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I Can't Afford College: What to do When You Can't Afford School

Updated on May 29, 2016
erinshelby profile image

Erin Shelby is passionate about living a lifestyle that aims for financial freedom. She writes about personal finance and other topics.

Do you think you can't afford to go to college? There are less desirable ways to pay for college, such as:

  • Putting tuition on a credit card
  • Taking out a private loan at a bank
  • Using the highest amount of loans you qualify for and not being able to pay them back

Looking for a better way? This hub's for you!

Can you afford to go to college?

If you’ve already saved money from a part-time job and looked into applying for scholarships, and you still don't have enough money for school, you might be ready to give up.

But before you do, there may be one option you haven’t looked into - community college.

Before you dismiss this option, you should know that there are some common myths about community college. Take a look at the truth about community college. It could be the way you can afford college after all.

Myth #1: Community college is for people who can’t get in somewhere else.

If you’ve heard that “Community College is 13th grade,” there’s an explanation. As state-funded institutions, community colleges are known for open admittance policies, meaning that there is usually no minimum ACT or SAT score required to get in and sign up for classes. They typically offer:

  • Cheap tuition rates and financial aid from the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
  • Evening, weekend and online class availability
  • The ability to transfer your credits to a four-year school, if you want to complete a Bachelor’s degree
  • Co-ops or internships to give you real-world experience
  • The freedom to choose your major, just as you would at a four-year school

Hartford Hall is part of Westchester Community College, a network of 30 community colleges connected to SUNY.
Hartford Hall is part of Westchester Community College, a network of 30 community colleges connected to SUNY. | Source

Myth #2: Community college isn’t the same as a university.

It is true that the community college experience is different.

  • Class sizes are smaller which can mean more attention from instructors.
  • There are no dorms, which means tuition funds aren't spent on the upkeep of residence halls.
  • The student body is more diverse, with people of all ages and life experiences.
  • If there isn’t an extracurricular activity that interests you, you can start one, just as you could at a four-year school.

What's the most appealing aspect of community colleges?

See results

Myth #3: I want to go to a real school. I’ll be behind if I go to a community college.

By “real school”, do you mean a four-year college that costs twice as much?

  • If your goal is to get a Bachelor’s degree, you can transfer your community college credits to a four-year school. However, it is wise to contact the Admissions office of the four-year school where you’d like to ultimately attend. Ask that university how credits typically transfer from the community college. A small amount of planning can make a big difference in the long run.
  • If you’re concerned that a community college won’t challenge you enough, ask if there’s an honors program. Participating in an honors program can place you with others that also want to be academically challenged.

Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska, welcomes you.
Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska, welcomes you. | Source

Is the price tag worth it?

When considering which school to attend, consider the cost of tuition that you're paying as well as how much you expect to make upon graduation.

According to The Institute of Education Sciences, students in the 2011 - 2012 school year paid an average of $14,300 at public universities.

How important is it to make sure you can manage the cost of attending college? reported in May of 2014 that "...roughly 8.5 percent of college graduates between the ages of 21 and 24 were unemployed...roughly 44 percent of recent graduates meaning those ages 22 to 27 with a B.A. or higher—were in a job that did not technically demand a bachelor’s degree."

Working in such jobs and earning such salaries, can college grads manage their debts and pay for things like rent or a new car? These are questions to be asked.

Before making your final decision on where to attend school, consider the financial commitment you're making and how it will impact your future.

Bellevue College, near Seattle, Washington, was established in 1966.
Bellevue College, near Seattle, Washington, was established in 1966. | Source

Tuition Costs for Selected Community Colleges

show route and directions
A markerEllsworth Community College -
1100 College Ave, Iowa Falls, IA 50126
get directions

Tuition as low as $153 per credit hour

B markerFlathead Valley Community College -
777 Grandview Drive, Kalispell, MT 59901, USA
get directions

Tuition is $49.30 for half a credit hour.

C markerCentral New Mexico Community College -
Central New Mexico Community College, 4700 Morris Street Northeast, Albuquerque, NM 87111, USA
get directions

Tuition varies based on resident or non-resident status.

D markerSouthwest Tennessee Community College -
Southwest Tennessee Community College, 5983 Macon Cove, Memphis, TN 38134, USA
get directions

$139 for one credit hour.

E markerMid Michigan Community College -
Mid Michigan Community College, 1375 South Clare Avenue, Harrison, MI 48625, USA
get directions

Per semester tuition/fees are $3,412 for in-district students.

F markerCollege of Southern Nevada -
College of Southern Nevada, 1560 West Warm Springs Road, Henderson, NV 89014, USA
get directions

Tuition per semester: $ 2,907 (Nevada); different prices for "With Parent & "Western Undergrad."

G markerKilian Community College -
Kilian Community College, 300 East 6th Street, Sioux Falls, SD 57103, USA
get directions

$290 per credit hour.

H markerKansas City Kansas Community College -
Kansas City Kansas Community College, 7250 State Avenue, Kansas City, KS 66112, USA
get directions

Varies: As low as $68 per credit hour for residents; as high as $192 per credit hour for non-residents.

I markerWestern Wyoming Community College -
Western Wyoming Community College, 2500 College Drive, Rock Springs, WY 82901, USA
get directions

$101 per credit hour or $1,200 per semester for Wyoming residents; separate cost for non-Wyoming students.

J markerCleveland Community College -
Cleveland Community College, 137 South Post Road, Shelby, NC 28152, USA
get directions

$1,144.00 per semester for North Carolina residents for 16 or more credit hours; $71.50 per semester hour.

© 2014 erinshelby


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    • erinshelby profile image

      erinshelby 3 years ago from United States

      Teaches1235, Thanks for stopping by. For what you've mentioned - getting a good start at minimal cost - I believe community colleges could see a rise in popularity.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      Community college is a great option for those who want to get a good start in education with minimal cost. Great post with valuable suggestions.

    • erinshelby profile image

      erinshelby 3 years ago from United States

      Ologsinquinto, You make a good point - the cost of school can quickly crush the happiness of the acceptance letter.

      FlourishAnyway, The prices are something aren't they?

      Tirelesstraveler, Thanks for sharing with us that you have two generations of community college alums in your family - all the more debt-free because of it.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 3 years ago from California

      My husband and I started at community college, then each of our three children went to one. None of us have huge debt. In this economy that is very important.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      This should be a viable option for all the reasons you mention. Some of the prices per credit hour that you mention are really something. I have known people who started at a community college then successfully transferred to a 4-year university where they graduated.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

      I am so happy community colleges exist. People go to them for a number of reasons. One includes not apply to at least two "safety schools" that you can afford to go to without a lot of scholarship money. Sometimes, after the excitement of the acceptance dies down, reality sets in. Some students simply cannot afford to attend the private school of their dreams.