In light of the uncertainties 2020 has brought in terms of health, education, and economics – it feels like it would never be a more relevant time than ever to speak on this. Right as so many recently graduated high school students are in the midst of considering their options for higher education and career possibilities. There are no easy choices in 2020, for anyone. It has been challenging us all for the bulk of this tumultuous year and will have ripple effects for years to come.
That being said, with doubts cast on entry into 4-year colleges or big universities and financial aid awards, one of the options many are giving more due consideration is the local community college. I started there prior to the pandemic and finished my Associate’s degree during the lockdown. I’m also currently in the midst of transferring to my local 4-year college, Rhode Island College – but more about that specific topic in another post coming soon.
What benefits are there to starting your degree at the community college? Well, the most obvious one is the noticeably smaller tuition bill! Many students whose parents have struggled (especially single-parent households) are more likely to qualify for the Pell Grant when applying for financial aid through FAFSA. In some cases (mine included), the current grant amount can cover the bulk, if not all, of the tuition for the academic year. There is even the possibility of a Supplementary grant for those who are below the poverty level, which can use applied towards textbooks and office supplies.
The second may be a plus for some more than others. That being the atmosphere of most community colleges being more relaxed than typical universities; the campuses easier to navigate with fewer buildings, and the transition from high school will be less of a shock for those with anxieties, shyness, or introversion.
The class times are also far more forgiving and flexible than university level with classes in the mornings, afternoons, and a fair few in the evenings to accommodate nearly every schedule. The class sizes are also much smaller, generally clocking in at around 15 to 30 students per class. Contrasting starkly with lecture halls of ivy league colleges crammed with over 100 students. This allows for deeper connections among classmates and students/professors and more personalized learning environments.
Another point that may be more so for some than others, a potential con could be the more limited campus life. That’s not to say that nothing interesting ever happens at community colleges or that there’s nothing to get involved in. However, compared to universities, the selection isn’t nearly as diverse. The number of events, clubs, and other ways for the student body to come together is more limited and low key at 2-year colleges.
Depending on where the college is located, the resources available, the size of the student body, or the demand the selection of degree programs may not be as expansive as a university. Community colleges are only 2-year degree and certificate institutions, after all. So it may be limited in the of degree options and related course material. The most common degrees at 2-year colleges often cluster in business, healthcare, social sciences, communications, engineering, computer sciences, and IT.
Tips on success.
Always check out your options. Some areas will likely have multiple community colleges within reach. Likewise, always apply for financial aid, even if you think you may not qualify for any, you could be surprised!
Consider Joint Admissions agreements with local universities that can make the transfer more smooth and painless.
If you are planning to transfer to a 4-year college that isn’t local, begin speaking to that college and showing interest early on at your community college to make sure all your courses align with your chosen major, so that your credits transfer!
Connect with professors, who could become amazing mentors and possibly write meaningful letters of recommendation when it’s time to apply to bigger colleges to finish that Bachelor’s degree.
Don’t be afraid to get involved in your community college. The majority do have sports, theater, student clubs and organizations, and other events on campus. Make friends, have fun, and build that CV!
This isn’t a process to be rushed. Higher education deserves to be given some thought. Be patient with the process. The time will pass anyways, so there’s no harm in enjoying the process of learning in way that’s more specialized to your future career. Give yourself the time and space to grow and experiment!