Sunday, May 26, 2013

Why You Should Consider a Community College

The Bottom Line: Community college is an economical way to do two years of college as long as you are smart with your classes and work hard.

I am a college graduate who started out my college career at a community college (or junior college as mine is still called.)  I know many people who look down on them as being inferior or for those who aren't serious about their college education.  Frankly, that depends more on you and your goals than on where you get educated.

There is a simple reason to go to a community college - cost.  I must admit I haven't researched the prices of all community colleges across the entire country, but when I attended one, I paid around a tenth of the going rate at even the state colleges around me.  Yep, I was able to get a great education for much less than I would have attending a traditional four year college for my entire college career.  Plus, since I lived at home, my room and board costs didn't change at all.  (Thanks, Mom and Dad.)

Academics can be a concern, but that can be the case anywhere.  I've talked to some people who attended a community college and didn't feel they learned enough so where behind when they transferred.  Of course, I also had that conversation with a classmate who attended a state university first, too.  My community college, on the other hand, prided itself on tough academics.  My economics professor bragged about his class being tougher than Stanford (after someone in the class said her boyfriend, in the equivalent class at Stanford, had no idea what the stuff we were learning was.)

However, much of a student's academic success or failure can be linked to how hard they try.  All four years I was in college, I applied myself and worked like crazy.  That included my time at the community college.  If you apply that standard, you can get much more out of your time there than you can just by doing the minimum to get by.

Often, the bigger colleges and universities are so focused on research that the professors don't really have time to teach.  I actually had one professor who had left a larger college because she wanted to actually teach.  All of my professors, in fact, seemed to be very interested in teaching their students.  My classes were never so big I felt lost in the crowd.  This allowed me to ask questions, both in and out of class, to make sure I understood the material.

A community college is a great option if you don't know what you want to major in yet.  You can take a wide variety of courses until you find something you really enjoy for much less than you would at a traditional college.  And if it takes you a few years to figure that out, it's still not costing you as much as it would to attend somewhere else.

I know my community college offered many remedial classes that a traditional college doesn't.  So if you are graduating from high school but don't feel you can quite handle college level work, this would be a much cheaper way to fill in the gaps in your education than heading straight to a four year college.

Just because it is a community college doesn't mean the student life is dead.  Every semester, we had club days, where all the clubs would set up tables in the quad.  We had at least 20 clubs every semester out there waiting for students to join.

A community college also offers a wide level of diversity.  I had classes with mothers going back to college to finish a degree, people changing careers, as well as students my own age.  I had every race and both genders in my classes.

If you aren't sure if college is for you, definitely go this route.  Dropping out after one semester is definitely less costly than deciding college isn't for you after your first semester at a four year college.

Not this isn't to say there aren't pitfalls along the way.  After all, if your plan is to get a true college degree (not the two year associates degree most community colleges offer), you'll need to transfer somewhere for your final two years in college.  The sooner you decide on your transfer college of choice, the better off you'll be.  You can make sure your classes will transfer before you take them, so you won't have to repeat course work later.

If, like me, you are the world's most indecisive person (I think I am, anyway), you need to be even more strategic in your decision making.  My community college offered a list of classes that were accepted at the state schools, and I made sure every class I took would work there.  Because I had planned my schedule so well, all but about 5 units (two or three classes) were accepted by the private college I wound up attending.  And those classes they didn't take?  I knew when I signed up they wouldn't transfer, so it was no big surprise.

Really, the secret to making good use of a community college is planning.  If you blindly take classes and don't worry about the future, you'll wind up there longer than two years or at your transfer university longer than two years.  But if you make wise choices, it is possible to transfer and graduate with a total of four years in college.  I know.  I did.

Many people write off community college without even weighing the benefits.  Like all college options, it isn't for everyone.  But if money is a big concern, with a little work you can make it work for you.

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