You will probably hear many different opinions on the community college option. To help you in the decision-making process, here are 5 IMPORTANT FACTORS you should consider:
Is the cost a determining factor? Community colleges typically offer the lowest tuition rate available. This is an obvious advantage! Many students save money their first two years by attending a community college. Just be aware that many four-year colleges offer their largest scholarships to incoming Freshman. There are transfer scholarships available to incoming transfer students, but they are for a much lower amount. Some students apply to the more expensive colleges and then go to a community college if they don’t get offered a substantial scholarship to a four-year college.
Is your student seeking a one-on-one relationship with a professor and a small class size? If so, community college offers this environment. The role of a community college professor is focused on classroom teaching. They typically do not use teaching assistants.
There are four-year colleges that offer a small, friendly classroom environment, but you need to do some research to identify these colleges. Data is available on teacher to student ratios and the use of teaching assistants in the classroom.
3) ACADEMIC RIGOR
How important is academic rigor? Community colleges typically offer two different paths. The two-year “career path” will provide students with the technical skills they need to get a job that requires an associates degree. If your student is interested in the two-year career path, community college is usually an excellent choice. The other option is the “transfer path” that prepares the students to transfer in as a junior at a four-year college. As mentioned earlier, community college professors focus on teaching, not research. However, four-year colleges may offer opportunities for student research activities as early as Freshman or Sophomore year. Labs and other facilities are more likely to offer the latest technologies at four-
year colleges, as well as offering a more comprehensive range of courses and degree options. If your student gets into a very selective college, they will be with other students who share their passion for learning.
4) CAMPUS ENVIRONMENT
Does your student want to participate in campus activities, make friends and join organizations? While community colleges typically offer the opportunity to participate in a variety of organizations, they simply cannot offer the same type of environment as a residential campus where the students view the campus as their “home” for the academic year. Community college students typically go to work or go home when their classes are done. Some community colleges have added residence halls but they house only a small percentage of the students. The “bonding” experience is just not the same on a community college campus as it is on a residential campus, so the difference between the two campus environments is significant.
Let’s face it: transitioning to a community college is MUCH easier for a student than going away to a residential college. Is your student ready to transition to a residential college? The student has to be mature enough to make responsible decisions, put academics first and live apart from family members for a period of time. Certain students simply need those two years at a community college before they are ready for the residential college experience. Unfortunately, there are other students that last only one semester at a residential college and are back living at home after an expensive mistake. Often these students start over at a community college. Of course, there are also a number of students who absolutely thrive the moment they step onto the four-year college campus.
SO, WHAT’S THE ANSWER?
It is a decision that should be made together as a family after giving your student plenty of time to consider the above five factors, as well as other relevant data specific to your family. Make sure your student speaks with other students at the local community college. They may be pleasantly surprised to learn that many students are enjoying their time there. On the other hand, if your student values independence, demonstrates maturity and is academically motivated, they may feel quite stifled and frustrated at a community college. For this student, a successful experience at a four-year residential college often leads to enhanced opportunities, greater independence and increased decision-making skills.