Should I Go to Community College?
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Community college is a smart choice for students looking to advance their education.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), over 5.7 million students attended community college in 2018. Many students choose to attend community college to pursue lucrative careers and advanced degrees. These schools offfer a flexible path to a college education for working students or parents who must balance their studies with busy personal or professional schedules. Read on to learn about the benefits of attending community college.
Earning an associate degree at a community college prepares students for entry-level jobs, like those listed in the table below. Many of these are well-paying jobs. For example, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that radiation therapists earned a median annual salary of $85,560 in 2019, with a projected employment growth rate of 7% between 2019-2029.
|Career||2019 Median Salary||Projected Career Growth (2019-2029)|
|Air Traffic Controllers||$122,990||1%|
An associate degree can give graduates an edge over job candidates with only a high school diploma. According to BLS data, people with an associate degree earned a median wage of $887 per week in 2019, while those with only a high school diploma earned $746 per week.
Finally, an associate degree can count toward general education requirements for a bachelor's degree, so students can transfer into a 4-year program and graduate more quickly than a student coming directly from high school.
For some students, attending community college offers advantages over a 4-year school. First, community college courses allow students to explore topics they may want to pursue without paying the high tuition rates of a 4-year school.
Additionally, earning an associate degree from a community college gives students a head start on a bachelor's degree. Students can often transfer community college credits and use them toward general education requirements for bachelor's degrees at 4-year universities, thereby saving time and money.
"For some students, attending community college offers advantages over a 4-year school."
Even courses that don't count toward a 4-year degree can teach useful skills or introduce students to new hobbies like drawing, painting, and coding. Community college students can also access networking opportunities that help them develop professionally and personally.
Students can ensure the quality of their education by selecting a community college that is regionally accredited. Attending an accredited community college offers the same educational quality as a university, but with significant cost reduction, making them a great option for low-income students.
Attending a community college is often more affordable than attending a 4-year college. In 2018-2019, the average annual cost for tuition and fees at a public, 2-year institution was $3,700, while the average cost of attending a public, 4-year college was $9,200 (these numbers do not include the cost of housing or other living expenses). The lower overall cost of community college means that students have to take out fewer student loans and graduate with less student loan debt.
For students who need to balance schoolwork with personal and professional responsibilities, community colleges can offer more flexibility. Typically, community colleges offer night and weekend classes to allow working students to plan courses around their schedules. This gives students more time to focus on work or care for children or other dependents.
Some community colleges also offer accelerated courses, which allow students to complete credits and graduate more quickly, leading to more career opportunities.
Community colleges tend to be centrally located, enabling students to attend classes without having to uproot their lives. This makes them a great choice for people who want to keep their postsecondary schooling local. Other people enjoy community college because of its intimate learning experience; many community colleges offer smaller class sizes than those available at 4-year schools.
Frequently, community colleges also offer online courses and degrees, which are more convenient for students who don't have time to attend class in a traditional campus setting. Online courses allow students to complete work from their homes, often on their own schedules.
Community college students also often have access to unconventional resources, like letterpress machines or high-resolution digital cameras. This allows them to explore new hobbies or interests relatively cheaply.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which educational route is better depends on your personal career goals. Some careers only require an associate degree, making community college a better choice. However, if you plan on eventually earning a bachelor's degree, attending a 4-year university can offer more educational stability while you study.
Most community colleges accept any applicant with a high school diploma or GED. However, students can get rejected if they have academic suspensions or probation issues from other institutions, or if the specific program they apply to has limited space.
Community college courses are comparable in difficulty to those same classes offered at 4-year universities, varying by subject matter and class level. Because community colleges frequently offer introductory or remedial courses to help students get up to speed, they have a reputation for being easier, but this is not the case.
Community college classes typically build upon the educational foundations laid in high school, though they do offer remedial courses to help students who need more training. Community college classes explore professional development and technical subjects in greater depth than high school classes.
Header Image Credit: FatCamera | Getty Images
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