5 Reasons to Consider Community College

Southwest Tennessee Community College
Southwest Tennessee Community College. Brad Montgomery / Flickr

Expensive four-year residential colleges aren't the best choice for everyone. Below are five reasons why community college is sometimes the better option. Before making a final decision, however, prospective students should be aware of the possible hidden costs of community college. It is particularly important to plan carefully if you are going to transfer to a four-year college to earn a bachelor's degree. The cost savings of community college can quickly be lost if you take courses that don't transfer and need to spend an extra year finishing up your degree.

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Money

Community college costs are just a fraction of the total price tag for public or private four-year residential colleges. If you’re short on cash and don’t have the test scores to win a merit scholarship, community college can save you thousands. But don’t make your decision based entirely on money—many four-year colleges offer excellent financial aid for those with serious need. While tuition at community colleges is often less than half that of four-year public universities and a small fraction of the list price for private institutions, you'll want to do research to find out what your true cost of college will be. 

All colleges and universities that receive federal money (which is nearly all schools) are required to publish a net price calculator that allows prospective students to predict what a college is likely to cost. Be sure to use this tool. If your family's income is modest, you may find that the cost of a four-year school, even a private one, may be less than a community college. In fact, one of the most expensive and prestigious schools in the country—Harvard University—is entirely free for low-income students. The total price tag is over $70,000, but it costs nothing for some students.

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Weak Grades or Test Scores

Getting into a selective college is going to require a strong academic record and, in most cases, good sat scores or act scores. If you don’t have the GPA or standardized test scores to get into a decent four-year college, don’t fret. Community colleges almost always have open-admissions. You can use community college to build your academic skills and prove that you can be a serious student. If you then transfer to a four-year school, the transfer admissions office will consider your college grades much more than your high school record.

Keep in mind that an open admission policy doesn't mean that you can study any program at any time. Space in some classes and programs will be limited, so you'll want to be sure to register early.

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Work or Family Obligations

Most community colleges offer weekend and evening courses, so you can take classes while juggling other obligations in your life. Selective four-year colleges rarely offer this type of flexibility—classes meet throughout the day, and college needs to be your full-time employment. You will, however, find some regional four-year colleges that specialize in catering to students who have obligations other than school.

Keep in mind that while the flexibility of these programs can be wonderful, the challenge of balancing school with work and family obligations will often lead to a longer graduation time (more than two years for an associate degree, and more than four years for a bachelor's degree).

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Your Career Choice Doesn’t Require a Bachelor’s Degree

Community colleges offer many certification and associate degree programs that you won’t find at four-year schools. Many technologies and service careers do not require a four-year degree, and the type of specialized training you need is available only at a community college.

There are, in fact, many high paying jobs that require no more than an associate degree. Radiation therapists, air traffic controllers, dental hygenists, police officers, and paralegals need just an associate degree (although a four-year degree will also lead to careers in many of these fields). 

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You’re Not Sure About Going to College

A lot of high school students have a sense that they should go to college (or their parents are pressuring them to attend college), but they aren’t sure why and aren’t really fond of school. If this describes you, community college can be a good option. You can try out some college-level courses without committing years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars to the experiment. Unmotivated students rarely succeed in college, so don't go into debt and waste the time and money required to attend an expensive four-year college.