2017 Most Affordable Colleges in South Carolina

Scroll down to see our top-ranked colleges in South Carolina, loans and scholarships for South Carolina students, and advice on how to save money going to college in South Carolina.

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School Rankings


University of South Carolina-Upstate

USC Upstate offers tiered scholarships, starting at $1,500 for freshmen with a 3.25 and an 1100 on their SAT, up to $7,500 for those with a 3.75 and a 1300. A slew of additional automatic awards for transfer students and nonresidents means there's something for everyone with an above-average academic record. These are supplemented by Foundation Scholarships, which are often reserved for particular majors or groups. Importantly, nonresidents who receive them may qualify for out-of-state fee waivers. USC Upstate prioritizes research, with funding available in multiple forms. The Scholarly Student Assistantship program finds research and teaching roles for undergrads and graduate students, while mini-grants help them take on independent projects. Last, travel grants pay their way to conferences.

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 94.3

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

5,996 Students


University of South Carolina-Aiken

In 2017, USC Aiken reported an average net cost - the price of tuition plus living expenses after grants, scholarships and loans - of just over $13,000. That's $2,000 a year cheaper than the average for South Carolina's public schools. The year before, a quarter of seniors graduated without any debt. Ninety percent of USC Aiken students receive some aid, often in the form of the South Carolina Need-based Grant; the school gives up to $2,500 to those whose financial status qualifies them for the grant. No application is necessary in order for freshmen to claim a University Merit Award, which is renewable.

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 94.2

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

3,448 Students


University of South Carolina-Beaufort

Established as Beaufort College in 1795 to serve the educational needs of the children of local planters, the University of South Carolina Beaufort is now a public university with just over 1,750 students from all around the world with two campuses in the Lowcountry region. Entering freshmen may be eligible for the Hope Scholarship, which awards up to $2,650 toward the cost of attending a four-year South Carolina university for a maximum of two semesters. Qualified UCSB students are automatically considered for the USCB Palmetto Fellow-Plus Program ($3,000 per year) or the USCB LIFE-Plus Program ($2,000 per year). Recipients of these scholarships who are also STEM majors may be eligible to receive up to $10,000 more per year.

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 93.6

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

1,980 Students


College of Charleston

Founded in 1770, College of Charleston is the oldest higher education institution in South Carolina. The college offers institutional grants or scholarships to 35% of full-time beginning undergraduates. University scholarships are awarded based on academic excellence or special talent, and freshmen applicants can apply for eight different institutional scholarships, including the $4,000+ Palmetto Promise, the $1,000 National Merit Scholarship and the college's most prestigious scholarship, the Colonial Scholarship. College of Charleston also awards institutional need-based grants to undergraduates and federal grants like the Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. The Pell Grant, for example, is awarded to 23% of undergraduate students.

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 93.5

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

11,531 Students


Coastal Carolina University

Years before he became Douglas Stamper, Frank Underwood's go-to political strategist in the Netflix series House of Cards, actor Michael Kelly earned his undergraduate degree at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina. Coastal Carolina University gives some form of financial aid to 91% of full-time beginning undergraduates. Institutional grants or scholarships are provided to 29% of these students, and admitted freshmen and transfer students are automatically considered for merit-based awards. The largest scholarship for incoming freshmen is the Presidential Scholarship, which has a maximum award of $6,000 per year for in-state students and $11,000 per year for out-of-state students. The university also participates in need-based governmental grant programs like the South Carolina Need Based Grant, the Supplemental Equal Opportunity Grant, the Pell Grant and the Federal Teach Grant.

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 93.0

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

10,263 Students


Converse College

Converse College, a residential undergraduate liberal arts college for women that also has co-ed graduate programs, makes sure students get experiential learning, with most students involved in internships, research projects, or service learning. The college has more than 30 undergraduate majors and eight graduate degrees. More than 90 percent of undergrads receive some financial aid, with incoming freshmen eligible for merit awards based on academic performance, need-based grants, and talent scholarships. More than 90 percent of students graduate in four years or less, which also helps to reduce the bill for their college education. Washington Monthly has honored Converse for its efforts to recruit and graduate low-income students.

