Yikes, right? But what if you’re eager to get started on this next phase of your life, yet you’re scared of racking up a ton of debt? Community colleges, also known as junior colleges, can offer you a quality education — but at the fraction of the cost.
Here are three major benefits offered by community colleges:
You can earn credits that you can transfer to a four-year school to complete your program of study—while saving thousands of dollars in the process. (More on this below.)
You can earn an associate’s degree that typically takes two years to complete. Some programs are meant to launch you directly into the workforce, such as certain nursing degrees, and others are meant to prepare you to continue your studies at a four-year institution.
In some cases, you can complete a four-year degree right on the community college campus.
How much do community colleges cost?
Community college tuition is usually thousands of dollars cheaper than what you will pay at a four-year public or private school. In some states, such as California, first-time college students may even be able to attend community college for free.
The College Board published the following average yearly amount for tuition and fees for 2019-2020:
Public two-year college (community college) $3,730.
Public four-year college (in-state students) $10,440, or $21,950 with room and board.
Public four-year college (out-of-state students) $26,820, or $38,330 with room and board.
Private four-year college $36,880, or $49,870 with room and board.
Remember, most of the courses you'll take in the first two years of college are the same, regardless of where you go.
Try this quick comparison. Print out the list of required classes for your freshman and sophomore year from the local community college and the four-year university you’re considering. Look for the similarities.
Likely, what you will find are the same classes on both lists. For example, English 101 is standard for the freshman year. And most (if not all) programs require 100 and 200 level math, science, and psych/sociology, classes — all of which can be taken at a community college, for a fraction of the cost.
But you don’t just save when it comes to tuition. By living at home, you can also save on room and board, plus any travel expenses you may incur.
Since there are typically fewer distractions when you live at home, you may even be able to work while going to school.
The money you make can be put in a savings account earmarked for college, which means less debt from student loans when you graduate.
Do community college credits transfer?
The big question surrounding the decision to go to a community college is this: Do community college credits transfer to a four-year university?
The answer: Yes, but it depends on the classes you plan on taking.
If you want to ensure that your credits transfer to the university you plan on applying to, then there are some important steps you need to take.
First, don’t just randomly choose classes that sound like fun. Make an appointment with the transfer specialist at your community college. They can help you plan the courses you will take and make sure they transfer to the university you want to attend.
You can even take this one step further and connect with the admissions office at the university you will be applying to.
Ask them to double-check the courses you plan on taking at the community college. Just like the transfer specialist you initially met with, the admissions officer at the university will be able to tell you if your credits will transfer to their system. Typically, the number of credits you can transfer depends on the program/degree and the university you are applying to.
If you're a worrier or you just like to stay on top of things, consider doing this each quarter. You can make an appointment with the transfer specialist a week prior to registration (for the following quarter) and review your credits.
The number of credits required to complete an associate’s degree at a community college is anywhere between 60 and 90 credits.
Earn a four-year degree on the community college campus
Just in case you need one more reason to consider going to a community college, there’s this: A number of community colleges are now offering four-year degrees right on their campuses.
Through partnerships with other universities, you can earn a college degree without leaving home.
Yes, there are pros and cons to choosing a community college for your first two-years of education. But for many students, this option means they will be able to pursue a four-year degree without taking on a massive pile of student loan debt.
Sara Lindberg, B.S., M.Ed., is a freelance writer specializing in business, finance, health, and wellness. She holds a Bachelor's of Science degree in Exercise Science and a Master's Degree in Counseling. When she’s not writing, Sara can be found at the gym lifting weights, running the back roads to train for her next half-marathon, and spending time with her husband and two children. Read more by Sara Lindberg