So, you’re going to community college.
Let me be the first to congratulate you on making an incredible decision! Yes, I know that “congrats” isn’t the most common response to sharing your community college decision, but it ought to be. Some of the most successful people of our time went to community college (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks, George Lucas, and Walt Disney to name a few), and there is no reason why you shouldn’t feel like you are walking in the footsteps of giants. I want you to walk away from this article feeling excited and proud of yourself for making the decision to attend community college. I want you to know that you haven’t missed out on anything, you are not at a disadvantage, and a world of opportunity awaits you as a community college student.
The truth is that the decision to attend community college is a decision to invest in your future. And like most investments you’ll make, the decision to invest is often less exciting than the potential future outcome. For example, investing $1,000 in the stock market may not seem that great today (after all, you could have gone to Vegas or done something more fun with that money), but having that investment grow from $1,000 to, say, $3,000 in five years is pretty awesome. The same is true for community college: it may not feel exciting now, but when you’re the only 28-year-old you know who isn’t swimming in $30,000 of student debt, you’ll feel pretty stoked.
Financial Expert Frank Palmasani has 4 simple questions to help you find your affordability threshold.
This begs the question: Why is community college a better investment in your future than a four-year college? The cost of a four-year college education has soared in the last 10 years. Unfortunately, the promise of a four-year degree (mainly studying what you love and finding a career you love) hasn’t kept up with the cost—leaving many recent college graduates unemployed and in debt. (The average student loan debt is $29,400 and the Associated Press reported that 53% of recent college graduates are unemployed or have jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree.) Yet, expectations for students to attend a four-year college after high school remain, and it can be difficult for students to break the mold and make the beneficial decision to attend community college.
However, the financial benefits you can reap from community college are incredible. With an average yearly cost of tuition, books, and fees of $2,000, community college is one of the most cost effective ways to complete the first two years of college. The icing on the cake? Federal financial aid (FAFSA) and private scholarships are also available to help make community college even more affordable for students.
Community college students can apply for transfer admissions at any school in the country (except Princeton, which doesn’t accept transfer students). The Ivy Leagues? Yep. That school you thought you missed out on to attend community college? Yes, especially. The sky is the limit. In fact, many students who are rejected from their top schools choose to attend community college for two years and then reapply as a transfer student.
So, what is community college transfer? It’s a fantastic pathway that enables students to take two years of community college courses and then apply to “transfer” those credits to a four-year school to complete a bachelor’s degree. The courses you’ll take during those two years in community college are very similar to the courses that most other college students will take during their first two years (calculus, natural sciences, humanities, writing courses, etc.). After you complete general education courses, then apply for admission to the colleges of your choice. Once accepted, you’ll pick up where you left as a junior and complete the next two years of your bachelor’s degree. Also, acceptance rates for transfer students differ from those of freshman applicants. Depending on your college choice, you may have a better chance of being accepted as a community college transfer student.
All these points aside, sometimes you just can’t help feeling like you’re missing out, especially if community college wasn’t your first choice. That’s understandable. But let me leave you with this advice—choose to have a great community college experience, and you’ll have one. Commit yourself completely to the community college track, focus every day on investing in your future, and be proud of yourself. I can promise you that you’ll be thankful that you did.
The good news is that the hard part is done! You’ve already made the decision to build a brighter future for yourself: you’re going to community college.
Check out Diane Melville’s The Community College Advantage: Your Guide to a Low-Cost, High-Reward College Experience to learn how you can hit the ground running the minute you arrive on campus.