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Community colleges sometimes get a bad rap, but there are many reasons to consider attending one. For example, going to a community college can help you save money while you work through general and elective courses, give you some time to figure out what type of career you want to pursue or give students with less-than-stellar grades the chance to build up their GPA before applying to a four-year university.
The average cost of community college is much lower than the cost to attend a four-year college, but many students still rely on student loans, so it's important to prepare yourself financially.
Average Costs for Community College
Tuition may seem like the most expensive cost of attending college, but it's only a small portion of your overall community college costs, particularly if you don't plan to live at home while you attend. You'll also be on the hook for supplies and equipment, textbooks, room and board, transportation and other living expenses.
Here's how CollegeBoard breaks down the average annual cost of attending community college for the 2021-2022 school year:
- Tuition and fees: $3,800
- Room and board: $9,330
- Books and supplies: $1,460
- Transportation: $1,840
- Other expenses: $2,400
In total, that comes to $18,830 in annual costs.
How Many Students Take Out Student Loans for Community College?
Because community college costs less than a four-year university, students at community colleges are less likely to borrow money and ultimately borrow less.
Roughly two-thirds of community college students graduate without any debt, according to Brookings. In contrast, 45% of bachelor's degree recipients at four-year public colleges manage to graduate with no debt, according to CollegeBoard.
The average student loan balance for community college graduates is $13,193, according to Community College Review. That's about half of the student debt balance of four-year public school graduates, which amounts to $26,700, according to CollegeBoard.
How to Borrow Less in College
Attending community college is already a great step in the right direction to reduce your reliance on student loans. But there are a handful of other things you can do to avoid borrowing more than you absolutely need to:
- Attend a free community college. Many states offer programs that make community college free to residents. Search for programs in your state and get an idea of the eligibility requirements to see if you qualify.
- Apply for scholarships and grants. Scholarships and grants are among the best ways to pay for college because you generally don't have to pay them back. Start by filling out the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) before each school year to see if you qualify for federal grants. You can also check with your community college's financial aid office to see if scholarships are available. Additionally, you can use scholarship search engines like Scholarships.com and Fastweb to find opportunities from other organizations. These databases have millions of scholarships and grants, so you're bound to find some that you're eligible to receive.
- Get assistance from your employer. Some employers offer tuition reimbursement to employees as a benefit. Depending on your employer's program details, you may get enough to pay for tuition, but you may still have to cover other expenses. Keep in mind, though, that some employers may require you to be with the company for a minimum amount of time before you can qualify. Branches of the military also offer to pay for tuition if you join, which may be a good idea if a career in the military is on your radar.
- Get a job working part or full time. Depending on your course load, you may be able to get a part- or even full-time job while you're attending community college. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about two-thirds of community college students have a job, with about 32% working full time.
- Ask parents for help. If your parents are in a situation where they can help financially, it could give you a better head start upon graduation. Even if your parents can't help you pay for tuition, allowing you to live at home rent-free could help cut your housing costs, which are typically the largest expense for community college students.
Start Building Your Credit While Attending College
Community college can be a great place to prepare for the rest of your life, and part of that is preparing yourself financially. While you may not need to borrow money for anything beyond school—and most federal student loan programs don't require you to have a credit history—you will likely want access to credit when you graduate and begin your career.
Whether it's to buy a house, upgrade your car or get a rewards credit card, having good credit is crucial. You may get started with something as simple as asking a parent to add you as an authorized user on their credit card. You may also be able to apply for a student credit card of your own.
Regardless of how you approach it, Experian GoTM can help you get started on building your credit from scratch. The free program can help you find the best path toward establishing your credit history, complete with insights and tools. It will also provide you with access to your Experian credit report and FICO® Score☉ once it's available.