There 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Apply for several scholarships and grants. Research what is available to you for your current financial situation, race, achievements, interests, and major.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?