Once you’ve decided to continue your education, the next step is choosing where you want to go to school. From less debt to smaller class sizes, community colleges have more to offer than you may realize.
In this article, we’ll look at five key benefits of community college to consider before enrolling.
5 Things to Know About Community College
While the cost of college continues to rise across the board each year, community colleges offer a more affordable and accessible path to education. Whether you’re having to borrow money for tuition, raise a family or work a full-time job, attending a community college may be the perfect way for you to continue your education.
To decide whether enrolling in your local community college is the best fit for you, consider the following major benefits:
1. It’s More Affordable
Overall, tuition is going to be significantly cheaper at a community college than it will be at a university.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average annual cost for a four-year public institution was $19,488 during the 2015-2016 school year (the most recent federal data available). That’s nearly double the $10,091 average cost for a two-year institution in the same academic year.
“If you’re thinking about having to borrow money, you’re essentially cutting that amount of borrowing in half,” says money expert Clark Howard. “Is it better to have $100,000 in student loan debt or $50,000 in student loan debt? When push comes to shove, that’s a higher priority to me.”
Ultimately, being in less student loan debt will give you a higher financial return on the cost of your education. Since you’ll be putting less money toward paying that debt over time, you’ll have more flexibility with the money you earn from the job you get with your degree.
2. There Are Smaller Classes
Generally, you’ll get more individual attention at a community college thanks to smaller class sizes. This is especially true for general education classes you’d typically take as a freshman and sophomore.
“I’d say there’s more than one advantage of community college,” says Clark. “It’s not just about saving money, it’s generally that you’re going to have more personal attention than you would in a 100 or 200-level course on a state university campus.”
Because of the smaller class sizes, professors are more likely to know you by name and be available for one-on-one help.
Many students learn better with more individualized attention, especially right after high school. Transitioning from a classroom with 20-30 peers to a lecture hall with more than 100 other students can make learning a challenge.
3. You’ll Have More Flexibility
Community colleges are used to accommodating the busy schedules of full-time workers and parents. If you have a family or job that you have to balance while taking classes, you’ll find more flexibility at a community college than a state university. Between night classes and online courses, you’re more likely to find a schedule that works for you.
You’ll also find more flexibility regarding acceptance requirements and continuing education. Community colleges offer a variety of remedial and non-credit courses. These courses are great for adult learners and students who are looking to fill in any gaps from high school.
Taking your general education requirements at a community college is also a great way to position yourself for a variety of different careers as you figure out what you want to do. And if you already know what your end goal is, the flexibility available at community colleges allows you to get started right away.
4. You Can Transfer Your Credits
No matter where you decide to begin your education, you can always graduate elsewhere. Most states have a transfer program set up so that you can attend a community college for your first two years and finish your degree at a bigger school.
“In a lot of states, if you maintain a GPA of 3.0 or above during your first two years at a community college, you are automatically accepted for junior and senior year at a traditional state university campus,” Clark says. “And you know, people ask where you graduated from. They’re not asking where you did your freshman year.”
If you do plan on finishing your education at a different school, make sure the credits you earn will transfer. Check with the university you plan on transferring to, and stay in contact with counselors and academic advisors to ensure you’re taking the right classes.
5. You’ll Have More Job Opportunities
Continuing your education in any capacity will pave the way for more job opportunities.
If you don’t have a college degree in the field you’re pursuing, attending a community college will almost definitely open more doors for you in the job market. In fact, there are several high-paying jobs that don’t require a four-year college degree.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offers an Occupational Outlook Handbook. I recommend that you check it out before you begin your educational journey. There’s a lot of information in this online tool. You can find out what education is required for entry-level jobs in many careers and see which jobs are expected to grow over the next several years.
Whether you’re working toward an associate degree or plan on transferring to earn a bachelor’s degree from a state university, you can look forward to higher-paying job opportunities once you graduate.
Overall, community college is a more affordable and flexible way to further your education. With smaller class sizes, you’ll get more individualized attention for a fraction of the price you’d pay at a traditional state university.
“No doubt, community colleges are absolutely the cheapest way to go. I mean, it is really affordable,” says Clark. “It’s the one part of education left where if somebody has no parental support, they can still cover their own living expenses and handle the tuition.”
Once you’ve taken your general education classes or earned your associate degree from a two-year institution, you can transfer your credits to a bigger school. No matter how you decide to further your education, you’re sure to have more job opportunities once you do.
Have you taken classes at a community college? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!