Whether you're a parent or a high school student researching college options, community college should be high on the list. With higher education rising to exorbitant levels in the past few years, many students are mortgaging their futures to pay for degrees that may not be worth the investment. Yet despite alarming trends in the student loan debt arena, the competition is as fierce as ever for a seat at top schools. Cost seems to be a secondary consideration at this point, which is all the more reason you should consider a community college and sit out on the degree hunter's bidding war.
As someone who went to a four-year university right out of high school, I can tell you now that I wish I had gone to a junior college first. The decision would have provided an easier transition right out of high school and made much more sense financially. And that was before tuition skyrocketed to where it is today.
Since hindsight is 20/20, hopefully young readers and parents will benefit from my experiences. Here are some reasons why community college makes more sense than attending a four-year college at the moment:
1. It's an easy transition from high school.
Most community college campuses are small compared to universities, which means that class sizes are typically smaller as well. Many students who attend a university after high school have trouble keeping up with the academic pace, and large class sizes made up of hundreds of students only makes matters worse. At a junior college, professors are much more accessible and can provide the personal time students are accustomed to. Students at large universities also sometimes have problems fitting in socially on top of managing a challenging course load. Junior colleges are a notch above high school, but they also provide great learning and social atmospheres on a smaller scale. In my freshman year at a state university, most of my classes were over 300 students and I didn't have the opportunity to meet a single professor. TAs also taught the bulk of the lectures.
2. You'll save tens of thousands of dollars.
The current price of a state four-year institution is nearly triple that of a community college. Many students will switch majors in the first two years, which makes sense because it's difficult to plan your life at 18 or 19 years old. The problem is that they would have to take some additional classes or delay graduation in order to fulfill requirements for their new majors. When you're at a community college, you should be able to take classes for two years to fulfill general requirements before graduating, saving you time and money. Adding up the cost of my own four-year college experience, I would have saved over $10,000 simply by attending a junior college and transferring. It would have been even more expensive had I switched majors between semesters. According to finaid.org, the average debt that college graduates graduate with is around $22,000. The average for public universities is about $19,000, while the average for private schools is over $33,000.
3. There are many advantages to living at home.
Living in dorms can be a great experience. You get to meet new friends and experience the first real breath of freedom away from home. But as with anything, there's a downside to dorming. It's expensive. You normally have a flat fee for the dorm costs each year and will most likely have to purchase a meal plan. If you live at home and go to a community college, you get to save on these two expensive costs. Dorming is one of the largest contributors to college expenses and can really add up to significant amounts of graduate debt over a four-year period. Dorming is more of a personal choice, but consider that the facilities are really just overcrowded apartments and the food really isn't anything to brag about. If you decide to live at home, you can easily visit friends at a nearby university and take advantage of their dorm situation without having to actually pay for it. We won't even get into bad roommate problems that can be an added stress during a difficult period of transition.
4. There's more time to think about your career path.
The first two years of college are really a period of feeling out classes and exploring career paths. Although many students declare majors out of high school, a sizable amount will end up changing directions once they get more experience with their department's curriculum. I cannot stress how important it is for undecided students to attend junior college in order to save money during this important period. Unless you have a fully mapped out career path, it's better that you take the time to discover your real passion in an environment that won't cost you up to $15,000 per year. You'll also be able to knock off all of your general education requirements in the first two years, so that you're covered no matter what major you apply for when transferring.
5. It will boost your confidence!
Starting at a community college can be great for your GPA and overall confidence before transferring to a four-year school. Junior colleges are usually less challenging, offer more personal time with professors, and allow you to have more free time to study. Since a large number of students do poorly their first two years, their GPAs will never recover. This can leave a lasting impact on your educational future, because graduate programs consider your GPA heavily during the admissions review process.
College is a time for change and figuring out the rest of your life, but you don't need to waste money doing it. That's especially true if job prospects continue to be so weak for fresh college graduates. Making an informed decision with your money and sacrificing on luxuries may be the best strategy for incoming college students today. Practicing fiscal responsibility now will ensure that you're in a better position to take advantage of opportunities later on.
Jeffery King is an education blogger and social media expert for OPPapers.com. Since graduating from college, Jeffery has continued to stay involved with educating students about college finances, studying tips, online education technology and more.
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