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Can I afford it? Six ways to make paying for college easier


"Can I afford it?" It's a question that many people ask about college.

But it is important to remember that there is a variety of resources, many of them free, that can make college very affordable. 

Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step for any prospective college student. This application opens the door to free resources such as grants and scholarships. The college financial aid office will assist you if you need help completing this online application. It is important to complete your FAFSA as soon as possible after it is released from the Department of Education every January 1.

MAP/Pell grants and scholarships

The state MAP grant has limited funding and requires a FAFSA to be submitted early in the calendar year. (In 2015, the cutoff date was the end of February.) The Pell grant also requires the FAFSA.  It is a federal resource based upon your financial need and/or your family's financial need, cost of attendance, and enrollment status.  These grants are not loans so they do not need to be paid back.

The ECC Foundation currently offers more than 125 student scholarships each year. These scholarships help ensure that finances are not a barrier to student success and that academic excellence is rewarded. Learn more about ECC scholarships at

Student Loans

One additional resource made available when a student completes and submits a FAFSA is a federal student loan.  These loans, which are backed by the federal government, assist students when the opportunity for free resources have been fully utilized. You will have to pay back these loans, often with interest, after you leave college or drop below half-time enrollment.  For many federal student loans, you must begin repayment after a grace period of six months.

Work-study Programs

Most colleges offer work-study programs where students work a part-time job at a college office and earn money they can use toward school. The benefit of work-study is that you are already on campus and can work your hours around your class schedule.

Payment Plans

When available financial resources are not enough to cover the cost of tuition, many colleges offer an online payment plan where students can pay their costs in pre-determined installments. At Elgin Community College, this payment plan is an interest free alternative when the student has pursued all free resources yet has a remaining balance.

Educate yourself about college finances

Investing in an education is one of the most significant decisions a person makes in their life. ECC's comprehensive financial literacy program was designed to teach students about college finances.  ECC's Financial Aid office conducts one-on-one loan advising for each student who wants to borrow a student loan. Therefore, students are educated borrowers and only borrow the amount that they actually need for their education.

Paying for college is easier when you understand every aspect of the process. Take advantage of the financial resources your college provides to help you make the right decision.

Amy Perrin is the director of financial aid and scholarships at Elgin Community College. Kim Wagner is the managing director of student financial services at Elgin Community College.


Related Link: ECC Financial Aid

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