2016 Most Affordable Colleges in Iowa

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Choices for affordable Iowa colleges include big public schools like Iowa State University (ISU) and the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), a smattering of private institutions and a large helping of community colleges. If you’re trying to save money, remember that you always have the option to start at a community college and transfer after your sophomore year. State financial aid is respectable if you’re low-income—many grants & scholarships are purely need-based. However, there are good loan repayment programs available for health professionals and teachers who agree to work in Iowa.

How to Transfer College Credits in Iowa

Iowa state institutions have a long history of strong voluntary articulation agreements, so students are likely to find that many, if not all, of their completed credits will transfer to a new program and institutions. Students may also be eligible for a reverse credit transfer, which grants students a degree, diploma, or certification from an Iowa community college for completed credits.

Iowa’s Liason Advisory Committee on Transfer Students offers a document, The Public Connection, which details the statewide articulation agreements offered between Iowa’s community colleges and universities. These agreements include associate’s degree agreements and a career and technical credit agreement.

Under Iowa’s Associate of Arts Articulation Agreement and the Associate of Science Articulation Agreement, students who earn an associate of arts will have completed a standard set of required general education courses and electives. These courses will be acceptable for transfer to an Iowa public university, and students who satisfy the requirements of the agreement will be enrolled at junior level status with the four year institution.

Students who have not yet completed an associate’s degree have options as well. Four year colleges and universities in Iowa will accept up to 16 semester hours of career and technical credit from students, assuming that the credit applies to an associate’s degree at the career or technical college where it was earned. These semester hours are accepted on a pass/fail basis.

Learn more about how your credit will transfer to Iowa’s three regent universities on the Transfer in Iowa website. This resource offers links to transfer tools for major universities in the state of Iowa.

State Financial Aid for Iowa Students

The Iowa College Student Aid Commission (ICSAC) (a.k.a. Iowa College Aid) is responsible for administering state aid to Iowans. You’ll find all sorts of useful things on ICSAC’s website, including links to financial aid resources, videos on college planning, free guides and tips for Latino students and adult learners.

ICSAC also has a list of state grants & scholarships and a number of federal and state loan repayment programs. To be eligible for most state aid, you’ll need to file your FAFSA. For certain programs, you may also have to complete the Iowa Financial Aid Application as well.

But wait, there’s more… I Have a Plan Iowa! has detailed advice for all kinds of learners—from middle school through to high school and beyond. Users can create their own customized portfolio of college and career options, search for college scholarships, experiment with interactive financial aid tools and so on.

Other recommended sites include Your Future Starts Here, an Iowa Department of Education program focused on helping residents achieve the High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED), and GEAR UP Iowa, a program that supports minority and low-income students from the 7th grade all the way to college.

Iowa Student Grants

All Iowa Opportunity Foster Care Grant

Summary: This grant is available to students who age out of Iowa’s foster care system or Iowa state training school or students who are adopted from Iowa foster care after the age of 16. Students are eligible to receive the grant until the age of 24.

The maximum award is $9,010 per year. Grant money can be used for tuition & fees, books & supplies, room & board (including off-campus housing), transportation and personal living expenses.

Eligibility: You must:

The grant webpage has more details about eligibility requirements and the application procedure.

How to Apply: File your FAFSA and complete the Iowa Financial Aid Application.

Education & Training Voucher (ETV) Grant

Summary: This grant is only available to students who age out of foster care and students who are adopted after the age of 16. Grants can be used for undergraduate or graduate study, but undergraduates get priority when awards are distributed.

The maximum award is $5,000 per year. Grant money can be used for tuition & fees, room & board, books & supplies and living expenses.

Eligibility: You must have aged out of foster care or have been legally adopted after the age of 16. The grant webpage has precise definitions and information about age requirements.

How to Apply: File your FAFSA and complete the Iowa Financial Aid Application. If you’re a graduate student, you’ll also need to send information about your graduate program to the ETV coordinator. If you plan to attend an out-of-state college, you’ll need to fill out extra forms.

Iowa Barber & Cosmetology Arts and Sciences Tuition Grant

Summary: This grant is awarded to Iowans attending certain Iowa barber and cosmetology colleges. Grant money is sent directly to colleges and the Financial Aid Office doles out the awards. Priority is given to first-year students with the greatest financial need.

