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Save Money on College: Advice from HCC’s Director of Financial Aid Services

Rocks stacked on top of each other on campus.

For most of us, the cost of a college education is one of the single largest investments we will make in our lives. So how can you get a top-notch education without all the debt? We spoke with Dawn Lowe, director of financial aid services at Howard Community College, to get the answers you need to save on your path to success.

Q: How much is the average tuition for a two-year school, such as HCC?

A: Over four years, it costs over $40,000 to earn a bachelor degree at a public, in-state, four-year college! If you chose to live on campus, those costs could be even higher. HCC’s annual tuition is less than half, allowing you to save money for later transfer to a 4-year college, graduate school, or other expenses.

Q: What’s the first step in figuring out how to pay for education?

A: First, identify the colleges you are interested in and gather the costs for tuition, fees, and if applicable, for room and board at each of them. Next, find out the deadline at each college for filing the FAFSA, and whether each college has a scholarship application. If so, what is the deadline to complete that?

Q: What if I do not have the money to pay for college?

A: The two best ways to save money on college are:

  • Save on Tuition and Other Costs - Start at a community college (such as HCC!) and live at home. You’ll get the lowest tuition and fee rates available (by less than half that of a public four-year school) and you can transfer those core credits to a four-year college after two years to earn your bachelor degree!
  • Apply for Grants and Scholarships – If you apply on time (or better yet, early) for need-based college grants and state aid, and also apply for college scholarships, you are likely to receive funds. Maximize your opportunity to be considered for all the aid that might be available to you by applying early! And, apply even if you think you may not be eligible. You never know unless you try!

Also, don’t forget to use the free scholarship search engines on the web to search for private sector scholarships. Most students who spend some time on this (a half hour a week!) do find scholarships!

Q: What types of student aid are available at HCC?

A: HCC administers financial aid from federal, state, private, and college sources, including need-based grants, scholarships loans, and work-study. Scholarships and loans can be need-based, meaning you receive then based on your financial situation, or merit-based, meaning you are awarded the scholarship based on criteria such as academic achievement or area of study.

Q: When is the best time to apply for student aid?

A: Complete your FAFSA between October 1 and January 15 for the following academic year, and be sure to complete all required paperwork requested before the college’s priority deadline (March 1 at HCC). The priority deadline for merit scholarship applications is June 1.

Q: What are some other ways to save money on college?

A: The best ways to save money on college include:

  • Earn college credit before going to college, with programs like Dual Enrollment, Jumpstart, and Startalk. Part or all of the tuition costs may be discounted for some students.
  • Remember “2 + 2”. Complete your first two years at a community college, then transfer to a four-year college for your second two years to complete your bachelor’s degree.
  •  529 Savings and Prepaid Tuition Programs
  • Employer Tuition Reimbursement Plan – check to see if your employer offers this benefit.
  • Veterans Benefits

Q: Any other tips you can offer?

A: Remember, you wouldn’t purchase a cell phone without doing research about cost versus value! Spend your time finding out about what scholarship and grant opportunities are available to you and apply EARLY. Also remember the best value in education is two years at a community college and then transfer to a four-year college to complete your bachelor degree!

Wherever you want to go, you can get there from here. 
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