Zina Kumok Image Written By: Zina Kumok | Edited By: Kevin Ladd | Updated: July 11, 2024

Scholarships for Community College Students

Community College Students

Combining attendance at a much less expensive community college with scholarships could be the key to unlocking a very practical and affordable college education.

  • Community colleges are virtually everywhere in the US and offer a very affordable path to a college degree.
  • Find scholarships that you can use regardless of the type of college you are attending. You won't need as many of them if you are attending a less expensive school.
  • Search for community colleges that will suit your needs while making sure you are able to afford the next step in your education.

We recently set out to research the best combination of resources and strategies to graduate from college (or at least undergrad) with a student loan balance ranging from reasonable to non-existant. Many articles will offer hints at different elements of the process of applying to and paying for college. We feel like those who are considering community college have a greater chance than any other group of students of graduating debt-free. For this particular effort, we combined in-house researchers with one of our top writers to get you some basic, but helpful, answers to some important questions about specific types of higher ed and the funding thereof. Specifically, we set out to inform you about the process of researching and being awarded scholarships for community college.

Get matched to Scholarships that fit you. Find Scholarships Now. Completely free. Vetted college scholarships

In a time of rising tuition costs, many students are looking for ways to get an education - without saddling themselves with tens of thousands in student loans.

One of the best ways to avoid that problem? Attend community college first before transferring to a four-year school. The average annual cost of attending community college is $13,080, compared with $36,436 per year to attend a four-year school.

Community colleges are a great option and could save you $40,000 or more

Even though the cost of community college is significantly lower than costs at a four-year school, many students still want to minimize their out-of-pocket costs. That's where community college scholarships may factor in. Whether you qualify for (non-institutional) merit scholarships, financial need-based or any other variety, combining the lower cost of attending a community college with winning a few scholarships could make an enormous difference in the amount of money you end up borrowing for college.

In fact, there has been a fairly recent push to include some bachelor's degree programs at community colleges. Almost half of the states in the US are reported to have added these programs and you should definitely look into whether your state is among them. Many students are considering attending a community college as a way to pay much less for their education and some will even graduate with a bachelor's degree without ever transferring schools.

What exactly is a community college scholarship?

Any scholarship that allows a student who is, or will be, attending a community college to apply for their scholarship can be catagorized as a "community college scholarship". For example, if the scholarship requires that you are a full-time student and you only attend part-time, you're not eligible. If the scholarship requires you to be enrolled in a bachelor's degree program and you're currently enrolled in an associate's program, you don't qualify. For most of them, you will be able to tell fairly quickly by reviewing the "Eligibility" section of the scholarship listing. If you are not certain you qualify, you should contact the scholarship provider.

If you are intent on transferring to a four-year college after your second year, you might be able to get conditional consideration from the provider. It is always worth asking; particularly if you feel like you are a strong candidate and the scholarship is not especially competitive. Take a few minutes to make a call or send an email if it could mean saving a few thousand dollars and keeping your student loans to a minimum.

Scholarships can be given to prospective students or to those who are already enrolled in community college. One of the biggest factors is if your community college is accredited. You can visit the NCES website to see if your school is accredited. If you haven’t applied yet, make sure your potential school is on that list. If not, you may find it difficult not only to get financial aid, but also to have your credits count toward a four-year degree if you decide to transfer later on.

So... what's next? How does one go about applying for one of these scholarships?

Applying for a community college scholarship is just like applying for any other type of scholarship. Once you have found one you just want to make sure to read the qualifications and instructions very carefully and follow them to the letter. Obviously, you always want to make sure you qualify for each so you don't waste your time, but then it is just a number's game. The more you apply for, the higher your chances are for winning one or more scholarships. Stary organized and keep track of whether you have applied, the deadline, winner announcement dates and methods. Some will call you or email you and others may post on their website and/or social media accounts.

Scholarship applications for community college may be just as rigorous as those for undergraduate or graduate programs. You may have to write an essay - or several essays - and provide at least one letter of recommendation from a teacher, coach, mentor or another adult you know well.

One of the simplest mistakes that students make is waiting until the day before the deadline to start the application process. Don’t do this. Even community college scholarship applications can take hours to complete.

And if you’re asking someone for a letter of recommendation, you may have to wait several days or weeks to get one. If you don't give the person enough time, they may not be able to write a letter.

Like other types of scholarships, these applications may require that you submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is your one-way ticket to federal student loans, grants and work-study - all of which are available for most community college students.

Many scholarships, especially those awarded directly by schools, also require the FAFSA. Plus, if you're attending a local community college, then you might qualify for state grants and scholarships which almost always require the FAFSA.

Another important consideration is to submit the FAFSA by the school's or the state’s financial aid deadline, whichever is sooner. If you miss one of those deadlines, then you may not be eligible for as much financial aid as you would be otherwise.

Your school’s financial aid deadline should be listed on their financial aid website. To find your state’s FAFSA deadline, visit the Federal Student Aid website.

Some FAQs on the topic

Does federal financial aid work differently for community college students?

Like traditional undergraduate students, community college students can qualify for federal student loans and Pell Grants, if they meet need-based criteria.

However, federal financial aid has a limit. For example, the aggregate limit for federal student loans is either $31,000 or $57,500 for undergraduate students, depending on whether you’re a dependent or independent student. This includes any loans that you take out, whether it’s for a two- or four-year school.

Also, Pell Grants are only available for a maximum of 12 semesters. This means that if you use Pell Grant funding for community college, you may run out of those funds later on while getting your bachelor’s degree - even if you may still qualify financially.

