Reasons to Attend Community College

Community colleges were once considered a place to go if you couldn’t get in to a “better” college. How times have changed! More students and their families are giving serious consideration to community colleges as a great place to start their education. Why?

  • One reason is the cost of a community college versus a four-year university. In general, the average cost for tuition and fees is about $3,500/year at a community college, while the same average costs at a four-year college or university range from $9,500 for an in-state public university to about $34,000 for a private college.
  • Another reason a student may consider a community college is because they’re uncertain of their major or career path. Community colleges offer a number of majors and the opportunity to explore areas of interest that may lead to a major. Families I work with are often surprised by the wide array of programs offered at the community college level: accounting, finance, nursing, computer science, engineering, liberal arts, hospitality, and the list goes on.
  • Community colleges also offer certificates and associate’s degrees that help students become career-ready in a short period of time in fields such as welding, automotive, dental hygiene, surgical technology, computer-aided design, and EMT. For students who may not be ready to pursue a bachelor’s degree, these programs will provide training for well-paying jobs.
  • Students who earn an associate’s degree at a community college may find that they have preference in admissions to four-year colleges and universities. Community colleges in many states partner with both public and private colleges in their states to facilitate transfer so that credits earned can be used towards the bachelor’s degree. In California, for example, preference is given to students who wish to transfer from a community college to one of the UC or CSU campuses. In Massachusetts, residents are guaranteed automatic transfer to one of the campuses in the state university or University of Massachusetts systems after they receive the associate’s degree. Private colleges in many states also accept credits earned at the community college level. It is therefore possible to complete a bachelor’s degree in four years for considerably less money by starting at the community college.
  • Some families shy away from a community college because they think their child won’t have the same experiences as if she had gone to a four-year college. Modern day community colleges, however, offer an expansive selection of activities, clubs, internships, and volunteer opportunities for students to engage in while they attend. And as for dorm life, 33 community colleges in the United States and the District of Columbia offer residential campuses for their students. These opportunities allow community college students to share the same types of experiences as their peers at four-year colleges.

If your student decides to start their educational program at a community college, make sure he works closely with the transfer office so that the advisors can help with course selection. This will ensure that students are taking the core courses that are necessary for both their associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. Most credits will transfer, although any credits taken for remedial classes in English or math, will not count towards the associate’s degree and will therefore not transfer to the college or university.

Another concern I hear from families is how community colleges are viewed in the transfer process and later, when the student enters the workforce. As I mentioned above, many colleges, including some of the most prestigious in the country, give transfer preference to students coming from a community college. And as for how it’s viewed in the workplace? Well, here are a few successful people who went to community college: from the entertainment and business fields, Tom Hanks, George Lucas, Walt Disney, Queen Latifah, Steve Jobs and Guy Fieri; from the sports world, Aaron Rodgers and Jackie Robinson; in the arts and sciences, astronaut Eileen Collins and author Amy Tan.

If you’re price-conscious, or your child isn’t ready to leave home or is unsure of their major, check out the community colleges in your area. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you find!


Written by Jeanne Mahan
Jeanne Mahan is a member of College Coach’s team of college finance experts. She worked as a senior financial aid officer at Tufts University and Quinsigamond Community College before joining College Coach.