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

CAG Score 93.0

  • Advanced Placement Credit
  • ROTC Program

1,148 Students

If college were cheap, you wouldn’t be reading this. Rest assured, though, that South Carolina offers enough state financial aid to make a two- or four-year degree affordable at both public and private colleges. In fact, 40 percent of its higher education budget is earmarked for aid, which dwarfs the national average of 11 percent. The best part is that most state-administered scholarships don’t require applications — just do well in high school and money will be placed onto your student ledger. The state has three tiers of merit scholarships, so pretty much any above-average student can walk away with something. Unfortunately, South Carolinians still pay for a whopping 63 percent of college costs with their own money, the ninth-highest rate in the nation, meaning they may have to borrow from federal lenders or the South Carolina Student Loan Corporation to pick up the slack. But before you worry about that, take a deep breath, read our comprehensive guide, and start piecing together the money you need to make a degree a reality.

How to Transfer College Credits in South Carolina

South Carolina’s colleges and universities offer a guaranteed transfer of a number of courses and transfer blocks, as well as guaranteed transfer of associate degrees. This makes it easy for students to transfer courses and develop degree plans before enrolling in a new program.

South Carolina’s statewide articulation agreement guarantees the transfer of more than 80 different courses to public institutions. Many of these courses are in general education and typically transfer as comparable courses or electives.

Additionally, South Carolina offers transfer blocks that can be taken at any two-year public institution in South Carolina. These blocks are accepted as a group and are used to meet bachelor’s degree requirements at four-year colleges and universities.

Students who have completed an associate degree in South Carolina may be eligible for junior status upon successful transfer to a four-year degree program. Typically, students must have completed a transfer block to be eligible.

Want to plan your transfer? Use the SC TRAC website to search for transfer agreements as well as course equivalencies.

State Financial Aid for South Carolina Students

There are three state-specific sites that every college-bound South Carolinian should look at. The first is the website for the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, which administers the bulk of state funding that doesn’t have to be repaid (think grants and scholarships). The site walks prospective students through the financial aid terminology and application procedures. It also links to other sources of aid that can make college affordable, including the Future Scholar 529 plan, which allows people to build compound interest on their college savings.

The second is the South Carolina Student Loan Corporation, which, as its name suggests, administers state funds that do have to be repaid, only at cheaper rates than private loans. Aspiring teachers in particular can benefit, as the loans available from the corporation have built-in terms for forgiveness.

Last, since federal and state grants and loans use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), this form needs to be correctly and promptly filled out. The people at SC Thrive help students (and/or their parents) file it.

South Carolina Student Grants

Lottery Tuition Assistance

Summary: Regardless of financial need, South Carolinians can receive $1,200 each term they are enrolled in a two-year school in the state.

Eligibility: State residents enrolled in six credits per term at an eligible institution can apply if they are up-to-date on their loan payments and did not receive the HOPE, LIFE or Palmetto Fellows Scholarships.

How to Apply: Submit the FAFSA, and then contact your financial aid office for additional steps.

South Carolina Need-based Grant

Summary: A $2,500-per-year award, the SC Need-based Grant is applied directly to the tuition for first-time students in a degree program at a South Carolina public college.

Eligibility: The award goes to South Carolina residents who are not in default on a higher education loan.

How to Apply: Submit the FAFSA as soon after January 1st as possible, and then contact your financial aid office for additional steps.

South Carolina Tuition Grants Program

Summary: Students attending private nonprofit colleges in South Carolina can qualify for need-based grants of up to $3,200 through this program.

Eligibility: Only South Carolina residents attending a full-time program are eligible. Their award amount is calculated using information provided on the FAFSA, such as income and college costs.

How to Apply: Submit the FAFSA as soon after January 1st as possible. If eligible, the award will automatically be applied toward your financial aid package.

South Carolina Student Scholarships

Archibald Rutledge Scholarship

Summary: Creative high school seniors can earn $2,000 to attend a college in South Carolina via this statewide talent competition sponsored by the South Carolina Department of Education. One award is given in each of these five areas: creative writing, dance, music, theater and visual arts.

Eligibility: Only U.S. citizens who have attended a South Carolina public school for the last two years may apply. Each award category also has its own criteria.

