Attending community college is often a much more affordable choice than going to a four-year public or private university. Students and parents can save money both on tuition as well as travel and living expenses, especially if the student lives at home. This can translate into taking out smaller student loans and paying them off sooner after graduation.
Going to a community college also comes with other benefits. Here’s a closer look at why a college-bound student might consider choosing a community college.
What Is a Community College?
A community college, also known as a junior college or two-year college, provides a two-year course of study that either ends with an Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degree. Alternatively, it can provide the equivalent to the freshman and sophomore years of a four-year college, since credits can typically be transferred and used towards a bachelor’s degree.
Community colleges are located throughout the U.S. and come in varying sizes. You can find large community colleges with multiple campuses in urban and suburban areas, as well as small community colleges in rural settings.
Many community colleges also have technical and vocational programs with close links to local high schools, community groups, and employers.
Benefits of Attending a Community College
Here’s a look at some of the advantages of going to a community college vs. a four-year college or university.
A Smoother Transition
The transition from high school to college can be challenging, but attending a community college can be easier for some people.
Community college classes are generally smaller and less intimidating. If you prefer smaller class sizes and not having to walk across a large campus daily with thousands (or tens of thousands) of students, then a community college may feel less overwhelming.
Transferring to a four-year college could also be easier for students who have taken classes from a community college.
If you are thinking about using community college as a stepping stone to a four-year school, you may want to find out if the school has a transfer relationship with any four-year colleges, and what GPA and grades are needed to successfully transfer.
If the school doesn’t have a relationship with a college you’re considering, you’ll want to make sure that the credits earned will count at that college.
One reason that many students opt for community college is the flexibility. You can typically take as many classes as you want, and it can vary from semester to semester.
Community colleges also give students the option to enroll when they want, unlike four-year universities, where you typically need to enroll by early fall.
Rolling admissions give students more flexibility in planning their studies, especially if they are working part time or need to save money to pay for tuition and books. The community college website will include key deadlines and requirements, such as transcripts from high school or another college, and any prerequisite classes.
The schedules at community colleges also tend to be more flexible, often allowing a student to work during the day and take classes in the evening.
A Possible Bachelor’s Degree
A growing number of states are allowing some community colleges to offer bachelor’s degree programs. This means students do not always have to transfer to another college after taking classes the first two years. While many of the degrees are focused on a particular industry or skill, community colleges are adding more degree options.
Obtaining a four-year degree at a community college could save a student the time of researching other universities and colleges, transferring credits, having to move, and potentially accruing more student loan debt.
Community colleges are updating the type of degrees offered to meet the needs of the workforce and often include ones in information management, nonprofit management, and health care.
Learn more at A Guide to Choosing the Right College Major
Community college tuition is typically significantly lower than tuition at public and private universities. Some states even offer free community college.
According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of tuition at an in-district community college is $3,400 per year. For out-of-state students, the average community college tuition is $8,210.
For comparison, yearly tuition at a public university averages $9,678 (for in-state students) and $27,091(for out-of-state students). The average student at a private college or university spends a total of $55,840 per academic year living on campus, $38,768 of it on tuition and fees.
Even if you don’t live at home while attending community college, you may be able to find housing that is less costly than living in a dorm or an off-campus apartment in a college town. Plus, taking classes at a nearby community college gives you the flexibility to work part time and earn some income you can use to cover your college expenses.
Quick Tip: Need a private student loan to cover your school bills? Because approval for a private student loan is based on creditworthiness, a cosigner may help a student get loan approval and a lower rate.
Financing a Community College Education
You can cover the cost of community college (and potentially two additional years at a traditional college after that) using a combination of savings, help from family, financial aid, and loans.
A great first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will let you know if you are eligible for financial aid, which includes grants, scholarships, work-study, and federal student loans (which may be subsidized or unsubsidized).
You can also help pay for your community college tuition by working at a part- or full-time job while taking classes in the evenings.
If you still have gaps in funding, you may want to look into getting a private student loan. These are available through private lenders, including banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Rates and terms vary, depending on the lender. Generally, borrowers (or cosigners) who have strong credit qualify for the lowest rates.
Keep in mind, though, that private loans may not offer the borrower protections — like income-based repayment plans and Public Service Loan forgiveness — that automatically come with federal student loans.
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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