While it’s not exactly a secret – 30% of U.S. undergraduates attend 2-year colleges – community colleges offer unique advantages in cost, flexibility, and career options.
They also offer an alternate pathway to acceptance at a top public university after two years of study.
Here are some of the many advantages of attending community college.
Save Your Money
Community college is extremely affordable. The cost of four-year colleges has doubled since 2000. College tuition has been increasing faster than any other industry besides hospital care – with no end in sight.
Community colleges cost, on average, about one-third of in-state tuition at four-year public universities. While community college might run about $3500 per year, universities can cost $35,000 for out-of-state students.
Two-year colleges can also save you from having to take on huge student loans.
Four-year college students are increasingly finding themselves graduating with over $30,000 of debt…with no guarantee of a high-paying job. But students of community colleges – in addition to paying vastly lower tuition – have access to lower interest rates on their student loans and scholarship opportunities not available anywhere else.
For example, take a look at our NSHSS Community College Scholarship.
Last, but not least: most community college students are able to live at home. This can save you a fortune in housing and transportation.
Get Into a Top University
Community colleges are actually one of the best routes to get into the most competitive state universities.
For example, the University of California system is considered by many to be the best public university system in the world. But it can also be incredibly competitive: some of its undergraduate programs won’t even consider applicants with a GPA under 4.0.
This is a big part of why almost one-third of undergraduate students at the University of California are transfers: the California community college system directly feeds into the U.C. system. In fact, students who fulfill two years of study at a community college get a virtual “golden ticket” into the U.C. system.
You can read about this here: University of California Transfer Requirements.
This option is limited to California. Most state universities have agreements with local community colleges that establish a very straightforward academic pathway to acceptance for transfer students.
From the perspective of the university admissions department, a community college student who has competently pursued a two-year degree is ready for university-level work. In some cases, this acceptance is almost guaranteed.
Getting into a community college is nothing like applying to four-year colleges. In fact, “open enrollment” at many 2-year colleges means that all you need is a high school diploma.
This means you can often apply without having to worry about SAT/ACT scores, high school GPA, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, or essays. You just enroll.
A four-year college has minimum attendance requirements that can make anything but full attendance difficult. But this is not the case with two-year colleges.
You can take a community college course during the day or night, and on your own schedule. There’s no minimum course load, and you can even take semesters off.
Many community college students are working adults, so being able to attend classes while holding down a job is a perfect fit.
Community college also works well with different lifestyles. Perhaps you simply want to take a “gap year” and travel the world. Or if you have a young child, the flexibility of community college can be essential.
Two-year colleges allow you to pursue your undergraduate education on your own time frame.
Get Your Job Sooner
If you’re ready to enter the working world, community colleges can be the best way to get you right into a paying job.
There are numerous careers that only require a 2-year associates degree and/or vocational training. These include careers for nurses, dental hygienists, firefighters, paramedics, auto mechanics, and homebuilders..
Today, hot industries like IT, engineering, and health care are so eager for new employees that they are increasingly recruiting candidates with a two-year professional certification and/or degree. Also, many community colleges work with local companies, so you may be able to find a job close to home.
Build Your Local Network
If you plan to stay close to home, community colleges can be an excellent way to build your professional network. Instructors are typically working professionals in the local community – not professional academics with research and tenure obligations.
Given the smaller class size in community college, you have the opportunity to get to know your instructor personally. They can prove to be a useful addition to your professional network – not just for letters of recommendation, but sometimes even job referrals.
Learn and Explore
Community colleges also offer the unique opportunity to “dip your toe in the water” in a new subject. You can learn about different fields and academic disciplines without the pressure of declaring a major.
In some cases, you can even take summer classes while still in high school. This can seriously boost your college applications. You can also transfer community college credits toward your bachelor’s degree.
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.