The maximum award is $1,200 per year.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be an Iowa resident
  • Attend an eligible Iowa barber/cosmetology college (ask the Financial Aid Office if the school participates in the grant program)

How to Apply: File your FAFSA.

Iowa Tuition Grant

Summary: This grant is available to Iowans enrolled in an undergraduate program at an eligible private college or university in Iowa (i.e. an independent, non-profit institution of higher education). Priority is given to applicants with the greatest financial need.

The maximum award is $6,000 per year, but amounts vary widely depending on funding and the number of grant recipients. Full-time students can receive funds for up to four years of study; part-time students may be eligible for adjusted amounts.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be an Iowa resident
  • Be pursuing undergraduate studies
  • Be enrolled at an eligible Iowa private college or university (ask the Financial Aid Office if the school participates in the grant program)

How to Apply: File your FAFSA.

Iowa Vocational-Technical Grant

Summary: This need-based grant is available to Iowans enrolled in a career or technical educational program at an Iowa community college.

The maximum award is $1,200 per year for up to two years. Part-time students may be eligible for adjusted amounts.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be an Iowa resident
  • Attend an Iowa community college
  • Be enrolled in at least 3 credit hours in a qualified program of study (at least 15 weeks long)
  • Demonstrate financial need (as determined by FAFSA information)

How to Apply: File your FAFSA.

Kibbie Grant (Iowa Skilled Workforce Shortage Tuition Grant)

Summary: This need-based grant is available to Iowans enrolled in specific career or technical education programs at Iowa community colleges (e.g. nursing, IT, advanced manufacturing, construction, etc.).

The maximum award is 1/2 of tuition & fees at an average Iowa community college for up to two years. Part-time students may be eligible for prorated amounts.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be an Iowa resident
  • Attend an Iowa community college
  • Be enrolled in at least 3 credit hours in a qualified program of study (at least 15 weeks long)—the grant webpage has a list of eligible programs
  • Demonstrate financial need (as determined by FAFSA information)

How to Apply: File your FAFSA.

Iowa Student Scholarships

All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship (AIOS)

Summary: This scholarship is available to low-income Iowans who have done well in high school and wish to attend an eligible Iowa college or university. Priority is given to applicants who have participated in certain federal TRIO programs or federal GEAR Up Grant programs and graduates of alternative high schools/high school programs.

The maximum award is $8,118.

Eligibility: Most importantly, you must:

  • Be an Iowa resident
  • Attend an eligible Iowa college or university
  • Graduate from an eligible Iowa high school with a minimum cumulative 2.5 GPA
  • Enroll for at least 3 semester hours (or the equivalent) in an undergraduate program
  • Have an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of $8,118 or lower

The scholarship webpage has more details about eligibility requirements, renewals and disbursement options.

How to Apply: File your FAFSA and complete the Iowa Financial Aid Application.

GEAR UP Iowa Scholarship

Summary: This scholarship is available to Iowans who are part of the GEAR UP Iowa Program and wish to attend a Title IV college/university in Iowa or out-of-state. Scholarship money is sent to colleges/universities and the Financial Aid Office doles out the awards.

The maximum award is $2,600 per year. Scholarship money can be used for tuition & fees, room & board, books & supplies and living expenses.

Eligibility: Most importantly, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Be a GEAR UP Iowa Program participant (as certified by GEAR UP Iowa staff at Iowa College Aid)
  • Have a high school diploma, GED/HiSET or home school diploma
  • Enroll for at least 3 semester hours (or the equivalent) in a Title IV undergraduate program at a Title IV college/university in Iowa or out-of-state

The scholarship webpage has answers to FAQs and more details about eligibility requirements, Title IV definitions and renewals.

How to Apply: If you are an Iowa resident, you only need to file a FAFSA. If you are a resident of any other state, you must complete a separate GEAR UP Iowa Scholarship Application.

Governor Terry E. Branstad Iowa State Fair Scholarship

Summary: This scholarship is available to Iowa high school seniors who have actively participated in the Iowa State Fair. Scholarships are based on State Fair participation, financial need, extracurricular/community activities, community service and volunteerism, GPA and a personal essay. Up to ten scholarships are given annually.

