Community college is an affordable option to get your feet wet in higher education. You can get an associate's degree at community college or use your local community college to get the basics out of the way before you transfer to a four-year college. Enrolling sounds difficult, but you will have many people along the way to help you if you need it.
What is a community college?
Community colleges are primarily public higher education institutions that strive to provide affordable and accessible educational opportunities to all. An associate degree, which takes about two years to complete full time, is usually the highest degree available. Most community colleges are commuter schools and do not offer living facilities to students.
How are community colleges different from four-year colleges and universities?
The types of degrees offered is one of the main differences between community colleges and four-year colleges and universities, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email. Almost all community colleges are open-access, which means almost anyone who applies is accepted.
Usually the highest degree a student can earn at a community college is an associate degree. Most community colleges do not have residential facilities for students.
The population of students tends to be older, too – the average age of a community college student is 28, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.
Four-year colleges and universities award bachelor’s degrees, and many award graduate and doctoral degrees as well; most also have more selective admissions than most community colleges. Many four-year colleges and universities offer living facilities to students. Most full time students at four-year colleges and universities are between the ages of 18 and 24.
What are the benefits of attending a community college?
Small class sizes, affordability, convenience and faculty who are focused on teaching – as opposed to research – are often cited as the main benefits of attending a community college.
What types of jobs are available to community college graduates?
The most popular majors for community college graduates include liberal arts, health professions and business, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Some common jobs for people with a community college education include registered nurses, managers, accountants, police officers, electricians and diagnostic-related technologists, according to a report by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.
What is a technical college?
Technical colleges tend to focus on credentials that lead directly to the workforce, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email.
Some community colleges are technical colleges, while others are transfer-focused, she said. Other community colleges offer a blend of both kinds of educational programs.
Do I have to apply for admission to attend a community college?
Students may have to submit an application, but most community colleges have open admissions policies. This means that students typically do not have to fulfill any academic requirements or compete with others for admission.
Almost anyone who applies to a community college with open admissions is accepted.
However, many community colleges may have selective admissions to certain high-demand programs, such as nursing, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email. But if a student doesn’t qualify for a specific program, there is generally another program he or she can enroll in.
Community colleges usually review and admit applicants year-round.
Do I need a high school diploma or its equivalent to enroll in a community college?
Not usually. Most community colleges offer open admissions, which means that applicants do not have to fulfill any academic requirements in order to enroll.
Can I attend a community college while still in high school?
Most high schoolers can take college courses at a community college, usually within a dual enrollment program. In these programs, high school students take courses at a community college and receive both high school and college credits. Sometimes these courses are held at the student’s high school.
Can I enroll in just one or two courses at a community college?
Yes. About 60 percent of all community college students attend part time, according to the 2014 Fact Sheet from the American Association of Community Colleges.
Are there any placement tests I need to take to register for community college courses?
Most new students at community colleges have to take placement tests before registering for classes.
Community colleges use the scores from these exams to determine if a student should complete remedial course work, or developmental education as it is sometimes called, before a student enrolls in college-level classes, according to a report from the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.
What is remedial education and course work?
Remedial education, sometimes called developmental education, prepares new college students for college-level courses.
College students who do not possess the necessary skills to be successful in college-level courses, based upon placement tests, are typically advised to take remedial courses, according to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics. Close to 70 percent of community college students enroll in at least one remedial course, according to a report from the American Association of Community Colleges.
Most community colleges offer developmental courses for institutional credit, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email. This means that students enrolled in these courses are a part of an accredited program and qualify for federal financial aid, but the classes do not count toward graduation requirements.
Can I attend a community college outside of my hometown or state?
Yes. However, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email that some districts offer lower tuition to in-district students.
"But students typically attend the closest or most convenient community college; most don’t seem to 'shop around' for different colleges, probably because they need something that is nearby to work or family obligations," she said.
Out-of-district and out-of-state residents are sometimes charged a higher tuition.
Is it easy to transfer to a four-year college or university from a community college?
The ease of transferring from a community college to a four-year college or university varies greatly based on many factors, including the state of residence, the educational institutions involved and even the student’s organizational skills.
"By and large, I think it is fairly easy to transfer to one," says Christopher Mullin, an expert who formerly worked at the American Association of Community Colleges. But he says that students should be aware that there are always caveats – a student may not be able to go to the particular four-year college or university that they wanted to, for example.
Students can take advantage of articulation agreements – which generally confirm that the credits earned at one institution will apply at another – to make the process easier. But policies vary greatly state by state and institution by institution.
Community college students considering transferring should start thinking about their educational goals and plan for transferring as soon as possible, experts have told U.S. News.
What is the typical transfer relationship between a state’s community colleges and public four-year colleges and universities?
It varies. Some states have smoother transfer systems than others, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email. And within a given state, some community colleges have better transfer relationships with some specific four-year institutions than others.
Articulation agreements can make the process smoother.
These agreements are between educational institutions and allow students to move seamlessly from one institution to the other, while minimizing their loss of earned academic credits, says Christopher Mullin, an expert who formerly worked at the American Association of Community Colleges.
Whether or not a student’s school has an agreement in place, early planning helps.
"They should choose their destination four-year college and program as soon in advance as possible, and then make sure they are taking the 'right' courses at the community college," said Smith Jaggars, in terms of the courses the four-year institution will accept toward graduation requirements in the student’s desired degree program.
COST AND FINANCIAL AID
How do community college costs compare with those for four-year colleges and universities?
Community colleges tend to be considerably cheaper than four-year colleges and universities.
The average total tuition, fees and room and board rates at all two-year institutions in the U.S. was about $9,000 during the 2011-2012 academic year, according to the most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics. The average total tuition, fees, room and board rates at all four-year institutions in the U.S. was about $23,000 during the same year.
Do community colleges offer financial aid?
Yes. About 60 percent of community college students who apply for financial aid receive some, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Federal grants, federal loans, state aid and institutional aid are among the types of financial aid awarded to community college students.
Do I have to pay for remedial classes?
Yes. But for most students this cost can be covered by financial aid, Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said in an email.
Resource: "Frequently Asked Questions: Community College", US News & World Report ( By Alexandra Pannoni, Digital Producer |Feb. 6, 2015)