Many of us are aware that college can be a significant expense for students after graduating from high school, but do you know the total cost?

We’re here to share recent research on the total cost of four-year colleges compared to two-year colleges, and how scholarships and other resources can help students reduce their overall college expenses. 

Two-year vs. Four-year Costs

Let’s compare costs for four-year to two-year colleges. Once students understand the costs, it will be easier to select the best college based on their needs and resources.

While many people associate total college prices with tuition and fees – what about additional costs such as room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and other expenses? Before enrolling, students should be aware of all potential expenses.

According to The College Board, in 2022-23 the average total for a full-time undergraduate student attending a four-year college in the United States is $27,940, while a two-year community college is $19,230.

Note: Expense categories in graphs above are based on institutional budgets for students as reported in the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges. Figures for tuition and fees and room and board mirror those reported in Table CP-1. Data for books and supplies, transportation, and other expenses are projected and reflect the average amounts allotted in determining the total cost of attendance and do not necessarily reflect actual student expenditures. Books and supplies may include course materials such as hardcopy textbooks, online textbooks, textbook rentals, and other supplies such as a personal computer used for study.

Based on the annual total college costs, higher education is an expensive endeavor for many students, particularly those from low-income households. In fact, research shows that higher education is a critical component to fostering equity of opportunity for low-income and first-generation college students, or those who are the first in their immediate families to enroll in college.

When it comes to pursuing a college education, a family’s financial situation shouldn’t be an obstacle. Thankfully, there are scholarships, grants and other financial resources available to help students reduce their overall college expenses.

How Scholarships and Grants Can Help Students

As a student, you may be wondering which type of financial aid to pursue: scholarships or grants. We are here to explain the differences between the two, and hope the information helps you decide which is best for you– it could be both!


As stated by Federal Student Aid, scholarships are defined as a non-repayable gift that is available to students, employers, individuals, private companies, nonprofit organizations, communities, religious groups, and professional and social organizations. A few ways to find scholarship opportunities is to check:

  • Counseling office at your high school
  • Financial aid office at your college
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Community foundations
  • Your employer
  • S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search engine tool

SDF helps college students throughout San Diego County pursue their educational goals through the Community Scholarships Program and the Community Scholars Initiative. Whether you find a scholarship that covers tuition or a one-time payment of a few hundred dollars, it’s worth applying because it will help you save money on education expenses.


There are Federal Pell Grants available to undergraduate students who need exceptional financial help and have yet to earn a degree. According to Federal Student Aid, unlike loans, a Federal Pell Grant does not have to be repaid, except under certain circumstances such as if a student’s enrollment status changed or they withdrew early from the program in which the grant was given.

If you’re interested in applying for a grant, you can start by submitting the Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) form. It is an application provided by the U.S. Department of Education to help identify the amount and sources of financial aid needed for students. To stay eligible for federal student aid or Pell Grants, a student will have to fill out the FAFSA every year they are in school.

If you live in California, you can also apply for a Cal Grant, which is available to students who complete the FAFSA or the CA Dream Act Application before the deadline. Check the Cal Grant website to see if you meet all eligibility, financial and minimum GPA requirements. Community college students in California may also be eligible for the California College Promise Grant, which waives enrollment fees for first-time, full-time students.

Scholarship Success

“Grateful for the support,” “being the first one in my family,” “affording college would not have been possible” and “truly life changing,” are some of the words used by a few of the first-generation 2022 SDF scholarship program recipients. As a result of the program, these students are better able to afford college this year.

Additionally, 2022 was a record-breaking scholarship year for SDF, with $3.5 million in scholarship funds awarded to 989 local students for the 2022-2023 academic year, 70% of whom were first-generation college students. For many recipients, scholarships – all of which are funded by donors – can mean the difference between continuing their education or not.

The SDF Community Scholarships Program helps students from underrepresented backgrounds in affording college and eventually graduating to launch their careers. Our scholarship program also enhances educational equity on college campuses and builds equity for families and local communities.

Making a Difference for Students in San Diego

It is important to understand that the total cost of college is more than tuition and fees – room and board, books and supplies, and transportation costs can all play a role in a student’s choice of pursuing a higher education. Research shows scholarships do make a difference in the lives of low-income students.

If you’re a student and looking for financial assistance, consider applying for an SDF scholarship.

If you are interested in setting up a scholarship fund to support students fueling our San Diego economy, please contact Danielle Valenciano, Director of the SDF Community Scholarship Program, at

Learn more about opening a fund.