The maximum award is $5,000. This is a one-time award for the first year of college only and the scholarship amount cannot exceed a student’s financial need.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Actively participate in the Iowa State Fair
  • Be a graduating senior from an Iowa high school
  • Plan to enroll at an Iowa college or university

How to Apply: File your FAFSA and complete the Iowa Financial Aid Application. You’ll also need to submit additional documents (e.g. personal essay).

Robert D. Blue Scholarship

Summary: This scholarship is awarded to high-achieving Iowa students who demonstrate moral qualities. Scholarships are based on high school GPA, financial need, a personal essay and reference letters. Applicants can be high school seniors or students currently attending an Iowa college or university.

Awards range from $500-$1,000.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be an Iowa resident
  • Attend or plan to attend an Iowa college or university

How to Apply: Complete the Robert D. Blue Scholarship Application, available from ICSAC.

Iowa Student Loans & Repayment Programs

Iowa Registered Nurse and Nurse Educator Loan Forgiveness Program

Summary: This program provides loan repayments to registered nurses employed in Iowa and nurse educators teaching at eligible Iowa colleges and universities. Nurse educator applicants are given priority.

The maximum annual award is 20% of the eligible federal student loan balance, including principal and interest, for up to five consecutive years.

Eligibility: Most importantly, you must:

  • Be a qualified nurse educator employed by eligible Iowa colleges or universities or a registered nurse who is employed as a nurse in Iowa
  • Be employed at least quarter time (minimum 520 hours)
  • Owe a balance on an eligible federal student loan (Stafford or Consolidation)

The program webpage has more details about eligibility requirements, award amounts, application procedures and selection criteria. You don’t have to be an Iowa resident to apply.

How to Apply: Complete the Loan Forgiveness portion of the Iowa Financial Aid Application. ICSAC will verify your service with your employer.

Iowa Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Summary: This program offers loan repayment assistance to Iowa educators who teach in an eligible shortage subject area (e.g. math, sciences, foreign language, ESL, etc.).

The maximum annual award is 20% of the total eligible federal student loan balance, including principal and interest. Applicants may receive forgiveness for no more than five consecutive years.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be a fully licensed teacher whose first teaching position in Iowa began after July 1, 2007
  • Be teaching in an eligible shortage subject area in Iowa
  • Owe a balance on an eligible federal student loan (Stafford or Consolidation)

The loan forgiveness webpage has more details about eligibility criteria, award amounts, awarding priority and caveats.

How to Apply: Complete the Iowa Financial Aid Application. ICSAC will verify that you have qualified teaching service by contacting your school’s administrator.

John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program

Summary: This is a federally funded (but state administered) program that provides loan repayments to public prosecutors and defenders employed in the state of Iowa who agree to remain in their positions for 3 years.

Award amounts vary depending on funding. 50% of awards go to public defenders; 50% to public prosecutors.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be continually licensed to practice law in Iowa
  • Meet the definition of an eligible prosecutor or public defender in the state of Iowa for each year of the three-year contract period
  • Have been employed, full-time, in an eligible position on or before January 1, 2014
  • Have an outstanding Federal loan balance (Perkins, Stafford, Graduate PLUS or consolidation)

The loan repayment webpage has more details about eligibility criteria, service agreements and important dates.

How to Apply: Complete the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program Application, available through ICSAC.

Rural Iowa Advanced RN Practitioner and PA Loan Repayment Program

Summary: This program provides loan repayments to Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants who agree to practice in certain rural Iowa communities for at least five years.

The maximum total award is $20,000. This is paid in five increments toward outstanding Federal Subsidized Stafford, Unsubsidized Stafford, Graduate PLUS and Perkins Loan balances at the end of each 12-month employment period. One year of service = up to $4,000.

Eligibility: You must:

The loan repayment webpage has a fact sheet and more details about eligibility criteria. You don’t have to be an Iowa resident to apply, but Iowans are given priority for funding.

How to Apply: Contact the Financial Aid Office at your choice of school for an application and program agreement.

Rural Iowa Primary Care Loan Repayment Program

Summary: This program provides loan repayments to Doctors of Medicine (MDs) or Doctors of Osteopathy (DOs) who agree to practice in certain rural Iowa communities for at least five years.

