So you want to go to college but aren’t sure if you’re ready to commit all that time and money? Luckily, there’s a great way to just dip a toe into your college education. Starting out at a community college could put you on a great path at only a fraction of the cost of a four-year college. This a fantastic opportunity to acclimate to college while fulfilling basic educational requirements. It can also be a savvy move if you’re looking to bolster your grades and knowledge before transferring to a more rigorous four-year school.
One important note if that is your plan:
Before you enroll at a community college, either on campus or online, make sure the credits you earn will transfer to most public and private four-year colleges or universities. You don’t want to waste time and money earning credits that other colleges or universities won’t take seriously.
With that warning aside, if you’re on the fence about college, or just looking for an accessible way to get started, consider the following benefits of attending a community college:
One of the biggest draws for community college is the lower price-tag. You’ll typically pay a lot less per credit-hour at a community college than you would at a four-year school — public and private alike. Because you will typically earn your associate’s degree in two years, your program is half the length of a bachelor’s degree program. Though the cost-per-credit is lower, in many cases, your community college can provide a credible and high-quality introductory-level education.
Community colleges may also offer financial aid just like traditional colleges, provided you meet the basic credit-hour threshold. This threshold may differ from one school to another. Either way, begin by filling out your FAFSA to determine your eligibility for financial aid.
To learn more about your FAFSA or to get started on the process, check out Applying for Student Loans: Everything You Need to Know and Do.
Ease into College
Not everyone learns at the same pace, and that’s okay. Community college is a great option for those in high school who might have struggled in certain subject areas or who may not be academically prepared for the rigor of a four-year institution. Community college is a smart way to ease into the world of higher education. Also, because community college class sizes are typically smaller, instructors are often more accessible if you need help or guidance outside of class hours. If you’re excited about the challenge of college but you need to start at your own pace, community college might be a good fit for you.
Gain Marketable Skills
Again, community colleges offer some of the same educational experiences as traditional schools. For instance, most community colleges offer associate’s degree programs in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). STEM-related degrees are prized in today’s job market. Community colleges also typically offer professional certificates in a variety of fields.
Because an associate’s degree program is only two years in duration, your course of study will typically be highly focused on usable, practical, and marketable skills.
Community college is also a great option for students with challenging schedules. For working professionals, parents, or military servicemen and women, community college can be a great way to earn credits while still meeting other obligations. Many community college students attend school part time. In fact, some community colleges will allow you to take as few as one or two classes at a time. With a flexible course load, community college makes it easier to get an education without sacrificing job, family and personal responsibilities.
Having the freedom to work while you earn your degree can also protect you from the accumulation of student debt. It may take longer, but paying for your credits as you go could spare you the struggles that so many students face after graduation. If you have career, family, or personal obligations, community college might serve you better than a four-year school.
For many community college students, the primary objective is to graduate in as little time as possible. But don’t forget to enjoy the experience and cultivate valuable connections while you’re there. Taking the time to get to know your professors and advisors can provide a tremendous source of knowledge, support, and perhaps even those precious letters of recommendation. Forging that bond can also help you stay on track to graduate. Make sure to connect with your peers as well. Sometimes you can learn just as much outside of the classroom as inside. Navigating unfamiliar social situations with new friends is an important opportunity for personal enrichment.
You may only be there for two years, but try to treat community college as your first adventure in higher education. If you do, it could lead to great things.