Should I consider going to community college?

By Maxine Seya

“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.

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.

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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Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.