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Benefits of Attending Community College for Two Years to Save Money

By Ashley Eneriz

attending community college groupThere are many reasons to go to college. Whether you are a recent high school graduate or an established professional going back to school to advance your career, community college may be your best option to start.

No matter your age, attending a public or private university is expensive. However, the total cost of a four-year degree can be drastically reduced by spending the first two years at a community or junior college.

Beyond the monetary savings, there are a number of other benefits to attending community college for two years. Set your plan in motion, and you may gain entrance to a top-tier university currently out of reach and earn your degree at a fraction of the price.

Benefits of Community College

1. Tuition and Fees Are Low

No matter which college you attend or your intended major, the first two years will be mainly comprised of the same set of classes. For example, every freshman and sophomore has to take English 101, a biology class, and a college math class. Since these classes are virtually the same at every college, including your local community or junior college, it is wise to complete these requisites there.

The reason comes down to cost. Most private universities cost around $36,000 per year. That’s $144,000 for four years of attendance! Public state universities are far cheaper, costing $9,000 per year on average. However, after four years, this price is still $36,000.

Now consider that the average annual cost at a two-year college is $2,963, according to CollegeBoard. Assuming you complete 60 units, or two years, of required classes at a community college, you will save $12,000 to $66,000 compared to the same education at a state or private school.

2. You Can Improve Your Transcripts

Many people suggest applying for college scholarships to help offset the cost of high tuition. This is a great idea, but only for students who have either earned consistently high grades or were all-star athletes in high school. If you did poorly grade-wise in high school, achieving straight A’s in a community college can help you earn scholarships that previously would not have been available to you.

A number of community college scholarships are available solely for transfer students. For example, if you are a Hispanic student, there is a list of community college scholarships and grants just for you at the Hispanic Scholarship Fund website. Other scholarship sites, such as Fastweb.com, can help you search for a range of community college scholarships and grants.

Furthermore, if you aspire to attend a prestigious private university, but were not accepted out of high school, attending a community college may help. Not only are you given the second chance to achieve a stellar transcript, but you also have a better chance to be accepted as a junior rather than as a freshman, since there is less competition.

college class thinking

3. Closer Locations Mean Less Travel and Lower Living Costs

When attending college, tuition is not the only cost you must take into account. You must also consider the extra costs of gas, car maintenance, and other living expenses. If your dream school is in another state, moving and finding an apartment for rent or paying for a dorm room is a significant expense.

Mandatory parking passes are also much more expensive at a university compared to a junior college. If you are just out of high school, you can easily carpool to school and live with your parents if the community college is located nearby.

4. Community College Allows You to “Test the Waters”

According to Penn State University, 80% of students entering college admit that they’re not certain of what they want to major in, even if they’ve initially declared a major. In addition, up to 50% of college students change their majors at least once before graduation, and some change numerous times.

Imagine paying a hefty price tag at a private university, only to realize that your chosen major is not for you. While you can easily change your major, do not be surprised to learn that the bulk of classes you’ve already taken will not count toward your new one. That could be several thousands of dollars – and a lot of time – down the drain.

Since a community college offers a wide range of courses, you can test out what you want to major in before attending the university of your choice. Attending a community college for the first two years is especially beneficial for recent high school graduates because a lot of personal growth and maturation occurs the first few years after graduation. So play it smart, and spend $3,000 a year to figure out what you want to do at a community college instead of $36,000 at a private university.

Your Plan to a Private College Degree for Less

If you want your diploma to be from a highly accredited university, then go for it. However, there is no reason to be more than $100,000 in student loan debt for a private college degree.

Here is an easy way to afford and pay for college without taking on debt:

  1. Spend the first two years at community college. Make sure you contact the university you aspire toward to ensure you are taking all the necessary classes to transfer. Since many universities will let you transfer up to 72 units toward your overall degree, take four additional classes beyond the 60-unit mark at a community college. This means you’ll need one less semester to graduate at a university, which will save you thousands of dollars.
  2. While going to community college, work part-time jobs to put at least $700 into savings each month. This may seem difficult with a minimum wage position, but with diligence, it can be done. And don’t apply for credit cards – even low interest student credit cards. Instead, live on the bare minimum possible while paying for school and paying off any student loans.
  3. Apply for several scholarships and grants. Research what is available to you for your current financial situation, race, achievements, interests, and major.
  4. Pay as much as you can for your tuition out-of-pocket. If you must take out a loan, do it for the minimum amount needed. Only use this money for necessities, such as tuition and fees.
  5. While in your junior and senior year at a private university, earn and put $500 to $800 per month toward your student loan. Just because you can wait until you graduate to pay back your loan does not mean you have to.
  6. By the time you graduate from a private university, depending on how much scholarship money you received, you could have approximately $35,000 in debt. This amount is a lot, but it is a lot better than the $144,000 price tag for attending all four years.

community college campus

Final Word

There is no need to feel inferior to your peers that are going to private universities while you are going to a junior college. After four years, your college degree will be worth the same amount of money and credibility, except that you will not have the burden of a heavy student loan. Whether you want to attend a public university or a private university, a financially smart options is to get your start at a community college first.

Did you attend a community college? How was your experience saving money and transferring to a university?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Ashley Eneriz
Ashley Eneriz is a writer based in California with her husband and a baby on the way. She writes about how to save money at home on her blog, The Thrifty Wife. In her free time, she enjoys thrifting, reading, and crafting.

