So you’ve made up your mind to attend one of the 112 California community colleges. Maybe it’s Columbia College in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range or San Diego City College in the heart of downtown San Diego. No matter which California community college you want to start at, it’s a great choice. But how are you going to pay for school? The good news is that the costs at a California community college are low relative to other schools and that there are a lot of financial aid options.
Paying for school
Each California community college has a financial aid office with a mission of obtaining financial assistance for those who would not be able to afford college otherwise. You can contact a financial aid expert at each college; at many colleges who you talk with depends on the letter your last name begins with.
Financial aid offices also have workshops on how to obtain assistance, list important dates and give reminders about how and when to apply to various programs. Individual college websites give information on the whole process. Start there!
In general, financial aid to attend college is either gift aid (grants, scholarships, tuition waivers, etc.) or self-help aid (student loans, work-study, etc.) Aid is given by the federal government, state government and by private entities. Veterans have additional options.
Factors in determining financial aid
How much and what kind of aid you get is determined by a number of factors including:
- Your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). If you are a dependent of you family, your EFC is how much money they can give you for college.
- Your Cost of Attendance (COA). This is how much it will cost you to attend a given college. The good news is that, at $46 per semester unit, a California community colleges education is one of the best bargains in the country
- Your Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). A lot of financial aid money is contingent on you maintaining a good academic standing. These requirements vary, but the basic idea is that you have to do your part by doing well in school to get financial aid money.
Once you’ve decided which college to attend, your first step in obtaining aid is to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). These applications and detailed instructions for completing them are available online at http://www.fafsa.gov.
Have the application sent to whatever college you are planning to attend and start at least 12 weeks in advance. Once the college has your application, you can work directly with their financial aid office.
You can do this
Because of the relatively low costs of attending one of the California community colleges, you should be able to find the financial aid you need to accomplish your goals. Keep in mind the following general advice:
- Start the application process early.
- Stay in touch with the financial office of the California community college you plan to attend.
- Maintain good academic status once you’re attending college.
Many people feel overwhelmed when they first begin looking at obtaining financial aid since everything is new. However, the money for your education at a California community college is out there – if you do your part – and there are professionals at the financial aid office of each college to help you obtain it.