What to Know About Choosing a Community College vs. a Four-Year University

When determining whether to get your bachelor’s, associate, or both, a number of factors should be taken into consideration.

By Hilary Gan, Varsity Tutors' Contributor

September 07, 2016

What to Know About Choosing a Community College vs. a Four-Year University

Deciding between a four-year university and community college is becoming more difficult as community colleges raise their academic standards and four-year universities have become more expensive.

When determining whether to get your bachelor’s, associate, or both, a number of factors should be taken into consideration.

Consider community college if…

Your academic record might prevent you from getting into a four-year university, but you’d eventually like a four-year degree
Obtaining an associate degree is a great way to improve your standing in the eyes of admissions counselors. If you choose this route, make sure to contact the four-year university you’re interested in attending to learn which credits will transfer from your community college before choosing your coursework.

You need a flexible schedule with more evening class options
If you work more than 20 hours a week or need flexible hours, community colleges may meet your needs better with more night class offerings. Even if you aren’t already working, the flexible schedule can give you the opportunity to pick up a job or internship related to your interests and goals.

You’re unsure which degree you’d like to pursue
While four-year schools do allow you to enroll with an undecided major, community colleges offer the same option for less cost. This is especially important if you’re considering careers you won’t need a four-year degree to pursue; in that case, getting an associate degree might be a better choice while you look at your options.

You’re uninterested in campus life
If dormitories, roommates, opportunities like Greek life, and cafeteria food seem unappealing to you, or you would be a commuter student anyway, a community college might be a more relaxing, affordable and convenient option.

Consider enrolling in or transferring to a four-year school if…

You’re interested in postgraduate studies or a career that requires a four-year degree
If you want to be a doctor, a teacher, or a scientific researcher, you’re going to need that bachelor’s degree. You’ll also have a leg up in other disciplines not typically offered by community colleges, like forestry, engineering, etc.

Campus life sounds exciting
The college experience allows you to be independent, meet new people, and live in a community amongst your peers while still providing structure. It’s a great transition into living on your own and cultivating new friends and interests.

You have a scholarship opportunity
Whether you’re a star athlete, had a high PSAT score, or reached another unique achievement, it’s possible to get much of your college career paid for through a scholarship. Often, there are scholarships available for students who are the first in their family to attend a university, for instance. Check with your counselor about opportunities to help cover the cost of a four-year degree before you make a decision.

In general, four-year universities are more rigorous and offer more options, but the cost can be prohibitive, especially if you’d need to live on campus. Consider every angle, but remember that an associate degree can be a great stepping stone into a four-year university later.

Hilary Gan is a professional tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.

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