The Pros and Cons of Attending a Community College Before a University
When your child thinks of the typical college freshman experience, they might envision moving into a dorm room or rushing a fraternity or sorority. Yet for some students, attending community college for their first two years is the smartest, most affordable option. Those ultimately seeking a bachelor’s degree will often utilize what is known as the “2+2 program” approach. This involves taking a number of general education courses at community college before transferring to a four-year college or university.
The process may seem fairly straightforward: two years at community college and then a transfer to a university. But you might wonder what makes a community college cost-effective. Are university admissions easier for students after they attend a two-year school?
There are a number of potential road bumps your child may face along the way to completing their associate degree and transferring. It’s important for them to know exactly what is expected of them as a community college student and four-year college hopeful before registering for their first semester.
The Pros of Attending a Community College Before a University
Attending a community college can be an excellent springboard for a variety of students seeking a bachelor’s degree. Some benefits include lower tuition, smaller class sizes, a supportive academic and social community, and a flexible offering of courses including night classes. Many students choose to live at home, saving them money on room and board costs.
Being admitted to a community college is also much easier than at four-year schools, with most offering open access admissions. Students who did not get the best standardized test scores or grade point average (GPA) in high school may find that community college is a good place to get a fresh start, as their high school SAT or ACT test scores may become less important in their application to a four-year school.
Community college is also a popular choice for international students. According to data from the Institute of International Education, around 94,500 international students studied at US community colleges during the 2019-20 academic year. Community college can be an excellent place for students to hone their English skills and adjust to American college life.
The Cons of Attending a Community College Before a University
There are some potential cons of attending a 2+2 program to keep in mind. Students may feel they are missing out on the traditional freshman college experience, an essential year in which many four-year college students begin to get involved in activities, make friends, and find their place at school. It can be difficult to make new friends as a transfer student, and students might find a limited number of transfer scholarships available.
Community college curriculums are also generally more limited than those at four-year schools. If your child wants to eventually earn a degree in a specialized field such as architecture, they might have trouble finding appropriate general education coursework at a community college.
No matter where your child spends their first two years, know that once they earn a bachelor’s degree, only the name of their final college or university will appear on their diploma. College is what they make of it, and it can be a challenging experience no matter where they begin. It helps to have a good plan going in.
What to Know About Transferring Community College Credits
The key to making the most of a 2+2 community college experience is smart planning.
According to Cappex, which helps students apply to college, “only 14 percent of students who start at a community college end up transferring and earning a bachelor’s degree within six years,” and among those “36 percent of low-income students obtain a bachelor’s degree while 44 percent of middle- and high-income students do.” This is one reason it’s so important to be fully aware of all of the resources offered to your child at their community college, and to take full advantage of them while planning a two-year schedule. It’s also prudent for your child to have a general plan in mind of where they’d like to transfer, and what they’d ultimately like to major in.
Your child should make sure enough of the credits they earn in their first two years are eligible for transfer, especially at the school they’re interested in transferring to. If they aren’t, they may need to retake the same classes at their new school, which adds expenses and time that largely defeat the purpose of the 2+2 approach.
Speak to an admissions counselor at the two- and four-year school before your child enrolls to make sure that their community college transfer credits will count toward their four-year degree. They can focus on a community college major of study and sign up for a transfer program, which is specifically designed for this purpose.
The Prerequisite Courses to Take at Community College
Aside from a handful of schools like Brown University that feature open curriculums, most four-year institutions have general education requirements. While there are broad similarities between general education courses, all schools’ requirements are slightly different. It’s very important to research the colleges your child plans to transfer into and gather information on what prerequisite courses need to complete for their intended major. If a student is missing a prerequisite that is not offered the semester they transfer, they might need more than four years to complete their degree.
It’s equally important for them to take prerequisite courses in the major area they plan to earn a degree in, especially if they want to major in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). These are among the degrees that can take the longest to complete and have the most prerequisites overall.
In an interview with Cappex, Natalie Jansorn, director of scholarship programs at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation said, “community college students who successfully transfer are more likely to pick a major early.”
If your child can do well on college placement tests, especially in math and English, they may be able to test out of some courses. They can get more information directly from their community college’s testing center.
Does Community College Make University Applications Easier?
If your child takes advantage of all the resources that their community college has to offer, it can make the process of applying to a four-year university much smoother.
It’s worth seeking assistance at the career center, where your child can apply for internships and work-study opportunities, experiences that can make them more desirable to four-year colleges.
Visiting the career transfer office can help your child in creating a specially guided plan so they have a clear goal to progress toward. They can network with transfer advisors and speak to professors in their intended academic field.
Going to office hours can open doors to opportunities, advice, and extracurricular learning. Getting involved on campus can often help make them a stronger transfer fit.
Your child should speak to transfer advisors at the four-year colleges they plan to transfer to and ask what courses they recommend.. It’s important to take community college classes seriously. Encourage them to show up on time, study hard, and maintain a good GPA; this can prepare them for what they should expect at a four-year school.
Does Community College Make Attending a University Cheaper?
If students spend their time and money wisely, community college can make attending a university less expensive overall. Some universities offer transfer students net price calculators, so they should schedule a meeting with a financial aid administrator to find out how much they will pay out of pocket. Many four-year colleges provide scholarships and financial aid to transfer students. Your child should make a list of which ones they are eligible for and apply, even if they think a scholarship is out of reach.
Saving money in the first two years of college can make an enormous difference in preventing debt down the road. Living and eating meals at home and working at a part-time job or taking on an internship related to a chosen field can also help your child save money, but they should make sure to prioritize their studies above all else.
When considering a 2+2 program, it’s important for your child to have a plan from day one about where they want to transfer to and work towards completing prerequisite classes that will count towards their four-year degree. Talking with the community college career office early about their plans will help ensure they stay on track and are informed about internships and scholarships. If your child does end up taking the 2+2 route, getting involved on campus, building up a resume, and cultivating an activities list that will look great to admissions will help them get accepted into their chosen four-year school.
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