Don't Count Out Scholarships for Community College Students

Carissa Chang Cress

Community colleges have been generating a lot of press lately and got a major boost when President BarackObama unveiled America's College Promise earlier this year. That proposal calls for making two years of community college free for deserving students.

While the discussion about free community college is still in its early stages, it has already made one thing clear: even though the sticker price of community colleges can be significantly less than four-year institutions, cost can still be an issue. And even with lower tuition, there are still other costs of attendance to keep in mind.

[Check out 10 reasons to attend a community college.]

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, average in-district tuition and fees for community colleges were $3,347 in 2015. But you'll also need to factor in items like books, supplies and transportation. The College Board's BigFuture website has a helpful breakdown.

All things considered, it's important to know the whole cost of attending school, and that goes for community college students too. Fortunately, if you find you have a gap in your financial aid, there are scholarships that can help.

Make sure your hard work is recognized through the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, an honor society for two-year college students. Phi Theta Kappa is also an option for transfer students, but there are awards for students graduating with their associate degree too. Some awards also don't require membership to apply.

The Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team is one option for students who demonstrate academic excellence and service in the community. A total of 150 scholars will receive scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $1,500. Applicants will need a nomination from their school to be eligible. All fall programs offered by the honor society will open Oct. 1, 2015.

[Learn about four reasons high school grads should turn to community colleges.]

If you're a woman who has financial need, the American Association for Women in Community Colleges is worth looking into. The association offers $500 regional scholarships, along with a one-year membership to the association.

In addition to the application, the award requires a letter of support from your local AAWCC chapter and a financial need statement. It also requires a brief personal essay of 250 words or less that describes your contribution or impact on women's issues in your community or college, as well as what you'll do to enhance college women's experiences through the AAWCC.

All materials should be submitted to your nearest AAWCC regional director. The last deadline was March 13, so be sure to check back later this year for updated application materials.

In addition to national opportunities, state scholarships can make a big difference in your college bills. Search your state's higher education office website, and see what options are available to community college students.

[Get answers to frequently asked questions about community colleges.]

For example, Georgia's HOPE Grant Program offers grants ranging from $ 65 to almost $1,000 for technical certificate or diploma programs. The more hours you're enrolled in a program, the higher the grant amount. Most of the grants are renewable, too, helping you to continue your studies throughout multiple semesters.

There are even networks of schools that are working together to make community college more affordable. Scholarship America Dreamkeepers ® is one such program, helping students stay in college when faced with an unforeseen financial emergency.

These emergency financial assistance grants can also come with other services, such as financial counseling. Participating colleges span 15 states, which means more opportunities to help more students on a local, regional and national level.

Finally, remember to ask about scholarship programs at your school's financial aid office. You'll often find generous individuals in the community who are committed to the school and to your success.

Carissa Chang Cress joined Scholarship America in 2013. She is an alumna of Taylor University and a former scholarship recipient.