While going through high school, I had always assumed that community college was something that people did because they did not have the grades or the money to attend a university. I would never have guessed that I would be eating my own words not a year after graduation. When I finished my senior year, my original plan had been to enlist in the U.S. Army, and I even had a ship date of January 2010. Unfortunately, a series of bureaucratic mishaps caused my enlistment to be delayed by a year, and I elected to not take the risk of waiting to start my life and chose instead to go into school. Since mid-January isn’t exactly the ideal time to apply to university, I only had one viable option. Friday was the day I realized that I would not be shipping off to boot camp, and at 9am the following Monday I was attending my first class at the local community college. Try and imagine having less than 72 hours notice that you would be returning to school!
During the over two years that I spend taking courses there, I learned that two-year colleges are nothing like I imagined them to be. Instead of being a second chance for students who just couldn’t afford or get accepted to a four-year school, I realized that attending a community college before a four-year university is actually one of the smartest things you can do! My top three reasons for saying this are below:
1. The savings really are unbelievable.
The fact is that tuition at a community college is nothing compared to a university. In comparison,the typical costs to take classes at a two-year are about half of that at an average university. However, that doesn’t even begin to account for how much money you can save in secondary costs. University costs are going through the roof in part as a result of all of the extra featured that these colleges are adding to their campus experience. Everything from school gyms, sports teams and housing can dramatically inflate the costs of attendance. By choosing to stay at home for another couple of years, you can attend a school whose price isn’t inflated by these extra items. In an era where the costs of attending college are going through the roof, it’s important to find ways to save wherever you can.
2. More doors may be open for you.
I’m not sure how it is in every state, but in Virginia where I went to school most of the community colleges had something called a ‘Guaranteed Admissions Agreement’ with all of the major universities. These contracts allowed students from a two-year college to be guaranteed admission to a university of their choice, provided that they meet certain academic criteria such as minimum GPA requirements and appropriate programs of study. This is, in my opinion, the single best thing about attending a community college. It means that you can transfer into a top school like the College of William & Mary as a junior even if you spent the first two years at your local community college. This opportunity could also make it more financially viable for you to attend your dream school if you couldn’t afford it before, or allow you to attend a school that may not have been available to you in high school due to poor grades.
3. It will ease you into the college lifestyle.
Based on what I have seen, one of the biggest reasons people flunk out of college is because they get too overwhelmed by the freedoms and temptations that come with being away from home. The simple truth is that not everybody can handle the freedoms that come with being an independent adult at 18 years old. I once heard a story about a guy who was a top student in my high school graduating class. He sat on the student government and had a top-of-the-line GPA. After matriculating to one of the top schools in the state, he dived so deep into the party culture that he ended up flunking out of the college. Going to a community college first may help prevent this phenomenon by teaching students how to do well in a higher education setting without so many of the distractions.
These are just three of the many reasons that going to a community college after graduating from high school may be a smart move for both your finances and academic career. It gives students a great transition from living at home to being on their own. As the years go on and the millennial generation becomes more and more burdened by crushing student debt, recent high school graduates are going to need all the help they can get. All I can do is hope that going to a two-year college after high school becomes the new default option for college students.