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The most expensive colleges cost more than $60,000 a year, so how could it be possible for the cheapest colleges to cost less than $5,000 a year? A number of colleges do. You might even be able to attend college and pay only the cost of your books and supplies if you qualify for grants and scholarships. The key to this is locating and attending an affordable college or university. Low-cost higher education is out there, whether you rely on community colleges for your general education requirements, or find a four-year college or university that will fit your budget needs.
No matter where you live, the most affordable colleges are found in the two-year community college system. Although unit fees have risen in the past decade, community colleges remain affordable for all students, including those who do not qualify for reduced tuition or financial aid. California's community colleges cost $46 a unit, or about $550 a semester, much less than $5,000 a year. The national average community college cost is less than $3,500 a year, the College Board reports. Community colleges provide the same general education courses as four-year colleges and offer many certificate programs in addition to two-year associate's degrees that you may use to transfer to a four-year institution.
Public Colleges and Universities
Every U.S. state has a public college and university system. Some are larger than others, like the New York State University system (SUNY) and California's CSU and UC systems. Whether or not you are a state resident makes a difference in the price you pay. The College Board reported that the average in-state tuition of public four-year colleges is $9,410. Many schools charge less. Indian River State College in Florida charges $2,640 a year for tuition and fees. Gordon State College in Georgia costs $4,164 with tuition and fees included.
Government Grants and Financial Aid
Many prospective college students get overwhelmed filling out their application for federal student aid or FAFSA. It's worth it to work with a financial aid officer or counselor to fill the form out completely and correctly, because the form will determine whether or not you can receive a Federal Pell grant for as much as $5,920, as well as other state grants and individual scholarships. The College Board reported that students averaged over $8,100 in federal and state grants in 2015. You may be eligible for education loans that averaged $4,800 per student in 2015, and additional education tax credits and deductions, which totaled more than $1,170. Combined with affordable in-state tuition, you might be able to pay for 100% of your college through government grants.
Some private colleges and universities also have affordable prices, like Brigham Young University, which charges around $5,000 a year at its various campuses, and much less than $5,000 for its campus in Idaho. Many of America's most prestigious universities have affordable net costs when financial aid is counted in the total. Will the cheapest colleges let you attend for less than $5,000 a year? Yes, and you may be surprised at the amount of financial aid and scholarships at some of the more expensive colleges and universities as well.
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