Community College Is the Best Choice—For Some Students

Today’s college-bound high school students have a wide array of choices when it comes to higher education. Should you attend a big state school, a small private liberal arts college, or community college?

Community CollegeThere a number of advantages to attending a four-year school with a high-power academic reputation. Clearly, state universities and elite private colleges have, in many cases, a broader range of academic fields to choose from. They have more specialized curriculums. And a school with a solid or even stellar reputation can help launch a graduate’s career. As a general principle, students should attend the best school they can get into—so long as the financial aid package and parents’ help make it financially feasible.

That said, there are a number of students who are well served by attending community college, especially for a year or two. Here are some good reasons to at least consider community college.

Proximity—Community colleges are located close to where you are now, possibly living with your parents. That means you cut down on travel costs and the investment of time that travel requires. Want to come home for all the holidays? Not a problem if you are attending community college. Coming home for Christmas does not take a lot of advance planning. You just hop in your car or take the bus back to grandmother’s house.

Lower costs—Tuition at community colleges tends to be more affordable, especially when compared to tuition at private colleges. There may be an in-state discount for attending a community college close to where you live. In addition to the low tuition, you can also save money by continuing to live with your parents rather than paying often exorbitant dormitory and dining hall fees. With the money you save by living at home, you may be able to save up to buy a car or even a house.

Home attachments—Many recent high school students are footloose and fancy free. They can go to college a thousand miles away and suffer no particular homesickness or hardship. But that is not true for all students. Some young people are caring for an elderly or sick relative. Others are married. Some teenagers have already started a family. That can make it much more difficult to skip off to Hawaii to go to university. Some recent graduates have part-time or even full-time jobs that they like, and they may have a future with the company that employed them. Yet other students simply have very strong social ties to their community. They may be very close to their parents or siblings or neighborhood friends. These social ties are meaningful, and sometimes attending a community college is the best way to maintain them while also continuing one’s education.

Lower admission standards—Let’s face it. Some students don’t work their hardest in high school. If you have a mediocre or even poor academic record, you can often still find admission to a community college where admission standards are not rigorous. Some such schools are even “open admission” which means that they accept all students regardless of grade point average.

Opportunity to redeem your grade point average—Community colleges offer an opportunity to redeem an academic reputation that has suffered from high school slacking. Even if you earned a D+ grade point average in high school—possibly because you were bored—you can buckle down at community college and earn straight A’s. Then, armed with those good grades, you can earn admission to a better school after two years. Two years in is, generally, a good time to transfer to a different school, and often you can do so with a minimal loss of academic credits. If you plan to pursue this strategy, you can optimize your chances of success by carefully researching both schools—the community college which you will immediately attend and the school to which you hope to transfer. Contact the admissions department at your end-destination school and make sure that classes you take at the community college are transferable to that other school. Make sure that you take core classes that transfer well. For instance, English composition one and two, History of the western world, and Introduction to Sociology are core classes that can transfer to a wide range of different four-year schools.

Attending a community college is not the same as going away to college. The most obvious difference is that going away to college is an immersion experience. Hanging out in the student union, sipping coffee and chatting about existential philosophy happens more at colleges that students go away to. Similarly, if you are ambitious to be a star college athlete, you almost have to go away to college or at least attend a school that has a regional reach. Students who dream of pledging for a fraternity and making a network of international friends should also opt for the away school. But, for many students who simply want to study, earn good grades, and learn something of value, community college is a solid option.

Exploring Career Options

    Discover which jobs match your skills, interests, and experience.

    Using the latest labor market data explore which careers are growing in popularity.

    Find out what's required to get your dream job.

    Get the most job satisfaction at the best rates of pay.

    Understand what you have to do to be successful in your chosen career.