The maximum total award is $200,000. This is paid in five increments toward outstanding Federal Subsidized Stafford, Unsubsidized Stafford, Graduate PLUS and Perkins Loan balances at the end of each 12-month employment period. One year of service = up to $40,000.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Graduate from a full-time MD or DO degree program at Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine or the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine
  • Complete an Iowa-based residency program at an eligible location
  • Become licensed and employed in your chosen practice with nine months of completing residency
  • Work for a minimum of 5 consecutive years in an eligible service area

The loan repayment webpage has a fact sheet and more details about eligibility criteria. You don’t have to be an Iowa resident to apply, but Iowans are given priority for funding.

How to Apply: Contact the Financial Aid Office at your choice of medical college (i.e. Des Moines or University of Iowa) for an application and program agreement.

Teach Iowa Scholar (TIS) Program

Summary: TIS rewards high achieving Iowa teachers who teach in Iowa schools in designated shortage areas (e.g. math, sciences, foreign language, school counseling, etc.).

The maximum annual award is $4,000 for up to five years. This award can be sent to a lender to pay back an outstanding federal student loan balance or sent to the recipient as a lump sum payment.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Graduate from a full teacher preparation program on/after January 1, 2013 (this includes undergraduate, master’s or intern programs, but excludes just completing coursework to add an endorsement)
  • Graduate in the top 25% of your class
  • Teach in a designated shortage area in an institution that’s approved by the Iowa Department of Education
  • Have an Iowa teaching license and corresponding endorsement for the shortage area

The program webpage has more details about eligibility requirements, shortage areas and awarding priority.

How to Apply: Complete the TIS Application, available through ICSAC.

Education Assistance for Iowa Military & Veterans

Iowa National Guard Educational Assistance Program (NGEAP)

Summary: NGEAP provides tuition funding to Iowa National Guard members who pursue undergraduate or certificate programs at eligible Iowa colleges and universities.

The maximum award pays 100% of the average resident tuition rate at Iowa Regent Universities (for no more than 120 semester hours or the equivalent).

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be an Iowa resident
  • Be an active member of the Iowa Army or Air National Guard
  • Satisfactorily complete required Guard training and maintain satisfactory performance of Guard duty
  • Be pursuing an initial undergraduate degree or certificate at an Iowa college or university accredited by the North Central Association (NCA) of Colleges and Schools

Students who already have a BA are not eligible to receive funding.

How to Apply: Complete the Iowa Financial Aid Application.

War Orphan Tuition Assistance

Summary: Education assistance is available to children of veterans who died before September 11, 2011 and children of veterans who died on or after September 11, 2011 as set forth in Chapters 35.8 and 35.9 of the Iowa Code.

Dependents of veterans killed on/after September 11, 2001 are eligible for up to $11,844 per year in tuition assistance at an Iowa postsecondary institution. Dependents of those killed in action prior to September 11, 2001 are eligible for $600 per year with a maximum of $3,000.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be an eligible dependent of a deceased veteran
  • Meet the residency requirements
  • Attend a university, college, junior college, school of nursing, business school or trade school in Iowa that has been approved by the Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs

The DVA’s Benefits webpage has more details about veteran definitions and eligibility criteria. Children of post 9/11 veterans qualify up to the age of twenty-six.

How to Apply: Complete the War Orphan Tuition Assistance Application, available through the DVA.

Contact the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) for further info on both federal (e.g. GI Bill) and state education benefits for veterans.

Additional Support for Iowa Students

GAP Tuition Assistance Program

Summary: Need-based tuition assistance is available to students who wish to pursue short-term, non-credit certificate training programs for in-demand occupations. This funding is provided by the Iowa Department of Education.

Award amounts vary depending on the size of the community college. Award money may cover tuition (partial or full), fees, books & equipment and direct training costs.

Eligibility: You must:

  • Be an Iowa resident
  • Be eligible to work in the U.S.
  • Have a gross family income that is at or below 250% of the federal poverty level
  • Enroll in an eligible GAP program that offers training or a credential in an in-demand occupation
  • Demonstrate the capacity to achieve the program outcomes (e.g. ability to enter and retain full-time employment)

How to Apply: Ask the Financial Aid Office at your choice of Iowa community college if it participates in the GAP program. If it does, the office will provide you with application materials.

Cheaper College Living in Iowa

College can be tough on family finances. We list various ways to save money in our sections below, but we recognize that you may be dealing with multiple budget issues.