How to Apply: Contact your high school guidance counselor, who should assist you in applying. The application process involves mailing an original work or process folio to the South Carolina Department of Education.

LIFE Scholarship

Summary: The Legislative Incentive for Future Excellence (LIFE) Scholarship is a renewable $5,000 award ($300 of which is earmarked for books) that residents can apply toward their education at a college in South Carolina. It’s given to students who meet two of the following three criteria: attained a 3.0 GPA; scored an 1100 on the SAT or 24 on the ACT; and graduated in the top 30 percent of their class.

Eligibility: Students cannot have previously been enrolled in a higher education program at the same level, nor can they be in default on a student loan. They must enroll full time. Students who earn the SC HOPE Scholarship, Palmetto Fellows Scholarship or Lottery Tuition Assistance are not eligible.

How to Apply: There is no application process. Awards are applied automatically to eligible students’ financial aid packages.

LIFE Scholarship Enhancement

Summary: LIFE Scholars in a math or science discipline can get an extra $2,500 annually beginning their sophomore year.

Eligibility: Students who take 14 credits in science and/or math during their freshman year and declare their major in one of the fields qualify. They must take 30 credits per year thereafter to retain eligibility.

How to Apply: There is no application process. Awards are applied automatically to eligible students’ financial aid packages.

Palmetto Fellows Scholarship

Summary: In a bid to retain top academic talent — and recruit talent from out of state — South Carolina gives outstanding high school seniors up to $29,200 over the span of their college careers to enroll in bachelor’s programs within its borders.

Eligibility: There are two award periods: early and late. Each uses different criteria, and there are multiple routes for eligibility. The common denominator is that recipients must have solid GPAs, excellent SAT scores and high class rankings.

How to Apply: High school guidance counselors identify eligible students and handle the entire application process.

Palmetto Fellows Scholarship Enhancement

Summary: Palmetto Fellows who have completed their freshman year can earn an additional $2,500 for each of their last three years if they major in a science or math program.

Eligibility: Students who take 14 credits in science and/or math during their freshman year qualify. They must take 30 credits per year thereafter to retain eligibility.

How to Apply: There is no need to apply. Eligibility is automatically determined.

South Carolina HOPE Scholarship

Summary: Not every student can qualify for a Palmetto Fellows Scholarship or even a LIFE Scholarship. The SC HOPE Scholarship gives these high school seniors $2,800 ($300 of which is earmarked for books) to start their freshmen year out on the right foot if they graduate with a 3.0 GPA.

Eligibility: Eligibility is limited to South Carolina residents attending a bachelor’s degree program in the state on a full-time basis.

How to Apply: There is no application process. Awards are applied automatically to eligible students’ financial aid packages.

South Carolina Student Loans & Repayment Programs

Palmetto Assistance Loan

Summary: Sometimes grants and savings aren’t enough. In such cases, students can borrow $2,000 to $100,000 via the Palmetto Assistance Loan to cover any education-related expenses. They’ll then repay the loan for 10 to 15 years after graduation at an interest rate of six to eight percent.

Eligibility: Creditworthy students pursuing a certificate or degree at a school with a low loan default rate can apply.

How to Apply: Get a cosigner if you’re under 24, and fill out the online application.

Public Interest Law Loan Forgiveness Fund

Summary: South Carolina has one publicly funded law school, which is at the University of South Carolina. Graduates of this school can get some of their loans forgiven if they work in public interest law for at least two years.

Eligibility: Members of the South Carolina Bar are eligible. Award decisions are based on several factors, including income and eligibility for other loan forgiveness programs.

How to Apply: Submit your loan forgiveness application to the USC School of Law by June 30th.

SC Career Changers Loan

Summary: The state encourages people to go back to school to become teachers by offering them $15,000 in loans for each year they attend. The loan is either repaid with an interest rate of 8.25 percent or lower or forgiven if the teacher goes on to teach in a subject or location the state deems critical.

Eligibility: South Carolina residents who have worked full time for at least three years and then enroll in a teacher education program qualify.

How to Apply: Submit the SC Teachers/Career Changers Loan application by April 30th.

