The Pros and Cons of Attending Community College before University

photo by Andrew Flavin

photo by Andrew Flavin

As a junior in my high school days, I knew I wanted a less traditional path into the intimidating world of college. Unlike many of my friends, I opted out of the cold Northeast and applied only to schools located in the warm California sunshine. But upon receipt of my first semester out-of-state tuition bill from University of California Santa Barbara, I chose to begin my college journey at Santa Barbara City College instead, making life a bit easier on my family’s pocketbook, and then to transfer to a four-year school. Choosing whether to attend community college or a university right out of high school is an option worth considering.

Here are some pros and cons:
The transition from high school to a community college is easier, but you miss out on all the dorm life, which can be a stepping stone to your entire social network.  Universities offer sports, Greek life, and bonding with fellow collegians right out of the gates. The connections you make as a freshman can often be lifelong friendships. It’s not to say that can’t happen in a community college environment, but living in a dorm is a bonding experience that a community college simply can’t duplicate.

Community college will put less of a dent in your college fund, assuming you have one. Accomplishing a significant chunk of required course material for a portion of the cost makes sense, as most general education coursework that a university requires of its freshmen and sophomores can be taken at a community college. University tuition costs vary depending upon whether they are public or private, but are vastly more expensive.

Community colleges have fewer students per class, which generally means more student/teacher interaction, great for students who like to ask questions. Universities usually have massive auditoriums full of a few hundred students, making it nearly impossible to compete for the professor’s office hours.

At any school there are the amazing instructors and the awful ones. There can be amazing instructors at a community college because they actually want to teach, and be involved with, their students. I’ve had university professors so consumed with their research that their TAs did the majority of the teaching. But I’ve also had university professors who obviously went into their chosen field because of the enjoyment they get from standing in classroom explaining their ideas to students.

Community colleges offer Associate’s of Arts degrees, and unfortunately nothing higher. It can be a bridge to a university where you can obtain a Bachelor’s degrees, Master’s degrees and Doctorates. The path you take to get that degree is completely up to you.

12 Responses to “The Pros and Cons of Attending Community College before University”

  1. Voice of Reason says:

    Yeah, that argument about traditional colleges being less advantage because of large lecture halls is bogus. I only had two in my entire time at a big four year university. And in those classes, it wasn’t any harder to schedule time with the professor, the key is that you have to schedule it, or go in during office hours, you can’t just barge up to him after class and expect one on one time. Plus, they’re actually real professors who don’t have to work at a community college. Most community college professors don’t have PHD’s, and are lousy, if they were great, why would they not want to be making more money at a better school?

    But that being said, community college is an adequate option. It’s all about where you graduate from, not where you start. If you don’t have the money or grades to get into a real school, don’t sweat it. Just get the AA and transfer, it’ll be a challenge to get up to speed, but once you graduate, you’ll be on equal footing with your peers.

    But my main piece of advice is to go where you want out of high school if possible. Don’t just assume that you’ll be able to transfer there two years later, and don’t do the community college thing just to save money, unless you’re completely unable to pay for it.

  2. Josh says:

    Sorry to disappoint you but you did not in fact go through school to get to a university. Community College is just called college; in reality anything from these schools are about as useful as a GED. Everyone successful went through private schools, not community schools, not simple universities from state, cold hard to get in private school.

  3. top california community colleges says:

    I bet the best way to get a good degree is to transfer from colleges to universities, losing nothing but saving a lot of money. However colleges have their own positive and negative sides.

  4. mcmonagl says:

    have to be added to the dictionary, making the US economy

  5. Latanya says:

    Where do you live? Most four-year schools have a transfer guide, available (often on their website). In addition, you can always meet with an advisor or admissions counselor in your major, to talk about what classes will transfer-especially if the CC is near the four-year school or at least in the same state. Most community colleges do have some form of advising, so you may want to check in with admissions or the bursar to see if they offer those services. If they don’t, I would check with the school you plan to enter. I advised at a college and I helped transfer students all the time.

    Sorry for the late response-I am just getting back to this page.

  6. winky says:

    P.S.S another perk is that if you complete first year successfully you could work as a PSW/ Nurses Aide

  7. winky says:

    This is for Liz,

    My sister is going to college for RPN training (if you are in the U.S it is the same as LPN) which she will earn a diploma.

    It is a 2 year program which if completed allows you to write a national exam to become a registered/licensed nurse. If you want to upgrade to become an R.N you will have to take a 1 year bridging course then take an additional 2 years in University (but you will have to have a GPA above 3.0).

    Take this route if you do not have all your advance/university/grade 12 high school credits (which are above 70% or B average).

    The advantage of completing the RPN/LPN course is that if you are hired in a hospital the hospital may (some hospitals do not offer this) pay for you to get your Bachelor of Science for Nursing to become an RN .

    P.S. I am in Toronto and all the info. listed is how the RPN/LPN program works in Canada… double check if it is the same in the U.S.

  8. liz says:

    this makes thing just as confusing!
    im going to start off at a community college, i had applied to attend a universtiy, but financial aid didnt help me so much so i had to step aside and apply to a community college. As of right now im really confused on what it is the classes i have to take to earn an associates degree. im looking to become a nurse, something small to start off and progress from there. the thing about a community college they say that the teachers are there to help you ,etc,etc but when i went to register no one helped me! while at a university you have someone actually guiding you.
    thanks to that i have a crappy scvhedule and you see me looking up what it is i need to get an associates degree.


  9. Latanya says:

    There are some things that need clarification in this article. First, inresponse to this quote: “Universities usually have massive auditoriums full of a few hundred students, making it nearly impossible to compete for the professor’s office hours.” That is extremely misleading. At large universities, in core curriculum classes-mostly taken by freshmen- many universities offer sections in large auditoriums with a couple-few hundred students. HOWEVER, not only do most universities offer one or two smaller sections as options, these classes do no stay large as students move into their major coursework. In fact, most of my in major courses were set in a regular classroom-just like any other college. Also I have not known people to have to wait in line for long office hours, unless they waited until the last day before a test. On the contrary, I’ve heard many professors complain they spend valuable time in an empty office during office hours. In addition, many professors will set up specific times to meet with you, if you ask.
    It should also be noted that community colleges can offer some affordable and viable options but if you are planning on transferring to a four-year school, you have to be very careful that your final school and MAJOR of choice will accept your CC classes for credit towards your diploma-and not just as electives. This means that starting at a community college can take a little extra planning.

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