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5 Reasons to Consider Community College

Jeanne Mahan

Written by Jeanne Mahanon January 29th, 2024

I came to College Coach with 20 years of experience working in financial aid offices. As a financial aid coordinator at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, I reviewed and awarded financial aid files, worked with graduate students on financial literacy, and awarded scholarships, among other responsibilities. I also worked extensively with students as they neared graduation and faced the daunting task of repaying their student loans. I found this the most rewarding part of my job because I could help a student who was overwhelmed with the prospect of repaying their debt feel a sense of relief after reviewing their options. At the community college level, I was introduced to a wide array of federal and state financial aid programs. The student population was both traditional (18-22 year olds) and non-traditional (adults starting a degree, returning to complete one, or updating skills) and included people from the local community and many foreign countries.

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As the cost of a four-year college education skyrockets, and as selectivity increases at many popular campuses, more students and their families are giving serious consideration to community colleges as a great place to start their post-secondary education. Why?
  • The Cost of College: 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 $3,860 per year at a community college, while the average cost at a four-year institution ranges from $10,940 for an in-state public university, to about $39,400 for a private college (data from College Board Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid, 2022).
  • Career Path Uncertainty: Another reason a student may consider 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 we work with are often surprised by the wide array of programs offered at community colleges: accounting, nursing, computer science, engineering, liberal arts, hospitality, and the list goes on.
  • Shorter Time to Degree: 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, medical assisting, surgical technology, engineering technology, paralegal studies, and EMT. For students who may not be ready to pursue a bachelor’s degree, these programs may provide training for well-paying jobs.
  • Transfer Credits: Students who earn an associate’s degree at a community college may find they are given preferential consideration in admission to four-year colleges and universities. This is because many community colleges partner with both public and private four-year universities 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 an in-state community college to one of the University of California or California State University campuses. In Massachusetts, residents are guaranteed automatic transfer to a University of Massachusetts campus after they receive their associate’s degree. Most private colleges also accept credits earned at community colleges. It is therefore possible to complete a bachelor’s degree in four years for considerably less money by starting at the community college.
  • The College Experience: Some families shy away from a community college because they think their student won’t have the same experiences as if they had attended a four-year college. Today’s community colleges, however, offer an expansive selection of clubs, internships, and volunteer opportunities for students to engage in while they attend. And, as for residential life, more than 140 community colleges offer housing 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 they work closely with their school’s transfer office so academic advisors can ensure students are taking the appropriate courses. 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 we hear from families is how community colleges are viewed later, when the student enters the workforce. Well, here are a few successful people who went to community college: from the entertainment and business fields, Tom Hanks, George Lucas, Halle Berry, Queen Latifah, Steve Jobs and Guy Fieri; from the sports world, Aaron Rodgers and Albert Pujols; in the arts and sciences, astronaut Eileen Collins and authors Amy Tan and Beverly Cleary. If you’re price-conscious, or your student 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 by what you find!

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