South Carolina PACE Loan

Summary: Students in the South Carolina Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE) can get reimbursed $750 a year for education expenses on their route to becoming a teacher. The loan is either repaid with an interest rate of 8.25 percent or lower or forgiven if the teacher goes on to teach in a subject or location the state deems critical.

Eligibility: PACE enrollees who are teaching public school in South Carolina and who have received an Educator’s Certificate for the current year are eligible.

How to Apply: Submit the PACE Loan Application.

South Carolina Teachers Loan

Summary: Underclassmen can borrow $2,500 per year, and all other students can borrow $5,000 per year to attend teacher education programs. The loan is either repaid with an interest rate of 8.25 percent or lower or forgiven if the teacher goes on to teach in a subject or location the state deems critical.

Eligibility: South Carolina residents enrolled in a teacher education program who meet certain academic requirements qualify.

How to Apply: Submit the SC Teachers/Career Changers Loan application by April 30th.

South Carolina Teachers Loan Forgiveness

Summary: Holders of an SC Teachers Loan or SC Career Changers Loan can have either 20 percent or $3,000 (whichever is greater) wiped off their accounts for teaching in a subject or location the state deems critical. Those who teach in both can have 33 percent or $5,000 forgiven for each year they teach.

Eligibility: South Carolina public school teachers holding an applicable teachers loan can apply.

How to Apply: Simply have the school you teach at certify your employment on the SC Teachers Loan and Governor’s Teaching Scholarship Confirmation Form.

Education Assistance for South Carolina Military & Veterans

South Carolina National Guard College Assistance Program

Summary: The Commission on Higher Education gives up to $4,500 for South Carolina Army National Guard members and $9,000 for Air National Guard members per year they attend.

Eligibility: National Guard members must attend a school in South Carolina and working toward their first bachelor’s degree to receive the funds. They must continue serving as long they do so. Officers must continue service for four years after graduating.

How to Apply: Apply directly with your National Guard representative.

Tuition Assistance for Certain War Veterans’ Children

Summary: Certain veterans’ children under the age of 26 enrolled in an undergraduate program will have their tuition waived at South Carolina public two-year and four-year colleges.

Eligibility: The veteran must have been a South Carolina resident and not have been dishonorably discharged. For that veteran’s children to qualify, the veteran must have died or become disabled as a result of military service, been a prisoner of war or declared missing in action, won the Congressional Medal of Honor, or received the Purple Heart.

How to Apply: Furnish proof of service using the veterans claims folder and, if applicable, a certified copy of the veteran’s DD 214.

Additional Support for South Carolina Students

Academic Common Market

Summary: South Carolinians can go to school across state lines at the same tuition as an in-state public school if they enroll in a program that is more than 50 percent different from one offered in South Carolina.

Eligibility: South Carolina residents accepted to an eligible undergraduate program in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia or West Virginia can apply.

How to Apply: Fill out a residency form and submit it alongside the course curriculum and a copy of your acceptance letter.

South Carolina Teaching Fellows Program

Summary: Up to 200 high school seniors receive a teaching fellowship each year. What’s that entail? It’s $5,700 annually for tuition and living costs and another $300 to participate in programs put on by the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA). To get the award, students must teach in a South Carolina public school for the same number of years they receive funding.

Eligibility: Students at the following colleges may apply: Anderson University, Charleston Southern University, Coastal Carolina University, College of Charleston, Columbia College, Francis Marion University, Lander University, Newberry College, USC Aiken, USC Columbia, USC Upstate and Winthrop University.

How to Apply: Submit an online application along with transcripts, standardized test scores and three references to CERRA by the deadline.

South Carolina Tuition Tax Credit

Summary: Money comes back to South Carolina students or their families who stay in state for college in the form of a tax credit. It’s $350 per year for community and technical college students and $850 annually for four-year public or independent school enrollees.

Eligibility: Students must complete 30 credit hours a year and have graduated high school since May 2010. Also, LIFE or Palmetto Fellows Scholars are not eligible.

How to Apply: Fill out the I-319 Tuition Tax Credit form, and attach it to the SC1040 when filing your taxes.

Cheaper College Living in South Carolina

Sometimes, no matter how cheap tuition becomes after the financial aid kicks in, college can still seem out of reach. Why? Because college students don’t make much, if anything, in the way of income. But there is a cluster of state agencies in South Carolina that can make the college years more affordable for people who need extra help.

