A Parent’s Guide to the Pros and Cons of Community College

Three girls walking outside next to a college building

A Parent’s Guide to the Pros and Cons of Community College

Published December 13, 2023

Three girls walking outside next to a college building

Community colleges are an excellent option for millions of students each year. Over 10 million students are enrolled in community colleges, and over half of the adults in the United States with a bachelor’s degree attended community colleges at some point in their higher education journey. By contrast,  14 million college students attend four-year institutions.

Recently a parent whose son had just completed his first year at a community college in San Diego, California, shared the pros and cons of choosing to attend a community college in our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group, and dozens of parents chimed in. It turns out her son was admitted to several state universities in California but decided to attend community college instead.

Below is her list of pros and cons of attending community college. She chose to remain anonymous to protect her son’s identity, but you can see and join the discussion HERE. Keep in mind that this list was written by a California parent, and each state has its own unique programs and policies

The Pros of Attending Community College

Affordable Price

In California, tuition is 100 percent free for two years through the California Promise Grant. About 20 states offer similar programs. In many of these cases yearly out-of-pocket totals amount to less than $1,000 per year and include books, parking, and other fees. 

Small Class Sizes

At most community colleges, class sizes are small. In her son’s case, he only had between 10 to 30 students in each class freshman year. He also felt that his professors were approachable and accessible. None of his classes were conducted in big lecture halls, which is common at a lot of larger schools.

Easier Transition

Community college can provide an easier transition from high school. This family felt that was important. “I didn’t realize how much you have to learn when you are a college student,” said the parent in our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group. “I think my son would have been overwhelmed if he had to learn ‘how to college’ on top of living independently, making new friends, and being away from his family support system. At the community college, he just has to learn ‘how to college ‘and can learn the rest when he transfers.”

Articulation Agreements

Another pro to attending community college: Many larger private and public schools have articulation agreements with community colleges. In some cases, students may be able to transfer before earning the full 60 credits.

Some programs have such well-articulated transfer agreements that you’re given an advisor who can guide you along the transfer path to graduate four years from the start.

More Opportunity to Explore Majors

For many students who attend community college, it’s also easier to explore different majors because classes are less expensive and easier to get.

Opportunity to Earn a Degree

Students in community colleges have the option to earn certificates and stack degrees, too, which can be useful in the event your student doesn’t complete their bachelor’s degree.

Flexible Class Schedule

Finally, there are often more flexible class schedules at community colleges, including evening classes for students who work full-time.

The Cons of Attending Community College

Many Online Classes

Many community college classes are offered online. Some parents and students think online classes are inferior for student learning and connection. It also makes it harder to meet other students and connect with professors for learning and letters of recommendation. In all fairness, however, many four-year universities offer online classes, too.

Fewer Student Interactions

Community colleges can feel somewhat sleepy compared to big, bustling universities with a vibrant Greek life and sports culture. They also have fewer clubs and sports programs available.

Doesn’t Guarantee Admission to a University

The top schools in some states like California no longer offer guaranteed admissions programs for completing community college. In those cases, students have to earn high GPAs to transfer and even then it’s not guaranteed.

Transfer Rules Can Be Tricky

In some states, you have to earn 60 units before you can apply to transfer to a larger state school and some universities limit you to applying during specific semesters, so you have to plan to transfer carefully.

Less Support for New Students

Many community colleges don’t provide student orientation programs, services, and guaranteed housing during freshman year. On the back end of the community college experience, many students find that the schools they transfer to don’t offer those services to transfer students, either, so they end up losing out on that support twice.

Classes May Not Be as Rigorous

Generally speaking, community college classes are not known to be as rigorous as four-year universities, so the transition can be tough for some students.

Many “Older” Students

In community college, students’ ages range significantly. The average age of a community college student is 28 years old. To younger students, it may feel like they have a lot of “adults” in their classes, so it’s not a “traditional” college experience — but this can be a pro too.

“Watching adults be serious about education is great,” said CE Brown-Kelly, another parent in our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group. “Also, interacting with them can be an advantage in the future workplace that kids in a four-year youth bubble won’t have.”

Overall, community college is a terrific option for many graduating high school seniors, especially if they go in with a plan and take advantage of the resources and programs available to them.

Join our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group to join this discussion and discover more great advice from parents like you.

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Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

Community College Changed My Life

The Pros of Attending a Community College Before a University

Three Advantages to Attending Community College Before a Four-Year School

JOIN ONE OF OUR FACEBOOK GROUPS & CONNECT WITH OTHER PARENTS: 

PAYING FOR COLLEGE 101

HOW TO FIND MERIT SCHOLARSHIPS

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