Richard O’Brien wasn’t sure he wanted to attend a community college. “Most of my friends were going straight to four-year schools and there is some negative stigma attached to attending community colleges,” he says.
After considering the pros and cons, O’Brien decided to attend Danville Area Community College and then transfer to complete his engineering degree at the University of Illinois. “I wanted to save money … play baseball for the community college team (which ended up giving me a scholarship
), and sort out what I wanted to major in without getting hit with a serious financial penalty … that decided the matter for me,” says O’Brien.
Four out of 10 graduating high school students start their college careers at community colleges, according to the College Board. Two-year colleges are the largest and fastest-growing sector of higher education. There are over 1,600 community colleges in the United States serving 11 million students.
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Consider the advantages of enrolling in a community college:
Save Money on Tuition
Attending community college before completing your bachelor’s degree
at a four-year institution can save you a sizable chunk of change. Tuition and fees at public community colleges average less than half of those at public four-year colleges and about one-tenth of those at private four-year colleges, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. “I think my student loan was at least half of what I would have paid otherwise,” O’Brien says.
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You’re going to have to get your general graduation requirements out of the way one way or another. Community colleges are good places to earn these credits. The faculty at community colleges tends to focus more on teaching than research, which means you’ll get help in subjects you struggle with.
“Most students, I believe, find that general education types of courses are often the most difficult types of courses in their educational experience,” says Patrice Lyons, assistant director of articulation and transfer at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. Once you are enrolled in a four-year college, you can focus on the classes you want to take as part of your major, rather than spending time and money on the classes you need to take. “I thought it was a little easier getting up to speed … I think I may have been scared of engineering otherwise,” O’Brien says.
Time to Define Your Major
Many students don’t know what to major in when they graduate from high school. Two out of three students will change their major
at least once during their college career. Community colleges are good places to explore fields that interest you before committing to a major. For example, the average cost per credit hour for in-district students attending Muskegon Community College in Michigan is $60 compared with about $768 per credit hour at the University of Michigan. You’ll save money by paying less per credit than you would at a four-year school while taking time to explore your options.
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An Opportunity to Boost Your GPA
If you don’t have the highest grades after graduating high school, taking classes at a community college can help improve your GPA. Unlike most four-year colleges, community colleges have an open-door admissions policy – all students are accepted regardless of past academic performance. Improving your academic record at a community college lets you meet the minimum admissions requirements at four-year colleges and shows you are serious about your education.
Save Money by Living at Home
Room and board make up a significant percentage of college costs
at four-year colleges. “Living at home also saved me a lot of money on living expenses … that was an added benefit financially,” says O’Brien.
Transferring won’t be easy, but it may be a smart way to save money and achieve your academic goals. “The transition through the community college to a four-year institution can make the students educational pathways smoother, more enriching, productive and ultimately it can lead to more successes,” Lyons says.