The importance of community colleges cannot be understated, with research from Columbia University showing that community college students make up 41% of all students enrolled in an undergraduate program in the United States. Yet not all of these students go on to earn a 4-year degree.
Each high school student must make the decision to apply to a 4-year university or community college. There are both pros and cons to going to community college first, and they must be weighed carefully. Here are some situations in which you should go to community college before a 4-year degree program.
You should go to a community college first when you have low GPA or test scores.
The difference in acceptance rate for community college vs university is significant. According to the Department of Education, the community college acceptance rate in the US is 80% compared to just 68% for 4-year universities. This is because each university has enrollment caps on total students, particular degree programs, and demographics.
It is important to note that you do have other options. You should consider a trade school if you don’t do well academically but still want to continue your education. Trade schools have a more hands-on approach, and there are programs suitable for most aptitudes.
You should go to a community college first if you need to work full-time.
Universities expect students to focus on academics, and it is very uncommon for a 4-year degree program to fit comfortably into a full time work schedule. In fact, 32% of full-time community college students also work full time, compared to just 10% of university students with full-time employment. Community college class schedules are more varied and allow for the flexibility required to work around a full-time job.
Online college is an option for those working full-time, but it is best to attend community college first. A study by The Brookings Institution found that online-only students are more successful when academically prepared with in-person community college. In addition, online universities also have enrollment caps.
You should go to community college first to reduce costs and financial stress.
One of the benefits of community college vs university is that public 2-year colleges are cheaper than 4-year institutions. According to the Education Data Initiative, the difference between the average cost of tuition for community college vs 4-year public college is $5,977 per year.
More than this, about half of the US offers free or merit-based community college to state residents. Many people mistakenly believe that there are not scholarships for community college or trade school, but there are actually several scholarship and grant programs that assist these students. The NSHSS Community College and Trade School scholarship is one such program.
Taking advantage of free or reduced tuition for community college is particularly important if you plan to attend an online university to complete your bachelor’s degree. The Department of Education reports that 60% of online-only degree programs are through private colleges, most of which can cost more than twice the tuition of community college.
Reasons you should not go to community college before a 4-year university
If the above situations do not apply, you should carefully consider going directly to a university. A study by Columbia University found that while 80% of community college students anticipate enrolling in a 4-year degree program, only 25% actually do so. This is due in large part to the fact that many universities have enrollment caps for students transferring from a 2-year college. However, the study also found that only 17% of students who started in community college completed a bachelor's degree.
NSHSS membership puts you in touch with resources that help you make these hard decisions. Check out or blog for more details on whether or not you should go to community college first before a 4-year university.
Since 2002, NSHSS has supported young academics on their journey to college and beyond as they prepare to become the leaders of tomorrow. The mission behind NSHSS is to recognize academic excellence and honor high-achieving students, providing them with the resources and network to excel in college, career, and community. In doing so, NSHSS connects members with global events, scholarships, college fairs, internships, career and leadership programs, partner discounts, and more. Discover what makes NSHSS worth it to student members and how you can get involved.