The South Carolina Department of Social Services is the main hub for standard state benefit programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, and the SC Voucher Program, which subsidizes child care for families who could not otherwise afford it. For help lowering utility bills either through utility bill subsidies or home repairs and retrofits, the South Carolina Office of Economic Opportunity can help by connecting people to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) or Weatherization Assistance Program, respectively. Meanwhile, for most healthcare concerns, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services is the best resource. It furnishes information on Medicaid and the Partners for Health Children program, which insure adults and children, respectively, from families on the lower end of the income scale.

Though the above offices are good places to find basic information about how programs work, there are more direct ways to capitalize on these programs. First, contact your county’s community action agency. In most cases, these agencies are directly responsible for connecting eligible citizens to funding in the programs above. Second, flip through the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s wonderful “Directory of Services for Women & Families in South Carolina” to find some other programs you might have missed. Last, SC Thrive can help you fast forward to the application process. Beyond the social services listed above, SC Thrive highlights niche services such as financial wellness trainings and veterans programs.

On-Campus Housing

Each college has its own residency requirements, housing options and resident perks, so it’s important to factor in these costs when choosing a school, especially if you plan on attending The Citadel. Students there are required to live in barracks with their battalion, as the college has a 24-hour program structure that involves way more than just class time. Tuition, therefore, includes the cost of room and board, as well as medical fees, uniforms, books and other supplies. Presbyterian College students are also required to live on campus in a residence hall, apartment, townhouse, fraternity or sorority, though there are exceptions for students who are living with family or who have started their own families. The College of Charleston takes a different approach, not allowing students above the age of 23 to live on campus, which may be inconvenient for some. After all, with on-campus accommodation you’ll receive a single bill for rent, furniture, utilities and, typically, food, plus there’s no need for transportation to get to class. Some colleges are making campus life even more convenient by adding innovative services to compete for students. Take, for instance, Winthrop University’s House Calls program, a free on-call tutoring service exclusively for residents. Regardless of where you choose to attend, start calculating whether living on campus will save you money by using CalcXML’s online calculator.

Off-Campus Housing

Renters are in a good position in South Carolina, with a studio apartment in the state going for an average of $563 a month — 15 percent cheaper than the nation as a whole. And although living off campus isn’t in the cards for Citadel undergraduates and many Presbyterian College students, for everyone else it’s an option worth exploring. Most schools even offer some form of assistance in helping their students settle in to off-campus housing. Online, this might take the form of Winthrop University’s off-campus housing checklist or Lander University’s online guide for distance learners, both of which go beyond the basics to explain the nitty-gritty of housing deposits, parking and meal costs. To get more personalized assistance, it’s worth talking to someone at the school’s department of student affairs (or similarly titled office). If they don’t have the information you’re looking for, or if you want to come to the conversation well-prepared, look for cheap places to rent on SCHousingSearch.com or peruse student-themed sites like CampusRent.com or OffCampus.com. For urgent housing assistance, go to South Carolina 2-1-1. There you’ll find transitional and emergency shelters, counseling programs and subsidized housing.


Some of the savings you’ll get from lower rent in South Carolina are offset by higher utility bills — the only state with higher electricity bills in 2015 was Hawaii. To lower your bill electricity and heating bills, you have a few options. First is the state Weatherization Assistance Program for low-income residents, which provides free energy audits and then fixes the areas of a property (e.g., drafty windows and poor insulation) that force you to crank up the AC in the summer and the heat in the winter. Second, the South Carolina Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program can lower utility bills via payments to the utility company. Third, the South Carolina Energy Office maintains a list of links to utility companies that have programs that lower utility bills. They include Duke Energy Progress’ EnergyWise Home program, which gives rebates for cycling off air conditioning temporarily. Last, you can contact your county’s community action agency directly. In fact, this is recommended in most cases, as community agencies are tasked with administering funds for state-funded programs, though they may not know the ins and outs of every utility company.

