Let’s say you just graduated from high school or completed your GED: first off, congrats! Second off, it’s time to think about the next step in your academic career. This can feel overwhelming—but it’s also an exciting time.
Some of your options might include applying to a four-year college or considering community college. Everyone’s path is different, just know that you can chart your own course.
If you’re wondering, “Should I go to community college?”, let’s take a look at some important factors to think about first.
So what is a community college, anyway? Community colleges typically offer two-year degrees known as an associate’s degree. Students often attend community colleges for two years before transferring to a four-year university to gain their bachelor’s degree.
Working with a counselor can help you solidify your academic goals and work towards them, from choosing a major to earning the right credits that can be transferred to your bachelor’s degree.
This can be an exciting time in your life but also an overwhelming one. Let’s break down some of the thoughts that might be going through your head as you decide what step to take next.
Just remember—your own experience is going to be unique and what might be best for you might not be the same case for your classmates or friends. No need to feel pressured by what might be the “right” or “wrong” path.
Pros and Cons of Community College
Attending a community college before a university can help you save money and allow you to explore your interests before deciding on a major. It can also offer you some transitionary time to get accustomed to a new schedule and new academic expectations before committing to a four-year university.
Some community colleges have open admission policies , which can make it easier to gain admission. An open admission policy generally means that there are limited academic requirements needed for admission, so most students who apply are accepted. Note that even if a community college has an open admission policy, certain more competitive programs, like a nursing program, might have more stringent academic requirements.
In addition, community colleges can offer you the chance to experience smaller class sizes (instead of large lecture hall classes that can be common at universities).
Consider finding out which classes are available at each community college you are interested in so you can make sure they have exactly what you need. Not all community colleges might include the classes you are interested in taking.
Again, it can be helpful to talk to a counselor at the community college about what classes you might choose so that you don’t end up earning too many credits that can’t be transferred.
Research the minimum requirements for transferring to each university that you want to apply to (or for each system, such as the University of California system). You can also talk to your guidance counselor about the articulation agreements their community college might have with universities near you to get a better sense of what credits will transfer.
Choosing the Right College For You
If you know for sure that you want to attend community college, now it’s time to see what options are available near you. According to The Princeton Review , 90% of the U.S. population is within commuting distance of a community college.
Due to one life situation or another, many students attend colleges as commuter students, trading a fully on-campus experience for greater flexibility. As a commuter student, you can choose to live somewhere more affordable and create a schedule that works with your work hours.
Commuter student life can also include a mix of on-campus classes and online work. Some community colleges offer a variety of online classes. Taking advantage of these resources can help if you find yourself with a complicated schedule, or if you just want more flexibility.
Resources like the American Association of Community Colleges search tool, Community College Finder , can help you research potential colleges near you. The tool also shows you the areas across the country with the highest and lowest densities of colleges. The Department of Education’s College Scorecard lets you search colleges based on programs, size, and location.
Other Factors to Consider
You also likely may be interested in finding out which colleges offer the major you want to pursue. If you are in the process of choosing your major, see if you can find out more about the programs that the community college near you offers. You could talk to current students or professors and evaluate whether it seems like a good school for your interests.
If you are applying for a mix of community and private college or private universities, creating a list of all your potential applications can be helpful.
You can organize this list by “match,” “reach,” and “safety” schools in order to help you consider all your options.
Thinking about The Cost
Once you start tackling the process of paying for community college, keep in mind that the financial aid offices at these colleges can be a great place to start.
You can find more information on whether or not the college offers its own scholarships and how to apply. Other financial aid, like the Cal Grant , can be applied towards your community college tuition. Other sites like FastWeb can help you find more specific scholarship opportunities based on your background and interests.
If it works with your schedule, and you qualify, you could research opportunities for federal work-study positions. You might also consider a combination of scholarships, grants, and loans to help offset the total costs of college.
Financing Your Education
If you do decide to attend a four-year university, you may now be looking into ways to pay for your education. A few options may include scholarships, grants, and federal student loans.
If those options do not work for your situation, you can look into private student loans. SoFi offers undergraduate student loans to help students pay for school. There are no fees, and SoFi offers flexible repayment options to help students find the loan that fits their budget.
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