One place to try is the state. The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) runs programs like Medicaid, food stamps, child care assistance and the Family Investment Program (FIP), otherwise known as Iowa’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. If you’re part of FIP, you’ll participate in PROMISE JOBS, which provides work and training services (e.g. high school completion, postsecondary education, etc.).

Not eligible for state benefits or stuck on a waiting list? Call 2-1-1 or visit the website of 211 Iowa/Nebraska. Run by United Way, 211 is a free referral service that connects residents to community organizations and social service programs in their area. Looking for affordable child care? Worried about rent or utility bills? Homeless? 211 counselors can direct you to the right place.

Your local Community Action Agency will have info on similar programs. If English is your second language or you’re new to the country, you may also want to check out Welcome to Iowa!. It’s a one-stop multilingual resource center, which links to many social services.

On-Campus Housing

Living in a dorm has its financial perks. You’re not paying for commuting costs, rooms are usually furnished, utilities are included and buildings are up-to-code (e.g. the plumbing works). However, campus housing is one of the places that schools love to jack up their prices.

To get a sense of your housing budget, check the rates section of your university website. Then use online college budget calculators (e.g. Yahoo.com and CalcXML.com) to compare on-campus costs (meal plans, dorm fees, etc.) with off-campus bills (rent, gas, utilities, etc.).

Remember, too, that you might be required to live on campus. For instance, Grinnell College mandates that all full-time students (with some exceptions) live in student residences and use college dining services. Before you apply, find out if your university has a similar policy. Some students save money in later years by becoming Resident Advisors.

If you’re worried about taking out student loans to cover costs, talk to your high school guidance counselor, your school’s residential life/housing coordinator and/or someone at the Financial Aid Office. You may be eligible for private & institutional scholarships and work-study programs. For example, recipients of UI’s George L. Droll Award can have up to $1,500 credited to room & board. ISU’s Charles O. Campbell-Madge Young Scholarship doles out $1,000 for spring semester bills.

Off-Campus Housing

Community colleges and commuter schools often have limited campus housing. Iowa has more dorms than some states, but you still may find yourself looking at apartment rents (as well as heating bills, security deposits, renter’s insurance, gasoline prices, etc.) in your freshman year.

To save money, you might consider sharing with multiple roommates, searching for apartment buildings that rent by the room, looking for options that aren’t right next to campus or going to a college where you can live at home and transfer your credits after your sophomore year.

When it comes to choices, the off campus housing section of your university’s website can be helpful. Examples include ISU’s Rent Smart Ames, UI’s Off-Campus Housing Services and UNI’s Off Campus Student Resources. You can also try Craigslist & messageboards and websites that are focused on campus locations (e.g. CampusRent.com, MyApartmentMap.com, OffCampus.com, etc.).

Homeless or facing eviction? Talk to your school’s housing/residential life advisor first. If your college can’t help, websites like HomelessShelterDirectory.org and www.shelterlistings.org have directories of shelters and transitional living options. HUD.gov also has a list of affordable housing resources for low-income Iowans.

Utilities

Every landlord has a different idea about who pays for what utilities, so it’s important to read your lease very carefully before you sign it. To get a sense of costs, you can ask your landlord or the individual utility company for a monthly estimate of bills. Or you can talk to former renters.

Iowa’s utility costs generally fall below the national average, but winter can be hard on heating bills. If you need help with bill payments, you can seek help from the state (e.g. the LIHEAP program), your county or city (e.g. Iowa City’s Utility Discount Program) or even the utility company itself. Black Hills Energy, MidAmerican Energy, Alliant Energy—all these, and more, have discount programs for low-income residents.

Your local Salvation Army post will also have information on non-profit utility assistance programs in your neighborhood.

Medical & Dental

The first place to go for affordable medical care is your school’s student health center. These centers are funded by university fees, so you have every right to use them.

Private colleges and big universities tend to have the most services. For instance, in addition to standards like immunizations, ISU’s Thielen Student Health Center provides x-rays, physical therapy and a 24/7 nurse hotline. Most centers now offer mental health counseling and referral services as well. UI even runs a Free Mental Health Clinic (FMHC) for patients who are on the Community Mental Health Center for Mid-Eastern Iowa (CMHC) waitlist.