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Comments

  • http://madsaver.com Mac

    Well written article Zach. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I probably would have thought twice about going to a pricey private school. I don’t know if I would have gone to a community college however (dorm life was fun!), but definitely something public, rather than private to save some green. I, like most, left college with debt, but I was able to keep it low by working through college and had the 1st year paid via savings. Most weren’t as lucky.

    • Zach @College for 10k

      Mac -

      Going to a community college, the dorm life is one aspect that I greatly miss. I will be moving in with some friends who are also taking the community college route and will get a taste of the dorm life.

      Congratulations on making it through college with little debt!!

      Zach

      • Ashley Eneriz

        Zach -

        I agree that you definitely miss the chance to do dorm life at a community college. However, I think you planned it right by moving in with your friends. Also, there is always the university after community college to enjoy dorms and fraternities.

        Best,

        Ashley

  • Megan

    Great article – I can’t believe credit hours are only $79! I attended a college in Cleveland where individual credits were around $1200. If you’re already enrolled at another college, you can also take summer classes at a community college and maybe graduate a semester early.

    • Zach @College for 10k

      Megan -

      I couldn’t believe the price per credit hour either. For that price, I don’t know why others go to another school when I am receiving the same quality education as others.

      Taking classes during the summer is a very good plan. A friend of mine will be graduating this fall because of that very reason. One and a half years before anyone from my class.

      Thanks for stopping by!!

  • Donna

    This was a good, no great post and a timely one. My husband teaches at a community college here in Michigan. He is a band director and teaches music theory (has his doctorate). The college not only has a top rated reputation, it also has dorms! As well as dorms, a rock climbing wall in the student center/gym, student activities, organized intramural sports, college sponsored trips, many teachers are among the top in their field, a pulitzer prize winning author teaching in the english department set in a small town atmosphere. If you do your homework you can find a community college to fit your needs. To Mac, who commented earlier: Most of the grads or transfers go on to live in dorms at the 4 year school. You can have dorm life and save money! You just have to use your common sense and find the biggest bang to save your buck.

    • Zach @College for 10k

      Donna -

      That is very cool. What community college does your husband teach at? It sounds like quite an amazing school!

  • Lori A.

    I agree wholeheartedly!! We have told our kids that unless they get a full 4 year scholarship somewhere, it is best to go to community college for the basic courses. I went to a University right out of highschool…later, when I decided to change my major, I needed a few more core courses and went to community college. It was SO much better. This was at the time when they started offering online courses and tv classes. I took a few tv classes. I was able to record them (VCR! Haha!) so I could work during the day and then work on my classes in the evening. I only needed to go up to the campus for tests.

    • Zach @College for 10k

      Lori -

      You are 100% right. Community college is so much better! My largest class was freshman English and it only had 24 students in the class! With numbers like that, it makes it difficult to imagine a class with over a hundred students.

      Keep pestering your kids to head to a community college. They won’t regret it!

      • http://madsaver.com Mac

        I keep on going back to the fact that your class sizes have been so small! That is awesome, and such a contrast from a much more expensive university where some lectures could be hundreds of students.
        Once my kid starts thinking about colleges (in a good 14+ years), I’ll ensure that he looks at all his options, rather than just the pricey ones! Of course, by then everything could be different…but better start saving now just in case. Once students start realizing how good of a deal the community colleges are, the prices are bound to rise.

    • http://www.thethriftywife.com/ Ashley Eneriz

      Lori-

      Now that is some good parenting there! My parents urged me to initially just take any debt/loan to go to the best school. I am glad that I instead went to community college for 1 year (finishing 2 years in one) and a university for 2 years. Not only did I get my BA in 3 years, but I am so happy not to have any debt.

  • Winston C

    I feel a bit fortunate that I attend a public university for free due to many scholarships and financial aids. The only thing that I have to worry about is my living expenses. So I don’t have to worry about tuitions and textbooks costs.

    One thing that I have noticed about some of the students from my school is that they take some general courses at the local community school because obviously they are so much cheaper over there. I think if I remember correctly, one credit costs around 60 dollars. And best of all, the distance between my school and the community college is like 15 minutes. So they can go back and forth without missing a beat.

  • Nwanderski

    Community College is great if you have one nearby. Our local two year college is only a “technical” college with only a few gen eds that transfer and while they offer what they are calling ” Associates Degrees” , most are not transferable to four year public schools. Also, many of the programs they offer have long waiting lists to get in, and many students get off track waiting to get accepted into their desired programs and end up taking classes just to take classes. A very expensive “for profit” college has opened nearby recently to accommodate all those students waiting to get into the high demand programs at the public technical college. Makes the community college and technical colleges MORE expensive than the four year colleges, private colleges, and “for profit schools” when you realize all the time you waste waiting for an opening. The guidance counselors in the high schools don’t always consider this when advising students about the so called “savings” at community college. Consider ALL your options to determine what is the most affordable option. It’s not always what you think.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kristen-Kuchar/100002941222787 Kristen Kuchar

    Great ideas! I wish I would have did this!

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  • thebruins

    Another option is to start at a four-year university, but take summer classes at a CC so that you can graduate early, sometimes almost up to a year. Having taken both uni and CC classes, I noticed that uni classes tend to grade on a curve, whereas CC courses have a rigid grading scale similar to what you had in high school, such as 100-90 for an A. at a uni, depending on the curve, an A could be 100-85. In that sense, a CC may actually be more challenging when it comes to earning higher marks than at a uni. But at the same time, a CC is more likely to give out easy filler assignments that you can get full credit on for simply completing them.

  • Sarah Clifford

    Awesome!

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