It Might Be the Right Path for You
Community colleges serve as a bridge from high school to college by providing courses for transfer toward a bachelor's degree (B.A. or B.S.). Four out of 10 college-bound high-school graduates start their college education this way. They also prepare students for the job market by offering entry-level career training as well as courses for adult students who want to upgrade their skills for workforce reentry or advancement.
Here, then, are some reasons why you might attend a community college:
- You're Tight on Funds.
Community colleges cost significantly less (particularly for state residents) than state or private colleges and universities. This means that they can be a cost-effective way to complete the first two years of college. The money you save by living at home and going to your local community college can help pay for your last two years at a four-year college or university.
- You're Not Sure about College.
Maybe you'd like to begin by aiming for a two-year associate degree and assess as you go whether you want to pursue a bachelor's degree. Taking classes toward an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree, for example, would give you a feel for the type of education you'd get at a liberal-arts college.
- You Aren't Sure What Kind of Program You Want to Pursue.
Many people enter college without a clear idea of what they want to focus on. At a community college, you can explore different subject areas before committing to a program, without having to be so concerned about finances. To assist with the career decision-making process, many community colleges offer intensive guidance counseling that can help you assess your abilities, interests, and educational options. Plus, you may actually be able to take a wider array of courses (including both liberal arts and career-oriented) than at a four-year institution, making it easier to check out many different options in one place.
- You've Been out of School for a While or Your GPA Isn't so Great, and You Want to Build Your Skills Before Transferring.
Whereas many four-year colleges and universities have selection criteria for attendance, such as a minimum required GPA, community colleges are open to everyone. If you want to pursue college-level coursework but aren't academically ready, community colleges offer classes and one-on-one tutoring to help you strengthen your basic skills. Keep in mind that the average class size at most community colleges is significantly smaller than at public four-year universities.
- You'd Like a Career-Oriented Degree, Such as a Automotive Technology or Computer-Certification Program.
Programs like these are often not available at four-year institutions. If you're thinking of seeking employment after finishing up at community college, there are several routes you can take. You can earn an associate degree -- an Associate in Arts or Science (A.A. or A.S.). These degrees take about two years to complete. However, if you want to take courses in a specialized area of study but don't want to spend the time necessary to earn an associates degree, many community colleges have certificate options that provide intensive training in a specialized field like computer-assisted drafting, food-service technology, or paralegal studies. These certificates usually take six months to a year to complete.
- You Work, or Have Commitments, and Need a Flexible Schedule.
At four-year colleges, course schedules are geared primarily toward full-time, traditional students who take classes during the day. At community colleges, the student population tends to be highly diverse with regard to age, experience, family background, socioeconomic level, and employment status. Course schedules are developed with attention to the variable needs of both part-time and full-time students, so classes are usually offered throughout the day and evening, and sometimes on weekends. Many of these colleges offer online courses.
Adapted from the article “Six Benefits to Community Colleges.” © 2006 collegeboard.com. Reprinted with permission. Visit www.collegeboard.com to read the full text.