If you have trouble getting the care you need at school, you can try your community. Free Clinics of Iowa has 30+ free clinic members in both rural and urban setting. Some of these clinics will also provide mental health care. If they don’t, see what your county has on offer. For example, Mental Health America (MHA) of Dubuque County has a directory of local mental health services. The Iowa Help Line is 1-855-800-1239 and the national Mental Health Crisis/Suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

Cheap dental care can be trickier to source. Iowa’s  I-Smile Dental Home Initiative covers kids, but adults don’t always have the same resources. Ask your community action agency, community health center or your student health center for referrals to low-cost dentists. Another option is to see if you live near a school of dentistry or school of dental hygiene. For instance, UI’s College of Dentistry in Iowa City offers reduced fees to patients of student dentists.

Child Care

UI, UNI, ISU, UD and a lengthy list of Iowa community colleges have daycare facilities on campus. Competition for spots can be fierce, so it’s worth applying as early as you can. While you’re there, ask if your college provides any discounts to low-income families. For example, UI has a Child Care Subsidy Program, open to both undergraduates and graduates.

Nothing at your choice of college? You may be eligible for state benefits—a.k.a. the Child Care Assistance (CCA) program—or scholarships and subsidies from your county. For instance, Scott County Kids has an Early Childhood Iowa Childcare Scholarship for residents who are ineligible for CCA benefits.

If you need assistance finding a cheap provider, Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) provides an online directory and a free hotline (1-877-216-8481) where you can talk to a parent specialist about your challenges. The DHS provides a Child Care Provider Search and college daycare centers will be able to refer to providers near campus.

Transportation

Commuting costs are going to depend on your location (e.g. rural vs. urban), the type of university you attend and your other commitments. If you’re working multiple jobs, living at home or taking care of kids, your car may be your lifeline.

Having said that, we still recommend a visit to the transportation section of your university’s website. This will have information on campus shuttle schedules, rideshares, carpools, parking discounts, bike programs, car rentals—the works. Just to take one example, ISU students favor their free CyRide bus system (and the Moonlight Express), which goes around campus and to Ames City.

What’s more, this section will have details about local transit discounts. For instance, UI students who participate in the U-PASS program get unlimited rides on Iowa City Transit or Coralville Transit. National carriers like Amtrak, Greyhound and Jefferson Lines also offer everyday discounts (usually around 15%) to students with a valid college ID.

Food

In response to the hunger crisis, ISU, IHCC and UI have created food pantries on campus. UI also participates in the Free Food Finder, which helps students find campus events offering free food. Talk to the Financial Aid Office if you’re struggling. There may be ways to reduce your meal plan costs, receive leftover food from dining services or get a job in the kitchens.

Or you can try your community. Iowa’s food stamp program is called Food Assistance, but the DHS also runs SHARE, which provides cheap groceries in return for volunteer service, the WIC program for pregnant women and new mothers and free nutrition education programs. If you’re ineligible for state benefits, you can visit a food bank. Food Bank of Iowa has a list of food pantries and banks organized by county.

SEE ALSO: our Encyclopedic Guide to Saving Money as a College Student.

Find Support in Your Area

College in Des Moines on a Budget

Students who are thinking of Drake University or DMACC should be pleased to hear that Des Moines is not only the largest city in Iowa, it’s also fairly affordable. According to Sperling’s Best Places, the overall cost of living is below the national average, rents are reasonable and there’s a fair amount of subsidized housing. Public transit is provided by DART buses, which are free for Drake students but get mixed reviews from riders. However, the city has plenty of cheap eats, great parks, proximity to lakes and, yes—the State Fair.

Where to Go for Help in Des Moines

Getting to college takes grit, money and support from your community. We’ve listed a few Des Moines organizations that are designed to help residents get into college, but there are plenty more out there!

Need help with a specific income-related challenge? Central Iowans can dial 2-1-1 for advice on any matter regarding social services. The City of Des Moines has further info on services like low-income housing assistance, public transport and recreation centers.

College in Cedar Rapids on a Budget

Cedar Rapids is the most expensive city on our list of three, but the overall cost of living is still below the national average. Housing is generally affordable, though most Coe University students stick to campus dorms. Buses are run by Cedar Rapids Transit, though students often drive or get a ride to Iowa City for university-related activities. If you want to get some fresh air, there are free jogging and biking trails along the river.

