Is Community College Worth My Time?

In a recent Quora post, a student asked whether community college is worth their time. We’ll be responding to this question today with some insight from Allison Dahleen, one of our college counselors. Allison is a college expert who has worked with hundreds of students to plan their academic futures.

Here at HelloCollege, we’re on a mission to help high school students successfully navigate the process of applying to four-year colleges and universities. Although most of the advice you’ll find posted on the HelloCollege blog applies to this more traditional college-application scenario we know that figuring out what you want to do after high school can be stressful and confusing.

Some people attend four-year public and private universities, but, according to Allison and other college counselors, this may not be the right choice for everyone. Instead, she says, many people can benefit from attending a community college

Smaller local colleges might seem less appealing at first glance—and like every school, they do have their pros and cons—but these two-year institutions offer many great benefits—including some unavailable to traditional four-year institutions. This includes professional certificates, basic courses, an easier transition into college-level material, and a lower overall cost. 

And community colleges are more than just a stepping stone to four-year institutions. “I . . . took community college courses [during the] summer when I attended a [four-]year” institution, Allison elaborated. Community colleges can be a resource to anyone, no matter your general college plan. 

So, if you don’t know what you want to study, or you simply want to save money, consider community college. It’s a great higher education alternative that too many students and parents overlook. 

Why Should You Consider Going to Community College?

There are a multitude of reasons why community college might be a good option for you. 

The Cost

The biggest benefit of attending community college is the cost. During the 2018-2019 school year, the average cost of annual tuition at a traditional 4-year institution was $35,676. In comparison, the average community college cost for in-state students was $3,660 annually. 

This is why starting at a community college can be a smart financial choice, especially if you aren’t sure what to study. You won’t be throwing tens of thousands of dollars away on general education credits and other courses that take just to try out a new topic. Instead, at community college, you can find out which majors you are interested in without incurring massive student loans.

A community college is also a great option for someone looking to ease into college; these schools give students more academic flexibility before they potentially transfer to four-year schools

Transfer Agreements

“Transfer agreements between partnering institutions are another reason students should consider going to community college,” says Allison. “Many two-year community colleges offer admission agreements with partnering public institutions. This allows students who meet certain criteria to transfer directly into programs at 4-year universities. As a result, transferring students can finish their bachelor’s degree at a . . .” four-year institution.  

These “2+2” or “pathway” programs are especially popular in STEM fields such as computer science or engineering. For example, the College of DuPage in the Chicago suburbs offers a program in which students complete two years of engineering at the community college and then finish up their last two years at the University of Illinois. 

The University of Illinois engineering program is one of the most difficult to get into in the state. Therefore, partnering with the community college can give students opportunities they may not have coming directly out of high school. They also save tuition money, because they will only spend on full-price tuition fees for the last two years of university.

Professional Certificates

Community colleges provide professional and short-term certificates in a wide variety of fields. Some professional certificates include information technology, EMT training, software support, and many other options. These professional and short-term certificates allow students to take specific courses that fit their desired career path. During the 2016-2017 academic year, community colleges conferred 549,149 certificates, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. 

Allison suggests that everyone looks into their local community college when they are starting their college search. It can help save students thousands of dollars and potentially open up new opportunities they didn’t know existed. 

Smaller Class Sizes

At community colleges, classes and lectures tend to be much smaller than at four-year institutions, especially big research universities. Students don’t have to sit in large lecture halls to learn from professors. Instead, they get a more personal experience.

Of course, University courses at larger institutions offer amazing material and opportunities, but some people don’t want to sit in an auditorium with hundreds of other students. If you are looking for a more one-on-one learning experience, community college might be the better fit for you.

More Schedule Flexibility 

Community colleges offer way more flexibility than do traditional universities. Not everyone is able to attend classes during traditional schools’ Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 schedules. This is especially true for people who have part- or full-time jobs, or who have families to take care of. If you need to take classes during the night or on the weekend, community college might be the better choice. 

Community colleges can provide a more tailored experience for busy students with multiple commitments so that they can fit school into their lives more seamlessly. For instance, some community colleges help parents who want to go back to school by offering support programs for individuals with children and part-time jobs. 

You Can Ease Your Way Into College

Finally, attending a community college is one of the best ways to ease your way into college and higher education in general. Students who have struggled academically in high school tend to do better in community college. They also have the chance to reset their academic records and learn how to succeed in school. 

Since community college courses are a little easier, students have an easier time passing courses. You still need to put the work in, but you have a good chance of getting acclimated to higher education through community college. 

Really, anyone who isn’t sure whether college is the right option for them may start at community college first. Afterward, when you’ve raised your GPA and figured out what you will do, you can also transfer to a more competitive school. In the meantime, you’ll get a great education at a fraction of the price!

If you are interested in learning more about the college admissions process, or about college life in general, check out more of our blogs and resources here at HelloCollege. We believe that preparing for university shouldn’t be scary, and we are here to help guide you or your student through the process every step of the way.

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