Community College vs. 4 Year University: What’s Right for You?
Community college used to get a bad rap. But with the skyrocketing costs of post-secondary education and the improvement of community college programs across the country, it’s now recognized as a meaningful—and even prestigious—step in your education and career. So community college vs university: Which do you choose?
Whether you’re planning to continue your education immediately after graduating from high school, or your goal is to go back to school as an adult, the type of education you choose can shape your future.
As you explore your choices, review the differences between community colleges and four-year universities. See how they stack up with what you’re looking to get out of a college career.
Pros of Attending a Community College
The transition to college can be intimidating. The enormous campus, thousands of students—it might all be a bit too much. Community colleges may offer relief to those overwhelmed by the idea of a large institution.
And contrary to popular belief, some community colleges offer four-year bachelor’s degrees like their university counterparts—meaning the same degree without a massive student body to contend with. Only certain states allow community colleges to award bachelor’s degree, however; check to see if your state is eligible here .
Community colleges’ smaller student bodies can translate into another benefit: smaller classes and more hands-on professors and lecturers—who may be just as qualified as those at larger universities, where classroom roll calls can number in the hundreds.
For those who are returning to school after years spent working, a community college is more likely to have peers in your age range with similar priorities. Class offerings tend to be flexible with work schedules at community colleges, offering night classes to support those who work full-time.
And when it comes to community college vs university cost, community colleges typically come out on the winning end. According to The College Board , the average cost of a community college education for the 2018 to 2019 school year is $3,660.
This is significantly lower than four-year state university, which comes in around $10,230. And that doesn’t even include room and board, which brings the annual cost to an average of $21,370.
If you’re trying to avoid a mountain of student loan debt, attending a community college may be more cost-effective, saving you thousands of dollars while still giving you a sound education.
There Are Benefits to a University
Sometimes a community college isn’t the right option for your future goals. If you’re planning on graduating with a specific major, a university might be better, since universities tend to offer more majors and degrees than community colleges do. Additionally, big name universities can have higher budgets that they can allocate to the latest technologies or more well-known professors.
A degree from one may offer you a more specialized education, more networking options, and also the prestige of having the university’s name on your resume— which could translate into a future employer moving your resume to the top of the stack.
And what if the best school for your current plan is far from home, whether out of town or out of state? You’ll need to find a place to live. If you’re attending a community college, you might only get one option: an off-campus apartment. For a university, there’s usually on-campus housing to choose from which can mitigate costs, especially with scholarships.
Although community colleges might offer more night classes for full-time workers, there may not be much variety. Or, for example, two classes you need in order to fulfill your major requirements could be offered at the same time. At bigger universities, there may be more time slots available, making it easier to craft a schedule to your liking.
This flexibility can also leave time available for on-campus activities and organizations. Sprawling university campuses are never short of things to do. Whether you join Greek life, play a sport, or volunteer, there are plenty of extracurricular options, as well as guest lectures, student theater, and events to attend.
While there might be some choices, community colleges don’t typically offer as much when it comes to campus life. In fact, since many community college students commute to school, community colleges often lack that much-desired campus life and community.
Figuring Out What’s Right for You
As you’re crafting your own pro/con list, here are some questions to ask yourself before making your decision.
Do I want to live at home or on campus? If you’re hoping to be close to family or need to stay in town for a job, finding a community college campus nearby could be the right call.
Do I want to join clubs and organizations? While community colleges offer lots of activities, universities typically provide a lot more for students to partake in.
Do I have enough money to go to a big school? Whether a major state school or a private college or university, student loan debt could follow you for a long time after you graduate.
Where is my support system? Not having friends and loved ones around may make school more difficult for some. If your support system is vital to you, and you can’t find a big school near your close family, opting for a community college might be better.
Is this the best option for my major? Determining what you want to pursue as a career is a big deal. If you aren’t certain about what you want to do, you might not want to move far away quite yet. Or alternately, maybe getting some distance from your close friends and family will help you find your direction.
The Bottom Line
Many times, the final decision comes down to tuition cost. Fortunately, there are a slew of options available: family support, scholarships, grants, and loans.
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