The traditional college story is pretty well known. You go to a big public university, move into the dorms and start stressing about which major to choose. But is that really the story for most students these days? Is it even the right choice?
More and more young people are choosing to start their higher education journey at a community college, and it’s not hard to see why. They cost less, are typically easier to get into and allow students to explore their career options in a lower-pressure environment. Many students end up transferring to a bigger university eventually, coming away with the same degree for a fraction of the price.
Why You Should Consider a Community College
- The savings are huge. Michelle Schroeder-Gardener of Making Sense of Cents took 12 credits at a community college and saved 90% of what she would have paid at the university she later attended. On average, community college costs one-third of what a public college costs. That’s only including the cost of tuition. CFP Sophia Bera of Gen Y Planning said living at home while taking community college classes will also save you money on room and board.
- The classes are easier. Attending community college can prepare students who struggled in high school better for the rigors of university classes. Having a few semesters to get used to a tougher curriculum may ensure they do better once they transfer to a four-year institution.
- There’s time to pick a major. Going to community college first can allow students unsure of what they want to study more time to find a major. Wasting time and money at a four-year college can be expensive, while delving into a new subject at community college is more affordable.
- You can work while attending. For students who will have to pay for college themselves, community college can allow them the time to earn general education credits while also working on the side. Paying for college expenses in cash will save them money on interest later on.
- You can increase your odds of getting into a better school. Doing well in community college can offset a mediocre high school transcript. Not only will this allow you to apply for better schools, but you might be eligible for more scholarships and financial aid.
- You can pick a more expensive university later. Attending four years of a private college can exceed six figures, but two years can be more affordable. By hitting community college first, you can have the experience of a private college without the price tag.
Before You Go
Going to community college to get your general education credits is a good idea, but only if your prospective college will accept them. Schroeder-Gardener said to verify that before you enroll.
“I made sure to get mine approved by my private university ahead of time so that I wouldn’t waste any money or time,” she said.
Some states like California are becoming more accepting of public community college credits if students transfer to in-state public universities. They know that students who come in to a four-year program with credits from community college are more likely to graduate.
When Community College Isn’t the Right Answer
Going straight to college may provide more chances to network, develop personal relationships with professors and join extracurricular activities for students certain of what they want to study. Having more time to cultivate their passion may be better than spending two years at community college.
People interested in attending vocational or technical school may be able to skip taking traditional college classes and focus on their other career interests.
Did you start off at a community college?
Photo Credit: wavebreakmediamicro / 123RF Stock Photo
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time, and she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years. She also works with people one-on-one as a money coach at ConsciousCoins.com.