Medical & Dental

Four locations in South Carolina have medical schools: Columbia and Greenville, which house the USC School of Medicine and USC School of Medicine Greenville, respectively; Charleston, home to the Medical University of South Carolina, which also has the state’s only dentistry program; and Spartanburg, which has a branch campus of the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine. With the exception of Edward Via, each is connected to a university medical center or affiliated hospital, giving residents of the area access to quality healthcare. However, many students, especially those living on campus, will find college clinics to be more affordable and convenient for dealing with their immediate healthcare needs, while off-campus students may use these or a provider they’re comfortable with.

Citadel cadets will visit the Mary Bennett Murray Infirmary for basic healthcare, the cost of which is included in tuition. (Immunizations and drugs are given at cost, and X-rays and other extra procedures are delivered at below-market rates.) Most campuses, including the one at Francis Marion University, recognize the stress of transitioning into college and therefore provide free counseling for everything from poor grades to depression, whether through the clinic or a separate office. It’s worth visiting a campus clinic after enrolling, even if you’re in perfect health, because some have inside knowledge on free programs. For instance, Coastal Carolina University students are eligible for free accident insurance worth up to $10,000, but only if they register.

Although all students are required to carry health insurance under federal law, underinsured students may make an appointment with one of the 41 members of the South Carolina Free Clinic Association, some of which provide mental health and dental services. Speaking of dental clinics, if the above list doesn’t suit you, try the South Carolina Dental Association’s list.

Child Care

Students with children will want to consider their options carefully, as not every college has on-campus child care. Three schools in our rankings do, however. Francis Marion University’s Richardson Center for the Child, Winthrop University’s Macfeat Early Childhood Laboratory School, and the College of Charleston’s Early Childhood Development Center cater to student-parents, the last of which has scholarships available that can cut tuition in half. To find out your options for lowering costs at these or other child care centers, or to find one near you, the best starting point is the South Carolina Department of Social Services’ Division of Early Care and Education. From there, parents can find a facility through the state’s Child Care Resource & Referral Network, check the strength of a facility using the ABC Quality program, enroll in a free Head Start program if they meet the income thresholds, and apply for an SC Voucher to reduce their child care tuition payments.


Many schools in South Carolina, such as Francis Marion University and The Citadel, don’t have any transportation services. Others, like Lander University, only have a shuttle to take students from far-flung residence halls to campus. Still others recognize that students who live on campus want to get away every once in a while, even if it’s just to the local Walmart. That’s why College of Charleston students ride free on Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) buses and shuttles. Coastal Carolina University takes a different approach, operating its own shuttle system between campus hotspots and town. Regardless of the arrangements established at your school, it’s a good idea to identify the local transit authority and inquire about student discounts.


Food insecurity among college students is a real issue. And campus meal plans, though potentially covered via student loans, aren’t cheap. To address this issue, schools such as the University of South Carolina and University of South Carolina Upstate have started to create on-campus food pantries for attendees. Unfortunately, none of the schools in our rankings have yet taken this step, though that is bound to change. In the meantime, students who are having trouble affording groceries should scout out South Carolina 2-1-1’s map of food pantries. Those with kids — or with a child on the way — can see if they qualify for the South Carolina Women, Infants & Children Nutrition Program.

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

Find Support in Your Area

College in Columbia on a Budget

The crown jewel of the state’s public education system, the University of South Carolina, has its main campus in the capital, but none of the schools in our rankings are within driving distance of Columbia. Still, if you’re a current or future student at one of Columbia’s colleges or universities, we’ve got you covered. After all, Columbia is an attractive place to live, with a cost of living below the national average, particularly for families: Columbia residents pay a third less in child care costs than the typical U.S. parent.

Where to Go for Help in Columbia

If you need help getting through college relatively unscathed financially, it’s good to live in a state capital. Columbia is packed with both local organizations serving the city and state agencies with larger purviews (and budgets). Here are a few of the former:

