Mae undergraduate loan when they returned with the same or new cosigner in 2022/23. It does not include the denied applications of students who were ultimately approved in 2022/23.

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