Are community college students still eligible for state grants?

If you're attending a local community college, you may be eligible for state grants. Like regular scholarships, these grants are given to students to encourage them to remain in state.

Many states provide grants to all types of undergraduate students. One of the few requirements is that you often have to be receiving your first degree. If you already have an associate’s or bachelor's degree, you may not qualify for another state grant for community college. The exact stipulations will vary depending on the state.

To apply for a state grant, you often have to submit the FAFSA. Some states also have their own financial aid forms that you will need to complete on top of or instead of the FAFSA.

For example, the state of Washington either requires the FAFSA or the Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA) to be eligible for the WA Grant. The WASFA is available for undocumented students and others who are not able to submit the FAFSA. The WA Grant can be worth between $457 and $4,573 for community college students, depending on your and your family’s household income.

Are there scholarships only for community college students?

Many scholarships are available for all types of undergraduate students, including those getting either a two- or four-year degree. However, some scholarships and grants are only given to community college students.

For example, the John and Kathryn O'Brien Scholarship is only available for students enrolled in a two-year college in Minnesota. You must also be an immigrant or a child of immigrants, and undocumented students are also eligible. Both part- and full-time students can apply for this award. The winner will receive a $500 scholarship.

Are older adults eligible for community college scholarships?

Most scholarships won't specifiy a maximum age. Typically, the requirements will be around school year and for a community college student, the age range can vary considerably. In fact, many adults over the age of 25 and some in their 30's or older may enroll in a community college to improve their financial situation by switching careers.

Fortunately, they may still be eligible for community college scholarships and there may even be some awards specifically designed to support them.

If you're having trouble finding financial aid and have already applied to a community college, reach out directly to their financial aid department. They may be able to suggest more opportunities that you're qualified for. Sometimes you can even appeal your financial aid package and receive more funding if you can make a compelling case.

Do international students qualify for community college scholarships?

International students may struggle more in qualifying for community college scholarships than local students. Their best option is to reach out to each community college and ask for help from the financial aid department.

These departments may be able to suggest specific, personalized options for each student. Also, students studying abroad in the U.S. should look for financial aid opportunities within their home country.

Do DACA students qualify for community college scholarships?

Paying for college, whether you are enrolled in a community college or not, is more difficult when you’re a DACA student. DACA students do not have access to federal financial aid, including federal student loans and grants.

Some states allow undocumented citizens to qualify for state grants that they can use toward community college tuition. For example, California lets DACA students complete the CA Dream Act application.

There are also third-party organizations that provide scholarships to these students. For example, The Dream.US, an organization that helps undocumented students, offers DACA students with demonstrated financial need scholarships.

You must be attending a partner school to qualify for their National Scholarship program. You can find a list of their partner schools here, which includes several community colleges in states like Colorado and New York.

Are there scholarships for students transferring from a community college to a four-year school?

For many students, their time at a community college is simply a stop-over on their way to a four-year school. And because a four-year school is almost always more expensive than a two-year one, there are special awards for students looking to move on.

For example, the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship is given to a community college student who is transferring to a four-year school. The award can be worth up to $55,000 annually for two or three years. The amount will vary depending on the cost of attendance and the student’s other financial aid sources.

Students can have a maximum household income of $95,000 to qualify. Also, students cannot have attended a four-year school before, unless they completed less than a semester as a full-time student.

Do some states provide free community college?

As more states realize that the key to upward financial mobility is a good education, some are implementing free community college, either for all students or only for those who are low-income or meet other criteria.

Unfortunately, some states have a limited number of spots for free community college. For example, Arkansas’ AR Futures Grant is only available on a first-come, first-served basis. This is another reason why interested students should try to fill out their FAFSA and community college applications as soon as possible. Starting to research and consider all of your options early in your senior year in high school or even earlier is a good idea.

Also, many states have residency requirements to receive free community college. These can vary widely. For example, California only requires one year of residency while Arkansas requires three years.

Are part-time community college students eligible for grants and scholarships?

If you’re attending a community college, you can choose what kind of course load you can handle. Some students can afford a full-time schedule, while others can only take one or two classes at a time. Finding financial aid opportunities is often easier if you’re a full-time student, but there may still be dozens of awards for part-time students.

Is there a GPA requirement for community college scholarships?

Generally speaking, many scholarships have a minimum GPA requirement in order to be eligible to apply. This figure will vary, but is often between 2.5 and 3.0. However, some community college scholarships may have higher standards.

For example, the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship requires that students have a 3.5 GPA to qualify.

Also keep in mind that the higher your GPA, the more likely it is you will receive more financial aid when you eventually transfer to a four-year school, if transferring is your goal. While many scholarships have a minimum GPA requirement, few have a maximum GPA requirement.

Can I still apply for scholarships if I’m currently enrolled at a community college?

If you’re already enrolled in a community college, you may still be eligible for scholarships and grants. You should start by talking to the financial aid department at your current school; they are often a good source of information.

Next, look for scholarships online for students just like you. For example, if you’re getting a two-year degree in software, look for STEM community college scholarships. You’ll have a better chance of winning a niche scholarship than a general one. Also, if you’re part of any kind of minority group, you may be eligible for special scholarships specifically for those in your group.

Did we answer all of your questions?

Try though we have, it is unlikely we hit 100% of every reader's questions and curiosities on the topic. If you need more information on the topic of community college scholarships, or any other "paying for college" topic, please don't hesitate to reach out and ask us! We'll not only respond to your email as quickly as possible, we might even add it to this page so that others can also benefit from the information.