Where to Go for Help in Cedar Rapids

Already live in Cedar Rapids? You can find scholarship money and training programs in a variety of local spots. We’ve listed a few, but your high school counselor and KCC will be able to refer you to more.

Need help with a specific income-related challenge? Call 2-1-1, 319-739-4211 or 1-866-469-2211 to talk to an Iowan about your needs. The City of Cedar Rapids has further info on services like housing, city buses and utilities.

College in Davenport on a Budget

Davenport is home to SAU, a bustling riverfront/downtown and some pretty affordable housing & utility costs. Davenport CitiBus is in charge of public transit and SAU students can ride its buses for free. It’s not a big place, so getting around by bike is possible in the summer months. The Quad Cities area boasts plenty of cheap entertainment, including some great music events, and you’ll always have access to free trails along—and boating activities on—the Mississippi River.

Where to Go for Help in Davenport

If you live in Davenport, you’ll find that there are lots of organizations devoted to helping you get to college. We’ve highlighted a few, but United Way Quad Cities (UWQC) and/or your high school counselor can refer you to more.

  • The Community Foundation of Great River Bend (CFGRB) has 35+ local college scholarship applications available on its website. You can apply through the online scholarship system.
  • Quad City (QC) United is a volunteer-driven organization that is designed to help urban youth in the Quad Cities achieve their higher education dreams. Special attention is given to the educational needs of the underserved and low-income students. Its World of Work program includes a free one-day symposium with a college & career fair as well as six yearly scholarships.
  • YouthBuild Quad Cities provides a range of services to at-risk youth ages 16-24, including education (e.g. help with the GED), job training, counseling and job placement.
  • United Neighbors, Inc. is a grassroots social service agency in Davenport serving local residents. Initiatives include crisis prevention, a housing program, multicultural health and a free after-school program with tutoring and homework help.

Need help with a specific income-related challenge? UWQC has a list of partner programs/agencies on its website or you can call 2-1-1. The City of Davenport has more general info for residents, including bike routes in the Quad Cities metro area, phone numbers for local utility companies and so on.

School Rankings

1

Iowa State University

Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa is a public land-grant and space-grant research university that ranked 106th in U.S. News & World Report's 2015 list of the best national universities. Institutional grants or scholarships are given to 75% of full-time beginning undergraduates, with students receiving an average institutional award of $5,397. Incoming freshmen are eligible for merit-based scholarships, like the Academic Recognition Award, which provides $500 to $4,500 to students who rank in the top 15 to 25 percent of their high school graduating class. The George Washington Carver Tuition Scholarship is also available, providing 100 full-tuition scholarships to minority freshmen. Additionally, the university offers an institutional grant, known as the ISU Grant, which is awarded based upon financial need.

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

CAG Score 96.3

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

34,435 Students

2

Grinnell College

For the 2015-2016 academic year, Grinnell College awarded $58.7 million in financial aid to its students. More than $50 million of this amount was in the form of gift aid, which does not have to be repaid. The average financial aid package for Grinnell College students is $44,205. The following merit-based scholarships are currently available: President's Scholarship ($50,000 per year), Dean's Scholarship ($25,000 per year), and the Founder's Scholarship ($10,000 per year). Ninety percent of students receive some type of financial assistance. National Merit finalists who list Grinnell College as their first-choice school and who enroll at the college are entitled to $2,000 per year, in addition to any other scholarships and/or grants for which they qualify.

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

CAG Score 95.9

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

1,734 Students

3

University of Northern Iowa

Enjoying a student-faculty ratio of 16:1, undergraduates of the University of Northern Iowa pursue their studies in a supportive and personal learning environment. Freshmen within the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class may qualify for the Presidential Scholar Award (20 awards of $8,000 each per year). The Bright Scholars of Iowa covers tuition& fees, room & board, and books. Admitted Iowa residents may qualify for the Ben and Pat Allen Scholarship ($4,000 per year). The College of Humanities, Arts and Sciences (CHAS) has STEM scholarships available, as well as art and music scholarships (all are up to $6,000 each per year). CHAS students may also be eligible for the Dean's Scholarships (up to $6,000 per year).

