Attending community college instead of a four-year public or private university is a choice many students and parents consider because the student can live and eat at home and spend less on tuition.
This can translate to taking out smaller student loans and paying them off sooner after graduation.
Here’s a closer look at community college benefits.
What Is a Community College?
Community colleges, also known as junior colleges or 2-year colleges, provide a two-year course of studies that either ends with an associate degree or equals the freshman and sophomore years of a four-year college.
There were 942 public community colleges in the United States that enrolled 5.6 million students as of 2020, according to Statistica.
A four-year program isn’t the only way to be successful. Community college, trade school, apprenticeships, and entrepreneurship can be alternatives.
Benefits of Attending a Community College
What are the benefits of going to a community college? The first advantage that usually comes to mind is cost, but there are others.
A Smoother Transition
The transition from high school to college can be challenging, but attending a community college is easier for some people.
Community college classes are smaller and less intimidating. If you prefer smaller class sizes and not having to walk across a large campus daily with thousands or tens of thousands of students, then a community college may feel less overwhelming.
Transferring to a four-year college could also be easier for students who have taken classes from a community college.
Tips to ease the transfer:
• Ensure that the credits earned will count at the four-year college.
• Sign up for a transfer program at the community college.
• Ask: Does the two-year college have a transfer relationship with any four-year colleges? Will the credits you earn be accepted at the four-year colleges you’re considering? What GPA and grades are needed to successfully transfer?
One reason that many students opt for community college is the flexibility. You can take as many classes as you want, and it can vary from semester to semester.
Community colleges also give students the option to enroll when they want, unlike four-year universities, where one needs to enroll by early fall.
Rolling admissions give students more flexibility in planning studies, especially if they are working part time or need to save money to pay for tuition and books. The community college website will include key deadlines and requirements, such as transcripts from high school or another college, and any prerequisite classes.
The schedules at community colleges also tend to be more flexible, allowing a student to work and take classes in the evening. If a break from classes is needed, the enrollment requirements are also more lenient.
A Possible Bachelor’s Degree
Ninety community colleges were recently offering 900 bachelor’s degree programs, according to Beth Hagan, executive director of the Community College Baccalaureate Association, a Florida-based trade association, in a Pew Charitable Trusts report.
As of late, 19 states allow at least one two-year college to offer a four-year degree, and a growing number of states have started offering this option, according to the Pew report.
This means students do not always have to transfer to another college after taking classes the first two years. While many of the degrees are focused on a particular industry or skill, community colleges are adding more degree options.
Obtaining a four-year degree at a community college could save a student the time of researching other universities and colleges, transferring credits, having to move, and accruing more student loan debt.
Community colleges are updating the type of degrees offered to meet the needs of the workforce and include ones in information management, nonprofit management, and health care.
The tuition at community colleges is significantly lower than public and private universities’. Tuition and fees average $3,730 a year at two-year public colleges, according to the College Board’s 2019 Trends in College Pricing Report.
Room and board add more than $9,300, on average, to the tab of a public community college student living off campus, according to educationdata.org.
So you can see the benefit of living and eating at the parental home or another relative’s, for free or not much, while taking classes. Even sharing an apartment or house with friends is likely more affordable than a dorm and meal plan at a four-year college or university.
Speaking of the four-year college route, the average price of tuition and fees alone for the 2020-2021 academic year came to $10,560 for in-state residents and $27,020 for out-of-state residents at public colleges, and $37,650 at private colleges. Room and board add more than $12,000 on average.
Taking classes at a nearby community college gives students the flexibility to work part time and earn income that they can put toward necessities. That could ease the pressure to take out higher levels of student loans.
Financing a Community College Education
Students can obtain both federal and private student loans to attend community college.
Those who move on to four-year colleges might find that scholarships, grants, and federal aid do not cover all of the costs leading up to a cap and gown. A private student loan can fill in the gaps.
Going to a community college has its benefits. The price tag comes to mind, but a 2-year college can also be a better fit socially for some students, transferring to a four-year college could be easier, and rolling admissions offer flexibility.
If a private student loan is of interest, for community college or after a transfer, consider a SoFi variable- or fixed-rate loan.
Many undergraduates have a sparse or nonexistent credit and income history and can increase their chances of private student loan approval by having a co-signer. Both applicants can view the rates and terms by prequalifying.
SoFi Private Student Loans
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