  • The Central Carolina Community Foundation has dozens of scholarships explicitly for Columbia area students. Though each has its own criteria based on academic major, employment background, organization membership, demographics or school, prospective students can apply to all of them with just a single application.
  • The Columbia Housing Authority maintains and rents out apartments at below-market rates and distributes Housing Choice Vouchers that lower rent payments for families with modest incomes.
  • The Cooperative Ministry has at least three relevant programs for students without a lot of funds: Autos for Opportunities gives used cars to working students; the Insurance Premium Assistance Program gives extra money to those on a Healthcare Marketplace plan; and financial literacy workshops cover everything from managing money to navigating bankruptcy.
  • The Family Service Center of South Carolina uses volunteers to provide diverse services. For instance, people without insurance can go in for free dental work at its clinic, while anyone who needs to improve their credit or reduce their debt can receive personalized consumer credit counseling.
  • Wateree Community Actions Inc. is the local agency responsible for administering government initiatives, including the Weatherization Assistance Program, LIHEAP and Head Start. It also uses government funds to provide emergency assistance to constituents who cannot afford to pay utility bills or rent, see a doctor, or buy groceries.

This is an incomplete list of what Columbia has to offer. For more, do an advanced search for services on South Carolina 2-1-1.

College in Charleston on a Budget

Charleston is a center for learning in the state, with both The Citadel and College of Charleston located there. Its coastal location, however, makes it a more expensive place to live than elsewhere in the state, particularly when it comes to housing. A studio apartment in the city rents for $778, over $100 above the national average — and $200 above the state average. Students at the College of Charleston can offset some of their higher housing costs by looking for accommodations outside of the city center and using their free CARTA pass to get to class.

Where to Go for Help in Charleston

Not everyone in Charleston is living on the beach; many are just trying to keep their head above water. The following organizations work to help people smoothly sail into a promising education and beyond:

  • Coastal Community Foundation runs two scholarship funds that Charleston residents should tap into: a General Scholarship Program and the Reverend Pinckney Scholars Program, which is aimed at African-American students.
  • East Cooper Community Outreach targets adult students and others who need help. By working with local partners, it’s able to provide an impressive catalog of services: everything from free household furniture to dental and medical care to typing classes to matching funds for college savings through an Individual Development Account.
  • The Housing Authority of the City of Charleston rents out low-cost housing to people with limited incomes. It has properties available on Charleston Peninsula, Daniel Island, James Island, Johns Island, Mount Pleasant and West Ashley. If none of those are convenient, eligible residents can use Housing Choice Vouchers to live elsewhere in the city for a reduced rent.
  • Palmetto Community Action Partnership, formerly the Charleston County Human Services Commission, administers standard government-funded programs such as the Weatherization Assistance Program and LIHEAP. It also can pay a portion of college students’ tuition, give them bus tickets, and get their children in an after-school program while they’re attending classes.
  • Palmetto Youth Connections is there for young people who want to be employable or even move on to higher education. Its tutoring and GED classes help them earn a high school degree, and refresher courses in math and reading can give them the confidence to stare down the SAT.

To find other programs in Charleston, scan or search South Carolina 2-1-1.

College in Rock Hill on a Budget

Rock Hill is home to Winthrop University as well as two community colleges. As part of the Charlotte, North Carolina, metropolitan area, Rock Hill residents get the best of both worlds. On the one hand, they can use the Charlotte Area Transit System to keep their local transportation costs low or access Charlotte’s cultural scene and healthcare network. On the other hand, they are far enough away that they can still take advantage of housing expenses well below the national average.

Where to Go for Help in Rock Hill

Since Rock Hill is linked to Charlotte, which is in North Carolina, residents there may have trouble accessing Charlotte-based services that require NC residency. Fortunately, Rock Hill is big enough to have some of its own, such as the following:

  • A Place for Hope has a free after-school program and summer camp for K-8 students in the Blackmon Road Community.
  • Carolina Community Actions, Inc. is the place to go to sign up for LIHEAP, the Weatherization Assistance Program or Head Start. It can also provide emergency funds for utilities, rent, medical expenses or food to residents who are hovering around the poverty line.
  • Clover Area Assistance Center, which caters in part to adult students, provides four types of assistance: food through its pantry; money, in the form of utility payments; dental care for the uninsured; and education via courses ranging from couponing to computers.
  • York County Community Foundation has nearly 40 scholarships York County students can apply to. Some are based on ethnicity, others are based on major or school attended, and still others are reserved for those with a relative employed by a local company.

Don’t stop at this list. Use South Carolina 2-1-1 to search for specific resources such as child care centers, food pantries and clinics.


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