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

CAG Score 95.5

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

11,928 Students

4

Iowa Central Community College

Located in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Iowa Central Community College is a two-year community college with satellite campuses in Webster City and Storm Lake. There are many scholarships available to students, such as general Iowa central scholarships (academic, departmental, etc.); foundation scholarships (from money donated by businesses, individuals, and organizations who wish to assist students financially); and external scholarships (from outside organizations). There is a deferred payment plan available for students who are unable to pay the entirety of their tuition at once. Federal work study is available as well for students who want to work part-time. The Student Support Services TRIO Program is also offered to assist low-income or first generation students with their education.

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

CAG Score 95.4

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

5,686 Students

5

Mount Mercy University

Mount Mercy University has two scholarship programs that award full tuition waivers for incoming first-year students - Sister Mary Ildephonse Holland Scholarship and Catherine McAuley Scholarship. In addition, academically outstanding freshmen are considered for the following scholarships: Presidential Scholarship ($18,000 per year), Distinguished Scholarship ($14,000 per year), Dean's Scholarship ($12,000 per year), Collegiate Scholarship ($10,000 per year), and the Founders Scholarship ($7,000 per year). Transfer students can apply for scholarships with award amounts ranging from $9,000 to $14,500 each year, based on the student's GPA. Scholarships are also available for qualified international students ($10,000-$14,500). Incoming freshmen and transfer students can apply for special talent scholarships ($2,000-$3,000) in the areas of art and design, instrumental music, theater arts, vocal music, and writing.

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

CAG Score 94.9

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

1,762 Students

6

North Iowa Area Community College

Founded in 1918, North Iowa Area Community College is a two-year institution that is the oldest community college in Iowa. The College offers institutional grants or scholarships to 43% of first-year students, with awards averaging $1,713 per year. Incoming freshmen who graduated first or second in their high school class are awarded the full-tuition Trustees' Scholarship, and students with an ACT score of 23 or higher automatically receive the President's Scholarship. New and continuing students are also eligible for NIACC Foundation scholarships, which range from $250 to full tuition. Additionally, students may be eligible for state and federal grants, such as the Federal Pell Grant (up to $5,775 per year) and the Iowa Vocational-Technical Grant (between $100 and $1,200 per year).

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

CAG Score 94.6

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

2,950 Students

7

Northwest Iowa Community College

Established in 1966, Northwest Iowa Community College was the pilot project for Iowa's Community College system. Entering freshmen with outstanding academic credentials are considered for the following scholarship programs: President's Scholarship (full tuition), Foundation Scholarship (covers 50 percent of tuition), Trustees Scholarship ($500), and the Next Step Scholarship (varying amounts). Undergraduates with a demonstrable history of strong leadership may be considered for the Carl H. Rolf Scholarship for Leaders or the William G. Giddings Scholarship for Leaders. Both scholarship programs award $1,000 each. The Border State Student Scholarship supports students who reside in the states of Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota and who wish to pursue post-secondary education at Northwest Iowa Community College. Scholarship recipients pay in-state tuition instead of out-of-state tuition.

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

CAG Score 94.4

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

1,568 Students

8

Northeast Iowa Community College-Calmar

Northeast Iowa Community College-Calmar is a two-year community college located in Calmar, Iowa that offers many different associate degrees and programs. NICC has formal transfer partnerships with Emmaus Bible College and Southwest Technical Institute, and they provide many resources for students who wish to transfer to other schools. There are many scholarships available to NICC students, and there are also a number of work-study positions for those who wish to pursue the Federal work-study program. NICC also offers a monthly payment plan for students who wish to pay their tuition in installments.

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

CAG Score 93.8

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

4,934 Students

9

Iowa Western Community College

Located in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Iowa Western Community College is a community college that offers over 80 programs in the liberal arts as well as vocational and technical areas. Iowa Western Foundation Scholarships are available for students who seek financial assistance as well as Iowa Western Presidential Scholarship Awards. For students who wish to pay their tuition in installments to ease the financial burden, tuition payment plans are available. For first generation, low-income, and disabled students who wish to transfer to a four-year school to complete a bachelor's degree, the Student Support Services TRIO Program is available.

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

CAG Score 93.8

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • DSST Credit
  • CLEP Credit
  • ROTC Program

6,547 Students

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