Should I consider going to community college?

“What are the benefits of going to community college for two years then transferring to a four-year university, compared to going straight to a four-year?”

– Saul, a parent from Amsterdam

The American college experience that the world knows of (think: lush quads, students chatting quietly between classes, huge libraries, DIY dorms, and dining halls) reflects the experience at a four-year university.

Most students who study hard for tests like the SAT and ACT, engage in a variety of extracurriculars, worry about “maxing out” their high school courseload with the most rigorous possible college-prep classes, stress over which teachers to ask for recommendations, and maybe even hire admissions consultants are doing so to get into selective four-year universities.

But of course, as you mentioned, that’s not the only path to college. Community colleges are typically public, low-tuition learning institutions that confer Associate’s degrees, focus on teaching trade skills, and serve the local tax-paying community. The degree offerings and admission requirements differ not just state-by-state, but also district-by-district within the state.

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Unlike admission to four-year universities, community colleges usually don’t require high (if at all) standardized test scores or even a minimum GPA. They don’t look heavily at teacher recommendations, extracurricular accomplishments, and essays to judge your ability to contribute to the college campus. It’s, indeed, a college that welcomes the whole community. Because of this, community college has earned a reputation “where you go when you mess up high school” because of its low barrier to entry.

That reputation is a terrible stereotype. Another name for it is “junior college,” which doesn’t quite give it the sense of seriousness it deserves, as if junior college sits a step below “regular” college. These incorrect stereotypes deter students, especially fresh high school grads, who’d do quite well there.

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I’ve never met anyone who regretted going to community college, then either joining the workforce or transferring to a four-year university. I have, however, met people who regretted not doing that and going straight into a four-year university instead.

Here’s why:

  1. Community college is affordable, sometimes even free. Just for example, Los Angeles’ Santa Monica College, a community college, charges about $1,345 per year for tuition.

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