Should I Attend Community College?

Saturday, November 18, 2023
Student Studying Library

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 decide 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 where you should attend community college before a 4-year degree program.

You should go to a community college first when you have a 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 programs suit most aptitudes.

You should attend 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 full-time employees, 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.

 community college students NSHSS

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 state residents free or merit-based community college. Many people mistakenly believe that there are no 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 community college tuition.

Reasons you should not go to community college before a 4-year university

If the above situations do not apply, you should 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% do so. This is primarily because 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. Our blog provides more details on whether or not you should go to community college first before a 4-year university.