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How to Pay for Community College

By Cait Williams

Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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Reviewed by Annie Trout

Annie has spent the past 18+ years educating students about college admissions opportunities and coaching them through building a financial aid package. She has worked in college access and college admissions for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission/Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, Middle Tennessee State University, and Austin Peay State University.

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Updated: November 29th, 2023
How to Pay for Community College

If you’ve ever thought about going back to school, finances are most certainly something you’ve thought about. Maybe you have questions, such as “How does one go about paying for college?  Is community college really more affordable?” In this article, we’ll go over some basic information about community college and the various ways you can pay for it!

Choosing community college 

There are lots of reasons you might be interested in going to a community college. Maybe you’re going back to school or maybe you’re a new high school grad who just needs a place to start. Whatever your reason, community college is always a great first step to earn a degree or certificate. If you want more information about community college, check out some of our other articles about community college. 

See also: Can you get a bachelor’s degree at community college?

Okay, so let’s jump into how you can pay for community college! 

Related: How many credits is an associate degree?


The FAFSA is an important part of paying for higher education, including community college.  Students often have questions about the FAFSA, so keep  reading to learn more about the FAFSA and why filling it out is important. 

First, what is the FAFSA?

“FAFSA” stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Typically, students will complete this form before attending college or throughout their college career. Your application determines if you are eligible for student financial aid from the US government.

How do I file FAFSA?

To begin filing your FAFSA application you can visit their website! For a step by step guide about how to answer the questions on the application and what supporting documents are needed, check out our article on how to complete this year’s FAFSA


First up on the list is scholarships. Scholarships may feel more like a distant word to you than an actual way to pay for school. They sound great, but where do you start? Where can you find them? How do you apply? 

Lucky for you, we have some useful articles that can help you identify the best scholarships! 

Payment plans

Payment plans vary from school to school, but can usually be found at most community colleges. Paying tuition in one lump sum isn’t always feasible, and schools know that. They don’t want tuition to be the barrier that keeps someone from receiving an education. Ask the community college you plan to attend about what their payment plan options look like!

Related: Tuition-free community colleges in California

State aid for community college students

Depending on what state you live in, you may be eligible for aid from the state. Just like aid from the federal government, some states have similar financial reserves that they award to students. 

How you access this aid varies by state. Some state aid can be applied for through the FAFSA application, while others need to be applied for separately. You can use this database to research contact information for your local department of education. 

Don’t miss: How to get in-state tuition as an out-of-state student

Tuition free promise programs

Tuition free programs are also sometimes called “promise programs.” A promise program aims to provide 100% college tuition (usually for recent high school graduates). Requirements for these programs vary by community college, but may have residency or age requirements. It’s worth talking to a financial aid counselor to see if your community college offers a tuition-free program and if so, learning what steps you’ll need to take to qualify. 

Keep in mind that tuition-free doesn’t mean you won’t have to pay anything to attend community college. Students may still have to pay for certain fees and textbooks, so make sure you apply for all scholarships you are eligible to maximize covering expenses. 

Don’t miss: Which states offer tuition-free community college?

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Fill out the FAFSA as early as possible every year 
  • Apply for all the scholarships you qualify for
  • Check whether your state offers financial aid
  • Apply for college promise programs if eligible
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about how to pay for community college 

Do you have to live in a community to go to that community college?

No! One of the great things about community college is that you don’t have to live in that community to attend that school. Keep in mind though that most community colleges don’t provide housing so living nearby can be helpful.

Is community college free?

Unfortunately, the broad answer here is no, it is not 100% free (even in tuition-free states, there are other expenses). While college may not be free, that does not mean it is not financially possible. If there’s anything you should take away from this article, it is that where there is a will there’s a way. If going to college is your goal, then community college is a great place to start!

Does community college accept everyone? 

Most communities have what is called “open-access,” which means that almost everyone who applies is accepted. When applying to a community college, you will need your high school diploma or your GED. In addition, you may be required to take standardized exams for enrollment in certain classes. 

Is community college easy? 

There can be some common misconceptions around community college. Some of those may include the idea that community college is easy or not “real” college. However, that is entirely untrue. Community college has some differences from traditional four year college, but students are still taking college classes. You are still going to classes, taking exams, and working hard to balance life and academics. 

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